June 7, 2015

Don’t Let The Egg Fool The Young

Good morning and greetings, Asian Fusion fans.  With the Golden State Warriors tied up one game apiece with Cleveland  in the NBA championship series, I thought I would shift gears and head back into the culinary lane of  life.  As the poet Yuan Mei of the Qing Dynasty once said,“There is a difference between dining and eating. Dining is an art. When you eat to get most out of your meal, to please the palate, just as well as to satiate the appetite, that, my friend, is dining.”

I recently ran across an article by Dan Gentile on yahoo.com, entitled, “19 Ways To Spot a Fake Chinese Restaurant.”  The author starts out by saying, “There are plenty of ethnic cuisines that America has doused in the thick, sweet sauce of appropriation, but perhaps none more so than Chinese food. There’s a time and place for things like sweet and sour chicken and crab rangoon, but it never feels good to be expecting a plate of mapo tofu only to get your food and realize you’ve walked into a trap set by General Tso.”
Now let me say, first off, that I am on the sweet and sour bandwagon.  I know this to be politically incorrect, as years ago, I was dining with a Chinese friend at the Yank SIng restaurant in San Francisco, home of the overpriced traditional and contemporary dim sum.
We sat down, and soon the parade of shrimp siu mye, Shanghai dumplings and a variety of steamed buns were stopping at our table.  As soon as they hit my plate, I went right for the sweet and sour sauce.  After a few rounds of watching me drown these delicate food items in the sauce, she couldn’t take it any more and said, “If you dip anything else in that sauce, I’m going to have to kill you.”
From there it went downhill.  Later on, I passed on eating a dish called chicken feet.   I didn’t care that they were first fried, then marinated and then steamed.  I just didn’t want to digest anything where you have to chop off the toenails.
So getting back to the story, the author went and met with the owner of a recently closed but very popular Asian fusion restaurant in Los Angeles named Starry Kitchen.  If you are wondering what this Asian confusion, er fusion, might be, it is defined as the blending of various Asian styles of cooking to create new, imaginative dishes, like Chinese Bourbon Chicken with Soy Sauce and Ginger, Spicy Smokin’ Asian Salmon Cakes and Black Sesame Ice Cream, topped off with some jello mixed in with tiny pieces of fruit.
The author spoke with the co-owner Nguyen Tran, who also shared some thoughts from his chef/wife Thi Tran, about how to tell an authentic Chinese restaurant from an Americanized one.  As he says, “If you see more than a few of these red flags, you might want to rethink what you’re putting between your chopsticks.  Or in my case, a fork.

Sweet and sour sauce that’s starchy or sugary

“Sweet and sour is also an authentic Chinese preparation.   If it’s saccharine and sweet, it’s definitely an Americanized Chinese place. It shouldn’t overpower the other flavors. It’s lightly salty and lightly sweet, but if it looks thick like molasses, then it’s probably Americanized. It can be made on the fly too, it’s usually just sugar, vinegar, and other ingredients poured onto the chicken.  You shouldn’t need a machete to cut through it.”

I say, come one, come all, the sweet and sour sauce livens up any Chinese dish.  I would love to bathe in the Sweet and Sour Sea of life.

Egg foo young is on the menu

“Sometimes authentic places will have this on the menu, but it’s really an American invention, and it can be disgusting. It’s like a savory pancake that’s an amalgamation of vegetables, batter, and shrimp that’s deep-fried and topped with gravy. It loses all the texture when you put gravy on it, and it just becomes mush on mush.”

This is my father’s favorite dish, along with shrimp and lobster sauce. Enough said.

Kung pao chicken is front and center

“This is actually a Chinese dish, so it kind of depends. It could be a gateway dish, but if they showcase it, more than likely it’s an Americanized Chinese place.”

I’m not really a kung pao man, as I was never crazy about the peanuts.  But I could adapt.

You must select the protein for the fried rice

“In Americanized places there’s a generic fried rice formula. Fried rice equals choice of protein plus fried rice. You’re ordering by protein. But with more authentic places it’s more about marrying a specific protein to a specific profile; that’s what’s unique about stir-fry. So instead of shrimp fried rice, you’d be looking for something like yeung chow fried rice.”

I don’t know much about yeung chow fried rice, but I know it goes great served with thousand fish soup.

The use of the term potstickers

“I don’t even know where that word comes from. I couldn’t understand for years what my American friends were talking about.”

Who knew?  My daughter and I love potstickers.  We buy them in Traders Joe’s, where you get 24 pieces for $3.99, which is quite the deal.

Mu shu pork

“This is another that’s actually a real Chinese dish, but it’s one that I think no Asian has ever eaten in their life.”

My wife loves mu shu chicken, all wrapped up in a thin pancake with the tangy plum sauce.

Crab rangoon

“You’re not going to see that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen sour cream in any dish in a real Chinese restaurant.”

Love the crab rangoon at the Golden Palace on Ocean Street, dipped in the sweet and sour sauce.  And it’s cream cheese, not sour cream.

Egg roll and soup lunch special

“This is a sweeping generalization, but many authentic Chinese restaurants don’t even have egg rolls on the menu. This is my bias, but Chinese egg rolls are some of the worst egg rolls I’ve ever had in my life. These are the Americanized ones. It’s all cabbage, wrapped in a really crappy wrapper, it’s fat, and you’re dipping it in sweet and sour.”

I hate to say it, but the soup and the egg roll are my mother’s favorite Chinese dishes.  She likes dipping the egg roll in the Chinese mustard, and then adding on the sweet and sour sauce.  And she’s nuts about the soup.

A giant container of soy sauce on the table

“A lot of people just add soy sauce to everything they eat. You should try the food first; soy sauce is the equivalent of salt. That’s the exact reason it’s there. If there’s a huge bottle or it looks like it’s replenished a lot, that might be a sign. You might not even see it that often at an authentic restaurant.”

I never touch the soy sauce.  Don’t want to hurt the sweet and sour feelings.

Metal American spoons

“If they have metal Western spoons versus Asian soup spoons, it’s more than likely an Americanized Chinese restaurant. Most real Asian places don’t see the need for both. It’s subtle, and people might argue this to death, but if you ask for a spoon, I’ll hand you a soup spoon.”

I never ask for a spoon.  Just a fork and and keep the water coming.

Everything comes with an individual side of rice

“Asian food is usually eaten family style, but at Americanized places the rice is more likely to be individually portioned. So if it’s served individually right in front of you versus in the middle of the table, that’s a tell.”

At Golden City on Mission Street, they serve enough white rice to feed a small African nation, so I order the egg fried rice.  But I prefer the out chow fun noodles, because that’s the way I roll.

American desserts

“If there’s an American dessert or a fried wonton with honey and powdered sugar, that’s not an authentic Chinese restaurant at all.”

I don’t want a fortune cookie or sesame ball for dessert, just give me an old-fashioned almond cookie.  Or a dish of coconut ice cream.

There aren’t any Asian people eating there

“If the only Asian people in the restaurant are working there, that’s always a sign of it not being an authentic Chinese restaurant.”

There are usually Asian people eating in while I’m eating, but I have no idea what they’re ordering.  It’s like we’re in separate universes.

The tri-fold door menu

“If it looks like something that could be a mailer, or be put on your door, then it’s more than likely a totally Americanized place.”

Guilty.  But the take out menu is convenient.

Pictures of Americanized items on the menu

“This has moved into Asian culture, but if you see a picture of kung pao chicken at the front, it’s definitely a fake place.”

I prefer a video.

The sign/menu uses a stereotypically Asian font

“That font can get people riled up. It’s so embedded in our culture from the early days of America, with the Chinese working on the railroads and stuff. It instills in someone who’s not Asian that, ‘wow, this must be Asian food.’ Visually it does trigger that. It’s funny because in Santa Barbara the street signs have this font. My wife gets worked up about it!”

Interesting.  There’s an old Cantonese saying.  “Anything that walks, swims, crawls or flies with its back to heaven is edible.”  But Confusious say,  “The way you cut your meat reflects the way you live life.”

Bags filled with stacks of to-go orders

“If there’s a side table with all these bags tied up at the top with containers, or with the Chinese folding box with the handles… if you see that ready to go, it’s more than likely to be fake. What’s more Americanized than Chinese takeout?

Apple pie? Baseball?  The first season of “True Detective?”

Empty fish tanks

“If they have big fish tanks that are empty, it might be an Americanized restaurant. Live seafood is a big part of authentic Chinese food, so an empty fish tank shows that they might’ve evolved into being more Americanized over time because the seafood was too expensive.”

I always felt sorry for the fish and the lobsters in the tanks.  Those lobsters screams haunt me.

There are dragons everywhere

“It’s not offensive at all, but it’s probably an Americanized place. It goes with things like latticework and a big circular doorway. Current Chinese culture is pretty modernized, so it’s weird if you’re literally entering the dragon.”

I was born in the Year of the Dragon, which occupies the 5th position in the Chinese Zodiac.  The Dragon is the mightiest of the signs.  We are colorful personalities who are driven, unafraid of challenges, willing to take risks and passionate in all they do.  Yup, that describes me in a nutshell.

It’s the beginning of the summer fire season in California, and for our photo feature, we are returning to June of 2008, when a fire was raging on the central coast.  I grabbed my camera and headed down to Lighthouse Point, and started shooting the billowing clouds of smoke over Steamer Lane.  I then moved north along West Cliff Drive to capture landscape of the waves and the sky on this very unusual day.

On to some late night humor.  “In a recent interview, George Clooney said that he doesn’t believe in plastic surgery and thinks people should just try to look the best that they can at their age. Then the interviewer said, “Great. Do you have any advice for people who aren’t George Clooney?” – Jimmy Fallon  “Senator Ted Cruz said he thinks John F. Kennedy would be a Republican if he were alive today. Well, of course he would be Republican. He’d be 98 years old.” – Seth Meyers

For the second year in a row, the Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in a tie with two winners. Or as each of their parents put it to their kids, “I told you that you shouldn’t have gone outside to play that one time.” – Jimmy Fallon  “The spelling bee co-champions are Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam. They won the competition by spelling each other’s names correctly.  Winning the spelling bee is a big deal. You get to hear your name mispronounced by every newscaster in America.” – Jimmy Kimmel

“A lawyer from Africa wants to marry Malia Obama in exchange for goats, sheep, and cows. In response, President Obama said, “Don’t be ridiculous. My daughter isn’t marrying a lawyer.” The Christmas-themed town of North Pole, Alaska, has officially approved marijuana dispensaries. So don’t expect your presents from Santa until next April. Santa will be showing up with Rudolph the Red-Eyed Reindeer.” – Conan O’Brien
We’ll catch you coming off the bench and being MVP of game one of the Finals.  Aloha, mahalo and later, Andre Iguadola fans.

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