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Tips for crappy American Chinese

So the owners of the local Chinese restaurant in my adopted town of Backwards, Ohio are from Fujian. I am having trouble convincing them that I am not only willing, but eager to try more traditional foods than the American offerings of gloppy chicken.

Now, I understand fully their reluctance to serve me "off menu" but I wonder whether anyone has general tips for such a problem. Are there items in your typical family-run American-Chinese restaurant that are more likely to be made in-house and with care, eg. dumplings? Is there a way of tweaking an order so you get something closer to the genuine article? Is it just a matter of befreinding the owner? What is a delicate way to say, "Where are you from and will you serve me that food?"

I expect this is a classic problem for the uninitiated so classic solutions are welcome.

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  1. Interesting dilemma. Fujien cuisine is a lot like Taiwanese cuisine (not surprisingly, given that most Taiwanese immigrated at some point from the province) and I'm not sure its dishes are something that an "American-Chinese" restaurant would typically serve.

    My best bet is that learning the names of Fujien dishes and mentioning these to the owners may help them realize your genuine interest in trying more authentic cuisine.

    1. Ernie you are not alone. I too live in a backwater and have wondered how to ask this question for some time. At the restaurant here the only edible thing was the soup and I believe it was a congee. The sad thing is only unsuspecting tourists and newbies like me eat there. I can't wait to see the responses on this thread.

      1. I feel your pain. Just some thoughts:

        You don't go into detail of what you mean by "I am having trouble convincing them". I'm assuming they speak English well enough to get the idea that you really want to try the kind of meals they serve at home. It's not a very difficult concept to get across.

        It may just be that they don't have the right ingredients on hand in their restaurant, don't feel like it's worthwhile to bring them in just for you, and are simply trying to not hurt your feelings. Some of this may also depend on how often you eat there. If you don't eat there often they haven't befriended you and have no way to judge your ultimate sincerity (if that would make a difference). One thing does seem a bit off................ at most Chinese restaurants I've been around, the owners and any staff eat at least one meal 'on the job', usually late in the evening. What are they eating when they serve themselves? "Gloppy Chicken" or Buddha Jumps Over the Wall (fo tiao qiang) sharksfin soup?

        If I were you, I'd simply ask the question with an offer to pay whatever it costs for them to make the meal. That should help prove your desire.

        1. Just because they're from somewhere in China doesn't mean they know how to cook it.

          Way I look at it ...they're putting their best foot forward and asking for anything more is a beyond their capability. Living in Los Angeles where there are hundreds of Chinese restaurants it amazing the majority of them can't get it right.

          1. Ask them to serve you something they cook for themselves.

            3 Replies
            1. re: PeterL

              I don't know what you folks are expecting, but every Chinese restaurant I've been to watching what the staff is eating is basically plain and uninspiring cheap stuff like plain stir fried vegetables, maybe some dishes a customer returned to the kitchen (mistakes) and rice.

              One day at restaurant I frequent I was sharing the large table with the staff because it was crowded and they invited me to eat what they were eating and it wasn't anything to write home about.

              1. re: monku

                i remember seeing a cook at my fave Chinese takeout in Mobile, Alabama, eating a bowl of white rice with a dash of soy sauce and a couple of handfuls of peanuts. Nothing else.

                1. re: John Manzo

                  Poor people from rural China would find this meal more like something they recognize rather then the meat heavy dishes served in Americanized Chinese restaurants.