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Who here can actually cook excellent authentic or close to it Chinese food?

I enjoy eating good Chinese foods like Dim Sum. Once in a while I get the urge to cook some Chinese food. Almost without fail these dishes are a disaster. Yes yes I follow the recipes but I can't get that special taste/look. I've even succumbed to using MSG with no success. The last time I tried making steamed won tons I gave us salmonella poisoning. That was the first and only time that's ever happened. Anyway do you experts at Cooking Chinese food have any thoughts on what's going wrong? Is there a really easy to use cook book you'd recommend?

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  1. Real Chinese cooking depends on "wok hey". Most normal home stove can't do that. We always have a stand alone stove outside with a propane tank. In term of steam or boiled items it shouldn't be too hard in a normal kitchen. I would suggest going to a Chinese store to get the typical brands used to get more of the correct flavor. Take soy sauce, most Chinese restaurants don't use Kikkoman, Chinese brands are used cuz it is not as salty and flavor is different. Good luck.

    1. Disregard the comment that you need "wok hey" to cook delicious & authentic Chinese dishes. Completely untrue.

      That said, I'm kinda feeling you have other basic cooking problems going on, although Salmonella poisoning was due to the original product, not your cooking. I'm hoping you pursued the source of the product that gave you this food poisoning.

      There are so very many Chinese cookbooks out there, & unfortunately, the ones I have & refer to are decades old & out of print. My advice to you would be to simply start reading, reading, reading, Asian cookbooks. Try your local library. Oldies are goodies in the cookbook game.

      And then start experimenting. While a good carbon-steel wok is nice, it's not essential. You can still cook great Chinese dishes in a good-quality large skillet.

      Just read, jump in, & try different recipes. Since Asian cuisines are vegetable-based, if you screw up, it's not the same as having to toss out a rib-roast - lol!!

      1. Which recipes are you following? Knowing this might help us help you.

        1. I'm with Bacardi on this (mmmm rum....)

          What is the taste/look that you are aiming for? What recipes/books are you trying? What techniques do you use? I learned to cook Chinese food from Chinese people, and that was a big help. No MSG necessary. But truly, technique is the key. And while I can't get the wok hey, I can get my wok pretty fricking hot.

          Another point- the items I make are not "american chinese" foods, but more what the cooks and owners made after close.

          1. For stir-fry the heat does make a difference - Chinese restaurant stoves are much hotter than you can get a wok at home (think strong gas flame flowing over the base of the wok). For home, maybe a flat bottomed wok for an electric burner (more contact with the heating element). My Taiwanese stove has a great hot flame, and a burner that's designed to hold a wok, but has absolutely no simmer capability.

            Freshly cooked matters - with good Chinese food, you're getting hot stir-fried dishes right after they are cooked. For home meals, I don't do more than one dish like that, because otherwise I don't get to sit down.

            I second the idea of hitting up an Asian grocery for the seasonings. As with many other cuisines, fresh, good ingredients make a big difference.

            I'm not sure about cookbook recommendations. Most of the books I use are poorly translated bilingual Chinese-English book that are kind of light on actual details. Very, very authentic, though. :-)

            1. Regardless of what recipe you choose or what ingredients you select for your Chinese cooking creations, much of the flavor in Chinese cooking is a product of technique. My wife and I spent about six weeks attending a series of Chinese cooking classes. We learned that a wok, while important, is not essential. As long as you can achieve and maintain high heat (where needed), understand how to select ingredients and the order in which ingredients are added to the recipe and how much movement is needed during the cooking process you'll probably do quite well. A cast iron dutch oven or large shallow cast iron pan, although not as easy to use as a wok, works pretty well for holding high heat. But it's difficult to keep the ingredients moving without a lot of difficulty using the dutch oven. My suggestion: find a class, even if you have to travel a bit. It's worth the time, effort and expense.

              4 Replies
              1. re: todao

                I totally agree with todao. My mother produced some of the best Chinese food I, and many others, have had, and she neither used a wok or a huge BTU burner. She used a large dutch oven, and simply put an incredible amount of time into the ingredient prep and technique. Good Chinese cooking is time consuming and messy. Anyone who thinks a "stir fry" is quick, hasn't gone through all the steps needed to really get it right. Cutting all the ingredients into similar sized pieces, marinating the meat, pouring off the marinade, patting the meat dry, getting the oil hot enough, starting with aromatics, then meat, then taking the meat out, wiping out pot, more oil, then aromatics, then adding the longer-cooking veggies, then the quick-cooking veggies, maybe a quick steam, then the sauce, then meat back. It's simple, once you know the technique, but it's greasy, splattery, hot and while it's not hard, it's a lot of work. And that's just for the stir fry dishes. Then you have to learn the steaming, braising and frying techniques. Based on how much effort my mother put into Chinese cooking as I was growing up, it's probably not a huge surprise that I rarely cook Chinese food at home.

                1. re: TorontoJo

                  " Anyone who thinks a "stir fry" is quick, hasn't gone through all the steps needed to really get it right"

                  Thank you for saying this. I always thought it was just me. My stir-fries take forever, by the time I do all of the chopping and assembling the various condiments and such. Of course, once my mise en place is assembled, it's lightning fast, but I've never found stir-fries to be that "quick". I think improving my knife skills might be helpful, but there's still a lot of mincing and chopping!


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    I know! When I look at a stir fry vs. roasting some asparagus and throwing a couple of steaks on the grill, the steak and asparagus win for simplicity and speed. So stir fries are never a weeknight dinner, unless I've done the prep in advance.

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      It has a lot to do with knife skill. Technically speaking, you can make an average Chinese meal in a shorter amount of time than many European style cookings. However, there are more hands-on step, and very little "idle" time (e.g. not many "let's stick in an oven want come back a hour or two later" moments).

                      So if you are really pressed in time, an Chinese meal is still good, but most of time people are not pressed by time. They come back from work and they just want to relax. In that case, Chinese stir fry does not work well for them.

                2. Please don't take this the wrong way, but perhaps you are just not a very accomplished cook, yet?

                  Do you have similar disasters with other cuisines?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I agree that perhaps the issue is that more practice is required. Someone who is skilled at cooking more familiar cuisines with more familiar ingredients and techniques is not automatically going to be good at cooking something new.

                    Cooking is a skill, practice is required. Learning to cook a variety of cuisines will take time spent with each. Honestly, getting to a point where I thought my "Chinese" was "restaurant-like" took me making a few dishes more than a few times. Luckily, my wife wasn't too hard on the early results.

                    Puffins, sooner or later you're going to have to get back on the horse and try making dumplings again. (Maybe a different recipe, though.) Below there is a link to a discussion that contains a link to a recipe on the NPR website (along with a good story). I posted the discussion because I added some thoughts on my modifications. Because the recipe's outcome relies very little on wok "breath" or technique, I think it may be a good one for you to try.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Been cooking for about fifty five years. Some of that time professionally most just home cooking. Love cooking Tuscan/N. Mediterranean mostly. I consider myself an excellent cook. My point is yes I can produce your basic shrimp fried rice and lemon chicken that anyone can cook but I can't get the same taste nuances you find in a really first class Chinese restaurant.
                      Recently I was delighted to be invited into the home of a sushi chef with twenty years making sushi in one of Vancouver's best sushi restaurants. The dishes were excellent. My wife and I have been fortunate enough to be asked for dinner on a number of occasions. He and his family really go 'all-out' to serve the best he can make. Point is, I asked him why he hadn't opened his own sushi restaurant given his level of expertise. He said "no no I am not good enough yet. I do understand about the 'hot wok' etc. I'm talking about that special underlying taste sensation that's missing. I think there are some cuisines which one must be 'born to to get that exceptional result.

                      1. re: Puffin3

                        Hmmm...interesting post.
                        I still think I would go with the "crawl before walking" route and try a few simple recipes, and really nail botht the dish and technique. If you are still struggling with basic potstcikers, nail making good ones (Ming tsai's recipe on-line is fantastic), then worry about making really complex ones.
                        It is a little like roasting a chicken in French cuisine - sounds easy until you try to do it right, but once you can do it right, the rest of the cuisine makes a little mroe sense.
                        if you wait until you are perfect before starting...you may end not doing it at all.
                        As far as being "born to it"..hogwash. Anyone with basic aptitude can be very competent no matter where they are from. I consistently impress my VERY discerning Taiwanese wife and in-laws with my cooking.

                    2. i like ken hom, and perusing our local library's collection, i see that he has a book devoted to technique. http://www.alibris.com/booksearch?qwo... i think his books are clear and straightforward. his new one is quite nice, too. http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Chines...

                      remember, practice makes perfect.

                      <my dream is one day to have a kitchen with a commercial wok -- and a tandoor. ;-).>

                      1. Are you trying to replicate restaurant Chinese food or are you aiming to make home-style food, as ordinary Chinese people would in their homes?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Muchlove

                          This is a very good point. My family is from Hong Kong and I lived there until my teens. Dim sum is part of cantonese cuisine so I'm on very familiar turf here. Dim sum however not homestyle cooking. It's what you do every Sunday morning with your family, eating out. (Or if you are retire but well off, every morning). We have a huge eating out culture in Hong Kong. Having lived subsequently in both New Zealand and the UK, I've also found there is a huge difference between what foreigners think is Chinese food compared to the real deal.

                          I cook a lot of chinese food at home, but I'll go out for a dim sum or peking duck.

                        2. Ipsidixt raises a good point - do you experience similar troubles with non-Chinese cooking?For a confidence boost, try a really good basics cookbook in Asian cuisine. A nice start might be "Steamy Kitchen." Yep, it is a bit Americanized, but it always works. I have also never gone wrong with Ken Hom's books. Some may be out of print, but he has a basics/beginner ook that was always a champ.
                          As far a "wok hey"...it is nice but "Hot Breath of a Wok" cookbook insistence aside, is more than achievable with a good cook-top.

                          1. I can, but do I get a prize for it?

                            A lot of cooking has to do with an acquired experience. You can be a very good cook in Mexican food, but horrible at Chinese. Until you get a handle of the Chinese food, then it can be "shooting in the dark". For example, the very basic like: What is the acceptable level of the sweetness in a Chinese dish? This sort of things come in with experience.

                            So I would encourage to try a few good Chinese restauants if you have not, and get a handle of the standard. Then, try to reproduce some of the simplier dishes at home. Don't cook all your ingredients at once. Play with them. Cook in batches, and experiment.

                            Yes, Chinese Dim Sum is pretty awesome, aren't they?

                            1. I can and I'm a lousy cook. Try Dunlop's books "Land of Plenty" and "Revolutionary Chinese". Also, for a wok primer, though not necessarily "authentic" recipes, try Grace Young's stir-frying to the sky's edge or "Breath of a Wok". All of these books have been "Cookbook of the Month" here at one time or another and you can find the links to the threads here: http://www.chow.com/cookbook_of_the_m...

                              If you can get your hands on authentic ingredients or at least the recommended substitutions I think you can succeed at these recipes with a little determination and practice. Also, since many home cooking hounds are familiar with the recipes in these books, you can get a lot of pointers and feedback on any catastrophes as you cook from these books.

                              I haven't tried making any dim sum from scratch, alas, so I can't really comment on that.


                              1. Here's my suggestion for the best recipe for whole fish....Black Sea Bass, Flounder and Grouper are usually the fish of choice.

                                1. You can either steam or pan fry, the latter dusted in cornstarch or rice flour.

                                2. Prepare a large amount of julienne green onions and ginger ( 1 cup minimum of each )

                                3. Place fish on platter after it's finished cooking.

                                4. Top with your julienne vegetables and Drizzle Soy Sauce

                                4. Heat one cup of your preferred oil very hot in a wok, pan or small pot and drizzle it over the julienne vegetable to flash fry and wilt them

                                You are ready to serve.

                                * You can use fish fillets equally as well.

                                13 Replies
                                1. re: fourunder

                                  I think some of you have given me sort of a 'sudden enlightenment': When I go into a grocery store specializing in Chines foods in Victoria I always wonder what all those hundreds of cans/bottles/jars/bags have in them that little old Chinese ladies are buying to take home and use. It's the results of using those ingredients by a one of those little old Chinese ladies I'm looking for. That's where authentic Chinese food is found. Those are the flavors I want to taste. Getting an invite into a home where everyday Chinese 'home cooking' is served isn't likely to happen.

                                  1. re: Puffin3

                                    I just got back from the 'How do you stock your Chinese Kitchen? Thread. Reading the list of ingredients used by experienced cooks who cook Chinese food sort of proves my point. Unless you are 'born' to the art of Chinese cooking and really know your way around a Chinese grocery and being able to read Chinese wouldn't hurt it's really difficult to be able to cook authentic Chinese food. I think I'll stick to Tuscan.

                                    1. re: Puffin3

                                      nooo- don't give up! I agree that Tuscan/Mediterranean cooking is completely different on the technique scale, and you are likely employing your comfortable techniques that aren't working for chinese.

                                      You're right that you might need a guide, or even a class. The asian grocery can be a very intimidating place. Since you have experience, use some connections to find that guide.

                                      Also, and this may sound a little basic- watch some older Yan can Cook episodes. He really shows how having everything done, and how quick everything is when the actual cooking starts.

                                      1. re: caviar_and_chitlins

                                        <The asian grocery can be a very intimidating place>

                                        No, it is not. It isn't like you will get beat up by a bunch of Asia gangsters. Take as much time as you need to look through everything.

                                      2. re: Puffin3

                                        You don't need to be able to read chinese but you do need to be able to identify things by the packaging. Think about how easy it is to identify a bottle of sriracha or soy sauce w/out reading the label. The key is to be able to identify them by appearance. I have no idea what some things are called, or how to read the label but I can find what I want. Take a class, or find someone who can show you.

                                        1. re: Puffin3

                                          I agree that sourcing authentic ingredients can be challenging, but it's not impossible. Plus, having access to a fantastic market like the one you describe in Victoria gives you an enormous advantage!

                                          Again, I recommend you pick up one or both of Dunlop's two books Land of Plenty and Revolutionary Chinese. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8430... Her ingredient glossary/sections in both books are fantastic. Sometimes I just take the book with me to the market and show the staff what I'm talking about. Dunlop presents both the Chinese characters and the name in English, so even if you don't read Chinese, someone on staff or maybe even another customer might! She also gives recommended substitutions if for some reason you cannot locate an ingredient.

                                          Also, since these books were previous Cookbooks of the Month, there is lots of discussion about locating the ingredients for the various recipes. People have also posted photos of the various jars and packages of what they found.

                                          At least try to get one or both of Dunlop's books out of the library before giving up! (She's got a new one coming out in the next few months called Every Grain of Rice, by the way, which I am sure there will be lots of enthusiasm about here on home cooking if you want to explore one of her books with all of us.)

                                          Also, I recommend this book: The Asian Grocery Store Demystified (Take It with You Guides). You can pick it up used for a couple of bucks on Amazon. It's not a perfect book, but between that and Dunlop's books I've gotten a lot more confidence.

                                          Here's a link to her website: http://www.fuchsiadunlop.com/about/


                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            there is also a smart phone app with photos, names, maybe even audio of the names, but i can't recall the app's name just now. i posted about it before --- maybe on "asian ingredient glossary" or similar named thread a while back. edit: here it is: http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/...

                                            useful threads, puffin:


                                          2. re: Puffin3

                                            Bring pictures or print out the Chinese name of ingredients (the characters, not in roman script) - that can be helpful sometimes. Even if you have a hard time comparing the characters in your printout with the item on the shelf, at the least, you can point to the words and the staff may be able to point you in the right direction (on the flip side, even if the staff speaks English well, they may not know what you're asking for if you either use the English name for something, or butcher the Chinese name). After you've worked with an ingredient once, you'll probably remember what it looks like next time. I can't even count the number of times I've spent half an hour walking down one or two aisles of a supermarket looking for one specific condiment, only to realize it's been staring me in the face all along. Knowing what some common brands of something look like can be really helpful in terms of recognizing it also.

                                            If you concentrate on the food of one or two regions, I don't think the number of unusual ingredients you need will be that great.

                                          3. re: Puffin3

                                            Another thing......real cooks, or little old ladies, do not use jars of pre-made sauce...regardless ethnicity/

                                            1. re: fourunder

                                              Those jars of ingredients are pretty crucial actually and they often aren't pre-made sauces, but pastes and chile sauces of various kinds as well as preserved vegetables. Then there are the vinegars and soy sauces and wines...


                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                Those jars of ingredients are pretty crucial actually and they often aren't pre-made sauces

                                                a condiment is not a sauce....

                                                1. re: fourunder

                                                  I agree with you. But, puffin didn't mention sauces, rather "I always wonder what all those hundreds of cans/bottles/jars/bags have in them that little old Chinese ladies are buying to take home and use."


                                        2. Hey; let's make it simple. Select one, only one, Chinese dish with five or less ingredients. Shop a grocery that offers Chinese foods exclusively and purchase only those things needed for the recipe. Prepare the recipe; prepare it again - and again. Make notes with each step in the process from Mise en place to plating. Once you've mastered that single dish, go to the next one (but don't forget to revisit the original recipe from time to time) and do the same thing. That technique has worked for me for over fifty years, and I cook foods representing most of the civilized world. It took me several years to develop a loaf of bread that I felt was fit to serve to anyone but the dog.

                                          1. I was thinking about this, and I think the deceptively simple dishes are sometimes the trickiest.

                                            Think of cooking eggs, for example, an extremely basic cooking technique, but one that takes practice and skill to to do just right - poached so that the white is solid, but the yolk liquid, creamy scrambled eggs, and a perfectly served omelette.

                                            I find some Chinese foods like this. Stir fried water-spinach and garlic, for example, is one of my favourite default vegetable dishes in Chinese restaurants. It took a surprising number of tries at home to get it just right - cooked through, but still with a fresh green colour and not soggy. I need a few more tries for shredded potatoes with chilis and vinegar, a dish that has about five ingredients, but that I haven't perfected yet.

                                            It can also be tricky finding authentic recipes - quite often cookbooks for foreign cuisines fiddle with ingredients, trying to find a balance between authentic and accessible. If you have to resort to mail order to get the ingredients in a cookbook, it's going to have a more limited set of purchasers than one adapted to locally available ingredients, but won't taste just the same. For example, I have a set of Indian cookbooks I purchased in India. Nearly every recipe (literally) has some ingredient that I haven't heard of, or know but can't get, and have to substitute for. I don't have the same problem with Indian cookbooks written for a North American audience, where I can usually get ahold of almost all the ingredients.

                                            18 Replies
                                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                              Thanks for the great advice everyone! Your post about your indian cook books is exactly my point. I too have lots of cookbooks on cooking Chinese foods etc. etc.. They all tend to 'dumb down' the recipes for 'Western' audiences. I don't mean that in a negative way. That's where the authentic flavors get lost.
                                              I sure agree on the post about what's in all those containers in a Chinese grocery store. As to all those little old Chinese ladies not using what's in those containers I must disagree with the poster who said the little old ladies don't use them. Two points on that: 1 you can bet your last burrito that no Chinese grocery store uses up self space on anything that their customers don't buy. 2 Having sold/delivered fresh fish to Chinese restaurants who were offering premium Chinese food to virtually a 100% Chinese customer base at that time, I saw in all the kitchens, dozens and dozens of open jars/tins/bags being used constantly. These ingredients obviously were imported from China.
                                              I've tried making Lo Mai Gai (sticky rice in lotus leaf) a few times. Can't get the 'authentic' flavors. I've got the rice down but even the lotus leaf doesn't smell quite the same as you'll get at Don Mees in Victoria. Why? Because the lotus leaves I can buy aren't the same as Don Mee's buys by the thousands. So the flavor the lotus leaf imparts to the rest of the dish is just one of the reasons cooking great authentic Chinese food IMO has to be one of the, if not the most difficult cuisine to replicate. Then there's Indian food and Mexican food. Sort of took the wind out of my sails the last time I made Petti Di Polla Al Fungetto. LOL

                                              1. re: Puffin3

                                                While written for a Western audience, I don't think Dunlop's books are dumbed down at all. She's a British journalist who attended cooking school in China and has traveled extensively throughout China. She loves the food and culture too much to dumb it down. What she's tried to do is making the cuisine accessible to Westerners by painstakingly describing important techniques and giving thorough descriptions of ingredients including brand recommendations and so on. It's really very possible for many dishes. Maybe not every single dish, as in the example you give with the lotus leaf. But, a Chinese-American (or Chinese-Canadian) home cook would have the same disadvantage as you in the case of that dish. I think there are a lot of dishes that are possible. Furthermore, if the dish can't be prepared authentically, I suspect Dunlop just left it out of her books altogether rather than set her readers up for disappointment and failure.

                                                I wish you'd have a look at those Dunlop COTM threads I've linked or would check the books out of your library. I really think you'd find what you're looking for in those books if you gave them a chance.


                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                  I would second this, Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuan cookbook is wonderful, I've eaten in sichuan restaurants and homestyle chinese restaurants and this cookbook does the job. I'm utterly addicted to the fish fragrant aubergines - it can't go wrong with what it goes in it. The dan dan noodles (I always use the second recipe - personal preference) is certainly not wimpish on flavour - where anything is toned down she does mention it (usually in terms of how much chilli oil is used). She's really focused on one cuisine in this book, so as you work your way through the book you get a real feel for the area.

                                                  Although I have eaten in a few places, I'm a long way from really knowing what authentic Sichuan cuisine taste like , and my biggest problem trying to grapple with a new cuisine is like you say, how is it exactly supposed to be - having a real headache with Southern Indian cooking at the moment. However there's something about the way she writes that you do get a real feel of how it is supposed to taste - if that makes sense. And even if if it hasn't got the authentic flavours, it still tastes fantastic and flavoursome to me. I might not have great knowledge of SIchuan food but I like to think I know what flavoursome food taste like (my mother is Vietnamese and an amazing cook).

                                                  Some of the dishes are really simple. For example, poached chicken with a variety of sauces. The simplest being I think just chilli oil and soy sauce - i'm a fan of the bang bang chicken. She describes the ingredients really well so you understand what it is and what you're looking for in the grocery store. My partner is an inexperienced cook - this was the first real regional cuisine he's ever tackled and we haven't got the whole wok breath thing tackled either - but he's making fantastic stuff thanks to this book.

                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                    i highly recommend dunlop's memoir of her time and travels in china. entertaining, easy to read, and informative about regional characteristics of the food (and sources in the agri- and aquacultures). http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-97803...

                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                      Her memoir has some neat recipes in it, too! I haven't ever tried any of them, though!


                                                  2. re: Puffin3

                                                    <I don't mean that in a negative way. >

                                                    No offense was taken. Try to start with the less complex Chinese dishes, just like the less complex Indian dishes. Don't expect to master Chinese cooking (or whatever cooking) in a very short period of time. Chinese, as a culture, takes cooking very seriously, so you cannot just rush it.

                                                    <I've tried making Lo Mai Gai (sticky rice in lotus leaf) a few times. ...Because the lotus leaves I can buy aren't the same as Don Mee's buys by the thousands.>

                                                    First of all, I disagree that you cannot get authentic flavor from store bought lotus leaves. They are the same leaves. I think my Lo Mai Gai is as good as any Dim Sum restaurants. However, more importantly, even if your logic is true (which I don't agree, but for the sack of argument, let's say you are), then it just means your Lo Mai Gai is not the restaurant flavor. It does not mean it is unauthentic. Every single Chinese home cooks from China to US to Africa would not buy lotus leaves by the thousands anyway. Otherwise, one would deem every Chinese home cooks as unauthentic and only Chinese restaurants are authentic.

                                                    Again, try it often, don't be afraid to fail, and keep in mind that people do not just "nail" Chinese dishes in the first shot. It takes a long time to really get every aspects correct. It took me awhile to just get a handle of the Char Siu Bao (Chinese steamed barbecue buns), and longer still to get to restaurant level, but now I can say mine is not any worse than what is offered from the local Cantonese restaurants, in appearance, texture or taste, but it really took me years to get to this point.

                                                    <Two points on that: 1 you can bet your last burrito that no Chinese grocery store uses up self space on anything that their customers don't buy. 2 Having sold/delivered fresh fish to Chinese restaurants who were offering premium Chinese food to virtually a 100% Chinese customer base at that time, I saw in all the kitchens, dozens and dozens of open jars/tins/bags being used constantly. These ingredients obviously were imported from China.>

                                                    Agree. Exactly my earlier points that there is no way you can buy un-usable sauces from a Chinese grocery store. They are all useful. The question is to know when and how to use them.

                                                    1. re: Puffin3

                                                      Puffin, we don't cook Lo Mai Gai at home. It's a dim sum in yum char. Much more likely you'll find steamed fish, steamed egg, stir fried greens with garlic, all served with a hearty bowl of rice when you are invited to a cantonese family for dinner. Our standard meal is in the format of 'three dishes and one soup', served with plain steamed rice. My family always have a steamed fish and a stir fried veg for 'three dishes'. The third can be poultry or meat.

                                                      1. re: lilham

                                                        <we don't cook Lo Mai Gai at home>

                                                        I do. :) They are like TV dinners for me. I like to make a bunch of them and bring them to work and share with others. More importantly, I usually store some in my freezer and steam them when I don't have time to cook. It is my version of TV dinners. :)


                                                      2. re: Puffin3

                                                        Sometimes local ingredients just don't work, if you're not local to the cuisine. A chef friend from New Orleans went to Japan to teach Cajun cooking. They made food, all right, but he said absolutely nothing tasted the way it did at home, so what they ended up with was almost unrecognizable, and certainly didn't have authentic New Orleans flavor.

                                                        I generally go out for ethnic food ... the only problem arises when (for example) there is no truly great dim sum restaurant in your area, as is the case for me, IMO.

                                                        1. re: foiegras

                                                          foiegras said: "Sometimes local ingredients just don't work, if you're not local to the cuisine."

                                                          Sometimes just plain old "time" can change the flavors of ethnic cuisines too. Brocolli in Chinese food (at least Chinese American food) is a late 20th century addition that has almost entirely replaced celery. Those are both aromatic vegetables, but I'll trade all of the brocolli in all of the Chinese American food I'm ever served for celery any day of the week! And I like brocolli. But it's a hit-you-over-the-head vegetable and forget about subtle Chinese American dishes that contain brocolli!

                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                            Interesting - one thing I've found is that using Chinese celery rather than Western celery changes the dish a lot, as Chinese celery has a very different texture, and is much stronger tasting.

                                                            One of my favourite Chinese vegetable dishes is bitter melon with salty egg. It's incredibly simple (two ingredients, three if you include the oil), but I imagine finding the right type of bitter melon, and salted duck eggs, could be challenging abroad.

                                                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                              But if you can get fresh duck eggs, they're not that difficult to salt. As I recall, they only take a couple of weeks. I'm not sure, but I could probably get fresh duck eggs, if not salted, at my local Asian markets. Actually, I'm sure they carry salted duck eggs! I know they carry Chinese celery. I'm curious: Is broccoli (not kai-lan) common or rare in Chinese cooking/restaurants in Taipei?

                                                              FYI, my local Asian markets have all the bitter melon your heart desires, I'm just not sure of how many varieties. If you're not familiar with the 99 Ranch Market chain, it is a fairly large chain of Chinese/Asian markets (35 stores in 5 states and growing) that is literally like stepping into another world. Dozens and dozens of tanks of live fish in the seafood department, for example. It's a trip!

                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                I had a craving for bitter melon. The last time I had the dish was at my parent's house over 15 years ago.

                                                                I found some at 99 Ranch, my go to place for Chinese food stuff, but the gourds were different. I remember the seeds used to be surrounded by red pulp. The one's I found were surrounded by yellow pulp. The flavor seemed half as strong as I remember. Probably these were harvested earlier and not allowed to mature to full strength.

                                                                Overall, I still enjoyed the bitter melon in black bean sauce dish. These would have been good training melons for people not familiar with the taste. :-)

                                                      3. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                        lots of times those ingredients in indian cookbooks that sound unfamiliar are spice names in an indian language. you can use translation programs or do an internet search to see what these ingredients are.
                                                        or they are vegetables that are uncommon here..
                                                        There is really nothing that is not available in a good indian grocery store in a major US metro area these days, including piles of frozen (and sometimes fresh) indian vegetables.

                                                        1. re: jen kalb

                                                          Even with a translation program, there's some stuff I simply can't get - fresh curry leaves or fenugreek leaves, for example.

                                                          Mind you, I'm also about 10,000 km from the nearest major US city - India's actually considerably closer. There is an Indian food shop locally, where my Indian friends go for stuff for home cooking, but they are limited to dried goods.

                                                          Even in the US, if you don't live in a major city with a good Indian population, finding fresh ingredients can be very difficult.

                                                          1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                            Grow your own? Murraya koenigii should be hardy (maybe with some protection in the coldest months) in Taiwan (if that is where you are)...

                                                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                              you might try growing fenugreek greens from the whole seed (probably fairly easy, its a legume) or subbing the dried leaves. Like the other poster said, murraya plants might be grown - they are shrubs in the citrus family. Dried leaves are also available but not as good. Still, you can get pretty far in Indian cooking without these two items.

                                                          2. I cook a fair amount of Chinese. A fair mount of Japanese. A fair amount of Turkish. A fair amount of... Well, let's just say I cook all over the world. To date, no one has ever tasted my Chinese food and said, "Gee, this tastes Italian." On the other hand, I've never had dinner guests who just deplaned from China. I have eaten in far too many Chinese restaurants to even begin to count, starting way way back as a preschooler grabbing dim sum off the trolly carts in Grant Avenue restaurants in San Francisco's China Town in the 1930s. One of the greatest Chinese dishes I've ever had was egg fu yong from the hands of a Chinese chef who had arrived in El Paso, TX, only two days before from Hong Kong. It was heaven! The worst Chinese food I've ever had in my life was in Liverpool, England, and every damned vegetable I was served had been boiled for a minimum of two hours before being stir fried. The food was abominable. My point here is if there is good and bad Chinese food from the professionals, why would you expect to do better at home? Keep trying, remember and reuse the techniques and ingredients that are successful. Then, if you should make something that is really terrible, eat what you can for nutrition's sake, throw what you can't eat away or feed it to your dog if you have one, and then try never never never to make that dish again for the rest of your life! Meanwhile, just relax and enjoy the learning exerience, AND the eating experience! Eat in as many Chinese restaurants as you possibly can and... ask questions! Most chef's are flattered and don't mind at all. Most of all, relax and have fun.

                                                            Cook book recommendation:
                                                            Easy Chinese Recipes: Family Favorites From Dim Sum to Kung Pao

                                                            Encyclopedic Chinese cook book recommendation:
                                                            The Chinese Kitchen by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                                              <I have eaten in far too many Chinese restaurants to even begin to count, >

                                                              Excellent starting point.

                                                              <Keep trying, remember and reuse the techniques and ingredients that are successful.>

                                                              <Meanwhile, just relax and enjoy the learning exerience>

                                                              <Eat in as many Chinese restaurants as you possibly can>

                                                              Agree, agree and agree.

                                                            2. I'm a big fan of Grace Young's Stir Frying to the Sky's Edge. I made a lot of Asian-inspired dishes in the past, but the recipes in this book showed me that authentic dishes don't have to be complicated or involve a huge list of ingredients that will be tough to track down. While I haven't stocked up on everything she mentions, I haven't run into too many problems tracking down what I've needed for the recipes I've tried. My parents gave me a wok they'd barely used a few months ago, and I've had great success with everything I've tried so far. No more yucky bottled stir fry sauces for me!

                                                              8 Replies
                                                              1. re: writergeek313

                                                                I, too, am a fan of GY's SFTTSE (and it was a Cookbook of the Month here on the home cooking board in Jan 2011). I am charmed by her stories and think her recipes yield consistently delicious results. It was an award winner last year, too (can't remember whether it was IACP or Beard though). It really provides a thorough lesson in stir-frying.

                                                                However, one interesting thing about this particular book of hers is that the recipes are not really "authentic" in the usual sense. I mean they are real recipes used by real people of Chinese ancestry. However, the book is really about the Chinese diaspora. Young traveled the world to find Chinese emigrants and learn how they had adapted their family recipes to their new surroundings. There are a lot of very untraditional recipes such as Chinese Jamaican Jerk Chicken Fried Rice, Chinese Trinidadian Stir-Fried Shrimp with Rum, Chinese Burmese Chili Chicken, and Chinese American Shrimp with Lobster Sauce.

                                                                It's a great book and I wholeheartedly recommend it (and in fact did recommend it above as a primer for stir-frying), but realize that the recipes therein aren't necessarily "traditional".


                                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                  Chinese was the first restaurant food that I wanted to learn to cook. This was (Shudder) four decades ago. There was a local Chinese owned grocery store and I went in and talked to the owner. She lead me to Fu Pei Mei's cook books. And she talked me through the recipes I chose to try.

                                                                  There was the month when she couldn't get Hoisin Sauce, so she told me how to make it from sweet bean paste. And on and on.

                                                                  There are recipes I won't try (and ones that Mr Shallots won't eat because he's picky). But I can do a lot of good food and I never thought to shop for ingredients anywhere other than a ethnic grocery store.

                                                                  Much later I was in New Orleans and at a southeast Asian grocery store and I heard a laugh. The laugher was the owner of my favorite Thai restaurant and he asked what I was buying. Then he told me that the folks there always saved some things for him (like cilantro roots.)

                                                                  I'd say that don't worry too much, ask questions, and keep finding good restaurants for inspiration

                                                                  1. re: shallots

                                                                    I used to eat in as many Chinese restaurants as I could. That's were I caught the Chinese food 'bug' Thanks very much for everyones advice. I will 'stick to it'. One point about the Lotus leaves I tried: they were VERY old and dry when I took them out of the package. Even when soaked they mostly just fell apart. I'll go into a big Chinese grocery store in Victoria and hang out waiting for those little old ladies to see what they purchase then I'll pick p the same items and ask the cashier what the items are used for. Sue Grafton move over! LOL

                                                                    1. re: Puffin3

                                                                      <they were VERY old and dry when I took them out of the package. Even when soaked they mostly just fell apart>

                                                                      Ok, mine definitely did not fall apart.

                                                                      <hang out waiting for those little old ladies to see what they purchase then I'll pick p the same items>

                                                                      Or steal items from them.

                                                                        1. re: Puffin3

                                                                          Definitely, that will give you the opportunity to practice ninja skill (another Asian skill for sneaking and stealing). :P

                                                                            1. re: alkapal

                                                                              Very good. With this advice, Puffin can steal those sauce/spice jars from those little old ladies.

                                                              2. I dabbled in Chinese cooking when I was a kid, then lived in Taipei with a 2-burner stove that was either on at blast-furnace level or off. I had to learn to cook all over again given the circumstances. It was the best thing that ever happened to my cooking (just about the best thing that ever happened to me, period, living there).
                                                                It also helped enornously that some of the best Chinese cooking in the world was available to us there for very little money (chefs who had come over with the KMT bigwigs were branching out into restaurants as the bigwigs went to their eternal rewards) so I learned how things were supposed to taste.
                                                                If you're starting more or less from scratch, get your hands on the Wei-Chuan "Chinese Cuisine" books or the American offshoot of same, Nina Simonds' "Classic Chinese Cuisine" (Simonds was the translator for the Wei-Chuan books); Irene Kuo's "The Key to Chinese Cooking" (still the most encyclopedic coverage of classic techniques and recipes); and the Dunlop books previously discussed (which pack a real punch of real flavor for relatively little effort).
                                                                Cook recipes that appeal to you and eat the same dishes in good restaurants for comparison's sake, and soon you'll be getting the results you want.

                                                                37 Replies
                                                                1. re: buttertart

                                                                  Have you priced the Wei-Chuan cookbooks lately? Fortunately, I bought mine back when they were affordable!

                                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                                    No, I wasn't aware they had gotten expensive. The Nina S book has most of the highlights from them.

                                                                    1. re: buttertart

                                                                      Some of them got crazy expensive according to internet price. Interestingly, the ones I found in my local Chinatown are still reasonable -- around $20. A new Wei Chuan Cantonese book can be $200:


                                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                        It's the pits when you have to choose between the cookbook or the ingredient! '-)


                                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                                          :) Hmm, that is actually slightly cheaper than the price I got from Chinatown.

                                                                          I also have the same brand (Nature Nest) which came in a 1.33 oz (38 g) for $100-110 or so.

                                                                    2. re: buttertart

                                                                      My SO's mother (from China + Taiwan) cooks most of her food out of Wei Chuan's "Chinese Cooking." In fact, I have her original hardback copy from the '70s in both English and Chinese, as well as an English-only paperback I picked up a few years ago. Her food is excellent, by the way, although I can out-do her on quite a few dishes from Dunlop's books. :)

                                                                      I will have to check out the Simonds and Kuo books, since I am a big fan of the other ones.

                                                                      1. re: emily

                                                                        I have the bilingual hardbacks, along with "Chinese Snacks" which is simply wonderful. The newer paperbound regional cookbooks are interesting but I haven't cooked from them.

                                                                        1. re: buttertart

                                                                          "Chinese Snacks" is my favorite Wei-Chuan Cooking Book! (Recipes and instructions by Huang Su-Huei) The Taiwanese Steamed Rolls on Page 16 of my 1974 Edition is possibly my favorite recipe in the whole book, but due to the proper "bacon" no longer being readily available to me, I gave it up about fifteen or twenty years ago, BUT.....! Now that there is a 99 Ranch Market in my eighborhood, who knows what ghosts of Feasting Past may make an appearance again? :-)

                                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                                            The recipes for breadstuffs are really exciting. (Florence Lin's book on breads and noodles is great, bet you have that too, C1?)

                                                                            1. re: buttertart

                                                                              Nope. I sort of gave myself a lecture about thirty years ago that I shouldn't buy any more cookbooks until I've used up all of the recipes in the ones I already have. Since I rarely use recipes....

                                                                              I only have about 200 or so running feet of bookshelves in the whole house, and I do read more than cookbooks. It's an ADDICTION! '-)

                                                                              1. re: buttertart

                                                                                I've got the Florence LIn book. Have only made the shao bing, but it's great!

                                                                              2. re: Caroline1

                                                                                I have used my Wei-Chuans so much that they need to be replaced. I had them out today and stumbled again onto the intro pages with the "how to cook" summaries. Amazing how much information a good cartoon can impart.

                                                                                1. re: shallots

                                                                                  Pity about needing to replace them. I'm greatly regretting not buying a couple of carloads of them back in the '70s when I bought mine, and salting them away for today's market!

                                                                          2. re: buttertart

                                                                            I have had the same experience cooking in Taipei, with the standard two-temperature gas stove and no oven, narrow galley kitchen. It definitely teaches you to be adaptable in the kitchen.

                                                                            And eating out is still amazing - great food, and very cheap. I went to 勺勺客 for a group dinner last Friday - we ate until we were stuffed on amazing Shanxi cuisine in a really funky restaurant, including copious amounts of beer, for less than $15 US per person.

                                                                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                                              Pick up an induction hot plate. It will return sanity to your cooking!

                                                                              1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                                                I'm telling you, I would go back to live there in a second. I love Taipei. Lucky you!

                                                                              2. re: buttertart

                                                                                Buttertart, this reminded me of the diversity of Chinese food. I was brought up to recognise there are four main regional cuisines in China - Cantonese, Shangdong, Jiangsu and Sichuan. There is no single Chinese cuisine as such.

                                                                                By the way, I actually don't like most Taiwanese food much. I had a Taiwanese boyfriend when I was at university, and I can't stomach his mother's cooking. I've also been to Taiwan and wasn't wowed by the food there either. My parents will only eat Cantonese food, and chinese cuisine adapted to a Hong Kong pallete. I've seen them complaining when travelling in China. Too spicy, too oily, etc.

                                                                                1. re: lilham

                                                                                  There are four main regional cuisines or eight, depending who you talk to.

                                                                                  <My parents will only eat Cantonese food>

                                                                                  Of course, Cantonese food is the best of all Chinese cuisines. :P

                                                                                    1. re: lilham

                                                                                      I'm well aware there is no monolithic Chinese cuisine. (My interest in China is academic as well as gastronomic.) In terms of favorite cuisines, mine are Jiangzhe and southwestern (more Hunan than Sichuan) and these are the ones I cook most often. I love to eat excellent Cantonese in restaurants, but can't say I find it the best TO MY (no doubt depraved) TASTE. Enjoyed a number of Taiwanese dishes when living there but haven't found anything up to their standard in NYC.
                                                                                      (A whole other avenue of discussion I'd love to explore is the influence Japanese food had on Taiwanese during the Occupation and persisting to today -- the potstickers being more along the gyoza lines, etc. My student from Hsinchu was convinced that sushi was a Taiwanese invention.)

                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                          Noooo sushi or noooo Japanese influence on Taiwanese food or noooo how could I not prefer Cantonese food???

                                                                                          1. re: buttertart


                                                                                            No, in term of <In terms of favorite cuisines, mine are Jiangzhe and southwestern (more Hunan than Sichuan) >

                                                                                            Japanese definitely has influence on some of the Taiwanese food, just take the Taiwanese tempura for example. Interestingly, it is said that tempura has taken its form based on Portuguese.

                                                                                        2. re: buttertart

                                                                                          I grew up thinking mochi, pickled daikon, yokan, and a whole host of foods were Taiwanese because it's what we grew up eating (in the US). What a shock when I went shopping for myself and found that they were Japanese. That, and a few of words my mom also adopted--many of them not complimentary!

                                                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                                                            Think this is worthy of a larger discussion?

                                                                                            1. re: buttertart

                                                                                              'xplain - d'you mean the mistaking of non-Taiwanese foods for Taiwanese, or the assumption of a certain ethnic quality to a foodstuff, whatever it is, because it is what you grew up being told it was so-and-so?

                                                                                              1. re: huiray

                                                                                                I mean carryovers from the Occupation that are still influential in Taiwanese food.

                                                                                            2. re: chowser

                                                                                              what about adding those excellent Kimlan soy sauces to this list? Not japanese but similar.

                                                                                              1. re: jen kalb

                                                                                                You are absolutely right, and I was urged to use them by friends there.

                                                                                        3. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                          To Cantonese people! Every Chinese person 'knows" the cuisine of the their native province is the best and that all others pale in comparison.

                                                                                          1. re: scoopG

                                                                                            <Every Chinese person 'knows" the cuisine of the their native province is the best and that all others pale in comparison.>

                                                                                            Yes, but all other Chinese are sentimental when they think of their regional cuisines are the best, while the Cantonese are simply correct.


                                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                              "Yes, but all other Chinese are sentimental when they think their regional cuisines are the best, while the Cantonese are correct. "

                                                                                              1. re: huiray

                                                                                                Only if you are Cantonese ha ha...

                                                                                                  1. re: scoopG

                                                                                                    <Only if you are Cantonese ha ha...>

                                                                                                    Or you know the truth and see the light. :P

                                                                                      1. I hit it every time with Middle Eastern, half the time with Indian, and NEVER with Chinese, which I can turn into slop even as we speak. I have given up trying except for pot stickers which are reliable and easy to make (although labor-intensive). PS I am an experienced cook and I have super-good access to ethnic ingredients. I suggest that a ceramic-top range makes good Chinese cooking impossible, but maybe I'm just looking for excuses. Meanwhile, thank God for Chinese carry-out. Supporting the economy is not a bad thing.

                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: Querencia

                                                                                          <Supporting the economy is not a bad thing.>

                                                                                          Ha ha ha.

                                                                                          <I hit it every time with Middle Eastern, half the time with Indian, and NEVER with Chinese>

                                                                                          Sounds like you are good with slow cooking, but not fast cooking.

                                                                                            1. re: Querencia

                                                                                              I use a ceramic cooktop and a saute pan. And I think my chinese food is decent (judged by myself, a chinese from Hong Kong). Like someone already posted (I think it's TorontoJo), you might be better off with a flat bottom cooking vessel if you aren't using a high BTU cooking source.

                                                                                              1. If you have room for even a small garden, you might want to grow some of the ingredients that are hard to come by.
                                                                                                I have a Keffir Lime tree from Four Seasons in California.
                                                                                                Each spring I buy seeds from Kitazawa near San Francisco. Their catalog is excellent, possibly the best seed catalog I've ever gotten. The plant descriptions are superb and thorough and there are even recipes in the back.

                                                                                                4 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: shallots

                                                                                                  Baker Creek (www.rareseeds.com) is also exhaustive in Asian seeds.

                                                                                                  My favorite cucumber, a Japanese Climbing variety, is also available from a few vendors.

                                                                                                    1. re: shallots

                                                                                                      I second that "Kitazawa" & "Baker Creek" are wonderful sources for unusual vegetable seeds. Both are wonderful companies to deal with. Prices are fair, shipping is both reasonable & quick, germination is excellent - as is customer service.

                                                                                                    2. "Who here can actually cook excellent authentic or close to it Chinese food?"

                                                                                                      O fur shure not I ;(

                                                                                                      1. I've been thinking about the direction this thread has taken and I think I want to amend my response to say my excellently authentic Chinese food is more along the lines of "close to it" end of the scale and it's limited to a number of dishes that I have confidence in that my husband and I consider a good enough facsimile to our favorite local Sichuan restaurant. But, I wouldn't dream of cooking for anyone from CHina!


                                                                                                        25 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                          <I consider a good enough facsimile to our favorite local Sichuan restaurant. But, I wouldn't dream of cooking for anyone from CHina!>

                                                                                                          So you don't think you can take your Chinese guests to your local Sichuan restaurant? I mean, afterall you are about the same level of the restaurant for several of the dishes.

                                                                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                            Actually, no I probably wouldn't. I've entertained (on both coasts) guests from China before and I'll tell you our Chinese food was never up to snuff for them. If I had guests from China, I'd try to take them out for "American" food if I could convince them to try it.


                                                                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                              Also, while I am comfortable cooking Chinese food for my little family, I'm usually talking about one or two dishes I prepare in my wok or skillet. I don't think that really meets the expectations of a proper meal for most folks from China...


                                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                Just tell them that you don't have a lot of money to prepare multiple dishes, and if they want more, they will have to pay for them.

                                                                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                  I can't tell if you're joking or not. Not that a visit from anyone from China is imminent, mind you...


                                                                                                          2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                            Maybe others will contradict me, but 'close to it' is 'authentic' in my mind. Cooking is not something that there is only one way to do it. For example, a kung po chicken in Hong Kong is a lot less spicy than you'll find in Sichuan. And my Hong Kong parents certainly approve of many Chinese restuarants in Auckland, where the cooking is slightly different from back home. (Maybe similar to US chinese cooking). It's something hard to pin point, but once you achieve a certain taste profile, your Chinese guests will be delighted to eat your creation. (But beware of the caveat about regional cooking styles which we have discussed here).

                                                                                                            Of course there are 'chinese' that's definitely not chinese. Like most of the chinese takeaways in the UK. I always smile politely when someone tries to recommend me one of these places. I was shocked the first time I was given a box of sweet and sour chicken that looks like chicken nuggets served with a sweet red-coloured dipping sauce!

                                                                                                            1. re: lilham

                                                                                                              Very interesting perspective, lilham!


                                                                                                              1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                <I was shocked the first time I was given a box of sweet and sour chicken that looks like chicken nuggets served with a sweet red-coloured dipping sauce!>

                                                                                                                There are worse things in life, but I know exactly what you mean. Here, we have PF Chang. The food is not horrible, but some of the dishes are not very Chinese.


                                                                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                  Yet it is distressing to read (not on CH) about how many folks consider PF Chang to be EXCELLENT "Chinese Food". :-(

                                                                                                                  1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                    I have PF Chang four times -- mostly for company/business. 3 out of 4 times were good. Not great, but reasonable. Some of the dishes are indeed quite Chinese in my opinion, but some are not, which is ok too. However, some are just horribly executed.

                                                                                                                    The last time I have its "Dan Dan Noodles"

                                                                                                                    Holy crap. It came as bowl of soggy and mushy noodle with bad seasoning. It was very bad. It is like someone went out of their way to make it as bad as possible. Frozen TV dinners taste way better than it.

                                                                                                                    <PF Chang to be EXCELLENT "Chinese Food". :-(>

                                                                                                                    It is neither excellent nor very Chinese.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                      Exactly. It is usually OK to decent renditions of Chinese-type dishes or Chinese-American dishes but are not exactly traditional Chinese dishes (leaving aside regionalities). I've eaten the food in various franchises, and its been tasty enough most of the time if you recognize what the dishes represent.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                        I actually don't mind well-executed Americanized Chinese food as long as my expectation is "Americanized Chinese Food." I don't mind eating at Big Bowl on occasion with co-workers... And, if it were actually well-prepared, I wouldn't have necessarily objected to eating the sweet and sour pork described above... I've heard of PF Changs (of course) but I don't think I've ever eaten at one because there's never been one convenient to where I live! I suppose I might eat at one if I were traveling on business or something like that and it was convenient to me, but so far that's never happened. I sort of feel bad I don't have an opinion on PF Changs!


                                                                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                          <I actually don't mind well-executed Americanized Chinese food as long as my expectation is "Americanized Chinese Food.">

                                                                                                                          I agree. I have 3 out of 4 good experience from PF Chang. Restaurants like PF Chang may confuse people who don't know that it is midly to moderately Americanized. It is marketed as an upscale and hip Chinese restaurant. So I hope people do not use PF Chang as the standard meter when they visit Chinatowns or something.

                                                                                                                          < I wouldn't have necessarily objected to eating the sweet and sour pork described above>

                                                                                                                          What is wrong with sweet and sour pork? It is a Chinese dish with a Chinese origin. Yes, it is popular in US, but it is not an Americanized dish unlike others: California roll.

                                                                                                                          <I sort of feel bad I don't have an opinion on PF Changs>

                                                                                                                          That is ok. I have not even heard of Big Bowl until you mentioned it.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                            "What is wrong with sweet and sour pork? It is a Chinese dish with Chinese origin. Yes, it is popular in US, but it is not an Americanized dish unlike others."
                                                                                                                            Yes, sweet and sour pork is a classic Cantonese dish but it is differently prepared, often with bone-in pork and is much more sour than the Americanized version which is boneless pork swimming in red sweet gloopy sauce.

                                                                                                                            1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                              <Yes, sweet and sour pork is a classic Cantonese dish but it is differently prepared, often with bone-in pork and is much more sour than the Americanized>

                                                                                                                              I do know the Cantonese version is usually more vinegar based, but I didn't know they are usually bone-in. Are you sure about that? Most I have had always been using pork shoulder meat (pork butt), and I don't think there is much bone there. In addition, most of the recipes and videos I saw online (from Chinese websites written in Chinese) have usually call for pork shoulder meat.

                                                                                                                              <....swimming in red sweet gloopy sauce>

                                                                                                                              That I agree. The rule is to have enough to coat the pork, but not any extra.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                Uh, done with pork spare ribs (short-cut against the bone) or small pork cutlets/loin on the bone (cut into pieces meat-with-bone)? I suppose it would technically be called 糖醋排骨 with spare ribs &etc.
                                                                                                                                p.s. I didn't say that it was "usually" bone-in... :-)


                                                                                                                                1. re: huiray


                                                                                                                                  That is a different dish. :P

                                                                                                                                  I think it is more of 蘇菜 or 淮揚菜. :)

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                    Perhaps. :-)
                                                                                                                                    I've had "sweet & sour pork" in Cantonese places done with spare ribs, though, whatever it was called by them.
                                                                                                                                    Anyway, the Wiki entry on 咕噜肉 does also mention using spare ribs as a variant.

                                                                                                                            2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                              I know S&SP is an authentic dish, but to be honest, I'm not sure I've ever had it anywhere where it has been authentic! (And if I have, it's been years...)

                                                                                                                              I'm pretty sure I've only had the Americanized kind, and sometimes, I've really enjoyed it! To be honest, sweet and sour pork, the Americanized kind, was likely my introduction to Chinese cuisine. I was a child and didn't know anything about authentic, but to me it was wonderful and interesting and at least a step towards curiosity...

                                                                                                                              P.S. I like California rolls, too. :).


                                                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen


                                                                                                                                I must be getting old. This is the first time I see this abbreviation. :)

                                                                                                                                <I like California rolls>

                                                                                                                                I do too. And one of reasons is that I spent most of my time in California. Most importantly, I feel California rolls are very difficult to mess up.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                  I just made that abbreviation up knowing you'd know what I meant. It's not authentic, or even close to authentic. ;-)


                                                                                                                      2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                        That chemical kinesis guy wrote:

                                                                                                                        There are worse things in life, but I know exactly what you mean. Here, we have PF Chang. The food is not horrible, but some of the dishes are not very Chinese.

                                                                                                                        I've eaten PF Chang food twice, once in a restaurant, one as take-out for house guests who wanted to stay home and watch a movie and eat out all at the same time BOTH times the food was abominable! The food in the restaurant was served cool to cold and the take out nuked just fine but NONE of it was what we ordere! And in both cases, whether hot or cold, NONE of it was Chinese!

                                                                                                                        Oh, and let me add that anyone who cooks "okay" Chinese food and is afraid to serve it to guests, you're way ahead of the game because there ARE Chinese restaurants that have lousy cooks! I've eaten in a few. '-)

                                                                                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                          <the take out nuked just fine but NONE of it was what we ordere>


                                                                                                                          Did I read right? The foods were ok, but they gave you the wrong order?

                                                                                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                            Well, it was "okay," as in "edible." It was NOT okay as in "Chinese." PF Chang is fusion, and not of a master grade of fusion IMO. BUT....! They have a gazillion locations going for them and surely a couple of them must have good cooks in the kitchen. No! Wait! I suspect it's ALL made by the same band of chefs and flown in cryovaced and heated up sous vide. No wonder I couldn't get what I ordered! '-)

                                                                                                                      3. re: lilham

                                                                                                                        I'm American, and I was quite taken aback the first time I saw that red sauce myself!! I was amazed that it was being passed off as food (this was as a child of about eight).

                                                                                                                        I find PF Chang an improvement over the usual Americanized Chinese. I'll say this, they have fantastic brown rice. I've eaten there many times because I used to work practically next door. The lettuce wraps are most excellent.

                                                                                                                    2. I used to be nervous about cooking for Chinese family / friends, since it's not my background. But I think there are some things that can help. While I can't speak impartially to whether my results are "excellent" or "authentic", I am definitely more comfortable with Chinese cooking than I used to be.

                                                                                                                      My advice:
                                                                                                                      1) Ingredients are very important, so definitely make sure you're getting the right sauces and ingredients. Since you're in the Vancouver area, finding them shouldn't be much of a problem. However, if you're not familiar with the language, it can be hard to locate things, or to choose the right things.

                                                                                                                      2) I'd suggest trying the same recipes or techniques over and over. Once you get comfortable with some basic techniques and cooking methods, I think maybe you'll have better luck with new things. Watching videos online is good too. "Chinese food" is a broad term that could mean a lot of things to different people. Start with one or two regional cuisines, and try to perfect a few dishes that are typical of that cuisine.

                                                                                                                      3) I won't say that you have to have a high-powered wok stove, but it helps to have at least a moderately powered one; if you don't, try to modify with technique by cooking in smaller batches. I know a lot of people will say that you should use a skillet, but I think that a flat-bottomed carbon steel wok is a little better, even if you don't have a super high-power stove. Just make sure not to crowd the pan anyway. We have a 23k BTU stove with a wok ring that holds things steady - it's not the level of power of restaurant ranges or outdoor wok stove setups, but it is enough to keep things at a constant sizzle when stir-frying (and then some). Certain dishes that rely heavily on the wok flavor may be hard to get that special flavor on a home stove, but you can get, say, 80% of the way there.

                                                                                                                      4) Since you specifically mention you're not afraid of a little MSG, I'll let you in on another dirty little secret.. most restaurants and home cooks use "ji jing" (i.e., chicken-flavored MSG, which may or may not contain actual meat products -- Knorr's uses beef and chicken fat, among other things) rather than plain MSG. Of course, you can actually make homemade broths, master sauces, etc. to give your food a savory kick, but that is what a lot of people do these days.

                                                                                                                      Nthing the suggestion for Fuchsia Dunlop's cookbooks -- I think you'll especially like the new one once it comes out.

                                                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: will47

                                                                                                                        Do you know something about the new Dunlop not vouchsafed to mere mortals such as I?

                                                                                                                          1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                                            Haha -- sorry to disappoint, but I don't have any special knowledge of the new book.

                                                                                                                            The OP mentioned dimsum, and so is presumably most familiar with Cantonese style cooking, so thought some of the flavors might be more familiar since the book has a focus on South China (though "South", of course, always depends on perspective; from the stuff I've seen of her recent travels, I am pretty sure includes stuff in the Shanghai / Jiangsu region, maybe other areas in "Southern" China, and won't be just about Cantonese cuisine).

                                                                                                                            Another book that might be helpful if the OP is interested in Cantonese cuisine is this book
                                                                                                                            I have a copy, and don't use it much (unsurprisingly, perhaps, there's not a lot of veggie stuff), but I think it's fairly well put together.

                                                                                                                        1. Referring back to the OP, dim sum would be the last thing I would attempt as a nepohyte. Those are extremely specialized recipes that take a long time to master.

                                                                                                                          12 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                                            Actually, that's only true if you insist on making your own wrappers. Using store-bought wrappers (which are actually quite good) & your own homemade fillings (very easy to make) is easy & comes out surprisingly good - diehard authenticity notwithstanding.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Bacardi1

                                                                                                                              Depends on what type of dim sum you're after. Wide world of non-dumpling dim sum out there.

                                                                                                                              1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                                                There is "dim sum" and there is "dim sum," just as there are "dumplings" and there are "dumplings." I do NOT like doing "pot stickers" (Ajinomoto frozen are passable, especially if you doctor them) or shu mai or any "dumplings" from scratch or skins that require perfect pleating to look presentable. Instead I do the "steamed bun" type dumplings that are filled on the inside and REALLY easy to do! Not to mention that most people are blown away by them, having no idea how easy they are.

                                                                                                                                For a dim sum party, though I haven't done one in a few years (hey, I'm old AND lazy, and there ain't nothin' wrong with that!), but I used to just make a lot of different kinds of dim sum and freeze or refrigerate them (depending on what it was), then party day was a snap! Dim sum parties are a real break for the hosts because dim sum is a DAYTIME treat, traditionally eaten with TEA! So you have a dim sum party on a weekend. You have more time to serve it than you would if it was a bunch. Sleep in an extra hour! Be prepared for a few die hard guys to insist on bringing some Tsing Tao beer, but all the host need offer is really great and fun dim sum and tea! Really good tea, even when you serve several types, is a lot cheaper than really good booze, and no worry about tipsy guests driving away from YOUR house! Okay.. Call me cheap. I don't mind. I've been called worse.

                                                                                                                              2. re: Bacardi1

                                                                                                                                <Using store-bought wrappers (which are actually quite good)>

                                                                                                                                That is the thing. Some dim sum can be made with store-bought wrapper like the pork dumplings, but I don't know any store bought wrapper for shrimp dumplings. You have to make it yoursself, and you have to use them fast.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                  Which is why I specifically stated "authenticity notwithstanding".

                                                                                                                                  I've made some pretty darn lovely - & tasty - pleated shrimp dumplings using round store-bought gyoza wrappers. Authentic? No. Lovely, perfectly steamed, & absolutely delicious? Yes.

                                                                                                                                2. re: Bacardi1

                                                                                                                                  What kind of wrappers are you talking about? Dumpling skins or wonton wrappers? As buttertart notes, dim sum is so much more. It is too labor intensive and the whole point of dim sum is to take the day off and let the professionals work their magic.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: scoopG

                                                                                                                                    Wouldn't you kill to get your hands on some really wonderful northern dian xin? Say Taipei Tianchu / Celestial Restaurant-level? That was the first place we went the last time there. Still as good as it was 25 years before. In the same location. Heaven indeed.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: scoopG

                                                                                                                                        That madeleine's got nothing on a niu rou su bing.

                                                                                                                                3. re: buttertart

                                                                                                                                  Now, I do want to add that some dim sums are much tougher than others. In my experience, pork dumpling (Siu Mai) is much easier than shrimp dumpling (har gow).


                                                                                                                                  I think most people can make reasonble pork dumplings within the first 5 attempts and probably sonner. Most people will have a very hard time to get the shrimp dumplings to taste like restaurant quality any time soon.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                    It's also tough because a) [Cantonese style] dimsum is, almost by definition, eaten as a lot of small dishes, so you'd really want to prepare several different items, and b) many of the dishes are prep / labor intensive (making dough, wrapping things), so it wouldn't really be worth doing for just a small batch. For that matter, you'd probably get better results for many items by buying them at the market, or from a restaurant specializing in that kind of food.

                                                                                                                                    Some of the items (like chang fun) would be a pain to make without special equipment, though you could make them Vietnamese style (on a skillet rather than in a steamer).

                                                                                                                                    In any event, I didn't parse the request so much as 'How can I make dim sum at home?' -- I think maybe it's more important as a reference point for one style of Chinese food the OP is familiar with. But, some dishes in that repertoire, like Chaozhou style fen guo might be manageable with some practice, and are well documented in books like the one I mentioned above.

                                                                                                                                4. 'Dim Sum The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch' by the author of "Every Grain of Rice' Ellen Leong Blonder is one of my favorite cook books. Yes she's Chinese. She has lots of step by step photos and descriptions including how to make 'wheat starch dough' with tapioca flour for those amazing translucent steamed dumplings. I've tried it making them. It looks dead easy but it's so tricky to get it right I've given up for now after a lot of tries. Plus my wife 'ain't so much on any Chinese food that has sesame oil and or soy sauce. Bummer for me. Anyone else have this book because if so I have some questions re. some of the recipes.

                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                  1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                                    Try emailing Ms Blonder -- pretty sure she'll answer your questions.

                                                                                                                                  2. My wife has found that using an electric wok, while not the same, does a really good job in doing Chinese food at home if you don't have a gas range. We cook a wide variety of Chinese foods ( neither of us are Chinese, but we both lived in Taiwan and Beijing). My wife cooks a lot better than I do, she has even had Chinese friends complement her on it.

                                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                                    1. re: mdinnes

                                                                                                                                      Does your electric wok heat up to very high heat quickly like a wok in a chinese restaurant or is it basically an electric frying pan in the shape of a wok?

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                                        While it is not the level of the Chinese restaurants that I have seen (almost all restaurants I saw in China used a propane torch and large woks) most people don't have those anyway. If you have a gas range, that is ideal. Our electric wok does heat up quite quickly and gets very hot. Before we got that, we had a terrible time using our woks on an electric range. So Again, it's not perfect, but the best solution that we have found when we don't have a gas range

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                                          Home cooking is different from restaurant cooking. While all kitchens back home in Hong Kong have gas stoves, (which I assume is standard in most chinese countries). There are many chinese expats cooking chinese food using electric stoves.

                                                                                                                                          I use a ceramic cooktop and found it very slow responding to change of temperature. However you simply have to be careful not to overcrowd the wok with food. What I've noticed with friends cooking stir fries are that their woks are far too small, and they put too much food inside. The food is therefore simply simmering inside the wok, and not sizzling. Hope that makes sense.