Authentic Cantonese in Chinatown?
I have several guests coming into town from Hong Kong and Guangzhou, and I want to take them to an authentic Cantonese restaurant in Boston to show them that its possible to get it here.
So, my questions are: Is it possible to get it here? If so, where?
Bonus points if anyone can recommend a place that serves authentic Sichuan hot pot. (Not shabu shabu).
I asked a similar question recently (specifically, which restaurants had the best-quality typical Cantonese seafood dishes). Answers were: Peach Farm, New Jumbo, East Ocean City.
Little Q in Quincy has a very spicy ma la broth, some more unusual organ meat items to throw into your hot pot, and is definitely not shabu shabu.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to get it here in Boston, especially to the standards that they are used to in HK. Maybe SF? Don't embarress yourself. There are plenty of great resturants in Boston that you could take them to rather than trying to serve them something from home . If you want to send them home with a good laugh, take them out for Szechuan.
I'd tend to agree that there's passable cookery at Imperial Garden and Hei La Moon (at least for dim sum), Grand Chow Chow City and East Ocean City (the latter was a perennial favorite of mine but I haven't been as impressed the last few times), but comparing them to the best of Hongkong or Guangzhou would be like comparing L'Espalier to Taillevent, Alain Ducasse and La Tour d'Argent.
There's decent Sichuan in the greater Boston area (and once upon a time, Sichuan Garden had real Chongqing hot pot - could try calling one of the branches to see if they still do), though I'm in the chorus that laments the closing of New Taste of Asia.
more like comparing a good chinese restaurant to a Panda Express fast food :-)
The chinese food in Boston will be mediocre to anyone who's used to even the chinese food in NYC/Toronto. Hong Kong food is more like Vancouver food and that's much better than Toronto food (another level up from Boston)...
I'd show them stuff they wouldn't get in HK/China like some of the asian fusion places (though they'd have to be able to live w/ the $$$ Boston prices)...Blue Ginger (if they're a Ming Tsai fan), OM, etc.
I completely disagree about NYC having better Chinese food overall - I think it is hard to find decent northern and shanghainese cuisine in NYC because of the overwhelming Cantonese and Fujianese population. I've found that my trips to Shanghai Gate have been much better than my trips to Shanghai Joe's or many of the other supposed Shanghai eateries in and arond Manhattan/Queens.
I will give a nod to the amazing diverse selection of Cantonese food and the excellent value they offer and that in Queens, there are a number of Taiwanese style breakfast shops which are great to have and do not require a frickin' 30 minute wait. As for good Cantonese food, I think the quality of the cooking is probably the same - the chefs were imported from the same places, but the quality of ingredients used here is probably not as nice. A meal is a meal though and my Cantonese friends and their families go eat at various Chinatown establishments regardless of the fact that it may not be as good as what they were accustomed to back in the motherland.
Finally, do not expect mainlanders to have a taste for western cuisine unless they have been living the lifestyle for some while. The last time I went back to visit family in Shanghai, I was treated to a bowl of fruit with mayo at what is easily the most garish restaurant I've ever seen which they thought I would die for.
I'll concede that NYC is not a haven for northern cookery at this point -- I do miss the branch of Tianjin Goubuli Bun in Flushing. However, while Qingdao Garden is a place I enjoy eating at, and while I haven't come across a comparable place in NY, I still wouldn't compare it to the best northern cookery that I had in the Old Country.
Last weekend I was at Joe's Shanghai again, and I do have to also concede that the gap between them and Wing's Kitchen and Shanghai Gate is not as wide as I remember it, but I did still prefer Joe's. Not to mention Shanghai Laofandian and another place in the NYC Chinatown near the Ice Cream Factory that was outstanding. No I'd still give NYC the nod on Shanghai cooking, which was pretty close to what I remember getting in Shanghai.
The one place where Boston comes somewhat closer to the China of my memory is in the Sichuan category, surprisingly enough. Sichuan Garden on a good night is up there with Grand Sichuan in NYC and Clinton's Taste of China in CT. (The latter place brought tears to the eyes of a homesick Hunanese expat when she came to visit us after a year in college in North America.) But I've found that many a Cantonese/Hongkonger can't really handle the heat.
Totally agree with the above comments.
My answer to your question is NO. It is impossible to get the Cantonese food in Boston as good as in either HK or Guangzhou. There are bad restaurants in HK and Guangzhou too but their mediocre restaurants would be better than the best in Boston and the bad ones will go out of businese very soon.
I do understand your intent of letting your friends try the Cantonese food so that they can compare and tell their friends and relatives of their experience even though most probably they will make fun of it. If you still want to do it, I can help you by telling you where not to go: New Golden Gate (I were there two weeks ago, the service was horrible and there were a couple raw piece in the salt & pepper pork rib), Hei La Moon, Chow Chow City and Empire Garden. Also, I would suggest ordering more seafood as there are not too many different ways of making it and it should not be bad if it is fresh.
Cantonese food with Sichuan hot pot? Forget about it. You just said you want authentic Cantonese.
If you decide to bring them to have Chinese food instead, the only place that I think it is comparable to what they have is Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica (not Framingham one).
I've had good luck with the Framingham branch of Sichuan Gourmet -- is the Billerica one better? I usually try to call and find out where the head chef is.
If Chinese food is a must, I would also consider New Shanghai and Shanghai Gate for Shanghainese dishes (I like the latter a little more, but haven't been recently).
Here is my rule about taking out-of-town guests to restaurants that serve their native cuisine - I don't do it. I do have friends that have chosen to immigrate to the states and are homesick - those I try to take out for comfort food, but it usually falls short of what they're nostalgic for back home (and not only because of the food).
Your guests are coming from THE place for that type of food - would you ask them to take you to an restaurant specializing in New England fare if you went to visit them? Take them somewhere for something they can't get in HK.
gini, I really couldn't agree more. I can't for the life of me imagine traveling halfway across the globe to HK, only to seek out American cuisine. I had a similar experience once while visiting France. Our hosts were absolutely thrilled to take us out to this "American" pizza place in Paris that served frozen daquiris. We didn't want to hurt their feelings, so we went along....awful! And to boot, the bill for 4 people having 2 pizzas, side salads and dessert was $150!!!
Stick to some of great Italian or creative American cuisine that Boston has to offer....your guests will be much more grateful!
i completely agree with gini and science chick.
if they're open to trying different types of food, you're better off taking them to a boston institution and showing them how great the cuisine in this region can be. when i've traveled to asia and europe, the last thing i wanted was "american food" because i wanted to try the flavors of the regions i was visiting. i only wanted "american food" when i started getting homesick.
unless they're staying here for a few months, become homesick and want something that reminds them of home, you might want to re-consider showing them "that it's possible to get it here." (yes, it's possible to get it here, but it's just not the same.) just remember what most of the posts here have stated: cantonese-style food in boston doesn't come close to what they have in hong kong.
Just chiming in similar thoughts - there's nothing "unauthentic" about Boston's Chinatown restaurants, but it's just not as good as what you can find in HK/Southern China. We have different foods than what's available there, and it's hard to replicate many of their local recipes. Vancouver and some other cities do well in replicating some off the dishes, but even those aren't the exact same as what you can get in HK. Boston is better in Chinese food than a lot of cities, but also below what you can get from areas that have much larger Chinese populations (i.e., New York, Toronto, Vancouver, etc.).
I don't think it's a bad idea to let them try local versions of Chinese foods if they're curious, as we've taken our friends from HK to Chinatown many times, but just don't expect them to be overly impressed. Although I have to say that everyone does love the lobster dishes, because our lobster is just a lot better than the variety served in HK (our lobster is a lot meatier). This is according to almost all the HK friends whom we've treated to lobster in Chinatown.
I'm not Cantonese and have never been there. Maybe someone can explain to me why places like East Ocean City or Peach Farm are so poor relative to Canton or Vancouver's good places?
My understanding is that the cuisine is based on fresh seafood; fairly simply prepared.
PFS or EOC have shrimp, scallop, oysters, lobsters, eel, crab, etc..live in tanks.
Is it that the chefs in Canton are so much more skilled/better technique? Are the chefs at PFS or EOC not from the Canton region? Ingredients better/different?
That being asked, I'm with Gini..why take some from xyz out for xyz food in Boston..take them for our local foods
Cantonese cuisine isn't based only on fresh seafood; among the Chinese cuisines, this style of cooking probably features the broadest range of ingredients and well as the widest use of cooking methods; fresh armadillo, civet etc... are as important as fresh fish. Dishes can be very elaborate, with dozens of ingredients, or simple and focused on a given ingredient; it varies.
As a consequence, kitchens are expected to be very proficient in many cooking methods to cook a wide range ingredients. Serious kitchens may actually have multiple sections devoted to a given cooking method, with different chefs specializing in specific areas. For example, if the steamed fish is great but the skin of roast chicken isn't crispy, it's not considered a good Cantonese place.
The quality of the knifework is very important -- ingredients have to cut to the same dimensions to ensure equal levels of cooking and how they are cut affects the texture they adopt after cooking.
In some of the nicer Cantonese places, the tanks are immaculate and not overcrowded, and often one would not just see a single type of shrimp (or abalone or oysters or crab etc...) but a whole panel of different varieties, sometimes flown in from different parts of the world.
I think the quality of the ingredients in HK is light years ahead of what's available in China...I remember the buzz when HK style seafood restaurants started opening in Boston in the late 80's, Peach Farm and East Ocean City seeming to typify the genre. Tho they may be rooted in Cantonese style cooking, that's how I still think of them.
Thanks for the great recommendations, all -- specifically those who warned against attempting to find authentic Cantonese or Sichuan food here.
In March, we ended up at Via Matta. I thought an American take on Italian was a more interesting experience for them.
(FWIW, I should have clarified above that I was looking for either authentic Cantonese OR authentic Sichuan hot pot -- not in the same venue. )