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Mar 8, 2010 08:18 AM

Americanized Chinese food Baltimore

I've been trying to find really good Chinese food in the Baltimore area. I'm talking about the standards that you see on every Chinese menu around. I know all about Grace Garden and I think their authentic Chinese is really fantastic. However I am looking for something closer to Bmore with all the usual suspects on the menu. I'm spoiled on the great Chinese food in NYC and can't find it anywhere around here. The best I've found is Szechuan House in Lutherville which is pretty good but stiil looking for something to knock my socks off. Any suggestions?

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  1. I find that the Americanized Chinese standards at both Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro (specifically their lunch and take-out menus) and Hunan Manor, both in Columbia, are outstanding.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Jason1

      I work around the corner from the Asean Bistro and find their food to be pretty good for what it is.

    2. I'd be tempted to go with the "Americanized" menu at places that do "authentic" well, such as Hunan Legend, Hunan Taste, or Grace Garden, on the theory that even on the "Americanized" dishes, a good chef ought to be able to do a nice rendition, and may also be willing to fine-tune it as to exactly how "Americanized" you want it to be. Of those, Hunan Taste is the closest to Baltimore, and would be the place that I would start such a search. As you note, Szechuan House is also pretty good for that sort of thing.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Warthog

        Szechuan House is pretty lousy imo, not sure why everyone here always, and I mean ALWAYS toots their horn so loudly. IMO, the the chicken and beef is tough. And the place is a noisy fire hazard and/or a maze. Both if you will. Try walking into the restaurant and avoid crashing into chairs and tables. Random food left out in the open too.
        And if it isn't Szechuan House it is Grace Garden and now Hunan Taste. Ad Nauseam

        Nobody ever mentions Zagat Award winner Sonny Lee Hunan Taste in Reisterstown. He is always at his restaurant and throws down some decent food.

        Jumbo Seafood still is decent.

        And Cafe Zen over in the Belvedere area is okay too.

        1. re: HungryinBmore

          I was going to suggest giving Jumbo Seafood and Cafe Zen a shot as well, although I found Jumbo Seafood's food boring the last time I was there and have never been a huge fan of Cafe Zen (but it's solid)...

          Now that we have Hunan Taste however I'll probably never go back to either of those.

          1. re: HungryinBmore

            Tried Sonny Lee's a couple times but found it very average. Maybe I just ordered the wrong items. I completely understand some people have good luck with Zagat guides. However, I was overjoyed to find Chowhound after being frustrated with local magazines/newspapers, then Zagat, and then Yelp. I guess it depends on which demographic shares your tastes.

            Even though Hunan Taste in Catonsville is less than 5 minutes from me, I have an even closer carryout I prefer for many American Chinese items. Q's Asian Cafe (next to Toys'R'Us and Panera Bread) in Catsonville is run by a husband and wife team (Kenny and Nancy.) You have to talk to Nancy and make sure Kenny makes the food. His workers are not close to his skill. Some items (lo mein, orange chicken) are excellent. The sushi is also better than H-Mart and Hanoori. The Thai menu is good enough to satisfy cravings. Panang Curry is not bad for a takeout version. If they are not busy, you can stop by and talk to Kenny. He is very passionate and can do far more than the menu, doesn't have a huge ego, and will take criticism very well. In the summer I convinced him to make some Yo Choy from his mother's garden. Like most places, however, you must really convince them you can handle high heat levels. (E.g., you must specifically ask for Thai chiles in the Panang Curry.)


            Except for the address and phone number, the rest of the website is some bogus template. The menu on the website is outdated. Unfortunately, they were too "progressive" for the area and a lot of interesting stuff is missing from their new menu. I miss the taro chips, Thai crispy eggplant, and Thai Iced Tea. :(

            They are just about to close down any day now and remodel as a sit down sushi restaurant. Right now they are unsure what to do with the Chinese/Thai parts of the menu. Customers in the area are not willing to pay for good quality Chinese food like they are for Sushi. They even had to add Egg Foo Young, Gat Mein, etc. to the menu and it doesn't seem like they enjoy cooking that stuff.

            I'm not saying this place is like Hunan Taste or Grace Garden, but it's a very competent carryout.

            1. re: bmorecupcake

              Does Q serve *real* sushi? As in, vinegar and sugar mixed into the rice, instead of plain rice served ice-cold?

              1. re: little audrey

                Yes, their sushi does have vinegar and sugar in the rice. They specifically told me one time when I asked why their sushi tastes better than what I get at H Mart.

                He will also make off-menu rolls. I don't know how authentic salmon skin rolls are, but I love those and he will make them from me if he has salmon skin available.

                1. re: bmorecupcake

                  Great, thanks, that's not easy to find.

            2. re: HungryinBmore

              Thought I'd try to tackle your disgust with the Szechuan House/Grace Garden/Hunan Taste praising. Don't know if you actually care, but I like exercises in guessing human behavior. All of the following is pure speculation: I haven't talked in depth about this to any hounders nor do I hold a degree in any human behavior related field. All I've managed to do is eat a lot of chinese food and now have some time to kill in the middle of the day before my next rotation starts.

              In the beginning there was naught but Szechuan House.

              This is a giant overstatement. What actually probably occurred was that Szechuan was the first and/or most well known place to supply easy-access to more traditional flavors to all customers. The key here is all customers, not just fellow asians or long-time friends of the business. Their "authentic" side of the menu (called something like 'taste of the country' or something similar ... apologies for not remembering) was right there on the standard carry-out menu AND amazingly (!) was in only somewhat difficult to understand english (rather than complete gibberish translated through google).

              To explain the ‘overstatement’ part: it’s highly likely that some of the “crappy chinese food places you pass by on the way to work” have chefs with the ability to cook some good traditional tasting dishes. Often times it’s just not financially feasible for them to do so: not enough of their regular client base would order it and many who try it discover that it’s not to their liking (it is, after all, a completely different culture’s food). So they don’t advertise them/make them constantly and instead only prepare them for customers they know are going to enjoy it. Example: there’s a “crappy chinese food place” on the campus of where I went to college that was ‘popular’ (read: late night snack popular) for their general tso’s chicken. I tried to stay away from it until one day I went to their actual location and struck up a conversation with the owner. He offered a plate of their house meal (I don’t think I used the appropriate phrase here. It’s the dish prepared by the cooks for the cooks and workers. What’s the called?): a whole-fish hotpot with complex layers of spicy flavors. It evoked memories of fish I’ve had over in China; it was probably not as refined, but still just as delicious. My two close friends that were there with me (both who considered themselves lovers of food) hated it and went back to their general tso’s.

              ANYWAY. So Szechuan House got praised. Hard. Harder than they deserved? Well that depends: should a location be praised depending on its merits relative to all chinese food everywhere, or to other chinese food places locally? If the latter (which is probably more fair ... at least I know that I do not fly anywhere I want for free) than it definitely was worthy of praise. And when the only answer you can seriously give a fellow chowhounder when they ask "where can I go to get some authentic chinese in baltimore" is one location, it tends to seem and starts to become a bit "fanatic" sounding. Hence your "ALWAYS toots their horn so loudly".

              In response to your negative comments about Szechuan: First off, your comments about the place being noisy and/or a fire hazard? Really shouldn’t enter the consideration of ‘good food vs. not good food’. All of your statements are true, and yet they probably would make me want to go their more if I hadn’t tried it before. In New York, my uncle used to tell me “If you find a little Chinese place where the ground is so sticky it makes noise as you walk around and there are stains on every wall and you think that rats would think it was too low-class a place to live, then run inside as quickly as you can and ask for the special of the day.”

              Next, you’ve had bad food there? That’s hardly surprising at all (I’m serious; I’m not being facetious). Just because a place makes some dishes both authentic and delicious does not mean I expect all of their food to be good. This holds especially true for Chinese food places. These restaurants have so many dishes on their menu (yes, I know many of them are extremely similar) that I would personally find it impossible to not screw up on not just a few, but many of them. My experience of even the good chinese restaurants in the States is that they usually have a few stunning dishes, a handful of decent dishes, a whole mess of nothing-to-write-home-abouts, and then more than a handful of clunkers. Yes, this goes for Grace Garden & Hunan Taste too (let the hate replies commence!)

              Speaking of those two fancy “new kids on the block”. It’s so great to have them in our area. They’ve brought authentic flavors (Hunan Taste moreso than Grace Garden … remember I’m stating in terms of pure authenticity here… I’m not saying one’s better than the other) to Baltimore palates. But this craze of support is still probably more than a little bit due to 1) the overall lack of good options in the Baltimore area and 2) the relative new-ness of the two places. Does that mean we shouldn’t be thankful for them? That we shouldn’t support and recommend them? Hell no. We’ll sing their praises until the next guy comes and does just a little notch better. Then we’ll lower our praises to them a little bit (just like how the praises to Szechuan House got heavily pacified after Grace Garden and Hunan Taste came onto the scene … nothing about Szechuan House went down, it’s just that the standard of quality expected in our area went up).

              So yeah. If nothing else, I enjoyed writing this.

              1. re: Wangus

                Very interesting read, Wangus. And, I liked your uncle's advice (although not sure how closely I'd end up following it)!

          2. Unfortunately if you are looking for something more authentic towards Chinese, you will need to go to Wheaton/Silver Spring area to Full Kee or Paul Kee. Many places have tried to do more authentic chinese and have failed. The amount of prep time versus what is sold is just not worth it to most places these days.

            1 Reply
            1. re: AlexDer

              But luckily, they're not looking for authentic Chinese, but specifically requested Americanized. If authentic is what they are looking for, as mentioned many times elsewhere, Hunan Taste, Grace Garden, and Asia Court are all good to great. Thankfully there does seem to be a bit of a positive trend recently.

            2. Thanks for all the replies so far on your favorite Chinese spots. I had wanted to try Q's Asian Cafe last night based on Bmorecupcake's review but when I called they said they were not serving Chinese food tonight due to "Chef's emergency." The woman on the phone assured me that it usually is available. I will definately have to try the palce. I ended up getting carry out from Hunan Taste nearby. I got the vegatable spring rolls, wonton soup, and Hunan Chicken. When I got home I discovered that they forgot to give me rice with my meal. Not a deal breaker (especially if the foods good) but interesting that it happened on the first visit. Stopped at local chinese place near my house and picked up some white rice. All in all Hunan Taste's food was pretty average. The spring rolls while not amazing had a mild taste. I guess that's what you get with veg rolls.The wonton soup had a rich soothing flavor with homemade wontons but the broth was way too salty (and I love salt.) Lastly the Hunan chicken was spicy enough but lacked any other flavors. It was bland except for the red chili pepers.There might be other entrees that Hunan taste does well but Hunan Chicken is not one of them. Based on this meal I'm not inclined to go back.

              Hunan Taste
              718 N Rolling Rd, Catonsville, MD 21228

              43 Replies
              1. re: tobynissly

                Sorry to hear Q's was unable to make Chinese for you that day. The owner has been trying hard to train chefs. I haven't seen as many of the chef trainees the last few times I've been so maybe he let some of them go. Whatever you get, just make sure you specifically state, "Please have Kenny make the food." Otherwise, the quality is inconsistent. They just starting closing on Sundays to give themselves a rest, and to slowly transition to a sit down sushi restaurant. I plan to get as much American Chinese from them as I can before they complete the transformation.

                Hunan Taste... This place always makes me want to pull my hair out. Sticking strictly to the American Chinese carry out side of things, the potential is definitely there, but they have been very inconsistent for us. I visit H Mart 4 or 5 times a week and keeping giving Hunan Taste chance after chance. I have developed a rule of thirds with them. One third of the time, they have good service. One third of the time, they make excellent American Chinese food. And one third of the time, they pack everything correctly. If you are very fortunate and the stars are perfectly aligned, you'll get all three on the same visit! They have developed elitist behavior and thwart any effort I make to find out who is the "good" chef. When they first opened they were quite flexible, but now because they are "too busy" they will not, e.g., make vegetarian hot and sour soup to order even though I see the staff sitting around relaxing. (The soup is now premade in large batches they tell me.) On several occasions they have left non-trivial amounts of oily residue on the side of the takeout bag, forgot the rice, and/or forgot chopsticks. Last time we ordered from there, the sweet and sour shrimp was excellent and everything else was at least average. The time before that, we had a bad (as in not seasoned) corn soup and poorly flavored lo mein that was not fully cooked. I called them and said the lo mein was uncooked. They said I was probably not used to authentic lo mein. I had to go back and show them that it was uncooked. Some of the workers are very nice, though, but these days I'd rather get a sure thing at Q's. (That's what I say, but like a bad relationship, I'll be back at Hunan Taste tomorrow....)

                1. re: bmorecupcake

                  We gave Hunan Taste three or four tries and gave up. I don't think we ever got the "magic chef" because everything we got was very average and extremely salty. I'll stick with Hunan Legend which is closer to us and pretty consistently good.

                  Hunan Legend
                  4725 Dorsey Hall Dr Ste D, Ellicott City, MD 21042

                  Hunan Taste
                  718 N Rolling Rd, Catonsville, MD 21228

                  1. re: little audrey

                    Given the above average consistency for both traditional and americanized chinese food, and considering the decor, Hunan Legend is always a safe bet to take a large group of people with varying levels of adventurousness and not be worried that someone will be disappointed. I just wish they would use the same rice as Hunan Taste and Grace Garden (and even Q's Asian Cafe.)

                    I don't know much about identifying rice other than basmati. Hunan Legend's rice is a shorter grain and sometimes a few grains have a black "tinge" to them. The others mentioned above have a longer grain and never have a black tinge. Not sure if one is clearly superior to the other, I just don't prefer the one at Hunan Legend .

                2. re: tobynissly

                  tobynissly wrote: "The spring rolls while not amazing had a mild taste. ... the Hunan chicken was spicy enough but lacked any other flavors. It was bland except for the red chili pepers."

                  Um... sounds like you got Americanized food. Isn't that what you wanted?

                  I find the most prominent characteristic of "Americanized" Chinese is precisely that it's been dumbed down--they took out all the things that would presumably make the food interesting to you and left you with dried red peppers, a brown colored, almost flavorless sauce sauce, and carrots cut in trapezoidal slices with two scalloped edges instead of julienne. (Even at Sichuan restaurants it's hard for an American to get 花椒.)

                  I have no idea what someone from Hunan province would think if they were asked about Hunan Chicken, but what I'd think of first is a salt-preserved chicken, served with some kind of preserved vegetable. And I think Hunan Taste has exactly that on their menu.

                  At many places I go, there are plenty of dishes on the Chinese side of the menu that wouldn't be offensive to you--anything good seems to end up on both menus. "Americanized" *means* "dumbed-down". If dumbed-down food isn't what you wanted when you started this thread... then what *did* you want?

                  ~ Kiran <>

                  Hunan Taste
                  718 N Rolling Rd, Catonsville, MD 21228

                  1. re: KWagle

                    I disagree. There's good and bad Americanized Chinese food. Consider it a difference like you would find in the extensive regional variations across China (although more so). Perhaps you've never had good Americanized Chinese food, but it exists. I'm sure you're no more interesed in it than many Mexican-Americans are interested in burritos. However, just as some very authentic Mexican eateries sometimes offer burritos for their "gringo customers", a burrito that many of them may of the cooks/staff/customers never even taste, it can result in the best burrito due to the high quality ingredients. Similiarly, some of the best Americanized Chinese cooking can come from some more authentic spots, due to higher quality ingredients, despite the fact the the staff there may not be interested in eating it, or as you appear, might be repulsed by the idea. But just as Indians love Indo-Chinese, and Peruvians love Choufa, and Mexicans love Mexican Chinese, there is certainly a place for the grand cuisine known as Americanized Chinese. To dismiss it as you do is a vast oversimplification, and indicates to me that you are no true Chowhound, you are only focused on one take of one type of cuisine, and fairly close minded.

                    1. re: Jason1

                      I need to agree with Jason1. Chinese-American food is a valid cuisine, and I think this wringing of hands over whether something is "dumbed-down" from some "authentic" cuisine is a non-discussion. Where does one draw the line over what represents some "true" cuisine? Is Neapolitan pizza a dumbed down dish because tomatoes came from Central America originally? And, a more recent example, what about the Vietnamese banh mi? Surely the baguette--one of the things that makes that sandwich--is left over from French colonization. The peppers in Thai food are also from Central America. What's great about exploring cuisines--and, again, American-Chinese is a cuisine--is looking at the food as layers and layers of history and adaptation.

                      As somewhere here said years ago, if there had been cavemen and women chowhounds they would have yelled, "Wait, that's not authentic! "the first time someone decided to grill a wooly mammoth!

                      1. re: Jason1

                        As I see it, there's a range here. There are dishes like "chop suey" that are totally made up, with no real roots in Chinese cuisine, other than perhaps cooking equipment and techniques. A friend of mine worked under a Cantonese MAster Chef in L.A. in his college years, and he recounts how the chef one day decided to try making "chop suey", just to see what he could do with what "those Americans" were "passing off" as Chinese food. My friend said that the chef's rendition had pretty much the usual things one finds in typical strip mall carry-out Chinese place, but the result was ambrosial. Good ingredients and a skilled chef show through, regardless.

                        Then there are dishes that are considered "American Chinese" that are actually dishes that have Chinese roots (most often Cantonese, given that most of the early wave of Chinese immigration came from that region, though Hunan and Szechuan have come on strong lately) that have been modified to suit perceptions of "American" tastes. This often means sweeter, with thicker sauces, or heavier breading on fried items. In the past, modifications were also made to use ingredients common in America at a time when authentic Chinese ingredients were not commonly available in much of the country.

                        Then there are "authentic" dishes that already suited American tastes -though there could be great debate over which dishes fit into this category, and which dishes fit into the "modified authentic" category.

                        I'm not qualified to judge what's "authentic" or "Americanized", but I do know that if the waiter tells me "You won't like that" and tries to push me toward the Moo Goo Gai Pan or the General (insert your spelling variant here)'s Chicken, I'm probably going to be a happy camper if I can get the guy to bring me that dish that he's certain I won't like.

                        That said, I've often thought of going to a place like Grace Garden or Hunan Taste on a slow night, take the "American" menu, pick a few dishes and ask the chef "Where did this dish come from? What did the original version taste like? How was it modified to please American tastes?" I think that could be a fascinating discussion, and it might even be interesting to have a chef who has studied that sort of culinary history of their cuisine to prepare the same dish both ways - the original, and the "Americanized" version, just to see what the comparison would be like with both renditions composed of the same quality ingredients and prepared by a skilled chef.

                        One might also find that many of the dishes that even the kitchen staffs and Chinese customers now snub are actually "reputable" dishes, once one scrapes away the associations accrued to them from years of "history" here in America.

                        Lastly, one should note that Chinese cuisine is not the only one that this has happened to. Tex-Mex bears little resemblance to most of the regional cuisines of Mexico, and Italian-American cuisine can vary substantially from the regional cuisines of Italy - even the ones that Italian-American has its root in. In each case, the cuisine was altered by societal differences, availability of ingredients, and even the way that different generations view their roots. Often, the immigrants want their kids to be "American" and downplay the authentic in favor of the "American", and it's not until the immigrant's grandchildren hit adulthood that there's a push to re-discover what it means to be Italian, or Mexican, or Chinese. And yet, some "Americanized" cuisines have become accepted and perfected, and others have never really risen above the generic. Not sure why.

                        Grace Garden
                        1690 Annapolis Rd Ste A, Odenton, MD 21113

                        Hunan Taste
                        718 N Rolling Rd, Catonsville, MD 21228

                        1. re: Warthog

                          There's a really excellent discussion going on right now on the General Chowhounding board about this basic topic ("americanized" v. "dumbing down").


                          1. re: Warthog

                            The operative question in your post is this: "What did the original version taste like? "

                            What "original" version? Is there some book in the Hunan Province that says that all chicken dishes should be made and taste a certain way? Who ever decided what was "original" and what wasn't? What if one chef makes it with chicken thighs and the other makes it with chicken breasts, which is the "original" one?

                            Even in Vietnam, there are disagreements as to which is the "true" pho bo. The north doesn't like the version in the south, and the south dislikes the version in the north. Looking at this in historical perspective, some people say that pho was only invented during the era of French, when the Vietnamese colonial overlords left bones behind from their meals. So, is pho, even of the sort you get in Vietnam, "authentic?" And, I've had pho that I've found better in the US than I have in Hanoi. So, are my tastebuds off, or are dishes mutable?

                            And, I've been in Chinese restaurants with people who forged ahead and ordered dishes despite the server's disapproving glances. And, there have been times that I've really disliked those "Not for American people" dishes, and wished I had ordered the chicken chow mein instead.

                            BTW, this is hardly unique to the U.S. As Jason1 mentioned, Indo-Chinese food, i.e., the food in, say, a restaurant in Mumbai's Chinatown is highly different than food found in say, Hong Kong, but I doubt there's a bunch of people sitting around scratching their heads and wondering, why is this Chinese food so "dumbed down" for the Indian palate.

                            In Peru, a beloved dish, lomo saltato, also definitely with roots in the Chinese immigrants there. The Peruvians embrace this, and don't sit around moaning about how this is not the "real" thing.

                            BTW, I've had a discussion with Chef Li about the "origins" of the much beloved fish noodles. He told me that they use a different fish in Hong Kong, and that the noodles are even a different color. Does knowing that make you enjoy them less? Does it make you think that Chef Li's fish noodles are dumbed down and not authentic? It's a slippery slope, isn't it?

                            Edited: I read this book years and years ago, and wrote about it just now on the general topics thread, but if anyone's interested in this notion of "authencity" I highly recommend it:

                            1. re: baltoellen

                              OK, I guess I can live with jettisoning the terms "authentic" and "original" (even when used in quotes). But what other terms should also get vetoed for not being sufficiently precise, accurate, or properly documented and adjudicated to allow different people to convey even general distinctions?

                              For example, do we cease to talk about "Chinese" food, no matter how anybody chooses to hyphenate or modify it? After all, who decides what's "Chinese"?

                              Even using recognized names for dishes is deceptive. For example, who decides what is or isn't "lasagna"? Is there such a thing as "vegetable lasagna" (replacing the noodles with thin strips of zucchini and such), or is that an oxymoron? What ingredients or techniques define the boundaries for the use of the term "lasagna"? That could be confusing!

                              And no more discussion of geographic regions until we figure out what the GPS coordinates are of the boundaries, and who is entitled to set those boundaries.

                              Gee, this semantic stuff really is a slippery slope, isn't it?

                              Personally, I don't generally care about "authentic" or "original" except as very general terms that I use to convey that I want an alternative to the common characteristics that seem to unite the various cuisine variants that earn the "-American" designation, such as overly sweet, gloppy, bland, and generally uninspired and unremarkable.

                              I would agree that there may be some hyphenated-American cuisines that have become styles of their own, but even if one agrees that such things exist, it's not so clear how to discuss them. Other than "chop suey", for example, what other dishes are "Chinese-American", or "American Chinese" if you prefer, rather than "Chinese dishes modified to suit perceived American tastes"? And what terms would one use to differentiate the derisive "I don't want my Chinese overly sweet and gloppy" use of the term "Chinese-American" or "American-Chinese" from the more positive "I like these dishes which would not be recognized by somebody from China" sense of the term?

                              I don't know who these "Americans" are that the "bad" kind of hyphenated cuisine is targeted at, but even with an occasional miss now and then, I generally have found that I have better luck when I order what those folks who don't look like me and who aren't speaking English are having rather than what I'm told by nervous waitstaff and restaurant management that I "should" like because I'm an "American" in an "ethnic" restaurant.

                              I just want the stuff that tastes good!

                              I also want to learn about how the dishes, techniques and use of ingredients have evolved over time, and in different places, such as understanding how geography leads "Afghan" cuisine to share some things with "Greek" cuisine and other things with "Indian" cuisine.

                              When I do eat the "hyphenated American" dishes, however, I want a vocabulary to help me find the good quality and good tasting renditions of those dishes, rather than referrals to the sorts of places that dish out bland glop aimed at the lowest common denominator of what "American" taste buds are perceived to demand. Like it or not, "Americanized" has come to connote characteristics that many people do not find to their liking. If the intent is to discriminate between "good Americanized" and "bad Americanized", we need to get some sort of terms adopted that convey the difference, as well as some sort of agreement about how "Americanized" cooking of whatever sort differs from "real", "authentic", "original" or whatever other acceptable term one may come up with to denote something that has not been "Americanized".

                              When the fully vetted and approved book of terminology for describing such things is released, I will do my best to use the "right" words when speaking or writing about it. Sorry if I used the wrong terms or conveyed upsetting opinions in prior posts.

                              1. re: Warthog

                                I think you should read the thread that charmedgirl referenced. And, no one's saying that Hunan chicken isn't from Hunan. I'm just curious about notions of how something conforms to some notion of "authenticity" as though there were one central cuisine committee. I don't know where GPS coordinates came into this discussion either. Basically, I don't understand the snarky tone in an otherwise interesting--albeit well OT--discussion.

                                What's actually funny is that I imagine if some Indo-Chinese or Chifa, as Chinese cuisine is known in Peru, opened in Fells Point or Mt Vernon, people would be all over it, and proclaim: Wow! Finally, a real, AUTHENTIC chifa in the Baltimore area!

                                1. re: baltoellen

                                  I'm still not sure what the big issue is with the word "authentic" as a *relative* term, in the absence of some sort of a universally agreed upon set of guidelines that would allow us to be more precise.

                                  When the O.P. asked for "Americanized" Chinese, rather than "authentic" Chinese, we all pretty much knew what was intended, and that got the O.P. the info required.

                                  If everybody generally understands what is being discussed, and everybody has the right to like or dislike whichever style, or both, or neither, I don't understand why "authentic" seems to be such a hot-button word. It serves the purpose of communication, nothing more.

                                  "Snarky" is in the eye of the reader, I guess. If you took my words as snarky, I apologize. I read many posts on Chowhound that make me wonder if perhaps those posters do not intend to come off as their words appear to me. It's a down side of on-line communication.

                                  I did read the other thread and found it interesting, both for the variety of opinions, and for the degree to which various points, phrases or even individual words seem to set people off, whether seriously or even in a joking manner.

                                  It's just talk about food, not life or death issues! It's also not a test, and there are no "right" answers, for the most part. We're all free to like and eat whatever we want. I presume most of us are posting on this board to convey information to allow others to find the things that they like, whether or not what they like matches what we like. I thought that the original course of this thread accomplished that goal.

                                  1. re: Warthog

                                    Ok. I'm one of those people who absolutely cringe whenever I hear the word "authentic" as applied to a cuisine, the same as I do when someone writes that something was "tasty." Honestly, those words drive me positively batty. For the most part, though, think we agree. And, "just about food?" Mon dieu! :-)

                                    1. re: baltoellen

                                      Maybe it's just me, but when I ponder on this issue, I sometimes think defining "a cuisine" could be considered just as shaky as defining "authentic". What criteria could define a cuisine? Cooking methods, ingredients, presentation, eating methods? I think maybe the world is just too integrated now to draw any lines and, if I may play Nostradamus here, in a few hundred years maybe there won't even be a concept of different cuisines.

                                      Even those immersed in a culture might not know all the authentic food practices. When I got married, to my horror I caught my lesser half eating palak (spinach) with rice. All I ate growing up was Pakistani food, and I visited Pakistan frequently, and I had always seen spinach eaten only with bread. What sort of Pakistani American abomination was I witnessing? Come to find out, a very large percentage of Pakistanis do eat spinach with rice. It took me a few months to accept that one.

                                      I say, find a good cook, stick with them, and realize everyone's food beliefs are shaped by their experiences. My Americanized Chinese guy (Kenny at Q's Asian mentioned above) will make me what he calls Chinese-style General Tso's (without a cornstarch batter among other things) as opposed to American-style General Tso's (with cornstarch batter.) I have seen General Tso's recipes both ways, and as far as I know General Tso's is something we exported to China, so I'm not sure what to believe, and I don't think I care. Well, I say that, but then I'll spend hours trying to categorize different General Tso's. ;)

                                      1. re: bmorecupcake

                                        Fascinating! And, since General Tso's always serves as sort of a shorthand for overly Americanized American-Chinese food, it's amazing to see one chef make two versions of the same dish. What are the "among other things' that Kenny leaves out when making the Chinese-style of the dish?

                                        I think maybe concepts of cuisine are like genres of music. Where does blues end and jazz begin? Where are the boundaries between rock and soul? etc....

                                        1. re: baltoellen

                                          I was trying to see if I could ask Kenny specifically about the differences but he's extremely busy since the all cooks he trained jumped ship.

                                          I remember him telling me he doesn't have everything to make it the proper Chinese way, but he makes me something closer to it, something he would eat himself. I also remember him saying something like: with the American version the chicken is already marinated and he premakes the sauce, but the "Chinese" version doesn't use a premade sauce (or more likely _can't_ use a premade sauce). The Chinese version isn't as sweet, there isn't as much sauce, sometimes there's scallions in it, and there's just more flavor which I believe is from ginger/garlic/chili. Sorry I can't be more specific. I'll find out sooner or later.

                                        2. re: bmorecupcake

                                          "as far as I know General Tso's is something we exported to China"

                                          Fuchsia Dunlop wrote an interesting article on this dish, adapted from her second book. I believe there are three recipes in the book, but there's only one in the article.


                                          1. re: KWagle

                                            From what I recall, there are two versions in her book Revolutionary Chinese Cooking, the original from Taiwan and one from New York. And yes, despite arguing strongly in the favor of American Chinese, I do enjoy "traditional" (possibly a better alternative to "authentic") Chinese cooking, and own and have cooked from both this and Land of Plenty.

                                    2. re: baltoellen

                                      Just a quick follow-on to the GPS query, which I missed before. Rereading my post I wasn't at all clear but GPS comes into play in the one area where "authentic" actually has an enforceable legal definition, namely, products that must be produced in accordance with certain standards and within a specific geographic region to bear the name. Think of "domain controlled" cheeses, Champagne (as opposed to "sparkling wine made using in-bottle secondary fermentation") and so forth.

                                      There was a news story a year or so ago about the geographic boundaries of one of the "official" French wine region designations being redrawn, and the account I saw went into detail of the large economic impact of being "drawn in" or "drawn out" of the boundary.

                                      If GPS has not been brought into play in such disputes, it probably will be.

                                  2. re: baltoellen

                                    "they use a different fish in Hong Kong, and that the noodles are even a different color. Does knowing that make you enjoy them less? Does it make you think that Chef Li's fish noodles are dumbed down and not authentic? It's a slippery slope, isn't it?"

                                    Did you ask Chef Li why he made the changes? Did you attempt to discover whether they were made from necessity, whether he thought they were an actual improvement on the original, or because he thought American customers would "really [dislike] those "Not for American people" dishes, and [wish they] had ordered the chicken chow mein instead"?

                                    And most importantly, did the changes affect the basic character of the dish?

                                    If you didn't ask those questions, then i certainly can't even begin to have an opinion on whether I would enjoy the Hong Kong original more, or whether the GG version was dumbed down--"watered down" would have been a much more precise choice of words on my part--or inauthentic. Those words actually mean something specific, at least when I use them. So no, it's not a slippery slope at all.

                                    ~ Kiran <>

                                    1. re: KWagle

                                      Most likely the type of fish used in HK isn't available here. The availability of ingredients is usually the difference. On this subject, Peter Hessler in his new book "Country Driving," about life in China, notes that the food you'd find in Sichauanese, Cantonese, and other regional restaurants in Beijing would befuddle people from those areas. The same phenomena happens inside of China. It's very common to adapt regional dishes to the tastes of your clientele.

                                      1. re: dpan

                                        I believe that the fish not being available here is the case.

                                        In any event, Kwangle, whether or not it was done for "American" taste, it was changed, as most dishes are. If two chefs in HK make fish noodles, and one makes it with one type of fish and one makes it with another, which is the "authentic" version?

                                        1. re: baltoellen

                                          "If two chefs in HK make fish noodles, and one makes it with one type of fish and one makes it with another, which is the "authentic" version?"

                                          Well, I wish I didn't have to use the words "authentic" or "traditional" but I don't have a better word choice, though I've been known to say "the kind of food Chinese people eat."

                                          So, I don't really have enough knowledge or information to answer your question, though I'd be fairly confident that neither of these hypothetical versions would be called "Americanized." But consider double cooked pork instead. In China, a chef who made double cooked pork with lean pork would very likely be thought of as both "inauthentic" and "nontraditional." It's certainly possible to make substitutions which greatly change the character of a dish (in any cuisine--just consider American fat-phobic recipes) and inauthentic or nontraditional don't seem like bad word choices to describe those changes.

                                          1. re: KWagle

                                            I'm liking this "non-traditional" term. I'm so afraid that we're going to spin off into some Orwellian words mean what I say they mean territory here!

                                            I think "character of the dish" is key. (And, well said!)

                                            1. re: KWagle

                                              To your thinking, though, lean pork would be inauthentic to China, but 100% authentic to the American regional variation. It all revolves around your definition/sense of what the standard is. In that respect, the pork belly based variations aren't traditionally what are found around here, and are both non-traditional and in-authentic to U.S. cuisine.

                                              1. re: Jason1

                                                "the pork belly based variations aren't traditionally what are found around here, and are both non-traditional and in-authentic to U.S. cuisine."


                                                They are non-traditional and in-authentic to something that you call "U.S. Cuisine."

                                                Now, I don't consider that a good *name* for the stuff we're talking about (for obvious reasons) but it does have one good feature as a name. It doesn't include the name of a country whose people are unlikely to actually be eating the food, and it *does* include the name of a country whose people are *likely* to be eating the food.

                                                It occurred to me while eating at 红塔山 (AKA "Spring World"--apparently "Red Pagoda Mountain would remind Americans of a brand of tobacco) that this is much less of an issue for restaurants which serve regional variants whose names are unfamiliar to Americans. If I ask someone about Yunnanese food, it's unlikely that they'll start to tell me about their favorite "U.S. cuisine" restaurant. But if I ask them about Sichuan or Hunan food, they're likely to tell me about restaurants that have those words in the name, but don't serve more than a handful of dishes that would be even vaguely familiar to the inhabitants of those regions.

                                                This goes both ways, of course--if I wanted Hong Kong food, I wouldn't want to be sent to Hong Kong Palace, which is also known as 成都小馆. For that I would of course go to Hollywood East, which is also known as  荷东... go figure.

                                                ~ Kiran <>

                                                Hong Kong Palace
                                                6387 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22044

                                                Hollywood East Cafe
                                                11160 Veirs Mill Rd., Wheaton, MD 20902

                                                1. re: KWagle

                                                  At the same time, I don't expect the Kentucky Fried Chicken in China to accurately capture regional cuisine from Kentucky (not that they do anywhere); instead, I'd expect that they adapt the menu for regional tastes. I don't expect a lot of people would be saying "This isn't Kentuckian cuisine, where's my Burgoo!". To me, the worst offenders are the "Cajun" places in mall food courts, selling essentially bad Americanized-Chinese food as "Cajun" food. I'd say Szechuan Inn or Hunan Manor are closer to their inspiration than Kelly's Cajun Grill is. So I guess the best name is something like Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro, with really doesn't set much in the way of expectation at all.

                                                  1. re: Jason1

                                                    The name of Jesse Wong's restaurant may set expectations if the Asean is meant to refer to the Association of South East Asian Nations, which includes Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Not sure if that's the intent of the name, though.

                                                    If that meaning of ASEAN is in fact what the name refers to, one wonders if what used to be called "continental" cuisine should now be called "NATO" or "EEU" cuisine. That would be wonderfully ambiguous!

                                          2. re: dpan

                                            Baltimore is an hour and a half from Philadelphia, and the Baltimore Steak and Cheese, the inclusion of mayo, lettuce, tomato, very soft/not chewy bread, befuddles people from Philadelphia all the time. Hell, the people of North Carolina can't even decide what barbecue sauce should be standard on pork.

                                            1. re: Jason1

                                              Barbecue sauce on pork?!?
                                              Everyone knows you put a dollop of coleslaw on pork. ObSheesh: Sheesh.

                                              1. re: Jason1

                                                A cheese steak with lettuce/tomato/mayo is a cheese steak hoagie. I saw them on menus all around Philadelphia and no one gave me dirty looks for ordering one.

                                                Here in Md., once we've nailed down the One and Only True Official Authentic Maryland Crab Cake, then we can start working on what's "authentic" in Chinese. I vote for the recipe on the Old Bay box.

                                                1. re: little audrey

                                                  Yes, but a Cheesesteak hoagie is a special request, like a pepperoni cheesesteak or a pizza steak or a cheese steak with tomato sauce., not given standard. And that doesn't touch on the bread. Trust me, the typical experience here is far off from that in Philadelphia. And don't get me started on soft pretzels. Why the buttery Amish style is so popular, and the Philadelphia style is so hard to find (beyond Wawa) is beyond me. ...I feel as if I've probably drifted a bit too far off topic at this point.

                                                  1. re: little audrey

                                                    Nope! The Old Bay box calls for bread crumbs, crab cakes should be made with crushed crackers preferably or cracker meal.

                                                    1. re: hon

                                                      I can't wait for the CH administrators to figure out how they are going to separate this thread. I count about four and a half different topics. ;)

                                        2. re: Jason1

                                          Jason1 and baltoellen :

                                          I couln't have said it better myself.

                                          1. re: tobynissly

                                            I have nothing intelligent to add to this conversation but I just wanted to mention that I LOVE Peruvian Lomo Saltado!!! For months and months last year they had it on the hot bar at Whole Foods in Annapolis. But then they changed the cuisine out and started serving Jamaican food in it's place! Oh the humanity!!!

                                            1. re: lrebetsky0423

                                              It's really too bad that El Rinconcito closed, since lomo saltado was to be had there! Maybe there's another decent Peruvian restaurant in the area? I've seen recipes for it, and don't think it would be terribly difficult to make at home if you really miss it.

                                              1. re: baltoellen

                                                I actually have made it a few times. Sometimes though when I don't feel like making it I'd like to know that there's somewhere I can go and get an order of it!

                                                1. re: baltoellen

                                                  I think there was a place on Harford Road (IIRC), west side of the street. I think it was called Two Amigos, or something like that. It's been several years since I was last there, so the place may be gone completely or significantly changed, but at the time, the menu was largely Tex-Mex-ish, with lomo saltado and one or two other Peruvian dishes also on offer. I don't recall being too impressed with the Tex-Mex, but I liked the lomo saltado.

                                                  I hope this is enough info and that my memory is getting at least some of the details correct - enough to help somebody track it down if the place is still there.

                                                    1. re: hon

                                                      That's probably it - Los Amigos, Dos Amigos - it's been a long time!

                                                      Los Amigos
                                                      5003 Greenbelt Rd, College Park, MD 20740

                                                2. re: lrebetsky0423

                                                  Since this thread has already migrated from China to Peru, the mention of Lomo Saltado brings to mind another aspect of the whole issue, namely the "bait and switch" maneuver. I was at a restaurant in Olney a few years back (Sol Azteca, or something like that, I think). I was there with friends, and I noticed Lomo Saltado on the menu. The description on the menu read like the classic or typical ingredient list.

                                                  I was thrilled. I ordered it, and was telling my friends what a wonderful dish it was. When it came out, however, it was an entirely different dish. The potatoes were AWOL as were most of the tomatoes, peppers, and onions. It bore no resemblance to the description on the menu - it was essentially sliced meat, with nothing much else.

                                                  When the waitress returned, I explained that there was a mistake - that I had ordered the Lomo Saltado, and had gotten something else. She then explained, in tones one would use with a two year old, that people don't like Lomo Saltado and they don't eat those things if the kitchen includes them, so the kitchen leaves all those ingredients out of the dish to make people happy, and that if I wanted real Lomo Saltado, I had to ask for it.

                                                  I asked her to bring the menu. She did, and I pointed to the description. I said "This is what your menu says is in Lomo Saltado. I ordered Lomo Saltado. Are you telling me that if I ordered Lomo Saltado, I'm supposed to know that what you will bring me bears no resemblance to what is described, and that if I actually want to order what is described on the menu, I have to somehow convey to you that I want *exactly* what is described on the menu, not the version without all those ingredients that you think I really meant to order?"

                                                  She smiled, as if I had finally grasped the answer to a simple problem.
                                                  "That's right, sir! If you want what's on the menu, you have to TELL us that's what you want!"

                                                  "And you are saying that if I say 'I'd like the LomoSaltado, please', you understand that to mean that I do NOT really want the dish described on the menu, but rather the highly modified version that you assume I want."

                                                  "That's right, sir! If you want what it says on the menu, you have to tell us that's what you really want, not the version we'll bring you if you don't say anything."

                                                  At that point I gave up, and my friends sat there in silence with a stunned look on their faces that clearly conveyed that they were wondering how we had accidentally wandered into the insane asylum, and how we were going to escape without being fitted for straight jackets.

                                                  Kafka lives!

                                        3. I'll add my voice to saying that the better options are easily down Montgomery County way.

                                          But in the city -- get to Zhongshan on Park Ave. between Mulberry and Saratoga.

                                          It's hard to remember that Baltimore has a small Chinese community -- it's not really a Chinatown; it's more a Chinablock. But Zhongshan is the one place in the city to get dim sum 7 days a week. Moreover, they have what seems like a compromise menu. There are some hardcore Cantonese and Shanghainese items, but also plenty of familiar Americanized standards, too. If in doubt, the helpful staff is great with sizing you up and making recommendations.

                                          From what we've been able to ferret out - it seems like it's part of an externship program for a Shanghai-based Chinese hospitality school. Students come to the States to gain some experience with Western models of service and whatnot. At least that's what we gleaned from the banner they used to have in the back of the dining room.

                                          It's the one Chinese place in the city that I've witness klatches of little old Chinese ladies gossiping at each other over tea, next to tables of lost-looking tourists.

                                          The quality of the food is comparable to the palatial dining rooms I grew up with in LA. They handmake their bao, which goes a looong way in my book.

                                          Check them out; they seem to still be under most peoples' radar.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: JBarin

                                            As mentioned here before, some of us have had serious issues with Zhongsan and recommend Asian Court for Dim Sum or Szechuan House's Countryside Taste menu as better choices.

                                            Asian Court
                                            9180 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, MD 21042

                                            1. re: JBarin

                                              For a more recent review on Zhongshan check halfway down this thread (Nov 2009):

                                              I don't know how their Americanized Chinese food is, but their dimsum is pretty bad. I would hate for anyone to try this thinking that it was good dimsum, and be turned off to dimsum in general.

                                              1. re: daveinmd

                                                If Zhongshan is the place that replaced Chinatown cafe, I tried it and thought the Americanized Chinese was horrendously bad-- far worse than the scads of other mediocre Chinese takeout I've eaten in Baltimore.