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Prawns with Walnuts that are pecans

More than 75% the time I'm eating at a Chinese restaurant and Prawns with Walnuts are ordered, what arrives at the table is prawns with pecans. Can anybody explain to me why the walnuts on the menu transmogrify to pecans? And if it's a matter of cost or availability, why isn't the dish just Prawns and Pecans?

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  1. For one, I've never read it as saying prawns, but simply "shrimp." They're usually just regular shrimp or perhaps just a bit larger, jumbo ones. With respect, I doubt the restaurants have achieved the level of discretion in the english language to understand the difference between prawns and other shrimp. More often than not, any listing of prawn would be an attempt to make the menu look more fanciful. [Now, the shrimp in a steakhouse cocktail - that's a valid jumbo prawn. :)]

    In the same vein, I don't think the restaurants care to identify the difference between pecans and walnuts in that dish. Besides, it's easy to cover up -- if you swamp the dish in mayo, it can be quite difficult to taste and see the difference.

    Additionally, I never saw this dish in China or Taiwan. I usually associate it with dishes like orange chicken, or the popular beef and broccoli - more Americanized, and therefore, there is no standing tradition as to its makings. Thus, the more traditional Chinese restaurants here who also serve this dish might make less effort to perfect its ingredients.

    9 Replies
    1. re: chica

      First, it is very easy to identify pecans from walnuts, regardless of the quantities of mayo. Both taste and texture are very different. Secondly, Americanized or not, why would restaurants not want to be accurate in the names of their dishes? Pecans are not inferior to walnuts, so why not state Prawns and Pecans? Failing to do so only leads questioning of what else is inaccurate on the menu.

      1. re: MobyRichard

        It's not a matter of whether certain ingredients are more or less inferior. The fact is that many traditional Chinese restaurants simply do not care if some of their dishes are not accurately described, especially if those dishes are Americanized -- because most of their patrons, who are Chinese, are not as interested in those dishes. Failing to accurately describe their dishes may well be a slippery slope for the menu's trustworthiness/reliability (or lack theroef), but again --most of their patrons will not order it, and thus not do not know/care. For those who do order it and have the wisdom/discretion/courage to question the dish (if they can, in Chinese) will simply have to ask themselves, based on the rest of the menu, whether it has sufficiently disappointed them before so as to not return to the place.

        1. re: chica

          This is strange as most people I know that order that prawns with walnut dish are Chinese and love it. I find it appalling, but have had to endure it at a few banquets.

      2. re: chica

        That shrimp with candied walnuts and mayonnaise dish was a Hong Kong invention from about 10+ years ago or so. Not so much in fashion these days on the banquet menus. I've never seen pecans used in the SFBA but with the bitter skin of walnuts, pecans might be the better choice. (Of course pecans go rancid more quickly than walnuts)

        1. re: usr.bin.eat

          The shrimp and candied walnuts dish has been around in the US for at least 35+ years that I know of, so it most definately wasn't a recent Hong Kong invention as you claim.

          1. re: JMF

            I've been going to Cantonese restaurants for over 30 years now and am sure that this mayo dish appeared suddenly in SF maybe 20 years ago, not the 10 previously stated. Old native Cantonese speakers (whom I can somewhat understand) at the time were talking about how this wasn't a traditional dish but was brought over from HK.

            Point is that I doubt that this dish started out as a Chinese American dish like sweet and sour pork as chica claimed.

        2. re: chica

          mayo in Chinese food?

          1. re: toodie jane

            honestly, and sadly, yes.

            1. re: chica

              the Japanese use mayo too, so maybe you people should beat up on them as well. The cuisine of Hong Kong is vastly different from the cuisines of China and Taiwan from the long period of British colonization. Cow's milk and many other "western" staples are commonplace in Hong Kong as are sweet and sour pork, mayo, and other oddities.

              Yes, the odd fusion can turn people off and is certainly an acquired taste. But to be dismayed by any odd innovation due to cultural exchange is just ridiculous.

        3. That's odd. Aren't pecans usually more expensive than walnuts? It seems like if they didn't care, they'd use the less costly nut.

          1 Reply
          1. re: babette feasts

            They sure are. At Costco today 2# of pecans were $9.99. For the same price one could buy a 3# bag of walnuts.

          2. I think more people are allergic to walnuts than to pecans. Though if they were allergic to walnuts...they probably wouldn't order the dish. Hm.

            1. I believe the only place where Pecans are grown and used in cooking is in the US.

              Chinese chefs would have never found them in their native China, but probably adapted to American ingredients. Pecans are generally more expensive than walnuts, and to many people more luxurious and flavorful.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Fleur

                I don't think that is accurate. Pecans are native to Mexico and formed part of the products that flowed East (along with chile peppers, corn & almonds) in the Manila - Acapulco trade route.

                These products eventually found their way to China & India as the target markets.

                Don't know how this might be related, but in Mexico the popular name for Pecan & Walnut are the same. (Walnuts are of European origin as well as Almonds).

              2. Where are you? I've never had this happen. Pecans are usually more expensive than walnuts, too, which makes me curous about why they're making the sub. It actually sounds pretty tasty to me, but obviously quite different from walnuts.

                6 Replies
                1. re: MikeG

                  I'm currently in the SF Bay Area and yes, pecans are definitely more expensive in this area than walnuts. I've had the pecans show up in this dish in at least half a dozen different local restaurant, but I've also encountered this 'walnuts that are pecans' phenomenon in Honolulu, and while both versions are very tasty, it's just puzzling to me.

                  1. re: MobyRichard

                    I find this odd because I too live in the bay area (Oakland), and haven't seen this anywhere. I agree, very odd.

                    1. re: MobyRichard

                      i have never encountered pecans in this dish, and i live in san francisco, too. if you could provide specific restaurants, i'd be be interested in trying it that way. i prefer pecans anyway.

                      1. re: augustiner

                        The only ones coming to mind at the moment are Mandarine Cuisine, on Alma in Mountain View, Chef Liu, on Castro, also in MV, and one on Homestead in Santa Clara (name escapes me at the moment). And by the way, not all of these places use mayo in their recipes.

                        1. re: MobyRichard

                          my understanding was that this dish did originate from Hong Kong - it was an interpretation of a western concept : seafood and tartar sauce (equals mayo) .... prawns and mayo - get it? makes sense when you think about it in this context.

                          1. re: MobyRichard

                            I'm also in the SF Bay Area (South Bay), m/b the pecans, instead of walnuts is a SBay thing? Most of the Chinese restaurants that I've had this dish uses candied pecans. And I do prefer the pecans over the sometimes bitter walnuts.

                    2. You can't go popular names or conceptions of relationship. I don't know if pecans even grow natively as far south as the American Southwest, but they're certainly "native" much further north and east. If not all the way to the Atlantic, certainly far into the eastern portion of the "Midwest." Do any hickory relatives grow in Mexico? I'd have thought the vast majority of Mexico was too warm for them.

                      1. http://www.tpga.org/faqs.html

                        "Q. Where are pecans grown?

                        A. The United States produces at least 80 percent of the world's pecans. The U.S. crop typically ranges between 300 and 400 million pounds. Other countries that produce pecans are Mexico, Australia, South Africa, Israel, China and Argentina."

                        http://www.cahe.nmsu.edu:16080/pubs/_...

                        Looks like the U.S. grows 75 - 80% of the world's pecans. Mexico is on the list with 15 to 20%. And guess what? So is China.

                        Here is the funniest fact. The U.S. imports more pecans from Mexico than any other country, and Mexico imports more pecans from the U.S. than any other country. Apparently, Mexico's pecans are superior and with the obvious economic imbalance between the two countries - Americans buy up them up while Mexicans buy the less expensive U.S. pecans (I also think that appearence & size is less important for Mexicans because the pecans are mostly going to end up in Moles, Creamy Soups, Candy, Atoles & Ice Cream).

                        When thinking about Mexico being too warm... you have to remember that the majority of Mexico's populated terrains are on high altitude valleys ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level... the weather is not as warm as you might guess.

                        1. was in chinatown this weekend, and bought a bag of whole walnuts that was labelled "cashew pieces".

                          the level of inaccuracy in translations always makes me laugh when i shop down there.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            its unlikey but there is also the fact that there is a kind of nut called a Chinese walnut (Carya cathayensis) which I have seen for sale in some chinese grocery stores (usally still in the shell but pre cracked and salted) while called a wlant this nut is in fact a kind of hickory as is the pecan (Carya illinoiensis)