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How do east- and west-coast Chinese-American food differ?

Follow-up to a question on the San Francisco board about where to find "east coast" Chinese food, such as "a real pupu platter," "shrimp toast," and "foil triangles with chicken and peas."

As a San Franciscan visiting New York I remember noticing that New Yorkers thought stir-fried watercress was a standard Chinese dish.

I also noticed when watching Seinfeld and other sitcoms that they'd order unfamiliar dishes such as moo goo gai pan.

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  1. New York Chinese food is Chinese food. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/342344 Blake said you can find the universe in a grain of sand, and you can find a universe of food along the gritty byways of New York. If you think of NY food in terms of Seinfeld wolfing down a takeout carton, just remember that Seinfeld was written and filmed in California. One thing I loved about the film "Woman on Top" is that it had as accurate a view of the San Francisco food scene as most Californians have of ours.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Brian S

      The thread which this one spun off of was about RETRO Chinese-American food, which apparently has persisted longer on the East Coast than on the West. The reference to "a real pupu platter," "shrimp toast," and "foil triangles with chicken and peas" came from a transplanted East Coaster who lamented not being able to find it out here.

      By and large, our concept of what New York Chinese food is is shaped by the maudlin recollections of ex-New Yorkers in our midst.

      Seinfeld, BTW was WRITTEN by a New Yorker.

      1. re: Gary Soup

        Sorry. I'm overly sensitive about this. But I'm surprised you can't find this retro food in Calif. A lot of people grew up on it and then moved to the left coast, and they'd be willing to pay a lot for it for Proust-madeleine type reasons.

        1. re: Brian S

          You can still find retro Chinese-American food on the west coast, but there are some differences.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            the problem with the west coast is that we have actual chinese people who brought along actual chinese food so we aren't limited to the trader vics junk and consequently its popularity has waned here.

            1. re: choctastic

              Until recently, most Chinese restaurants in California outside of Chinese communities made Chinese-American food for non-Chinese customers and served few if any dishes that you'd find in a real Chinese-Chinese restaurant.

              My question is, how is/was that kind of food different in the two areas.

              Note also that Trader Vic's started in California and was enormously popular for decades.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Say what you will, but the Rum Cup at Trader Vic's was awesome.

              2. re: choctastic

                Ever been to Flushing? Actual Chinese people who brought along actual Chinese food. They have actual Chinese people in most major cities.

          2. re: Gary Soup

            Now I'm "Maudlin" ...who knew!!??
            I still say properly prepared Lobster Cantonese or Shrimp with Lobster sauce..could EASILY hold its' own against R&G crab ...and the additional extra crisp crunch from freshly fried wonton skin noodles, adds another layer of texture which is frankly absent from West Coast Chinese.... retro, or not...!
            Now this doesn't mean I don't get similar pleasures from the myriad Chinese cuisines available in ALL immigrant cities in the US...New York in addition to SF...however, I Honor those Chinese who came and created an additional Jewel to the Chinese Culinary Crown!!!

            1. re: ChowFun_derek

              Durst you think I was referring to you? Are all those exclamation points the work of a maudlin person?

              You're certainly right in being grateful to the creators of New York Chinese cuisine; after all, they went to great trouble to create it for YOU.

              1. re: Gary Soup

                Soup...then I am surely blessed...but unlike you I can but say "Thank you" in only one Chinese dialect...

        2. I well remember the pupu platters with the sterno flames shooting out the top, the foil packets of "hacked chicken", the complimentary bowls of deepfried wonton "chips" with bowls of duck sauce and mustard, and the endless plates of mushu pork with the dessicated flour pancakes alongside. Let's not forget the full page of Trader Vic-ish tropical drinks on every one of these ostensibly Chinese restaurants' menus - I was too young to sample the wonders of the Zombie or Suffering Bastard, but was certainly curious as hell what they were like.

          Since I spent my childhood on the East Coast, that's what I grew up with as "Chinese food," but I never thought the experience was a uniquely East Coast one. My impression had always been that this is what America as a whole once thought Chinese food was about. Or has California ALWAYS been awash in painstakingly authentic eateries serving up the fare from every region of China?

          17 Replies
          1. re: Spatlese

            I'm on the east coast too but can't recall ever eating any of the items you've described or even the any of the items described on the original post on the SF board.

            1. re: SomeRandomIdiot

              I grew up in Connecticut and went to school in Boston and those dishes were common in Polynesian restaurants like the ones mentioned in Melanie's link.

              My first 'Asian' food ever was a pupu platter at a Polynesian place just outside of Hartford. It had a full working waterfall.

              Before that my only Chinese food was canned Chung King which made me wonder what the appeal of Chinese food was all about. The only Chinese restaurant in my hometown served warmed up canned Chung King.

              As an acting student in Boston, my classmates would get together at the Polynesian place near the theatre across from the Boston Common and feast on pupu platters after getting the $5 balcony tickets for whatever play/musical was in town.

              I have a fondess for pupu platters.

              Regular Chinese restaurants were more of the sweet & sour pork, egg fu yung and moo goo gai pan types. I think the original Dick Van Dyke show used to have the writers ordering moo go gai pan ... probably the reason I first ordered it.

              1. re: rworange

                I always felt that Moo Goo Gai Pan was so popular in the East because it was so fun to say, much more fun than "mushroom chicken." One difference between the two coasts was that Chinese menus on the West Coast typically had Chinese characters and an English translation, but not a transliteration of the Chinese names. Therefore we didn't have a bunch of us gweilos attempting Cantonese and sounding silly.

                A correspondent of mine, perhaps eavesdropping on this thread, just emailed me a link to the website of a big Boston area restaurant which still carries the pupu platter torch (and even markets it as nostalgia). I can envision a pilgrimage there by tiki mavens.



                1. re: Gary Soup

                  The Kowloon is really a throwback to the 60's and before. About 6 miles north of Boston. Huge restaurant, volcano in one room. I would love to know how many pupu platters they serve. Loved it when I was a kid- and would go nowhere else if I am craving a pupu platter even today! There is a comedy club on the second floor- and believe it or not, I saw Jerry Seinfeld there! How weird is that??

                  1. re: Gary Soup

                    When I was growing up in Brooklyn in the 50's, some East Coast Chinese menus...said "Wonton" and had "kreplach" in parantheses as a description..
                    When I arrived here in SF some West Coast Chinese menu's had.."Wonton", with "ravioli" as a description..!
                    The remembrance still makes me giggle!

                    1. re: ChowFun_derek

                      Now west coast menus have Spanish translations, e.g., arroz frito con pollo.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        ....and that reminds me of all the Chinese/Cuban restaurants in New York City!

                        1. re: ChowFun_derek

                          This brings back memories of the Chinese-Dominican restaurant I used to get lunch from when I attended college in Brooklyn. The place was a gold mine, always packed, great food. You could get rice or fried plantains with your entree. I really miss that.

                  2. re: rworange

                    There was a Honeymooner's episode where Norton claimed he could tell what time it was from the smells coming from Hong Kong Gardens. He said something like, "At 2:00 they start making the moo goo gai pan."

                    1. re: Peter Cherches

                      Moo Goo Gai Pan was also the subject of a great doo-wop number by the Rays:


                      1. re: Gary Soup

                        Here's another doo-wop classic (very un-PC, but hey, it was 1955) mentioning a retro Chinese dish:


                2. re: Spatlese

                  Here's an old thread on the Chinese-American Polynesian genre that you might find interesting.

                  1. re: Spatlese

                    In California, for pupu platters and tropical drinks you went to Trader Vic's or one of its knockoffs. It would have seemed bizarre to encounter them in a Chinese restaurant.

                    1. re: Spatlese

                      re:" Or has California ALWAYS been awash in painstakingly authentic eateries serving up the fare from every region of China?"

                      California has some good regional Chinese food but not all the regions are represented. Cantonese is the most common and many other regional Chinese cuisines can be hard to find.

                      1. re: Spatlese

                        I still harbor the impression that Trader Vic's/pupu platters/tropical drinks in weird containers were supposed to be Polynesian and not Chinese.

                        1. re: ClaireWalter

                          yes I thought that too. The one in the Berkeley CA marina, is defitnitely Polynesian with some Chinese dishes. But the decor is not Chinese.

                          1. re: ClaireWalter

                            The decor was ersatz Polynesian, the food ersatz Cantonese, and the rum-and-fruit drinks ersatz Caribbean.

                        2. The biggest difference I find is the produce. With less access to fresh, quality (Asian) produce on the East Coast, it meant impro and subsitutions...as any decent chef of any cuisine would do.

                          The produce on the EC has gotten better but historically this means the use of more fried foods, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, water crest, peas (long storable or freezable) and sauces in cooking that became instituationalized.

                          1. I just spent 2 weeks with the fam in Fresno CA, and as a 10-year New Yorker, nothing beats the pan fried noodles in Cali! There is nothing even remotely like that in NYC.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: jenhen2

                              I've been eating pan-fried noodles in NYC for many a year (still miss the "House of Dumplings/House of Noodles" on Pell & Bowery, which offered a choice of "one side seared" or "two sides seared"). I'm curious - what have you found in the Fresno vicinity that you haven't been able to find on the EC?

                              1. re: Striver

                                Actually, It was "House of Dumplings, Home of Noodles," an excellent Shanghai place.

                            2. I'm on the East Coast where bad Chinese restos abound. I think this is particularly true in the suburbs which have relatively small Asian populations. My husband's family avoids the subject around me because they like the awful glop that's served in so many Chinese restos around where we live.

                              In the Chinatowns I think you'll find decent Chinese food with never a pupu platter in sight.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: cheryl_h

                                Were you raised in downtown San Francisco or something and reluctantly relocated to the EC with its "bad Chinese restos"?

                                I guess I'm just saying that I also genuinely "like the awful glop," but on its own terms as sort of a comfort food from childhood. I don't confuse it with "authentic," "good" Chinese food. I find part of the joy of eating is being able to appreciate variety, and I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that my (admittedly, American-reared) palate would probably be more satisfied with Egg Foo Young than the most well-prepared Goose Web with Sea Cucumber.

                                I'm also not sure "East Coast" and "West Coast" means much in this entire thread, since there's a big difference between Manhattan and Asheville, and Monterey Park and Redding.

                                1. re: allegro805

                                  No, I'm not a reluctant transplant. I'm Chinese and grew up eating good homecooked Chinese food. My idea of comfort food is red-cooked pork belly or white-cooked chicken with steamed rice and lightly stir-fried vegetables, a meal most Chinese would recognize. The brown glop that is served in the Chinese restaurants around Boston would not be recognized by my family or by most of the Chinese I know.

                                  1. re: cheryl_h

                                    Dongpo pork is my idea of (fattening) comfort food too! And it's certainly available on the East Coast. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/... If you check the Boston board, I'm sure you will find it... perhaps at CK Shanghai in Wellesley.

                                    1. re: Brian S

                                      I've had belly pork a couple of times in Boston, I think King Fung Gardens does it and somewhere else. But it doesn't have the same flavors as my mother's which was made with red rice wine, homemade, which I can't find anywhere. I have a recipe from one of her friends which I might try someday. One of my mother's last gifts to me was two yeast balls to make the wine. But no recipe. We're Hakka so perhaps it's a regional dish, only my relatives make it the same way.

                              2. Robert, as far as the watercress question is concerned, it may be a problem of terminolgy. There is a vegetable (not ong choi, but the similar one without the hollow stem) that is interchangeably referred to as Chinese water spinach or Chinese watercress, and this is served sauteed either with garlic or preserved tofu sauce. I don't think this was ever served in old-style Chinese-American places. I think I only encounter watercress in soups in Cantonese cooking (with beef or fish). Coincidentally, I've started writing a series about the changes in Chinese food in NY (from a personal perspective) from the 60s through the 80s.


                                7 Replies
                                1. re: Peter Cherches

                                  This post (which I guess you've already seen) might be relevant to your Chinese food history.

                                  I enjoyed reading about "New Toy Sun" in your blog and eagerly await future installments.

                                  1. re: Peter Cherches

                                    I don't know what they called it on the menu, but it was regular watercress, which I've never encountered at a Chinese restaurant in California.

                                    Maybe they were substituting for ong choy.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      It may or may not have been a substitution. I've had it several times prepared with the "fu yu" sauce. It doesn't always have the crunch of the ong choy but the slight bitterness of the watercress works well with fu yu.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        I grew up in Toronto, Canada and watercress is common vegetable in my family's kitchen and in resturants here. Watercress is known as "sey yuan choi", western people vegetable. We usually make soup out of it: either a quick boil soup or a long simmer soup. It is also a common addition to hot pot and lamb stew.

                                        Watercress is excellent accompanied with "fuyu" but the taste if very different from ong choy.

                                        1. re: cookiebaker

                                          So I wonder if the watercress soups I get in some NY HK places are adaptations of soups that use another leafy green in China.

                                          1. re: cookiebaker

                                            I'm wondering if you could add an East Coast perspective. When we buy watercress for cooking at home in soup, it's all about the stems. The wider and thicker the stems the better, as these are more tender and less stringy. Whereas watercress has been used in American households for its leaves, and now I'm seeing varieties that have spiny residual stems and big leaves.

                                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                                              When my grandmother used to have me go buy watercress for soup, all she was concerned about was that I didnt pick up bunches of dried out watercress. Whether the stems were thick or thin didn't matter because by the time the soup was done, it was pretty mushy.

                                      2. Peter, I suggest you pick up a copy of Peter Schwartz's "New York City Food". As each immigrent culture came to America, they made their own contribution to our dining experience--especially the Chinese. Schwartz takes the time to document original Chinese recipes from the turn of the 20th Century. (As well as other cultures such as the Italians, Irish, etc.)
                                        New York City food is a great read for every Chowhound and is enlightening as to how we got to where we are today with our food in America.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Leper

                                          Sylvia Lovegren's "Fashionable Food" addresses the evolution of Chinese-American food, but not the regional differences.

                                        2. There's been a lot of scholarly work on how Chinese food varies from country to country... as well as a fifteen-part TV documantary. http://www.filmwest.com/Catalogue/ite...
                                          I typed Chinese diaspora food into Google scholar and have been having fun looking at the hundreds of articles (most of which you have to pay to read, unfortunately) There are books too, such as The Globalization of Chinese Food By David Y. H. Wu, Sidney C. H. Cheung. Excerpts:
                                          And a lot of these far-flung restaurants have websites:
                                          http://www.saipannigeria.com/ (which looks pretty good, actually)

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: Brian S

                                            "Chinese Restaurants: Stories From A Diaspora" is great but the guy's so interested in the cultural aspects that he often neglects the food.

                                            Here's a topic about that series on the Food Media and News board:


                                            1. re: Brian S

                                              I'm a freelance writer, and I long ago in the pre-Internet era thought about trying to get an assignment to do a piece on the concept of Chinese food in different European cities (there was always at least one restaurant) -- London, Paris, Vienna, Zurich, Copenhagen, Athens, etc. Figuring no editor would send the ikes of 'moi' around the Continent, I never even wrote up a proposal. The scholars have done it though, and it's really interesting.

                                              About five years ago, my husband and I did try a Mexican restaurant in London. Weird, wild food and ambience -- topic for another thread, perhaps.

                                              1. re: ClaireWalter

                                                I ate at an excellent Chinese restaurant in Prague about 10 years ago. I figured it was the real deal because they had duck's tongue and the like on the menu. The kitchen staff were all Chinese, but it was weird giving my order to a Czech waiter.

                                                1. re: Peter Cherches

                                                  When I first moved to Colorado from NY, where Chinatown was THE place to go for Chinese food and where Chinese restaurants elsewhere also hired Chinese waiters and waitresses (family perhaps), I found it weird to to give my order to a blond American waiter. Czech would add to the cultural dissonance. I actually ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Vienna a few years ago. The waiter was Chinese, the decor was upscale Chinese (tablecloths, subdued lighting, lots of lanterns, dragons, carved wood -- abundant but quality). Oddly, I remember nothing about the food.

                                            2. Egg Rolls, Duck sauce and fried noodles on the table to nibble on while you decide what to order.

                                              All absent in CA but present in NY (missed???...I cannot say).

                                              1. I was born on the east coast, but spent 25 years in California. I love Chinese food wherever, but I miss the hell out of Chinese chicken salad from the west coast. Nothing like it here on the East coast. Honey walnut shrimp in CA. also the foil wrapped chicken. You would think someone would import these items.

                                                8 Replies
                                                1. re: othervoice

                                                  I'm sure foil wrapped chicken was once an East Coast thing. Is honey walnut shrimp the dish with broccoli & mayonnaise?

                                                  1. re: Peter Cherches

                                                    HI PETER,


                                                    1. re: othervoice

                                                      Most Hong Kong-style seafood places in NYC Chinatown serve it.

                                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                          I find it often has broccoli ringing the plate both in NYC and in LA. But I don't like it very much (something about warm mayo, ick ick ick) so my experience is deliberately limited.

                                                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                            You'll find this circle of steamed broccoli (no mayo!) at some Americanized Chinese restaurants in Colorado too.

                                                            One of my favorite places, though, is China Gourmet in North Boulder. It's one of those order at a counter, pay and pick up from a window places. They have long offered all the usual fare on an English language menu but had other dishes on the Chinese-only "blue menu." When my husband joined some Chinese-born co-workers at lunch there, they ordered off the blue menu. I joined them a few times (yum!) and scribbled translations on a blue menu and brought it home. I started telling friends about it (as, I'm sure, other patrons did), and eventually, the blue menu was also printed in English for those with more adventurous palates.

                                                        2. re: othervoice

                                                          Even the take out places serve it. Shrimp mayo walnuts and broccoli.

                                                      1. re: othervoice

                                                        Actually the best rendition of honey walnut prawns I've had was at a banquet at Nice Restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown about 10 years ago. They claimed it was a Hunan dish, but I've not heard that from anyone else.

                                                      2. Folks who are interested in this topic should look at the Chinese menus in the Los Angeles Public Library's online menu collection. You can retrieve them decade by decade and view them page by page. This is a wonderful site that provided some eye-openers for me. For example, there's a 1946 menu from a Boston Chinese restaurant that contains the entry, "Chicken Won Ton (Kreplack)." This really amused me, but it also reinforced the accuracy of the Chinese Restaurant/Jewish clientele relationship that has fascinated me for years. Gary Soup's website has a wonderful article that addresses that relationship.

                                                        Anyway, you can see the LAPL's menu collection here:


                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: Nancy Berry

                                                          I recall buying tins of won ton soup in New York in the early 60's which were labeled "Won Ton (Kreplach) Soup".

                                                          It's a crime that something similar to the LA library project hasn't been done with Chinese menus in San Francisco, or our rich Chinese Restaurant history otherwise documented. I'm resolving to get in the faces of the folks at CHSA about this in 2007!

                                                          1. As a tike, I lived in NY city and in a little town outside of Philadelphia, but grew up in California. When we lived back east mom, who married dad in California but moved back to NY, was always in search of the authentic taco. While living in California, she was always looking for Lo Mein and something that sounded like wash you up. From my childhood memories, I remember chinese food being extremely exotic, like pu-pu platters, pressed duck and cocktails with parasols. In California, it seems there is a lot more fish and vegetable options.

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                                                              "wash you up" sounds like "wor shu op" - which would be pressed duck, usually served with either an almond crust and brown gravy (my favorite) or with syrupy fruit, generally pineapple or lichee.

                                                              1. re: Striver

                                                                That made me giggle, and yeah, I think that's it too. Here's a recipe that CYL posted recently on the HOme Cooking board with photos.

                                                                Almond/pressed duck -

                                                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                  By the time I was teenager my folks stopped requesting Wor Shu Op but as a kid, it was an endless source of giggling for me. Thanks for the link, DH asked me one day how pressed duck is made.

                                                                2. re: Striver

                                                                  Ah, ha one of the mysteries of childhood revealed. Undoubtedly, Wor Shu Op is what they ordered because mom loved duck.

                                                              2. I grew up in Boston and had 25 years of eating the food in question before moving to California. I always surmised that the certain pecularities of "East Coast Chinese" food stemmed from their being the products of a central distributor, which accounts for the ubiquity of the menu items from place to place. This type of food was found mainly in suburban Chinese restaurants (although it could be found in downtown Boston as well). These restaurants always had a "tiki" drink menu and the decor was tiki-tacky. Many of the restaurants featured a large and active lounge with polyester-suited cover bands. This type of Chinese/Polynesian food was at its zenith up until the late eighties, when the restaurants in question started adding Thai dishes and more "exotic" ingredients, although prepared in the amusingly questionable fashion.

                                                                The style of food was closer to what is served at Trader Vic's than it is to "real" Chinese, as earlier noted; the main difference was between canned and fresh ingredients. These were the restaurants where one could obtain a Zombie or Scorpion bowl at the age of 15.

                                                                The following items did not vary from restaurant to restaurant:

                                                                PORK STRIPS: Totally devoid of fat, the meat was coated with a bright red "paint" that became one with the meat (in other words, not a sauce). The meat appeared to have been steamed, not baked, and was uniform in color and cut size. MSG was the main ingredient. The meat was not fibrous.

                                                                CHICKEN WINGS: These were fried and served in a brown gravy.

                                                                EGG ROLLS: Unlike a spring roll, the wrappers used for egg rolls were thick and they blistered from the deep fryer. The interior contents were a mash of red, green, and pale green. The taste was as far from a spring roll as red table wine was from a Chateau Margaux. Again, MSG was the key flavoring ingredient. The only identifiable content was barbecued pork, and only then because of the bright red color.

                                                                SHRIMP IN LOBSTER SAUCE: Quite unlike the West Coast variation, the East Coast version was jumbo prawns and ground pork in a brown gravy.

                                                                CHOP SUEY/CHOW MEIN: Neither of these contains noodles. Same goes for Moo Goo Gai Pan. Both were base mixtures of Napa cabbage, onion, and bean sprouts in a clear cornstarch sauce. The only difference was in the cut of the vegetables. SUBGUM was a variant and apparently denoted additional vegetables instead of pork/shrimp/chicken/beef. It might have referred to canned mushrooms.

                                                                HAWAII FIVE-O: A seafood dish that contained a shred or two of abalone among a roster of prawn, scallop, and a lobster knuckle or two. Served in brown gravy.

                                                                PU-PU PLATTER: Spareribs, elongated fried prawns, pork strips, egg rolls, Sterno.

                                                                FRIED RICE: Is brown. Brown is the hallmark of this rice, which invariably contains bean sprouts and your selection of additional ingredient (see chow mein). Although brown, the rice wasn't overly salty, although the color was at least partially derived from soy sauce. There are no carrots or peas in this type of rice. Egg is also absent.

                                                                The gravies/sauces at these restaurants are either brown or clear, or at least they were. Tomatoes made an appearance in some dishes, alongside chunks of green pepper, but neither of these was in common use. Pineapple was only found in "Polynesian" dishes.

                                                                The Kowloon restaurant on the North Shore was a key location for this type of food, but as noted before it was found in and around Boston; I ate it in Wellesley, Hingham, Weymouth, and Revere.

                                                                As for nostalgia, it was/is a cultural phenomema and is many people's only exposure to "Chinese" food. It seemed to reach its zenith in the sixties, following a culinary trend towards the "exotic" that took root in the fifties, likely due to the Trader Vic's influence and the availability of overseas air travel. I have lived in San Francisco for 18 years and have eaten at all the famous restaurants here, and still occasionally want to re-visit this regionally specific cuisine in the same way I occasionally want to make a Jiffy cake mix. Although I have enjoyed many a deep-fried sole with bones, there are still occasions when I crave an East Coast egg roll.

                                                                23 Replies
                                                                1. re: zumara

                                                                  So it sounds like there are a few differences between the Boston & NY versions of fake Chinese food:

                                                                  I never knew shrimp & lobster sauce in New York to have a brown gravy. It was always a white egg sauce, with peas.

                                                                  Fried rice in NY always had egg.

                                                                  In NY egg rolls almost always had both pork & shrimp, and some places served shrimp rolls, which didn't have pork.

                                                                  1. re: Peter Cherches

                                                                    Additionally, in the NYC of my youth Chow Mein - not Chop Suey - was served with fried noodles (the same ones that were on the table in lieu of bread, although one Chinese place I ate at in the 60's in Ithaca, NY, did have plastic baskets of white bread on each table), Fried Rice usually had peas in addition to egg and onion, and subgum meant "everything" - chicken, pork, beef, and shrimp. "Subgum Wonton" was all of that (and sometimes lobster in the higher-end places like Lum's in pre-authentic Flushing), mixed with vegetables and surrounded by fried wontons.

                                                                    "Pork Strips" are unknown to me; we did have "rib tips", which were the ends of spareribs. Pupu platters usually included either "butterfly shrimp" or shrimp toast, and sometimes that chicken in foil that an earlier poster referred to. And who can forget the almond dishes, like Char Shu Ding (roast pork, diced vegetables, and whole almonds) or Chicken Almond Ding (the same with chicken)?

                                                                    1. re: Striver

                                                                      Chow mein was always noodles in New Jersey, but chop suey and subgum were the aforementioned "vegetables and protein in brown glop".

                                                                      We didn't have pork strips, we had "beef skewers" which were essentially the same thing.

                                                                      Shrimp and lobster sauce was white sauce with peas and egg.

                                                                      Don't forget the crab rangoons, which appeared in the 80's and never really made it to California (they did get there, but it's not nearly as ubiquitous -- EVERY Chinese place in NJ has crab rangoons these days).

                                                                      I forgot about chicken almong ding -- though ding (丁) is just Mandarin for "diced".

                                                                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                        beef skewers and pork strips are worlds apart in the Boston area. I have not thought about pork strips in years- but I;ll bet they are still being served. Zumara's description was right on target. We had beef skewers, too- and they were usually marinated in teriyaki and then quickly grilled. The pork strips were steamed, I would gyess, with no marinade or sauce Just the red ring around the outside, and always dipped into the duck sauce.

                                                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                          For some reason, reading "Chicken Almond Ding" just now caused me to laugh somewhat uncontrollably. Ah, such a blast from the past!

                                                                          I am curious if anyone else is familiar with a thoroughly EC dish called "Chow Har Kew", which I have trouble finding even in New Jersey now.

                                                                          1. re: allegro805

                                                                            That the deep-fried shrimp with mushrooms and veg in translucent glop?

                                                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                              How is it that everything I love most gets characterized as glop? :-)

                                                                          2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                            Crab rangoon was invented in California by Trader Vic's.

                                                                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                              Sure, but it's not available in most Chinese places, whereas on the East Coast it's EVERYWHERE.

                                                                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                You're not going to the right "Chinese" places. Try the ones that do mostly take-out business for non-Chinese and it's definitely there.

                                                                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                  Most of my (bad) Chinese takeout menues here in S.F.have Crab Rangoon...Cheese and Chinese sounds Un..Cosher

                                                                                  1. re: ChowFun_derek

                                                                                    Crab rangoon seems to be making a comback recently, I see it on more and more menus ... usually fusiony places though. Harmony in Marin might have taken it to a new level ...

                                                                                    crispy won ton stuffed with avocado, cream cheese and a touch of curry

                                                                                    But then again they have sesame balls stuffed with plantains, spring roll with avocado, Italian sweet onions and sun dried tomatoes and Phoenix prawns with shrimp mousse and dipped in light cilantro batter

                                                                                    Dunno ... Harmony is really a dum sum place but it's making 'traditional' Polynesian sound a lot more appealing by comparison.

                                                                                    1. re: rworange

                                                                                      Where I live (midwest), everyone thinks the restaurant's not "authentic" unless it serves crab rangoon. Despite my Chinese heritage, even I can't get them to understand that it's not Chinese and was invented in California!

                                                                                      1. re: k_d

                                                                                        I never saw a pupu platter till about five years ago, at a Chinese place called Hunan about 30 miles from here (NW Iowa).

                                                                                        No one around here knows anything about pot stickers, which everyone served some version of in Oregon.

                                                                                        Growing up we used to go to a place in a strip mall in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, called the Fortune. The people who ran it appeared to be Vietnamese. This was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I think it claimed to be Cantonese, and it was a Big Deal when they brought in a few Szechuan dishes (I have no idea if that's a correct spelling, but that's what they said). My favorite thing on the menu there was "Cashew Chicken" which was big chunks of breaded and deep-fried chicken meat with whole cashew nuts in a thick brown gravy.

                                                                                        I have no idea what "real" Chinese food is. I don't know what's authentic because I've been to a hundred Chinese restaurants that claim to be authentic, and they're all different.

                                                                                        Interestingly, some of my favorite meals when I was in Ireland 20 years ago were from Chinese take-out places. They had a little snack they called "prawn crackers," which were textured about like shrimp-flavored pork rinds. I loved them, but never saw them again in a Chinese place here in the US until about a year ago at a Chinese buffet in the old Taco Tico building in Coffeyville, Kansas!

                                                                                        1. re: revsharkie

                                                                                          Oddly enough cashew chicken is American and the unofficial dish of Springfield, Mo where it was created. From wikipedia:

                                                                                          "Cashew chicken was first served (i.e. invented) in 1963 at Leong's Tea House in Springfield, Missouri."


                                                                                          If you are near an Asian market, you can buy bags of those shrimp crackers.

                                                                                          1. re: rworange

                                                                                            In Asian markets you can buy BOXES of them in their uncooked form. Pop them in some hot oil and they will wow you as much as a performance tea ball opening as they expand, and you'll have the freshest prawn crackers imaginable -- but cheap!

                                                                                            1. re: rworange

                                                                                              That explains a lot. Where I grew up is about 150 miles from Springfield.

                                                                                              1. re: rworange

                                                                                                Springfield-style cashew chicken was invented there, but that's unique to that area. Cashew chicken existed way before that, but not in that style in the San Francisco area, even before it was supplanted by peanutty kung pao chicken on menus.

                                                                                                Edited to add: Here's a link to the thread (originated May 2000) where I first read about Springfield-style -

                                                                            2. re: zumara

                                                                              I went to college in Boston right after Noah got off the Ark. The House of Roy in Boston's small Chinatown was a Sunday night favorite. What I remember, in addition to some of the dishes Zumara mentioned is that seasame candies, not fortune cookies, were delivered w/ the bill.

                                                                              The House of Roy, BTW, did stoop to pup platters, tho' it was possible to order the components Zumara listed.

                                                                              1. re: ClaireWalter

                                                                                That last sentence should have read, "The House of Roy did NOT stoop to PUPU platters." It was late when I was keystroking that one, and I didn't notice my the missing letters. Sorry.

                                                                              2. re: zumara

                                                                                Egg rolls can be plus or minus tiny shrimp (as another poster mentioned). I miss this sort of place. There were places that had decent Chinese-language menus as well as serving these usuals. I just want an Egg Roll every now and then.

                                                                                1. re: zumara

                                                                                  What you have described almost is what I am missing about my home in Massachusetts.I have been in Colorado Springs for 6 months and my children and myself are desperately missing East Coast chinese food.When I pulled out a local chinese menu,I was so confused as to where all of my favorites were!I am actually becoming quite obssesed with the subject and never really knew that chinese food was different depending on region.People back home don't believe me when I tell them that there are no chicken fingers,beef teriyaki or fried jumbo shrimp where I am.Massachusetts' pupu platter consisted of chicken fingers-long thick strips of juicy white meat coated in a thick wet batter and deep fried,it was delicious with sweet and sour sauce that had cherries in it.
                                                                                  Fried jumbo shrimp-rounded tender shrimp,in the same thick wet batter and deep fried to look like a ring,some were long like the chicken fingers,depended on the restaurant.These are good dipped in duck sauce.Another thing that is good in the duck sauce were the egg rolls,they had red,flavorful strips of pork in them and just enough cabbage and not so much carrot.The crust was crispy and thick on the outside and bubbled from the deep fryer and the inner wrapper was moist and thin.
                                                                                  Beef teriyaki-Long strips of the most tender(I mean melt in your mouth) and flavorful beef that tastes like it has been marinated forever,strewn on a long wooden stick,well,I guess it's a skewer.
                                                                                  Boneless ribs-Yes,they are very red,almost like the meat itself is naturally red and coated with a thick,sweet glaze-like coating of sweet and sour.Depending on the restaurant you could order them with the bone.Also,very,very tender and delicious.
                                                                                  Crab rangoon-The only thing that is the same here in Colorado with one exception....Back home they had way more filling of cream cheese,chives and crab.
                                                                                  Pork,chicken,shrimp or lobster fried rice-Very brown rice with little or no veggies,just some onions and bean sprouts.I liked to put some of the soy sauce given in little clear packets on top of mine.My favorite was shrimp.I hate rice with chunks of egg and loaded with peas and carrots!That's pretty much all that is offered here in the west:(
                                                                                  Lo-mein-Long brown and flavorful noodles with veggies such as broccoli,water chestnuts,bean sprouts and whatever kind of meat you wanted(like the rice).
                                                                                  Peking ravioli(fried or steamed)-I like the fried ones.Thick dough with a type of pork inside that resembles a little sausage,served with a delicious sauce for dipping.
                                                                                  Last but not least,Egg foo yong-An omelet served in a thick brown gravy with ham or chicken.
                                                                                  If I was rich,I would seriously pay the money to have chinese food from back home,that I was raised on,express mailed to me.....Pathetic,But it is just so good and a part of my life for as far back as I can remember.I can't eat it any other way.Another thing... the names of these restaurants back home were Ding -Ho,Ho -Toy,Aku-Aku,Chef-Ho,Peking Garden and Ping's Garden,to name a few.

                                                                                  1. re: crystalmoon1979

                                                                                    I realize this post is very old, but teriyaki is Japanese, not Chinese. Also, when I was growing up in New York in the 70s, Chinese restaurants that I went to here never had "pupu platters," as far as I can remember. Many of them did have chow mein, chop suey, lo mein, moo shu dishes, eggrolls, egg drop soup, chicken with cashew nuts, etc.

                                                                                2. I've wondered whether duck sauce was originally some kind of American substitute for hoisin sauce, as in Peking Duck. Whatever the etymology it lost any connection with duck and was mostly used for dipping dry "chow mein noodles" or egg rolls in.

                                                                                  The "lobster" in shrimp and lobster sauce refers to the fact that it's the sauce that is used for "lobster Cantonese."

                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: Peter Cherches

                                                                                    That sounds accurate to me..but who knows how far "back" "E.C. Duck Sauce actually goes....there certainly are peaches and apricots in Asia...but also in Eastern Europe...

                                                                                    sigh....I DO love Lobster Cantonese>>>!

                                                                                    1. re: Peter Cherches

                                                                                      No, duck sauce is the apricot/yellow plum sauce that's served as a condiment with Cantonese roast duck.

                                                                                      Chow_fun, as you'll recall, we were served it with roast goose at the Yee's chowdown in SF Chinatown a couple years ago. It's quite traditional.

                                                                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                        Tastes surprisingly good with tobasco on pork fried rice.

                                                                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                          I think Yee's might have been a little tarter (which is not a bad thing) Did I ask for mustard to mix it together...? I can't remember...

                                                                                        2. Add me to the chorus of complainers who believe east coast chinese pales in comparison with its west coast counterpart. Thank god I'm moving to LA in a few weeks...

                                                                                          One more mystery for the list: Why is "lo mein" on the east coast "chow mein" on the west?

                                                                                          31 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: a_and_w

                                                                                            Lo mein is not the same as chow mein. Lo mein is not crispy, and it wasn't in the early 70s, either, at least at the places I went to (but I suspect, everywhere).

                                                                                            1. re: a_and_w

                                                                                              Chow mein in the west isn't usually crispy except for the Hong Kong style which is now sometimes called pan fried. Having only experienced Chinese food in the east in Manhattan when I lived there, a big difference is in the type of noodle.

                                                                                              At most Cantonese restaurants in the west, the mein is a fresh egg noodle that's thin and chewy. What I immediately noticed in the east was the thicker, perhaps all wheat noodles that were used in lo mein and the ubiquitous sesame noodle, which tasted more like peanut butter than anything else.

                                                                                              1. re: a_and_w

                                                                                                There's Lo mein on the West Coast as well....
                                                                                                I'm sure all New Yorkers are grieved by your departure....

                                                                                                1. re: ChowFun_derek

                                                                                                  That'd explain all the "I'm Number One" salutes... oh wait, that was for me when I cut across Fifth Avenue yesterday on one of the very rare occasions I drive a car in that city.

                                                                                                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                    You think NYC is bad, try driving in Boston!

                                                                                                    Seriously, though, go to a neighborhood chinese place in SF and order "chow mein." You will get precisely what you do when you order "lo mein" at a neighborhood chinese place in NYC. It's really odd...

                                                                                                    1. re: a_and_w

                                                                                                      "Chow mein" in Cantonese means "fried noodles." "Lo mein" means sauteed noodles with some soy sauce. "Lo" literally means to stir and mix together. Therefore, chow mein should literally be fried (crispy), whereas lo mein should be soft some sauce on the noodles.

                                                                                                      1. re: dpan

                                                                                                        Right, and crispy (i.e., fried) noodles is what you get when you order "chow mein" in the east. What I'm still trying to figure out why I get soft noodles when I order "chow mein" at many places in SF. Am I really the only one who's had this strange experience?

                                                                                                        1. re: a_and_w

                                                                                                          About a billion people in China share your "strange" experience. "Chao Mian" generally gets you a stir-fried (NOT crunchy) mess of noodles. Exceptions are the "Hong Kong" style noodles, but crispy noodles are little in evidence in China as in San Francisco. The "chow" (chao) simply means stir-fried or stir-braised, regardless of what New Yorkers and La Choy seem to think.

                                                                                                          1. re: Gary Soup

                                                                                                            Chow Mein on the East Coast, at least in NY in the Chinese-American category of food, has nothing to do with noodles although you are provided with the crispy fried noodles as a garnish. You are given the same noodles along with almost all basic "chinese" soups here - wonton soup, egg drop, hot and sour and as a previous poster mentioned it is generally on the tables as a complimentary pre-meal munchie at most eat-in restaurants. These noodles are meant to be eaten alone or dipped in duck sauce or hot mustard.

                                                                                                            Chow Mein itself is a stir fried dish of vegetables, generally a lot of onion, celery, bean sprouts and bok choy (but it varies) with a choice of chicken, beef, roast pork or shrimp, or just the vegetables. The saucing depends, at some restaurants, on which protein you are ordering with the chicken and shrimp chow mein being in a white sauce, beef and pork in a brown sauce. Chow Mein here really has nothing to do with noodles.

                                                                                                            1. re: laylag

                                                                                                              What you're describing as chow mein is what I've heard called "chop suey" at Chinese-American restaurants, no?

                                                                                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                                                Yes, yes, yes .... that's why I keep calling chow mein chop suey ... or was that visa versa.

                                                                                                                1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                  In my experience (and I really haven't ordered this since childhood), chow mein was always served with those noodle-like fried things, which were used as a garnish or just mushed in with everything else, including the white rice. In fact, AFAIR you can buy bags of the fried things at grocery stores and bodegas, and the product identified on the bag is "Chow Mein Noodles" - and not just from La Choy.

                                                                                                                  In the restaurants of my youth, Chop Suey and Chow Mein were two separate items: one was not served with the fried stuff and the other was. In fact, that was the main difference between them.

                                                                                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                    Chow mein here in Northern Ca is, fried noodles with bean sprouts, celery, a little carrot, pork,chicken or shrimp or all three.

                                                                                                                    Chop Suey, is a filipino dish of stewed vegetables.
                                                                                                                    Rarely have I seen Chop Suey in a Chinese Restaurant.

                                                                                                                    1. re: chef chicklet

                                                                                                                      Chop suey is an American dish invented by Chinese cooks working here in the 1800s. Here's the oral history version -

                                                                                                                      1. re: chef chicklet

                                                                                                                        If you were a few decades older, you'd know that EVERY Chinese restaurant that wanted any gweilo business at all used to feature chop suey, and "Chop Suey" often were the most prominent words on the restaurant's sign.



                                                                                                                    2. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                                                      Melanie, Out of curiousity I was just exploring the difference between chop suey and chow mein because I've long wondered and never ordered chop suey to see for myself. In any event, on Arthur Schwartz's web site, link below, he gives an explanation that matches what you've asked. The thing is, generally chinese in NY is a take-out and so any crispy noodles/fried wonton skin strips, are sent separately in a bag - so they stay crisp obviously. In a restaurant, if you order chow mein, there will be some of those noodles on the bottom of the plate but not enough that they seem "integral" to the dish. I've had W.C. chow mein and it is definitely a noodle based dish as lo mein is, in a totally different preparation, here. East Coast Chow Mein is a childhood comfort food of mine spending my early days in Brooklyn eating what was really good chow mein which, if not authentic to China, was definitely very Brooklyn. In fact, years and years ago Nathans (of the famous hot dogs) used to serve chow mein on a bun which was white rice, fried crispy noodle things and the sauteed chicken and vegetable chow mein all on a white bread bun. Sounds awful I know but my grandfather loved it and I came to love it too.


                                                                                                                      1. re: laylag

                                                                                                                        Now the question is, what is fried? The crispy fried individual noodle strands or the pan-fried pancake-like noodles with the veggies and meat tossed in? How to even describe any of this!

                                                                                                                        1. re: Sarah

                                                                                                                          It's so hard to describe it isn't it? But the basic thing I guess is that the chow mein noodles in New York aren't even noodles. They are generally strips of wonton skins or some other dough. Some are wide, some narrow and some "spaghetti like" but they aren't anything like fried noodles in the West Coast chow mein either individually or in pancake like bundles. They are snack like things. You can buy bags of them at the local grocery store although the best tastin g but often greasiest type are the just freshly fried wonton skin strips at some restaurants. I can't remember which ones Nathan's used.

                                                                                                                          1. re: laylag

                                                                                                                            To add to the confusion or to clarify, here's a Saveur article re noodles & recipes. The chow mein I refer to is called two-side brown here. But how do you order it in a restaurant w/o getting the HK style super thin noodles?


                                                                                                                        2. re: laylag

                                                                                                                          ...and that Nathan's chow mein bun thing followed me from Brooklyn to Oceanside L.I. ...I couldn't get away from it...!

                                                                                                                          1. re: laylag

                                                                                                                            If you go to Americanized Chinese restaurants in Miami, chow mein does not come with any noodles at all--not even the crispy ones in a waxed paper bag.

                                                                                                                      2. re: Gary Soup

                                                                                                                        Gary, that makes a lot of sense. The meaning probably got corrupted in transition to the East Coast. Thanks for the tip!

                                                                                                                        1. re: a_and_w

                                                                                                                          The corruption of the meaning of chow mein had a little help from the folks at Chung King and La Choy, not to mention countless school cafeterias.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Gary Soup

                                                                                                                            My assumption is that the dry fried noodle was an American corruption of fresh crispy fried noodle in Cantonese chow mein. The only dish these were served with (besides soup & as a pre-meal table snack) was "chow mein."

                                                                                                                            Laylag is not correct that "chow mein has nothing to do with noodles." The name is dependent on the concept of noodles, and it was always served with noodles. Some menus used to offer chow mein "Cantonese-style", with freshly fried noodles as an alternative to American-style.

                                                                                                                            I believe the meat and vegetables in chop suey were sliced differently than in chow mein.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Peter Cherches

                                                                                                                              Peter, I was not stating that the words or original dish chow mein had nothing to do with noodles but that in New York, when the vast majority of people ordered chow mein they were not ordering nor did they receive what one might consider a noodle dish. They were ordering another dish that came accompanied by hard, fried, cracker-like strips/strands. Unlike Lo Mein and Chow Fun which are definitely perceived as noodle dishes. I'm sure some menus offered cantonese style chow mein but until I was on the west coast, I was not exposed to the "original/more authentic" version of the dish.

                                                                                                                              Thanks for the added info on the chow mein/chop suey issue.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Peter Cherches

                                                                                                                                The very word mein (mian) means "wheat flour" or "made with wheat flour" and is usually short for "mian tiao" (noodles). "Chow mein" has everything to do with the noodles and nothing to do with the toppings. Chop suey, on the other hand, technically has nothing to do with noodles.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Gary Soup

                                                                                                                                  Growing up in Ohio, chow mein was not "noodles." It was this, Lachoy's chow mein "noodles" that are more like Durkee fried onions w/out the onion.


                                                                                                                                  At the time, Ohio was supposedly the number one producer of chow mein and everyone in my class was thrilled that we were the highest producer of chinese food. It was served over "overly stir fried" vegetables, usually really cheap ones like celery.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                    La Choy was founded by a Detroit grocer in 1922, who wanted to market fresh bean sprouts to his customers; with a Korean college classmate, he came up with the successful strategy of canning them in glass jars. I've never figured out who bought bean sprouts in Detroit in 1922. But yes, the company is now located in Ohio.

                                                                                                                        2. re: a_and_w

                                                                                                                          For the same reason that you don't get crispy rice when you order "chau fan" (as opposed to "chow fun tiao" which are thick rice noodles) -- "chau" doesn't mean deep-fried until crispy, it just means "fried", which includes pan-frying and, one assumes, stir-frying.

                                                                                                                          Har chau gai dan (scrambled eggs with shrimp) is also not crispy.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                            I would say that chow is more synonymous with the term sauteed than fried. there is a different word in Chinese for "fried" (deep or shallow fried).

                                                                                                                            Interestingly, I grew up with the sort of lo mein that was basically the thin egg noodle (the stuff that goes with won ton noodles and recalling that I also realize how polarized opinions of what a won ton is and should taste like would be on this board) that was served boiled and drained, topped with various items (like brisket and sauce, or won tons, sui gao) and if topped with won tons (and the like), served with oyster sauce. My personal favourite was the one topped with finely julienned pork and a hot, slightly sweet red chili sauce/oil mix called jia jiang (literally treanslated to fried paste) lo mein.

                                                                                                                            Of course, this gave way to another definition of jia jiang mein when I went to places that served a more northern Chinese style cuisine and what I got was white wheat noodles topped with a strong but not spicy dark brown sauce with minced pork and vegetables.

                                                                                                                            Anyways, I was just wondering if anyone else has this particular definition of lo mein, or is that simply confined to the Hong Kong/Cantonese vocabulary.

                                                                                                                      3. re: a_and_w

                                                                                                                        I just want to point out that it is not East Coast versus West, it is West versus rest of country. From Utah to Boston, you usually see Lo Mein for soft noodles, Pan-fried for the slightly seard (some crispy from the pan, but not deep fried) and "Crispy" or Chow Mein for the Noodles in shape of a "bird's nest." And you can get Egg Rolls

                                                                                                                2. About five years ago while vacationing in Portland, Maine, I came across the so called East Coast Retro Chinese food people are referring to.

                                                                                                                  Pu-Pu platters with sterno flames, duck sauce (which Melaine referred to above with apricot and yellow plum sauce mix with more corn syrup), big fat double wrapped egg rolls, Blue Lagoon cocktails served in a big fat bowl, various meats in brown gravy, lo-mein and fried thick wonton skins.

                                                                                                                  The owner was quite surprised when I walked in, he said he hasn't seen a Chinese person (besides the chefs) in over a year. I was in there fairly late and the owner offered me what the chefs were eating. I think it was mustard greens and duck wings, I kindly declined and ordered the General Tsao's with egg rolls.

                                                                                                                  BTW, if you crave the thick egg rolls you can find them at Safeway (west coast)Chinese hot foods deli.

                                                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: theSauce

                                                                                                                      When my parents were still able to travel, one of their missions was to eat at a "Chinese" restaurant wherever they visited: Moscow, Jamaica, Copenhagen, etc. They always loved hearing the personal tales of how the proprietors ended up where they were. As a kid, I remember the summer we drove from Calif. throughout the Southwest and stopped at a wide spot in the road because there was a Chinese restaurant. The owners took away the menus and fixed some homestyle Cantonese food for us. They even went to their house next door to fetch chopsticks and rice bowls for us to use, as these were not part of the table setting in their restaurant. Sounds like you got the same kind of welcome.

                                                                                                                      1. re: theSauce

                                                                                                                        Nice stories. That's the kind of story that makes a CH.

                                                                                                                        I've had similar experiences with an Asian farm. When I was 19 or so I drove up to tomato farm in SoCal and it turned out to be Japanese owned. An ancient woman, I assume the grandmother, was sitting in the shade and suddenly got up when she saw me and leterally grabbed me and pulled towards her granddaugther about the same age and started yelling in Japanese to her family. I was surprised to say the least...then the mom or auntie came over and said, "Sorry about that, we don't see many of you around here (joking)."

                                                                                                                        The best story I've heard however was by a Japanese (national) author I met. He was in New England and stumbling into a restaurant owned/run by a Korean family. While Japan and have Korea have a contestable and often bitter history -- the story goes the owner was so happy to see someone that looked like him they stayed up all night and got drunk.

                                                                                                                        1. re: ML8000

                                                                                                                          Great story's you two..thanks for sharing them...

                                                                                                                      2. I'd give anything for shrimp toast, soooo good.

                                                                                                                        What I've noticed in Boston lately is that my Chinese food experiences tend to be either a) terribly familliar, moo shi pork, peking ravioli, etc. . . or b) I have very little idea of what I'm ordering. I have noticed that the more authentic places here outside of Chinatown proper, with many exceptions, tend to advertise themselves as Mandarin or Manchurian.

                                                                                                                        And yes, the Kowloon is something everyone should experience once in their life.

                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                        1. re: sailormouth

                                                                                                                          I was never a big fan of shrimp toast, though I will say it's one of the better uses for white bread.

                                                                                                                        2. I remember that when my son was very young he got upset because there was no duck sauce to be found in any Chinese restaurant when we visited San Francisco. Our friends there didn't even know what it was.

                                                                                                                          10 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: dinwiddie

                                                                                                                            It's called siu mei jeurng, "duck sauce" is a made up name and not a direct translation.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                                                              They still don't have it in west coast chinese restaurants.

                                                                                                                              1. re: dinwiddie

                                                                                                                                That's not true. I live in San Francisco and it's widely available and served with Cantonese-style roast duck (siu op), not with Peking-style duck. But it's not called "duck sauce", and no one will know what it is if you ask for duck sauce. Just like "soup dumpling" is a made up NY Chinese menu name.

                                                                                                                                I suspect that you have to order a siu op to get it. When it's not offered with the duck, I have asked for siu mei jeurng, and they'll either bring it (90% of the time) or tell me they don't have any. The point of this is that the servers recognize universally what I'm asking for by its Chinese name, even if they don't serve it themselves.

                                                                                                                                To clarify, a Cantonese roast duck does not have the hard crackly skin of the Peking duck. It has more pronounced seasoning and juicier, moist flesh. It's not served with pancakes or buns. Typically in my area it will be chopped into bite size pieces on the bone, reassembled into a half-duck form, and presented on a bed of candied beans with a small dish of siu mei jeurng for dipping.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                                                                  Some restaurants in NYC also refer to soup dumplings as "little juicy buns" or something to that effect. I always assumed that was a more accurate translation of the Chinese name (xiao long bao?).

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Striver

                                                                                                                                    Literal translation is little dragon buns.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: dpan

                                                                                                                                      Or little steamer buns/dumplings.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                                                                    Melanie...that's the lemony tart/sweet sauce without fruit chunks that come with the roast duck..from the Chinese delis...
                                                                                                                                    definitely not the preserve apricot thing you mix with mustard on the East Coast...

                                                                                                                                    1. re: ChowFun_derek

                                                                                                                                      Sounds like you're getting a bad version of it if it doesn't have any fruit in it. Somewhere else in this thread someone mentioned that duck sauce was chutney-like. Never made that analogy myself, but that's how I'd describe a good version of siu mei jeurng. My mom used to make it at home when I was a wee one and she started with a jar of Smuckers apricot preserves, added vinegar, garlic, ginger, some chilis, and I don't know what else.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                                                                        Then much of the East Coast had a bad version ... well, that's a self-cancelling phrase, eh? Never had anything like a chutney. It was like Derek described.

                                                                                                                                        I'm only a student of Chinese food on the SF board, but I do have a masters of regrettable East Coast Asian food ... mid 20th century ... with a major in New England versions and a minor in NY versions.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                                                                          That certainly is closer to the East Coast version...(but your Mom improved upon it with the vinegar, garlic and chilis)....this 'heat' was created with Chinese hot mustard in the East Coast version...

                                                                                                                              2. When my daughter and her family were recently visiting Boston from LA we decided to order take out Chinese food. We were asking everyone what they would like and she said" something on a stick-they don't have that in LA."Beek teriyaki" it was -along with many other dishes.Perhaps they do have it in LA but certainly not as prvelant as here.

                                                                                                                                1. I ate a lot of Chinese food in Prague. I found it very interesting. The food was sort of a mix between authentic Cantonese and NYC Chinese with an Eastern European flair. Apparently the Chiense communites had been there for a long time. The food was tasty though, a nice subset of the cuisine. Perhaps this should be a seperate thread? Different styles of Chinese food from around the globe?

                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: MVNYC

                                                                                                                                    I didn't notice this when I made my Prague comment above. The place I mentioned was near a big movie theater, I think close to Wenceslas Square.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: MVNYC

                                                                                                                                      I found a website for one. They have hot fried deer and rabbit with mushrooms.
                                                                                                                                      And here's another, with a slicker website with neat photos of casseroles and sliced meats.

                                                                                                                                    2. The Chinese restaurants in Nashville would probably satisfy the nostalgic cravings of exiled East-Coasters - duck sauce and fried wonton strips on the table, all that stuff in "glop" and/or brown gravy, and at least one place (Chang's Garden, which I think finally died) had a Crab Rangoon which Mr. Chang claimed he'd invented, that was for many years on the menu as "Carb Rolls". I have to say that anything involving a fried wonton skin is just fine with me, especially if there's some hot mustard to dip it in...

                                                                                                                                      If I were to live there again, I'd have to come back to the San Gabriel Valley on a regular basis, if only for some good cheap dim sum, but I can suck down chop suey and pork in glop quite happily...

                                                                                                                                      1. east coast - poopoo platter
                                                                                                                                        west coast - panda express

                                                                                                                                        1. It's my guess that pu-pu platters in Chinese restaurants are one of those curious cultural cross-fertilizations that the USA is good at generating. I remember the rise of a Polynesian thing in the late 50's-early 60's, with places gussied up like Trader Vic's and Hawaii Kai (another NYC "Sweet 16" mecca - does anyone celebrate those any more?) opening in the ever-growing suburban sprawls. One of the things they offerred was the "pu-pu" platter, and - like many of the "polynesian" dishes - it took its main components from Chinese menus of the time.

                                                                                                                                          It's my thought that in order to get in on the trend, many competing Chinese restaurants started doing their own pu-pu platters. For current generations, now that the Polynesian thing is long past and only a few spots remain (there are a few "Tiki" websites that track them), the pu-pu platter is thought of as a retro Chinese restaurant thing, detached from its former associations.

                                                                                                                                          Just a theory, of course...

                                                                                                                                          9 Replies
                                                                                                                                          1. re: Striver

                                                                                                                                            I alwayw wondered why nobody opened a kosher Polynesian place called Hawaii Chai. There was, however, a kosher Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn called Shang-Chai.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Peter Cherches

                                                                                                                                              Kosher Chinese is a whole other subject - small but fascinating. Restaurants like Bernstein's on Essex and Moshe Peking substituted veal for pork (and of course no shrimp or lobster) to satisfy the cross-cultural longings of their Orthodox clientele. At least the lack of dairy products in Chinese cuisine simplified things a bit.

                                                                                                                                            2. re: Striver

                                                                                                                                              Re: ""Sweet 16" mecca - does anyone celebrate those any more?" I know I'm engaging in topic drift here, but I can't resist noting that in this era of punk and Goth and rap, 16 hardly seems "sweet."

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Striver

                                                                                                                                                Here's a wikipedia link that says pu pu platters were

                                                                                                                                                "based largely on Cantonese cuisine, and the term "pu pu" derives from the Cantonese dialect of Chinese (bou2 means "treasure," "jewel," "precious," or "rare").

                                                                                                                                                In a link to another article says that Don the Beachcomber probably served the original pu pu platter ...

                                                                                                                                                "customers ate what seemed like wonderfully exotic cuisines, but, in actuality, were mostly standard Cantonese dishes served with flair."

                                                                                                                                                1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                                                  Don the Beachcomber at Waikiki was (as intended) pure tropical magic for me. Kitsch that worked - but maybe when you're 20 years old, one is easily impressed.

                                                                                                                                                2. re: Striver

                                                                                                                                                  Oh my goodness, Hawaii Kai!!! You sure brought back memories. I remember going there as a teenager with my friends and thinking it was the height of sophistication....

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: gloriousfood

                                                                                                                                                    Was Hawaii Kai the one right next to the theater where Cats was playing? Second floor? If so, I too remember being there as a teenager with friends. If I recall correctly they weren't too particular about I.D. and that was when the NY legal drinking age was only 18 anyway.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: laylag

                                                                                                                                                      Yep - it was right next door to the Winter Garden theatre, and in the same Times Square neighborhood as House of Chan (also fabled in Sweet 16 lore and legend), the original Ruby Foo's, and Pearl's (renknowned for its Lemon Chicken).

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: laylag

                                                                                                                                                        Now I really remember why that restaurant was so popular with my friends and me! No, they weren't particular about IDs at all....

                                                                                                                                                  2. Ed Shoenfeld(from Brooklyn,NY) is a superb gourmet Chinese chef--his recipes (some very simple) are delightful and nowhere near the gloppy messes some of you have been writing about--a dish of snow peas can be incredible with a white sauce if done correctly-don't know of any web page for Ed-but if anyone finds one-let me know-thanks

                                                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: marlie202

                                                                                                                                                      I believe he befriended food critic Gael Greene and helped her discover the culinary treasures of NY Chinatowns. He later became a restaurant publicist, I think.

                                                                                                                                                    2. As I guess you realize, much of this culinary evolution is also to be found among any ethnic group that lives in far-flung places, as they adapt to new ingredients (and unavailability of old), and also try to design dishes for restaurants that will appeal to their new customer base. I read a long history of Mexican food in Texas. (I think it was posted as a link here.) Poor Mexican immigrants somehow found a source of cheap pecans, tried to find a way of preparing them that Texans would like, and came up with the pecan praline that is today considered a "real" Tex-Mex delicacy.

                                                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Brian S

                                                                                                                                                        I always thought of pralines as distinctly Southern, not Tex-Mex. I remember driving through the south in the 50's as one Stuckey's after another, all featuring pralines.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Striver

                                                                                                                                                          Definitely Southern. But as far as I know, sometime before 1940, Mexican immigrants in Texas thought: these Southern people like pralines, we can get pecans really cheaply, let's sell them at our restaurants. And then the pralines became associated with Mexican restaurants.


                                                                                                                                                      2. So do any New Yorkers know where I can get San Francisco-style tomato beef chow mein either in the city or on Long Island?

                                                                                                                                                        I'm a native NY-er who never ate Chinese until I lived in the SF area for 20 years. Now that I'm back on LI, I really miss SF-style Chinese food and even after 10 years here, I can't quite get used to all the take-out menus touting "XXXXX in brown sauce."

                                                                                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: chrisonli

                                                                                                                                                          Then there was tomato beef CURRY chow mein - carrying the idea to its ultimate extension.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Sharuf

                                                                                                                                                            That sounds like something from Berlin.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Peter Cherches

                                                                                                                                                              No, tomato beef curry chow mein was a cheap-lunch fave in SF's chinatown in the 1970s.

                                                                                                                                                        2. While searching for old photos of La Choy stuff, I found this NY Times article which has a few delectable tidbits on Chinese restos in the USA.

                                                                                                                                                          "Although old-style dishes like chop suey, chow mein and egg foo yong are almost nonexistent today in New York City and the West Coast, they are surprisingly common in the middle of the country."

                                                                                                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Brian S

                                                                                                                                                            Don't forget the LaChoy song, "LaChoy makes Chinese food *swiiing* American!"

                                                                                                                                                            I think most major cities with a decent size Asian population will have more authentic food, even in more Americanized restaurants. I've lived back and forth across the country but haven't lived in the middle in over 25 years. I never come across chop suey, chow mein, egg foo young.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                              Hilarious! The mere mention of that song brings memories flooding back that I didn't even know existed; I had forgotten there even WAS a LaChoy jingle! I have to admit my favorite thing to eat when I am back in NJ is egg foo young, for reasons that surely are just nostalgia. I love it though.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: allegro805

                                                                                                                                                                  Very funny AND telling....I guess We are the "chosen few" now....

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: allegro805

                                                                                                                                                                    That was great - took me back. Thanks allegro. This made me reacall one of the same campaign with cans of chow mein vegetables with different compartments for different items yes? Or am I just getting older than I like to believe I am?

                                                                                                                                                                    By the way, I still love and eat egg foo young more frequently than I'd like to admit. It is a nostalgia food for me and, since I'm still in the NY area, it's not hard to get.

                                                                                                                                                              1. When I was a kid a lot of the people in my Brooklyn neighborhood pronounced chow mein "Charmaine."

                                                                                                                                                                1. One thing I've noticed is that when I lived in the SF bay area, szechuan-style chinese was everywhere (my favorite, since I like the spiciness). It seems impossible to find on the east coast. Also, most of the SF-area restaurants I went to were dine-in, whereas on the east coast most seem to be primarily or exclusively takeout.

                                                                                                                                                                  10 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: aynrandgirl

                                                                                                                                                                    "szechuan-style chinese was everywhere (my favorite, since I like the spiciness). It seems impossible to find on the east coast."

                                                                                                                                                                    Huh? Where have you looked for it on the East Coast? Certainly not New York, with the chain of Grand Sichuan restaurants plus a number of other Sichuan-style places (the best I've been to being Spicy & Tasty in Flushing).

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Pan

                                                                                                                                                                      I'll add to that list the excellent Chengdu stand at the J&L Mall, 41-82 Main Street.

                                                                                                                                                                      Also, Little Pepper on Roosevelt, at the old Spicy and Tasty location. I haven't been, but a great many Chinatown hounds have sung its' praises as being authentic and good.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Pan

                                                                                                                                                                        From her post history, I gather aynrandgirl is in Florida, so maybe she's going by New York retiree-style Chinese food...

                                                                                                                                                                        I agree with her on the takeout vs. sit-down dichotomy though, and here in SF almost no one ever orders delivery Chinese food, either, which Seinfeld and the movies would have you believe is common practice in New York.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Gary Soup

                                                                                                                                                                          It's a common practice around here in NY, too. Perhaps not amongst those who frequent this site, no. But no one I work with, for instance, is acquainted with anything other than the basic neighborhood takeout place.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Gary Soup

                                                                                                                                                                            "retiree-style Chinese"? Is that what they're serving? That explains the lack of spice and syrupy, sugary sauces. Pan is right, I've never been to NY. Spent a year in Philly before moving to FL, and tooled around a bit of nearby NJ and DE, both with a similar apparent lack of szechuan goodness.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: aynrandgirl

                                                                                                                                                                              I can only imagine that the folks at Boca Vista seek the Chinese food they grew up with. I'm sixty-something myself, but that's the last thing I want.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: aynrandgirl

                                                                                                                                                                                My guess is that there are a few authentic Chinese restaurants hidden in Tampa among all the Glop Suey joints. You can find them without getting up from where you are sitting now! Check your local Chowhound board and also a good search engine. Five minutes on Google yielded this: http://www0.epinions.com/content_2407... and this:

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Brian S

                                                                                                                                                                                  10 years ago there were no authentic Chinese restaurants in Tampa. Indeed my pre-Google computer search back then only found four Chinese restaurants period in Tampa. However, to my surprise I found that Tampa now has dozens of Chinese restaurants, some of them authentic. T.C. Choy is actually only semi-authentic, since while they have dim sum, even serving it on carts, most of their customers are not Asian. One place in north Tampa that's quite good is China Yuan, 8502 N. Armenia. Also, there are a couple of Hong Kong style restaurants in St. Petersburg (one referenced in my profile about an unnecessary 300 mile round trip for food).

                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: Gary Soup

                                                                                                                                                                                Totally true about delivery in NYC, and not just Chinese. Many an NYC apartment has a stack of delivery menus, updated sporadically, and used regularly.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Striver

                                                                                                                                                                                  That happens in LA, too -- and in case you don't know what the local restaurants are, just wait a week and then take alllllllll the menus out of the door or the gate or the mailbox (after winnowing them from the tree-service people, the "I can put up your Christmas lights" people, the gardeners, the home-improvement people, the gym floggers, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                  I have a whole drawer of them. They go with the house.

                                                                                                                                                                          2. Sylvia Lovegren's "Fashionable Food" has some information on Trader Vic's influence on East Coast "Chinese" restaurants.


                                                                                                                                                                            1. The problem with you people from California is, ya got no cultcha, and by cultcha I mean "good" pizza, dunkin' donuts coffee, whole belly clams, and wicked big "scorpion bowls".

                                                                                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: baustintejas

                                                                                                                                                                                Here in Texas,at many of the restaurants in San Antonio you can find pu-pu platters and many of the dishes you all have mention.
                                                                                                                                                                                Golden Wok and another place here in town do dim sum and have chinese menus
                                                                                                                                                                                as well as english ones.
                                                                                                                                                                                There are two chinese places in Schertz,Kowloon and Au Dang,plus Shanghi,China Moon,Dragon Lake, and China Orchid Buffetin Universal City..I've seen at China Orchid Walnut Shrimp,but don't recall it at the other places.Everyone here has or most have crab rangoon and pot stickers.UC used to have a couple of other places but they folded up years ago.There is Randolph AFB right across FM78 from UC.I guess with all the active and retired military in the area,they thought it would be a good idea to locate here.
                                                                                                                                                                                This I think came about in the 1970s and 80s.
                                                                                                                                                                                There is a place China Gardens in Converse that delivers to the local area,but that's the only one I know of.Now there is another chinese place,Ling's also in Converse.
                                                                                                                                                                                The only to eat in Converse years ago was fast food,and maybe some lone cafe and that was it.
                                                                                                                                                                                I have seen chinese or other orientals eating at China Harbour Buffet on WalzemRd.,China Seas on Thousand Oaks,and even at China Orchid.
                                                                                                                                                                                Always in the past have tried to eat at places chinese people also ate at,the thought behind it being that the food must be fairly decent and authentic.
                                                                                                                                                                                I like Khan's in Piermont,NY,which is a favourite of my sister and her boyfriend.
                                                                                                                                                                                They have mongolian bbq and other stuff.
                                                                                                                                                                                Though of course the crab rangoon is mostly creamcheese.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: HollyDolly

                                                                                                                                                                                  Let's remember that China, like the US, is a very large country with numerous cuisine types depending on the region. Even neighboring regions like Shanghai and Ning bo (where my grandmother is from) have differing cuisines, although they may share common ingredients in some dishes. I'm Chinese but was born and raised in Southern California to a father who is from Hong Kong and a mother who was born in Shanghai. So we've had a mix of two types of Chinese cuisines growing up that themselves differ greatly between each other. That said, a lot of the Chinese food in any part of the US (or world for that matter) really depends on where the chefs are from and many have adapted the food to suit the palates of their local customers. I have to say that growing up in San Diego, we had a handful of Chinese restaurants, and I remember seeing things like Pu Pu Platters, Moo Goo Gai Pan, and Egg Foo Yong on the menu, but we never ordered them because for us, that wasn't really the style of Chinese food that we liked. We used to eat Moo Shu Pork at one of our favorite places (that hand made the best pot-stickers), because, yes, this was originally a Chinese dish, and the restaurant that served this did it very well (none of this dried pancakes; I think they made their own pancakes from scratch). It was like making your own big fat Chinese "burrito," and I loved it as a kid. But a lot of these restaurants closed up shop here, and at least in San Diego, there are many new restaurants popping up from newly located Chinese Diaspora who still cook in their authentic regional ways (for example, there was a new Szechuan (or Sichuan) restaurant that opened here some time back that served authentic dishes from the region, at least when we tried them out not long after they opened. They have a whole "cold case bar" filled with Sichuan style hot and spicy sliced beef shank, sliced pig ear, smoked chicken, etc. that most people when they hear "Szechaun/Sichuan" would never even think of). A lot of Chinese restaurants use "Szechuan (or Sichuan)" to refer to any dish that is spicy and may not necessarily reflect real dishes made in that province. Just like with the whole "Lo Mein" vs. "Chow mein" discussion. I agree, Hong-Kong style "Leurng Meen Wong" (spelled phonetically; Two-side brown) is deep-fried with crispy, normally thin egg noodles (but are topped with something that has a sauce. So if you let it sit too long before enjoying, all that crispiness is gone and then the texture becomes like a "lo mein"). But Lo Mein in Cantonese refers to thicker noodles that can be stir fried but are in a sauce, and the noodles are not crispy. That said, for other regions in China, "Chow Mein" is like fried rice in that the noodles are stir-fried but still soft. My grandmother would make "Chow Mein" in her Ning bo style (just south of Shanghai), which is vastly different from any chow mein you would find in most Chinese restaurants, and the noodles are not crispy. So it may just be a lot of freedom in the naming of dishes, too. Many restaurants may serve dishes that are "popular" but not necessarily a part of their own regional specialties, and so the dish may not be exactly like a restaurant where the chef is from the region for that dish. That may be why certain dishes carry the same name but come out completely differently.

                                                                                                                                                                                  I have never eaten at these restaurants, but for those of you who find yourselves in San Diego, this place serves Pu Pu Platter for two (they spell it Po Po Platter) and Moo Goo Gai Pan (they spell it Moo Ku Gai Pen) over in PB not far from the beach, and they seem to get good yelp reviews:


                                                                                                                                                                                  Here's another, but it isn't as close to the beach (but it is on the way to the beach :P):


                                                                                                                                                                                  They actually took the effort to write on their menu, "Chicken Chow Mien (crispy noodle)" and
                                                                                                                                                                                  "Chicken Lo Mien (soft noodle)". For Moo Goo Gai Pan, I think they call it "Mu-shu Chicken" (I'm guessing "Gai Pan" is sort-of Cantonese for chicken slice, "Goo" means mushroom in both Mandarin and Cantonese). Under the appetizers, they've got "Flaming Pu-Pu Plagger" (that's probably a typo) priced per person.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: foodieinsd

                                                                                                                                                                                    The Toishanese/Cantonese brand of Americanized Chinese food found its way all across the country, since it was relatively static for so many decades. The "Mandarin/Hunan/Szechwan" addiions that started in the late 1960s began in New York and eventually worked its way westward, so there's probably a greater presence in the East.


                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chandavkl

                                                                                                                                                                                      The first Hunan restaurant in NY opened in 1972, the first in SF just two years later.

                                                                                                                                                                              2. All of this wonderful nostalgia, and yet I didn't see any mention of rumaki!