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american chinese food cravings?

what is with the Chinese food cravings? Every month or so I get this intense craving for Chinese food despite the fact that 9/10 times when I eat it my stomach revolts often violently. Even with all of the wonderful Asian-inspired meals I have been making lately (bulgogi, thai basil chicken) I still get that feeling that I could go for some yummy Americanized Chinese food. A friend and I have concluded that it is a three-bite food...all you need is 3 bites of that greasy sweet and sour chicken to satisfy whatever the craving is but then you're still hungry and left with a bunch of food that you end up eating. Does anyone else get these cravings and do you just fight them and know that it usually is not as good as you expect and often doesn't sit well in the GI tract?

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  1. I don't expect that much from American-Chinese cuisine and I don't mean that in a negative way. I know exactly what I'll be getting and once in a while, I want those deep fried chicken chunks doused in gloppy General Tso's sauce (or whatever dish I may be craving) with a side of pork fried rice and a standard egg roll (with a packet of duck sauce, please). For me it is a comfort food type thing. I grew up eating Friday night take-out every week and it was either Chinese or pizza. It's like dissing mom's meatloaf...even if it isn't the best meatloaf ever, it is still mom's meatloaf, the one that tastes like childhood.

    The craving hits a few times a year and when it does, I indulge. I tend not to overeat heavy foods like that for fear of my stomach revolting, so a standard combination meal of meat and rice, my husband and I split it with no harm done.

    1. Chinese restaurants have big menus, and I know from decades of experience I might love a handful of those dishes, but it takes repeat visits to find them. Once I find favorites, heck yes I crave them.

      I understand cravings for food that isn't great. I've always liked and craved fast food mexican and it isn't very satifying after I eat it and walk out of the restaurant, but it doesn't matter...I'll still be craving it intensely a month later.

      1. Is won-ton soup considered to be Chinese-American??

        20 Replies
        1. re: arktos

          It depends on how you make them. Won ton soup can be found in many "authentic" Cantonese restaurants.

          1. re: raytamsgv

            餛飩 - Wonton in Cantonese or Húntún Mandarin means dumpling soup.

          2. re: arktos

            Real wonton soup is Cantonese. Those use chicken broth that has dried fish boiled into the stock, and I believe some places also use shrimp shells for added flavor. The wontons use the thin egg flour skins and inside you'll find pork along with large shrimp pieces. This is not what you'll find in Chinese American places that uses watered down canned chicken broth with a piece of think dumpling skin and a tiny sliver of pork inside the skin.

            1. re: dpan

              This is not what you'll find in Chinese American places that uses watered down canned chicken broth ~

              I would bet the family jewels there is not one Chinese American place in history that has ever purchased a can of chicken broth for use in the kitchen.

              1. re: fourunder

                I think you're wrong about that, but can you explain your reasoning?

                1. re: RealMenJulienne

                  Chinese butcher their own chickens...they separate the meat between dark and white meat for appropriate dishes.. The carcasses and bones are saved for stock. Even wing tips are trimmed and kept for stock making. The big vat in the middle of a a wok line is where the stock is made and kept. It's the base for soups, gravies and all sauces.

                  1. re: fourunder

                    Well sure, in a home kitchen or a better restaurant that definitely happens. But in a typical Chinese American grease pit? I would bet on them using cheap canned stock or bullion.

                    1. re: RealMenJulienne

                      Not a chance. There are no more parsimonious people on the planet than the Chinese. They can buy the cheapest chicken available and use literally every scrap to make money from. It's all about the bottom line. Buying anything canned is an anathema to them. I've been in many Chinese restaurant kitchens and I never saw anything resembling canned stock. I've seen line cooks smashing chicken bones with the back of a clever to get the most flavor out of the stock.

                      1. re: Puffin3

                        Can't speak to canned stock, but you will very frequently see cans of chicken boullion / chicken MSG, whether the place is high-end or low-end, Americanized or not, restaurant or home-kitchen. That's not to say that some places may not also make chicken stock.

                        1. re: will47

                          Canned stock is quite common. Good for sauces, braises, etc., esp. for things like broccoli beef, egg drop soup.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Homemade stock may be common in Chinese restaurants, but I can vouch for canned being common in cheaper carryouts. I've seen them truck the stuff in before the morning lunch rush, along with the bok choy, styrofoam trays, and broccoli.

              2. re: dpan

                We never used canned chicken stock in our restaurant.

                As fourunder pointed out, we boned and sliced our own chickens. Dark meat is appropriate for certain dishes and need to be sliced a certain way. The same is true for white meat. There's no way you can every get those things pre-sliced, and even if you could, it would be far too expensive.

                At our restaurant, my uncle used to bone and slice scores of chickens each week. That's just part of the cook's job between the lunch and dinner rush. Of course, there would be a ton of chicken carcasses. He'd simply throw them into a huge pot, put in water, and boil/simmer until we had stock. Extra carcasses would be frozen and used for new stock when needed.

                Ounce for ounce, canned broth is much more expensive than chicken stock made from scratch. Any restaurant that wants to stay in business, regardless of cuisine, will try to use every scrap of food possible. It's not like what they show on TV. Unused scraps = lost money.

                1. re: raytamsgv

                  Ounce for ounce, canned broth is much more expensive than chicken stock made from scratch

                  But you are not factoring in the cost of labor and time, gas (or electricity) and space (the fact that a pot will take up on slot on the stove and/or in the fridge once it is made).

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    True, but the labor isn't that significant because it is mainly involved in getting the meat ready for cooking. The chicken bones are just a byproduct. You would still need to store stock somewhere even if it's store-bought. And you would also usually heat it up before using it. We kept our stock hot throughout the day--faster than breaking out pouring out canned stock and heating it.

                    1. re: raytamsgv

                      Right - and something has to be done with all those bones! I never found space to be an issue on the stove top or fridge.

                      1. re: scoopG

                        Surprisingly, we hardly ever bought whole chickens.

                        Just big boxes of frozen thighs and breasts.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Because of you.....I lost the family jewels...

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Ipse: perhaps your family wasn't as thrifty as mine. :-)

                            1. re: raytamsgv

                              Every case of canned stock was lost profit.....

                              1. re: raytamsgv

                                No, we just didn't have any whole chicken dishes on the menu.

                2. Every now and then I get a craving for Tomato Beef Chow Mein, which my ABC friends in California told me was a dish created there

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Tripeler

                    Tomatoes are indigenous to the Western Hemisphere, so they are not truly native to Chinese cuisines. However, after a two hundred years or so, it can be argued that tomatoes have become an integral part of Chinese cuisine. This can also be said of Italian, French, and any other cuisines that are not native to the Western Hemisphere.

                    1. re: raytamsgv

                      Peru and Mesoamerica are both possible places of origin for the tomato and were introduced into China in the 16th century.

                      1. re: scoopG

                        Well, the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys are crawling with beef and tomatoes, so it seems logical that Tomato Beef Chow Mein was created there.

                  2. Heck Yeah! I consider it junk food....TASTY junk food! Maybe once or twice a year. I always regret it later in the evening though...my tummy doesn't handle that crap like when I was a kid. I must admit...after a couple deep fried items...it all kind of tastes the same :) Mmmmm......

                    1. Oh hell yeah.

                      I've lived in Beijing for the past three years and I swear I have actual lucid dreams about General Tso's and crab rangoon. The first meal whenever I go back to the states is always a 'two meats, two sides' styrofoam clamshell meal at the airport Panda Express clone.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: RealMenJulienne

                        are there any authentic chinese dishes that are even similar to general tsos?

                        1. re: Rodzilla

                          If there are I haven't found them. On the other hand I was surprised to find sweet and sour pork on a lot of menus here. Pretty similar to the deep-fried buffet line version back home in the Midwest.

                      2. Crave these every once in a while ... and I usually give in.

                        Sesame Wontons
                        Singapore Rice Noodle
                        Hot and Sour Soup
                        Shrimp with Lobster sauce
                        Mapo Tofu

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Cheese Boy

                          Mmmm....shrimp with lobster sauce......
                          I really miss the "almond chicken", rice flour battered chicken cutlets, brown gravy (kind of), sprinkled with chopped almonds, served on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce. Haven't had that for years. I wonder if I could recreate that at home for a " nostalgic night". I recreated egg foo young recently and it was a big hit :)

                          1. re: Cheese Boy

                            +1 on shrimp with lobster sauce. That is my "come home from a trip" meal, along with a pint of wonton soup, a tiny container of white rice that I dump soy sauce all over, and of course the little bag of fried noodles with the plastic packets of duck sauce. I can pack away the entire thing, after which I feel kind of gross, but happy to be home.

                            I moved about a year and a half ago to a new neighborhood, and the Chinese takeout place here doesn't do Sw/LS as good as my old one...damn. Their wontons are much better, though.

                            1. re: Cheese Boy

                              I don't think Hot & Sour is American Chinese...

                            2. Mine is probably more like every couple weeks. In some ways it sorta sucks to get those cravings since majority of the people I hang out with now are Chinese or Taiwanese, so I can't go get junky Chinese food since they grew up on the real deal and would scoff at eating junky Chinese food. But I guess it is a trade off since now I can go eat dim sum more often since they do crave that.

                              1. Every so often I get a craving for white rice doused with soy sauce. It goes away quickly enough that I don't even have time to break out the Kikkoman.

                                1. Never really had a stomach problem with Chinese carryout and I've eaten at some bulletproof places that looked like a cholera epidemic about to happen. I was never into the sweet stuff like General Tsos. I tend towards the blander stuff like moogoo gaipan. I get a monthly craving for plain old chicken chow mein, sometimes beef chow foon (love them thick rubbery noodles), hot and sour soup. In the winter, I get cravings for "house special soup" which is basically scraps of meat and vegetables in broth. I like to cool it with white rice and make a nice gruel out of it. Really comforting. I also found a local place that does ma po tofu with ground pork. No idea at what point they started taking the ground meat out, but the stuff is delicious.

                                  I've found the seedier carryouts downtown have the best fried chicken wings. Most fry them really hot and blistering crispy. In DC, they're served with a local speciality "mambo sauce" which is a homemade sweet red sauce that goes amazingly great with the salty wings. They also do a suprisingly passable cheesesteak; shredded ribeye (not Steak Ums) onions, and provo. I've had far worse cheesesteaks at chains that specialize in cheesesteaks.

                                  1. I remember when I first ate "Chinese" food - a restaurant opened in my little town when I was 16 and my friends and I loved it! We though it was so exotic (hey, we lived in the middle of nowhere - Chef Boyardee was exotic for us!) Twenty years later I love authentic Chinese, but I still get cravings for the gloppy stuff. My best friend and I have TV night every Sunday and we always pig out, and every so often we get sweet and sour chicken, egg drop soup, crab in lobster sauce, egg fu yung, crab rangoons. It is all so breaded and oily and fried all over but we LOVE it anyway. It makes me feel young again!

                                    1. Sudden cravings from my little local "American Chinese" takeout place include "Shrimp with Lobster Sauce", "Singapore Noodles", & "Boneless Spareribs" (which consists of unbelievably delicious strips of glazed roast pork served on a bed of fried rice - yum!).

                                      1. Still quite a few carry outs peddling "pu pu platters" of fried wings, spring rolls, wontons, crab Rangoon, teriyaki beef, shrimp toasts, BBQ ribs. How this Trader Vic's relic ended up in Chinese carry outs is a mystery, but they're hard to beat if you want a good grease fix.

                                        1. Back in the day, when I was less guilty about what I ate, I'd go to 3-4 different Chinese restaurants for my complete take-out meal. One for Shrimp in Garlic Sauce, another for good fried rice, then a Thai place for spring-rolls (I hate those fat, tastless egg-rolls) associated with some CR. Then to a place that had really good crispy duck and ribs. Also I REALLY loved Shrimp toast (wiser now!). Talk about Full & Happy!! Does anyone still make Lobster Cantonese? That was a special treat. I also order hot & sour soup at least once a week, but now I eat the soup with non-fried Viet Springrolls instead of the fried ones.

                                          1. My craving (and I don't see it on many menu's) is Chicken Sub Gum Chow Mein. Love the celery, mushrooms, etc. And deep fried shrimp, BBQ Pork and egg foo young (and not all egg foo youngs are very good). And gotta have the red sauce and hot mustard for dipping the shrimp. Crave this meal about every couple of months.

                                            1. I'm currently doing a temporary reboot of my eating habits in order to deal with a medical condition, and I tells ya, I've had nothing but a taste memory and craving for that sweet and sour deep fried chicken with the bright orange/red cornstarch sugar sauce. Now, I haven't indulged in that since 1999 and I'm serious, I remember that as we had that at a local place the day we moved into our new home, and not since. But I still have that taste memory and it's been a bugger of a craving!
                                              I feel for you

                                              1. I miss the vegetable fried rice and chicken egg fu yung from a restaurant I used to live near in Kalamazoo, Michigan about 15 years ago. I also miss the cold sesame noodles from another restaurant in the same area. In fact, the last time I visited family, I made a specific restaurant run for those noodles. They were blissful. :-)

                                                1. I get cravings for those crunchy light-yellow batter-fried prawns in the appetizer menus. Often times, I'm so full from eating them, I'm too full to continue with the main dishes. Don't know how they make those, wish I knew how.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: arktos

                                                    It depends, I suppose. We deveined and butterflied large shrimps in our old family restaurant, We dipped them in a cornstarch-based liquid batter and then we deep fried them. It was a lot of work to prepare those.

                                                    1. re: raytamsgv

                                                      I suspected the batter was cornstarch related, as it produces a slightly oily, unique and delicious crunch different from tempura/fish & chip batters that I'm familiar with. I'm going to figure out how to make those. I could eat them 3 times a day!

                                                      1. re: arktos

                                                        We double fried them. The first time was the cook it. Then we'd refrigerate it and refry them when they were ordered. That's because it was too messy and took too much time to do it from scratch when ordered.

                                                  2. I occasionally get a craving for Manchu-Wok style Chinese fast food - it's completely different than the Chinese food I eat on a daily basis. But I've never had a digestive problem with it.

                                                    1. Pork lo mein
                                                      Kung pao shrimp

                                                      1. We had to drive an hour for Chinese food as a child. It was a special meal for us and a lot of fun.
                                                        Those flavors from my youth still hold a special place even though I have experienced more authentic dishes over the years.

                                                        Egg foo young is one of my ultimate comfort foods. Shrimp with lobster sauce is still craved on occasion, but I seldom find a good rendition any more.

                                                        1. A Chinese American place in my neighborhood serves a great kung pao beef. It’s basically deep fried beef with kung pao sauce on it, without anything else. No peanuts or anything. Maybe I crave it so much because I ate there and ordered it a lot as a kid, but I just feel guilty after I have eaten it. Whatever, if it tastes good, why do I care if it isn't authentic?

                                                          I have been toying with the idea of making my own lighter version that isn't fried, because I have already done that with sweet and sour chicken. All I need to do is experiment with the sauce proportions a bit, I'm not sure of how much brown sugar, chili, soy sauce, etc to use in order to get the right balance of sweet and spicy.

                                                          1. fldhkybvna said: "Every month or so I get this intense craving for Chinese food despite the fact that 9/10 times when I eat it my stomach revolts often violently."

                                                            sedimental said: "I always regret it later in the evening though...my tummy doesn't handle that crap like when I was a kid."

                                                            For a while now I thought it was only me. I have pretty much sworn off Chinese food for the last 2 years or so but once in a while I get a craving, eat it and get sick. What's with that?

                                                            5 Replies
                                                            1. re: ttoommyy

                                                              Ha! I am not sure exactly what it is. I am a very healthy and "clean" eater 90 percent of the time.

                                                              When I eat non Chinese deep friend foods (that are equally) horrible for me- I do not have the GI upset. Tonight, after a tough week of clients, taxes! ....and crazy people- I met friends for "bar night"...drinks and potato skins, nacho's and chicken wings. Tons of crap food for everyone! I live to tell about it right now with no GI upset. So, I know it is not just deep fried/ greasy food.

                                                              I have a theory that it is the peanut oil...but I am not really sure. It happens every time with Chinese though. Anyone else have a theory?

                                                              1. re: sedimental

                                                                I have a theory that it is the peanut oil...but I am not really sure

                                                                While peanut oil is often recommended for Chinese cooking, in reality most Chinese restaurants use vegetable oil in the fryer and for stir fry cooking due to the cost factor.

                                                                1. re: fourunder

                                                                  Then my theory goes out the window.

                                                                  I know my system can handle a boat-load of veg oil....I have tested that ......many times :)

                                                                2. re: sedimental

                                                                  I too eat "clean" most of the time but when I do venture to the "dark" side Chinese food will do me in every time. "Potato skins, nachos and chicken wings" don't always sit well with me either, but they don't come near to making me feel the way I do after eating Chinese food. And it is not like I eat in "ptomaine traps" either; when I do crave Chinese food it is from tried and trusted places that I know others have eaten at with no ill effects. Is it possible that some restaurants are sneaking in MSG or something like it without disclosing it? I swear i almost fell into a coma once after eating Chinese food. I felt very lethargic and out of it on top of being very queasy. This has only been in the last 3 years or so. Maybe I'm just getting old. Hmmmmm.

                                                                  1. re: sedimental

                                                                    In the old days, corn oil was often used because it was cheaper than peanut and soybean oil. These days, with the push for ethanol, it is not necessarily true.

                                                                3. No digestive problems here!! When I crave Chinese-American, I'm usually in a sentimental, nostalgic mood. It may be raining, and I may have heard a certain song on the radio. At any rate, the cure is a phone call to Win of Win's Chinese Food To Go, whence I order Eggs Foo Yong (House Special kind), dry-fried spare ribs, lemon chicken, tomato-beef chow mein w/ extra crispy noodles, sauteed garlic bok choy, and maybe some almond chicken. Then, I start calling everyone I know, hoping I can catch someone to come share it. Good times...

                                                                  1. What I crave sometimes and cannot get is fried chicken. The Chinese takeout in my hometown did an insanely good leg quarter+pofryri combo. I see chicken wings at all Chinese places these days, but never larger pieces of chicken anymore.

                                                                    My second favorite was/is General Tso's. These days I put Annie Chun's gochujang on it. SO good.

                                                                    1. Didn't see it mentioned here, but it was a staple on Chinese-Canadian menus for years (still is with some of the old-style places):

                                                                      Honey-garlic spare ribs. Tiny little pieces of pork on bones, roasted I guess, and then served with this gelatinous honey garlic sauce that tasted of honey and soy, although garlic was not usually evident, and finished with enough corn starch that you could stand the riblets in it the next morning. Can't handle it these days with my diabetes, but when I was a teenager, I loved this stuff.

                                                                      1. This is in no way a reflection on this poster, but I'm so tired of people's high horse when it comes to "American" Chinese food. Yes, we know, none of these foods are staples. it's banquet food and over the years it's taken on more American forms. Well, you know what? Most of the French and Italian places aren't serving what they are serving in France and Italy. a friend just got back from Italy and said "hope you like anchovies...they put it on everything." Never see it on anything but pizza here. My point is, who cares if you like it. I used to spend every Chinese NY in China Town and I've been to San Fran's Chinatown and you know what? I've had some truly authentic food that was god awful. I once had a table filled with bamboo shoots, jellyfish and god knows what the other thing was. Not one ounce of flavor in anything. The diners I was with were food critics and said "this is real Chinese." I was unimpressed. Tonight, I ordered my General Tso's, steamed pork dumplings, egg rolls, chicken wings, fried wontons and hot and sour soup. I ate about 1/4 of it and was thoroughly happy and not a GI problem to speak of. I wasn't even hungry and hour later, haha. If you like it or crave it, it doesn't make you any less of a foodie. I love lamb chops and rack of lamb more than anything in the world, but sometimes you just want that shaved, whatever it is off the pole in the mall gyro shop. doesn't make it bad, it makes it what you needed at the time

                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                        1. re: jhopp217

                                                                          Anchovies are in many Caesar salads here in the US. And in Italy, anchovies are prevalent in the south, but not so much in the north. Your friend's generalization is just that.

                                                                          1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                            To add on to ttoommyy's post, here are some recipes on About.com, a popular USAmerican site. The main page on anchovies might also be of interest.

                                                                            (Anyone who drinks a classic Bloody Mary will be consuming anchovies)

                                                                            1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                              I'm generalizing, but you said "on many caeser salads?" HAHA. Sure, if you go to a place like Morton's it's on it, and they call it a Morton's salad. Your use of the word many proves your point....to you.

                                                                              As for the next poster. I'm not saying anchovies aren't used...many times they are used in the cooking process as are sardines, for flavor and natural saltiness. I believe it's also in Worcesterschire sauce

                                                                              1. re: jhopp217

                                                                                Yes, it's in Worcestershire sauce - which is why I made the comment about Bloody Marys.

                                                                                It's also certainly "visible" as intact fish (or pieces of it) in various Korean, regional Chinese, SE Asian dishes, etc - which should be available "here" in the US. :-)