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Kroepoek... or why is "Chinese" food different in various countries?

So here's a question perhaps some Chinese-Americans may (or may not) be able to answer.

Having grown up in Germany, every single Chinese resto I have ever been to offers kroepoek (deep fried shrimp chips, basically) in the appetizer section of the menu, but I've never seen it in the US. I guess the spelling indicates that this may not be a *traditional* Chinese dish (sounds Indonesian to me), and -- as many CH have pointed out -- national cuisines tend to assimilate or cater to the countries they are transplanted to. However, that still wouldn't explain kroepoek, as there's nothing German about it.

I find that the equivalent in Chinese restos (and by equivalent I mean the prevalence of the dish, absolutely NOT in taste) here in the US seems to be fried noodles, or crunchy/crispy noodles, or whatever you would like to call that tasteless morsel of fried dough.

Does kroepoek exist in Canada? Or does one have to look into other cuisines than Chinese?

Big question mark.

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  1. You can find deep-fried shrimp chips in Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles.

    Are the ones in Germany multi-colored?

    1. I've seen them in Edmoton, Alberta. They are multicoloured (pink, white) and are usually the "bed" for something else, like dry garlic ribs or deep fried shrimp, that type thing.

      1. Regardless of whether or not it has something 'german' about it, it may just be something the first chinese restaurants in germany served and people liked that about the chinese restaurant, so asked for it when they ate at other establishments. See the history of the fortune cookie.

        Other than that, it could be that germans have a prediliction for that taste...so they order it alot...

        1. I get shrimp chips at chinese restaurants--usually alongside poultry like duck or roasted chicken.

          1. Chinese in different countries? Unrecognizable in Colombia. Salty, oily, and no spices in the Philippines--albeit prepared by filipinos of Chinese descent. Terrible in Guatemala. Locally adapted and quite good in Peru. Sporadic and sometimes humorous in Africa. Locally adapted by local Chinese populations and dinstinctive in Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand.

            Then there was Tarija, Bolivia, in the mid-70s. A Chinese couple came and opened a restaurant. She did the shopping and part of the cooking. He cooked, didn't speak Spanish. FANTASTIC food! Course they went out of business after a bit. I had to wait years more to get Chinese food that good.

            26 Replies
            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              I've noticed other stuff like lo mein, and chow mein, that I have never seen in 'German' Chinese restos. Or Kung Pao? General Tso? Never ever ever. I find that truly fascinating, and would be curious to find out more...

              The most popular German Chinese resto dish is probably chop suey.

              1. re: linguafood

                This is a very interesting topic. Even within the North American continent you get these regional differences in restaurant Chinese food. Here in Vancouver you can actually get authentic regional Chinese dishes because we have a large ethnic Chinese new immigrant population from almost all the regions in China (Cuichow, Taiwan, Sichuan, Hakka, etc cuisine).

                We also have quite a number of "North American Chinese" restaurants here that serve the dishes you just described. These restuarants developed from the traditions started by the first wave of immigrants that came to help build the Railroads in the 1800's.

                It would be interesting to do a survey of all the Western style Chinese foods from all parts of the world.

                1. re: fmed

                  fmed..... well, I was hoping to get a few more replies :-D. I am really curious -- wonder what Chinese restos are like in GB, for example. Or France. They must all have their own riffs/twists on things.

                  Anyone?

                  1. re: linguafood

                    For North American Chinese:
                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American...
                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian...

                    There are some dishes I never see in my part of the continent that seem to be very common in the eastern parts of Canada and into the US (eg Crab Rangoon, Moo Goo Gai Pan, Chinese Chicken Salad). In short, the cuisine is very regional.

                    The word on France and GB - the Chinese food there is generally quite inauthentic.

                    Have a look at the side bar on those Wiki pages for info about other "overseas" Chinese food and the common dishes served in various countries.

                    1. re: fmed

                      Interestingly enough, there's nothing on German Chinese cuisine. Bummer. Thanks for the links, though.

                      1. re: linguafood

                        I have family that live in Germany and they never eat Chinese there. When I went to visit, we took a road trip to France and my aunt took us to eat Chinese food. I was so disappointed, as it was my first time in France and what!!! no French food. Anyways, they do not eat out at Chinese places nor do they make it at home very much because it is harder to get the proper ingredients, in her opinion.

                        1. re: linguafood

                          >> Interestingly enough, there's nothing on German Chinese cuisine. Bummer. Thanks for the links, though.

                          Sounds like an opportunity for you to become a Wikipedia editor. Start your research during your next luchtime ;)

                          In all seriousness, I would love for you to post a list of "common" Chinese dishes in Germany (and would they be the same in Hamburg and Munich, for example).

                          1. re: fmed

                            Nah, my days of honorary work are over ;-)

                            But to answer your question -- I seriously doubt that there are regional differences within Germany regarding Chinese menus. The country is simply to small (especially compared to the US) to have any regional influence on ethnic restos.

                            Which makes going to ethnic places in Germany relatively 'safe': when you go to a Croatian/Serbian place, you can be assured that you will find mountains and mountains of meat. Any platter you order "for one" is usually enough to feed three.

                            When you go to most Greek places (though, admittedly, neo-Greek is becoming more popular in Germany, and even before this renaissance happened, there were a few Greek restos that would serve *real* Greek food) -- which I assume is the same in the US, you get moussaka, souvlaki, gyros, tzatziki, etc. Standard fare.

                            Commonalities between Chinese dishes in Germany and the US:

                            - menus with 100+ dishes, all numbered
                            - wonton soup, fried wontons, lumpia (deep-fried spring roll), hot & sour soup
                            - fried rice/fried noodle dishes galore
                            - crispy duck dishes

                            I would say that there is more emphasis on stir-fried over deep-fried (called 'double-baked' in many German Chinese restos), less sweet & sour stuff, and less named dishes. The only one that comes to mind is the "happy family", which contains any number of meats, shrimp, vegetables, served over rice.

                            Most German Chinese dishes are brown-sauced, though they don't seem to be as cloying/starchy as in the US. My guess is chop sueys are ordered most frequently.

                            There used to be the aptly named "Peking" in my hometown, seriously kitsch-y decor (you know, the wood works, the aquarium, the funny lamps with the red dangly fringes...), and I practically grew up on their "Special Chinese noodle soup": a wonderful, deeply flavored beef broth, with thick Chinese noodles, tons of veggies, tung-ku mushrooms, beef, chicken, pork, duck, king prawns...

                            I would order this soup every single time I went, and pretty much had it about once every week.

                            It was one of the few things I looked forward to when visiting my hometown --- which is not a pandemonium of culinary delights.

                            Imagine my incredible disappointment last year to find out they had closed.... then again, I could never figure out how they lasted as long as they did (25+ yrs). The place was almost always near empty. Bad location & perhaps the owners' age probably had to do with that decision... sigh. I CRAVED that soup!!!!

                            There are a couple of places in Berlin that have a large Chinese customer base, so one can assume that their cooking is more authentic. The service in one of them is incredibly rude, but it remains highly popular with those seeking the real deal. Of course, they have two different kinds of menus -- one for their Chinese customers, and the regular one...

                            The other one is located near the Chinese embassy and enjoys great popularity with its employees. I went once and was not impressed. I guess I just haven't had Chinese food that blew my mind.... I do like my kroepoek, though --- :-D

                        2. re: fmed

                          I've eaten in nearly a hundred different Chinese restaurants from Windsor to Montreal, and I've never seen "Crab Rangoon" or "Chinese Chicken Salad" on a menu. Moo Goo Gai Pan does show up at many Chinese-Canadian restos, but I've never ordered it.

                          None of the Chinese restaurants in Canada that I've been to automatically bring some kind of appetizer to the table (wontons, fried noodles, or kropek). I have noticed this in the US.

                          Finally, in the better Chinese restaurants, certain versions of poultry are served with colourful kropek surrounding it on the platter. At home, we like to make them and serve them with a spicy peanut sauce, presented on their own, but usually as part of a meal that includes either crispy chicken or pork.

                        3. re: linguafood

                          When I was in Paris recently, I noticed a lot of Chinese restaurants had their food ready-made on the counter. And I'm not talking about things like roast pork buns and BBQ meats. I'm talking about stir-fries and spring rolls. What about the wok hai? I was dumbstruck as the French are generally into fresh preparations of food. Needless to say, I didn't eat any Chinese food on that trip.

                          1. re: Miss Needle

                            >> I was dumbstruck as the French are generally into fresh preparations of food.

                            Ah yes...the French are only chauvinistic about their own food ;)

                            1. re: Miss Needle

                              When I lived in Seville, Spain, the Chinese food was shockingly bad. The menu even had something called 'pan chino' - Chinese bread. They were dinner rolls. (Which reminds me, some of the really old school American Chinese places in Boston still retain a tradition of including a handful of dinner rolls in with each take-away order.)

                              1. re: Prav

                                I had some surprisingly edible Chinese food in Spain, although admittedly it mostly wasn't great. I still dream about the fried rice I had at an all-you-can eat buffet in Huarte (Pamplona). It was very simple: Spanish-grown rice fried with peas (probably frozen, but fine) onions, and bitty cubes of good Spanish ham, all fried in olive oil - amazingly good. As soon as I discovered it, I abandoned the rest of the buffet, which was mostly big mounds of grilled meats.

                                That said, we found the Chinese restaurants had the same problem as Spanish restaurants - nothing green, if you can imagine it; just those big mounds of meat. We kept eating at Chinese restaurants in the hopes that they would serve green vegetables, but nothing doing. Even when we ordered mixed stir-fried vegetables, what we got was mostly beige. The zucchini had been carefully peeled so that there wasn't a speck of green left.

                                1. re: Prav

                                  Which reminds me of the Chinese restaurant that used to be a few blocks north of Ohio State in Columbus that always served two slices of white bread with everything - even the noodle dishes.

                                  1. re: Ed Dibble

                                    My college roommate told me (back in the 80's) that the only chinese food she'd ever had was a chop suey sandwich.

                          2. re: linguafood

                            I am not at all surprised with a culinary tradition as varied as the Chinese... it is bound to happen. If I compare it to Mexican cuisine... what gets served in the U.S. is really random and doesn't at all jive with the way people eat in Mexico. Look at the Burrito... something that is only consumed in a few cities in the North, and definitely not with all the rice, bean, guac, sour cream, salsa etc., crap... and now its a global phenomenon. And the few decent Mexican restaurants in Spain have completely different menus because they reflect the specific traditions of a few migrants from Central Mexico.

                            We are talking Culinary Traditions that easily have 5,000 common / classic preperations... anything that ends up on a menu is going to be random based on local tastes, ingredient availability & the specicific migrant.

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              Mexican in the US isn't Mexican at all in most cases---it's Tex Mex, which is a whole sub-cuisine all its own.

                              1. re: johnb

                                So you don't think its analogous to Chinese American? Outside of Fajitas and some soulful Southwestern Native American dishes what Tex-Mex dishes aren't Mexican? To me Tex-Mex serves lots of Authentic Mexican dishes that have been screwed up... i am sorry, adapted to local tastes & ingredients... maybe the way they are Combined & paired differently but I don't see how this is dramatically different than the Chinese-American or even Italian-American analogy.

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                  I didn't say it was or wasn't analogous. Clearly there are similarities. My point was just that Tex Mex has become a highly developed sub-cuisine all its own and is not Mexican. And yes paulj it has developed in border places other than Texas, but the term tex-mex is just sort of a broad brush was to describe it (easier to say than, say, ariz-mex). LOL

                                  How analogous are Tex-mex and Chinese-American? Good question. But I have to run--let somebody else address that one.

                                  1. re: johnb

                                    Yeah, and I'd appreciate it if we focused on the OT. There is plenty of discussion of Mexican food in all its splendor and variety on a number of threads.... this is not one of them :-D thank you.

                                    1. re: johnb

                                      That is my point.... Chinese-American is just as much a sub-cuisine on its own... in a similar way... because if we think about it... its the same 100 to 200 dishes that end up on the same Chinese menus in 95% of "Chinese" restaurants in the U.S. But if you randomly polled Chinese dietary customs throughout China... you probably wouldn't find any significant number of people that actually eat these 100 to 200 dishes on a regular basis. So my theory is that any where you have a complex, diverse cuisine that goes back many thousands of years + fairly random emigration to various parts of the world ... you are bound to get variation... I would be more surprised at the actual similarities than the differences.

                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                        But you'll also get that kind of variation in other cuisines too, where immigration has been intense. Take Italian for example. Many dishes that are part of accepted "Italian" cuisine in the US are seldom if ever found in Italy. Meatballs, for example, are basically unknown in Italy, just as "chop suey" is pretty much a US only dish (its Chinese namesake is quite different, but thats true of many Chinese American dishes). It's not that these dishes came from some obscure backwater in the homeland, but rather that they were pretty much invented here.

                                        1. re: johnb

                                          meatballs- polpette - are indeed found in italy, though they are rarely pared with spaghetti.

                                  2. re: johnb

                                    Not all Mexican in the USA has come by way of Texas. New Mexico, Arizona, and California have all had extended interaction from across the border. After all they were all part of Mexico at one time. In addition there have been plenty of Mexican immigrants from other parts of Mexico. Eat Nopal has written elsewhere about the large influx from Jalisco in the 1930s.

                                    For a while it looked as though Seattle's biggest influx was from the Pacific coast, particularly from around Guayamas, though I am not sure where the current of influx of 'taco truck' style Mexican is coming from. Someone else may be able to write something about the regional influences in cities like Chicago.

                                    paulj

                                    1. re: paulj

                                      Chicago was initially settle by your usual suspects... Jaliscans, Zacatecans etc.,... but from a chow perspective the dominant group comes from Teloloapan in the hot lands of Guerrero. Most of Bayless' key personnel have from here... as well as scores of other immigrants behind the most interesting, authentic Mexican restaurants there.... Casa de Samuel etc., throughout the Pilsen & La Villita neighborhoods you can find markets that specialize in Quail, Cornish Game Hen, Venison tazajo, Smelt etc., this is all due to the Guerrero contingent.

                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                I remember once at a chinese resto in italy realizing that the 'soy sauce' jar on the table was actually a jar of balsamic.