Chinese food menu items
I like the Chinese food that is served in the basic restaurants, but I always seem to get the same 3-4 items, General Tso's Chicken, Beef and Broccoli, Sweet and Sour Pork, etc. and always swear to try something different the next time. But I have very little idea what some of the dishes are. Is there a website that would breakdown some of the items and let me know for instance, what is the difference between Mandarin Chicken, Hunan Chicken, Chicken Velvet, Szechuan Chicken?
Not looking for anything exotic, just would like to have an idea what some of the menu items are.
Unfortunately, although most of the chinese names are standard (more or less - "red cooked" hongshao means braised in a soy rich liquid in Huaiyang ("shanghai") cooking, and fried and then sauced in Cantonese cuisine) - the english translations are up to each and every restaurateur. So a dish that in chinese is called CongPaoYangRou is lamb with scallions, mongolian lamb, mandarin lamb, onion exploding lamb etc. on any menu you might find.
Even fried chicken might be one of several chinese dishes, most likely a type called YouLinJi, or oil-drop chicken which is pretty good.
But the more westernized the restaurant (or non-Chinese the clientele) the more original in "translation" of dishes. example : last night went to a place in Los Angeles which wasn't all that great and I don't want to publicize. On the menu was something called "Peking Bombing wontons". A short discussion with the waiter revealed that these were the restaurant's (subpar, it turned out) version of a dish from Szechwan called ChaoShou(r). Literally, fried hands, these should be small wontons the size of a thumbnail twist-wrapped in a very thin dough, boiled and then quickly stir-fried and finished with a red pepper-oil sauce, with chopped garlic and scallions. On other menus, I've seen them as szechwan wonton, chili wonton, szechwan dumplings etc. These though were chicken, not pork, dry and badly seasoned, three times too large and swimming in a (it turns out) Cantonese chef's imagination of szechwan sauce.
So good luck.
In general, I recommend getting the Wei-chuan cookbooks "chinese cuisine" volumes one and two. They are bilingual, with good illustrations and will give you a beginning sense of what the various regional cuisines are really like (Huaiyang, Shandong/Peking, Sichuan, Fujian, Yunnan, Cantonese, and the minor but popular dishes from Hunan, Taiwan, the northeast etc.).
Not to be a wise guy but many time the English name for dishes are made up by the restaurants themselves and can make no sense at all. Hunan Chicken at one place will not the same somewhere else.
Reading the names of the four dishes you name three could will be the same type of dish. Expect for the Velvet Chicken they sound like a deep fried chicken fillets with a spicy sauce.
Even if you could read Chinese you do may not know what this dish is. My best example is Husband and Wife which is one our best like spicy cold plate at Szechuan restaurants. You will never know that it is sliced beef tendons and shank meat.
Your best bet to discuss what you like to try and they can help you.