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Your Top Chinese Food Experiences


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I posted a similar and apparently provocative question (5 top restaurants in US) a while ago and the thread won't die. For good reason apparently: it's one of the ultimate and basic questions that is close to all our hearts: what is the best?

Well, rather than talk about where is the Chinese food better, in Kuala Lampoor or Singapore, I think we should talk about the best Chinese restaurants/meals/foods we have had. Period. Which ones they were, what we ate, why it was so good, and of course where we had them.

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Well, rather than talk about where is the Chinese food better, in Kuala Lampoor or Singapore,  I think we should talk about the best Chinese restaurants/meals/foods we have had. Period. Which ones they were, what we ate, and why it was so good.

In North America:

1) Banquets cooked by T.T. Wang chef/owner of the Shun Lee Restaurants.

2) Banquets cooked by Lo Huey Yuen - great Szechuan masterchef.

3) The pan-fried dumplings served at NYC's Pig Heaven in the early/mid 80's: prepared by Madame Chiang's private dumpling chefs.

4) Sun Sai Wah Restaurant in Vancouver.

5) Hong Kong Flower Lounge in Burlingame near SF airport.

Some of the many!

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While living in China, I had had one particularly lousy day. I went home to find my girlfriend had made a big bowl of egg and tomato soup with noodles for dinner. We talked and ate together, washed the bowls, made love, and I forgot whatever had made that day so lousy. My top Chinese food experience.

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Gads!! Sooooo many eating experiences to choose from!! Soooo many vignettes come to mind!! This will take a moment or two!

CHENGDUDE ---- When I first saw your name, I thought ----Chengdu de, and wondered what you were trying to say. It just dawned on me!!!!! Clever!!! (I'm a little slow)

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I've had many really good meals, but I think the older I get the more they register with me. When I was younger, I just took them more for granted, so if I think back I can remember really good food, but nothing impacted me as much as more recent experiences.

Offhand, though, I suppose there are two:

1) The first time I was taken to that village in Hong Kong where you pick a restaurant, then walk around to all those seafood vendors choosing your seafood, have them deliver it to your restaurant, and tell the waiter how you want the seafood prepared. Not only was the experience fun, but it was the first time I had one of my favorite seafood items: mantis shrimp. Too bad I can't get it here in SF.

2) A year ago, during my first trip to Vancouver since I was a teenager. I actually don't know what restaurant my relatives took us to, but it specialized in King Crab in season. The steamed crab with fried shallots was heavenly, and I could have dined solely on the stir-fired pea sprouts (pea shoots?---the tai pea sprouts--the leafy kind) and been happy. Everything was so perfect and fresh and expertly prepared.

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Gads!!  Sooooo many eating experiences to choose from!! Soooo many vignettes come to mind!!  This will take a moment or two! 

CHENGDUDE ---- When I first saw your name, I thought ----Chengdu de, and wondered what you were trying to say.  It just dawned on me!!!!! Clever!!!  (I'm a little slow)

never really thought about his name.

first reaction now that i have to think about it is that his last name was cheng, and he added dude.

more along jo-mel's line of thought,

you're not sichuanese, are you, chengdude?

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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A business banquet in Shanghai in the mid-90s. In retrospect, the food wasn't even knock-your-socks-off spectacular, but it gave me a very fast lesson into how different Chinese food can be from the stuff I had grown up eating in NYC. Though after umpteen banquets on that trip and others, I'll be perfectly happy to live the rest of my life without ever again eating jellyfish.

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Eddie, I'm not so sure I'm the best at describing why something was good.

My most memorable (best?) Chinese eating experiences, in the order I remember them:

(1) Pigeon and Peanuts at the Imperial Room in the Hotel Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. We loved this Cantonese banquet restaurant back in 1975-77 and the proprietor, Mr. Lim, and his wife became friends of ours. We always started our meals there with this great dish, which was rich and delicious and had a wonderful consistency and subtle taste (which in this case is not a demerit!!). The pigeon was perfectly cut into small pieces and the texture of the dish was delightfully uniform.

(2) Chili udang galah (lobster prawns) at a "home-cooking" restaurant in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia. This was our favorite restaurant to visit in that then-small city from 1975-77. Again, the proprietress became a friend of ours. The shrimps were perfectly fresh - caught off the estuary a few paces away - and fantastic quality, with the great shrimp fat in their heads. One key to great food, of course, is great, fresh ingredients. The sauce was delicious.

(3) Dim sum in the Guangzhou train station, July 1987. I don't remember everything I ate there (I do remember some terrific siu mai), but it was such a welcome meal. I had just arrived on a 33 1/2-hour train trip from Beijing and had a layover before taking another train to Shenzhen with Hong Kong as my ultimate destination. It was really good Cantonese cuisine and a nice variety at 7:30 in the morning.

(4) Dim sum at Xin in the Concorde Hotel, August 2003. Again, wonderfully fresh ingredients. Terrifically tasty food, some showing obvious Malaysian character (spicy, in one instance with curry sauce).

(5) Dim sum at the Star House, Hong Kong (June 1987). Great variety, fresh, delicious, interesting ambiance (the eating hall was the biggest I've ever seen).

(6) A dim sum lunch I had at a hole-in-the-wall in the Chinese neighborhood in Bangkok (1975). I could never find the place again, but the combination of Thai and Chinese flavors made this one of the greatest eating experiences I ever had. I recall that there was some combination of fruit (lime?) and meat in their dumplings.

(7) Steamed fish and asparagus with belacan at Restoran Oversea in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia (August 2003). I posted about this meal on the Other Places in Asia/Pacific board. Great fish, fresh out of the tank, perfectly prepared (steamed and served with brown sauce, ginger, scallions), combined with perfect thin spears of asparagus cooked enough to no longer have any raw taste but remain uniformly chewy in a perfect belacan sauce. Given what I ordered, the meal really could not have been any better.

Honorable mention:

(1) Eating at the hotel cafeteria in Hangzhou (I forget the name of the hotel, but it was to the south of Xi Hu). This again is a memory from my 1987 China trip. Hangzhou was my favorite place in China when I took that trip, and part of the reason was that the food was great. The food was great partly because it was in an agricultural region, so the produce was fresh and high-quality, and partly because the lake contains lots of freshwater fish and prawns. But what I most remember eating is Buddha's Delight. One of my travelling companions was a vegan, so she ordered Buddha's Delight each of 3 nights we stayed in Hangzhou, and the chef was creative and clearly used whatever vegetables were freshest that day. The dish was great every time.

(2) Wuxi spareribs in a hotel restaurant in Wuxi. I forget the name of the hotel, but it was a Chinese hotel. The dish was delicious.

(3) You'll note I haven't mentioned any meals in the U.S. But for sentimental reasons, I'd like to include a mention of Foo-Joy, my family's "Chinatown excursion" restaurant that used to be on Division St. between Bowery and Market in the 1970s. I loved their Ironside Beef in particular, which was delightfully broiled (I think), accompanied by expertly cooked broccoli (if I'm not very much mistaken) and had slices of canned pineapple and maraschino cherries on it.

(4) Here is also where I'll mention the curried fishballs that I bought repeatedly on the Kowloon side of the Star Ferry in 1987. Delicious (definitely better than the ones available on the Hong Kong side, which weren't as tasty) and hit the spot.

(5) Also worth remembering is the Hakka Pig Intestine Soup I ate in a little restaurant adjoining the bus station (of all places!) in Seremban, Malaysia, in 1976 or so.

There are so many other meals I could mention, but I think I'll quit here for now.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Thanks for asking the question. As you can tell, Chinese food has been important to me for a long time, and it was nice to reminisce about those meals.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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When ever I've been in China, I've written down all the menus I've had for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks --along with some comments, so I have good records of what and where. Problem is, I am not at home, so I can't give credit as to the restaurant.

However, a couple that immediately come to mind---

A horrible little place near the Beijing Language Institute, that was crowded, had a surly waitress with a dirty dish cloth, and you could hear people hawking and spitting IN THE RESTAURANT! A very nice couple, near my roommate and me, (I was a student in my 50's at the time) said the Salt/Pepper Shrimp were good.

Good? They were outstanding, with a wonderful incredible crispy shell, but juicy and tender inside. I've had them many times, but those were the best and most memorable.

Again in China --- on a train station platform in WuXi --- WuXi Ribs (what else?) Mostly bone and gristle, but what wonderful tender, juicy meat in between the bones, and a perfect sauce. Finger licking good! They were my first WuXi Ribs and they still have been the best.

Also Eastern China -- Deep/fried Baited Whitefish. Thought they were french fried onions shreds and we ordered a second order. Then I remembered that this area was famous for their Baited Whitefish. I looked a little more closely at the 'onions' and saw two little eyes. Yep these were the famous fish - tiny and whole. -------and delicious! LOL!

This is a fun thread! I'm enjoying what others have eaten and where.

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April 1995. I followed my dad on a business trip to Taiwan. After spending 2 days in Taipei we boarded a bus to Taichung ( which literally translates as middle of Taiwan). We arrived in Taichung at about 8 pm, and by the time we had checked in the hotel it was already 9 pm. Taichung in those days (not sure about now) was pretty quiet, very unlike bustling Taipei. We went to the restaurant next to our hotel, and the place was quiet, save for a table occupied by the restaurant staff. They were finished for the day and having the staff meal. As there was no other eating places nearby my father asked the chef if he could cook us something simple. The chef did not say anything, he just nodded his head and went into the kitchen.

First came a dish of green vegetables stirfried with garlic. We did not know the name of it, only that it was tender yet crunchy, and delicately sweet. It was so good we wanted another plate but there was no more. Then came a steamed whole local fish (? name), ultra fresh and delicious. There was another dish but i cannot remember the details. My father and I ate the simple meal quietly. One of my most memorable meals in Taiwan.

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Oy!

Some vignettes:

1) April, 1992, Shanghai: My sly hostess took me to Nanxiang Xiaolong Mantou Dian for breakfast. My first meal on Chinese soil, and my xiaolong bao epiphany. I fell in love with xiaolong bao and Shanghai. My hostess is now my sister-in-law.

2) Same time period, snacking one evening at the Longhua Temple street fair. Resolving not to be culture-bound, I enjoyed sparrow-on-a-stick and snake soup, along with local-style jiaozi and other more prosaic treats.

3) Several dinners at our erstwhile favorite for traditional Shanghai fare, Yue You Restaurant on Fengyang Lu in Shanghai. Most notable was a plenary family gathering ca. 1995 where we had a celebratory banquet for 10 people consisting of about 20 courses (with plenty of Reeb Gold beer for the men) for less than $100 US. Yue You was located in a stunning three-story art-deco mansion haunted by the ghosts of Shaoxing Opera characters. The building is now the home of a v. spendy Japonais place called Ambrosia, where the price of our banquet wouldn't cover a light dinner for two.

4) Breakfasts at an impromptu hawker center which springs up every morning in a vacant lot near our apartment complex in Jinqiao. Fiery doufu hua, best I have ever found, accompanied by sinfully greasy and delicious shengjian bao and fat, savory congyou bing.

5) (Back in the USA) Somewhere in suburban New Jersey. On a trip to New York, we visited an old Shanghai neighbor of my wife's, who had emigrated to the US and opened a small Asian market in a mini-mall near Parsippany. He had a house guest, an ex-Chef for the Chinese Consulate (Embassy?) in NYC, whose two-year rotation had ended and was lying low, seeking asylum. In our honor, he whipped up a feast the like we had never seen, including a great braised eel dish (which my wife had maintained was impossible with the frozen Shanghai river eel available in the US.)

6) :laugh: I can't avoid the sentimentality of including my wife's own cooking, which rises to considerable heights when she feels the occasion warrants it. Here, without comment, is part of the the meal she prepared for my 60th birthday:

birthfest.jpg

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GarySoup -- That beautiful picture of your DW loving cooking is worthy of a magazine spread!

This is a wonderful web page, and thread. I'm delighted to hear from people who know something beyond Sesame Chicken and General Anything. Who know first-hand the wide variety of choices in this wonderful cuisine (My biggest problem is my own Chicken Chow Mein loving DH!!!) He only travelled with me -- once. Maybe that was a good thing!)

Two more isolated memories come to mind. (oops, make that three)

I absolutely love eating and making Zha Cai Rou Si Tang ---Shredded Pork and Sichuan Vegetable Soup, but the most tasty was in a Holiday Inn (of all places) in ChongQing. It was a special dining room, and the soup's base had so much flavor, that it was incredible! The pork and pickle were perfect, but that broth----------!!

Back in the US - in San Francisco on Grant Street - I was alone, so I had no one to share the experience of SandyPot Chicken and Chinese Sausage at ??Hong Bow???? The meats fused beautifully, but the gravy was so tasty that I had to ask for another bowl of rice to wipe up the last mouthful. That was the first time I'd had that dish. I've made it many times, but the first time was best!

Back in China - Beijing and street stall restaurants. Another time as a student. Every morning before classes started, I bought 2 tea eggs and some delicious, juicy,steamed dumplings at this busy sidewalk place, and took them to a quiet garden with a bower of vines, chirping sparrows, and benches. It was behind a wall, ajacent to the street and was a peaceful nook away from the bustling street. I ate my breakfast there with my thermos of instant coffee and was at peace with the world. I can go back, in my mind, and relive those moments -----they were that peaceful - and tasty,. To this day, I love dumplings and tea eggs with coffee!

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gosh, so many experiences. how to list them all? well, a few memorable ones :

1)eating jungle food for the first time. doesn't quite qualify as gourmet asian cooking but it was certainly not the norm! plus, the way it was cook is similar to chinese cooking. my favourites to date (and it's not an exhaustive list, mind you) : fried wild tapioca leaves with ginger, stir-fried smoke wild boar with ginger and soy sauce, stir-fried mousedeer with ginger (a protected species i know but when one is out in isolate places, one just eats what one is served). did try some crocodile herbal soup with ginseng and fried bat meat with soy sauce but those weren't for me.

2) learning how to cook sarawak laksa with my dad while growing up!

3) learning how to cook during school holidays with granny.

4) first time eating indian banana leaf rice with so many side dishes for about RM4 only (US$1.05)!! it was in a wooden coffee shop somewhere near KLIA. not chinese food but it was great.

so many other experiences. how to sort through them all?

:wacko:

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Back in the US - in San Francisco on Grant Street - I was alone, so I had no one to share the experience of SandyPot Chicken and Chinese Sausage at ??Hong Bow???? The meats fused beautifully, but the gravy was so tasty that I had to ask for another bowl of rice to wipe up the last mouthful. That was the first time I'd had that dish. I've made it many times, but the first time was best!

!

Close, it's Bow Hon :laugh:

It's one of the most under-appreciated Chinese restaurants in San Francisco because of its location. Foodies operate under the assumption that nothing on Grant Avenue, like Fisherman's Wharf, is worthy of their attention because its so touristy. It's also a little too real to be in the tourists' radar. Fortunately there are enough local Chinese (and a few un-bounded gweilo food-lovers) to keep it going.

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Close, it's Bow Hon

Thanks for that! After that eating experience, I saw mention of the restaurant in Lilah Kahn's Sandy pot cookbook. (I'm not at home with my books - so I may have the spelling wrong) The recipe wasn't quite as I remembered, but with a few adjustments, I came up with something that pleased me. It is now my 'cold-weather, rib-sticking' dish.

I'm pleased it is still there. It's been awhile since I've been back to SanFrancisco. When I go again, I will make a bee-line for Bow Hon!

It reminds me of Noodletown, on the Bowery, in NYC. Great homey food, by-passed by most, but a treasure for those who love good hearty Chinese food.

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New York Noodletown bypassed by most? I definitely wouldn't say so!

Also, while I do go there for some comforting soup and such from time to time, I definitely feel it's slipped in the last couple of years.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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New York Noodletown bypassed by most? I definitely wouldn't say so!

Also, while I do go there for some comforting soup and such from time to time, I definitely feel it's slipped in the last couple of years.

Well, while it is always crowded, it is not exactly a tourist hangout -- that is what I meant. Sometimes I've had to wait outside for a place at a table. The diners all seem to who know their soup noodles and such, but I've seen people peer in the window and pass on.

I'd made friends with one of the workers, there. (Can't remember his name!!!!!) I believe he may even be the manager, but he never introduced himself as such. He lives in NJ and spends most of the day at the restaurant. I often talked with him about the terrible commute. He mentioned some problems with the owner, and was was very unhappy with the problems he was having -----to the point that he was going to leave and open up his own place - probably taking the chefs with him.. The new place was going to be that barber-shop next to Joe's Shanghai. (The barber shop was for sale.) Well, nothing seemed to happen for a year or so, and then came 9/11. The last couple of times I went the Noodletown, that worker/manager wasn't there --- and the barber shop was still there, unsold.

9/11 was devastating. I've been back several times since. I hope they all recover.

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Now that I am home and have access to my notes, I want to tell you about another memorable meal -- in China. (I always keep lists of what I've had in China) This was in 1984, in Beijing, and I was on a culinary tour with others who had an interest in Chinese food, and led by Hugh Carpenter -- cook book author.

We were in the SunAltering (spelling?) Restaurant in Beijing. Hugh had arranged the meal ahead of time, but when we arrived, they served the usual tourist stuff. As Hugh called it --- Dormitory Food. ----Various stews, greenish cauliflower, less than warm rice, etc.

Hugh was surprised, as he had made prior arrangements.

He spent some time in the kitchen haggling with the chefs, thru the local guide. Hugh knew what he wanted, we had paid for it, and he wasn't going to be denied---and we weren't! What finally was served was:

Braised Scallops & Abalone with Bamboo Shoots / Deep-Fried Stuffed Shrimp / Green Beans Stir-Fried with Chinese Almonds / Stir-Fried Shrimp in the Shell with a Piquant Sauce (exceptional) / Jiaozi - Steamed Pork-Shrimp filled Dumplings / White Fungus Soup / Sweet Bean Paste Cakes / Fresh Sweet Melon (delicious -- we had seconds)

It was amazing that the kitchen could produce two such different meals.

Nineteen years ago -- yet reading my notes, it all comes back so clearly.

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Well, while it is always crowded, it is not exactly a tourist hangout -- that is what I meant. Sometimes I've had to wait outside for a place at a table. The diners all seem to who know their soup noodles and such, but I've seen people peer in the window and pass on.

I think that happens everywhere. I do think that plenty of visitors from out of town come there. Well, perhaps there are fewer now than a year or two ago; I really wouldn't know, as I myself visit much less frequently than I used to.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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      Vegetable oil (not olive oil)

      Star anise, 4

      Cinnamon, 1 stick

      Bay leaves, 5 or 6

      Fresh ginger, 6 coin sized slices

      Garlic.  5 cloves, roughly chopped

      Sichuan peppercorns,  1 tablespoon

      Whole dried red chiles,   6 -10  (optional). If you can source the Sichuan chiles known as Facing Heaven Chiles, so much the better.

      Potatoes 2 or 3 medium sized. peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces

      Carrot. 1,  thinly sliced

      Dried wheat noodles.  8 oz. Traditionally, these would be a long, flat thick variety. I've use Italian tagliatelle successfully.    

      Red bell pepper. 1 cut into chunks

      Green bell pepper, 1 cut into chunks

      Salt

      Scallion, 2 sliced.
         
      Method

      First, cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and marinate in 1 1/2 teaspoons light soy sauce, 3 teaspoons of Shaoxing and 1 1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch. Set aside for about twenty minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

      Heat the wok and add three tablespoons cooking oil. Add the ginger, garlic, star anise, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, Sichuan peppercorns and chiles. Fry on a low heat for a  minute or so. If they look about to burn, splash a little water into your wok. This will lower the temperature slightly. Add the chicken and turn up the heat. Continue frying until the meat is nicely seared, then add the potatoes and carrots. Stir fry a minute more then add 2 teaspoons of the dark soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of the light soy sauce and 2 tablespoons of the Shaoxing wine along with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium. Cover and cook for around 15 minutes until the potatoes are done.

      While the main dish is cooking, cook the noodles separately according to the packet instructions.  Reserve  some of the noodle cooking water and drain.

      When the chicken and potatoes are done, you may add a little of the noodle water if the dish appears on the dry side. It should be saucy, but not soupy. Add the bell peppers and cook for three to four minutes more. Add scallions. Check seasoning and add some salt if it needs it. It may not due to the soy sauce and Shaoxing.

      Serve on a large plate for everyone to help themselves from. Plate the noodles first, then cover with the meat and potato. Enjoy.
       
    • By liuzhou
      Clam Soup with Mustard Greens - 车螺芥菜汤
       

       
      This is a popular, light but peppery soup available in most restaurants here (even if its not listed on the menu). Also, very easy to make at home.

      Ingredients

      Clams. (around 8 to 10 per person. Some restaurants are stingy with the clams, but I like to be more generous). Fresh live clams are always used in China, but if, not available, I suppose frozen clams could be used. Not canned. The most common clams here are relatively small. Littleneck clams may be a good substitute in terms of size.
       
      Stock. Chicken, fish or clam stock are preferable. Stock made from cubes or bouillon powder is acceptable, although fresh is always best.

      Mustard Greens. (There are various types of mustard green. Those used here are  芥菜 , Mandarin: jiè cài; Cantonese: gai choy). Use a good handful per person. Remove the thick stems, to be used in another dish.)

      Garlic. (to taste)

      Chile. (One or two fresh hot red chiles are optional).

      Salt.

      MSG (optional). If you have used a stock cube or bouillon powder for the stock, omit the MSG. The cubes and power already have enough.

      White pepper (freshly ground. I recommend adding what you consider to be slightly too much pepper, then adding half that again. The soup should be peppery, although of course everything is variable to taste.)

      Method

      Bring your stock to a boil. Add salt to taste along with MSG if using.

      Finely chop the garlic and chile if using. Add to stock and simmer for about five minutes.

      Make sure all the clams are tightly closed, discarding any which are open - they are dead and should not be eaten.

      The clams will begin to pop open fairly quickly. Remove the open ones as quickly as possible and keep to one side while the others catch up. One or two clams may never open. These should also be discarded. When you have all the clams fished out of the boiling stock, roughly the tear the mustard leaves in two and drop them into the stock. Simmer for one minute. Put all the clams back into the stock and when it comes back to the boil, take off the heat and serve.
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