Taiwanese food at Empress Garden
Had some good Taiwanese eats at Empress Garden recently (108 N 10th, near the big Chinatown arch, not Golden Empress Garden). Realized that the Chinese language menu is different from the English language menu - here are some recs (with names in Mandarin) that aren't on the English menu, as far as I can tell.
Three cup chicken (san bei ji, 三杯雞, C55 on the takeout menu) - chicken pieces, some bone-in, in a gingery sauce with basil. This is a slow cooked dish, takes hours to make. The chicken gets to marinate in the different flavors, a little soy sauce, a little sugar, basil, ginger, garlic. Very tasty. Very Taiwanese. Order this dish!
"Three shredded" (chao san si, 炒三絲, C49) - "si" by itself means silk, and in the context of food it means julienned, which is often translated as shredded. The three shredded ingredients here are doufu gan (dry beancurd), beef, and bamboo.
"Hollow heart vegetable" (chao kong xin cai, 炒空心菜, C61) - a standard vegetable+wine saute, vegetable cooked til just wilted. I don't know if there's an English name, but "hollow heart vegetable" is the literal translation. Tastes similar to spinach, with more delicate stems.
Pork chop (pai gu fan, 排骨飯, C17) - breaded, fried, served with tea egg and preserved sour vegetables. Good stuff. Not as crispy as Mulan's (Cambridge, MA), which is my only other point of reference, but that might be because it was takeout and got steamed from the heat of the container before I ate it.
Soup dumplings (xiao long bao, 小龍包, C27) - actually this is Shanghainese cuisine, I'm pretty sure, but popular in Taiwan. This rendition was just ok. The meat is gingery, but the dumpling skin was a tad tough, and there wasn't much soup. Not nearly as good as the last ones I had - at Shangri-La in Belmont, MA. Ask for hot pepper sauce to dip these in (la jiao jiang) - they come with a red sauce, but ask for the sauce with red peppercorns if you like spicy since it's a bit hotter.
I'm looking forward to trying the beef noodle soup (niu rou mian, 牛肉麵, C72) which does appear on the English menu. One of my Taiwanese friends recommends it.
When I used to go here around 15 years ago, they had chicken roll (ji1 juan4, 雞卷), which is a Taiwanese specialty. Chicken wrapped in beancurd skin. They no longer have it on the menu. Maybe if I can get enough people to ask them for it, they'll put it back on the menu. :) So if you go, please ask for chicken roll!
Please let me know if I made any Chinese mistakes, my reading/writing is not so good.
I printed out the original post and just ordered everything you recommended. All very good, exactly as described. We were in a grumpy mood and the food wasn't good enough to make us smile, but we enjoyed it. Except the dumplings, which are second-rate. Now we need similar reports from other restaurants' "secret" Chinese menus, what "they are having!"
Thank you for this post. I've often thought someone could make a business of reading the Chinese menu to those who neither read nor speak Chinese but don't want to be limited to the English menu. It is a bizarre convention, the typical Chinese restaurateur's utter certainty that non-Chinese cannot enjoy Chinese food that hasn't been Americanized. If someone printed translations of all the best Chinese menus, outing the real thing--definitely a saleable brochure in the foodie community. Szechuan Tasty House, to start with.
That certainty is not a bad bet, given the number of friends I've tried to introduce to my favorite Chinese restaurants. Most of them won't try what I consider to be the better stuff, preferring to stick with the familiar American taste. Everyone has different tastes, just look at the requests on this board for the more American-tasting Chinese food.
There is a separate Chinese language menu that you can ask for at Szechuan Tasty House, but I think everything I've ever had there has also been on the English menu. There was a beef and green pepper dish that my little brother would special order ("Can you make something like this..."), but I think they actually put that on the English and Chinese menus now. Maybe thanks to him :) The waitresses are very friendly, just ask them what they like to eat. Has anyone else had anything special off-English-menu at Tasty House?
I have the book that joypirate recommends below, and really like it. You can see from above that I don't know characters very well. I like the parts about the different cuts (si, ding, etc.) and cooking styles which a dictionary probably won't tell you. And I admit to bringing it to restaurants to decipher menus...my family laughs at me for that one.