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"real" chinese food??

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mizzdee May 20, 2012 11:37 AM

To anyone who knows about authentic chinese cuisine...is there ANYTHING on the typical american menu of chinese places that resemble food chinese people eat? I know this isnt worded well..forgive me..i have the flu and am weirded out on cold meds..lol.
But i do hope i got my point across..i always fee l stupid ordereing things..
Like they take
Y order and laugh in the kitchen.

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  1. Bacardi1 RE: mizzdee May 20, 2012 12:57 PM

    Now, now guys - I think this poster is on the up-&-up. Take your snarkiness elsewhere. Good grief - were you all born with Chinese Cuisine spoons in your mouths? I think not.

    Mizzdee - first off, where are you located? Perhaps there's a good Chinese restaurant in your area. Second - what type of Chinese food do you enjoy? Spicy Szechuan? Milder Cantonese (which is what most American Chinese restaurants serve).

    If you're looking for specific dishes to order, what sort of foods do you like?

    Unfortunately, there aren't a whole lot of neighborhood Chinese restaurants who serve authentic Chinese cuisine, since a lot of it isn't Americanized enough for the general public so they can make a profit. Who can blame them?

    (Now, if you're Chinese & can go & ask at the restaurant for certain dishes, I'm sure you can get whatever you want.)

    2 Replies
    1. re: Bacardi1
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      mizzdee RE: Bacardi1 May 20, 2012 01:08 PM

      Thank you so much bacardi!!!! I am in charlotte nc..for now
      i really do care about food..almost to a nerd level.the history of it etc..everything.I know it seems silly but I do really care.I am lucky enough to be in a city that hasmany many different foods available..several in my little neighbourhood alone.no idea though if they are americanized or not

      1. re: mizzdee
        ipsedixit RE: mizzdee May 20, 2012 01:12 PM

        Let me put it this way.

        If the restaurant folks are the "laughing type" then no matter what you do, they'll be laughing at you.

        If you order an Americanized dish, they'll laugh at you because you're a typical "lau wai".

        If you order an authentic, traditional Chinese dish (whatever that may mean), they'll still laugh at you because they believe you don't know what they hell you just ordered.

        So my advice to you is just live and eat, and not stress about it.

        If you want advice on what is traditional or authentic (again, whatever that may mean) Chinese dishes, do a little searching on these boards because it is a well sussed out topic, and then repost with a title that says something like "What is a traditional Sichuan dish" or "How are Cantonese seafood dishes typically prepared and served"?

        Best of luck to you.

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      bulavinaka RE: mizzdee May 20, 2012 01:33 PM

      I find Chinese restaurants to be some of the most flexible when it comes to making something that you want. I don't know about Charlotte, but most American-style Chinese restos in LA are owned and operated by people who are Chinese from various parts of Chinese Asia.

      Having no idea how "authentic" Chinese food offerings are in Charlotte, one strategy might be to engage the owner at your local eatery and ask the person if they would be willing to make a simple dish (e.g., based around either rice, noodle, protein, vegetable, dumpling, etc.) as they would enjoy it themselves - what they would consider to be as close to what they would consider to be similar to "back home." Depending on where they are from, this most likely will determine the type of cuisine (Cantonese, Shanghainese, Sichuan, Taiwanese, SE Asian, etc.) and what ultimately they might offer to you. It could be very simple of ultimately something very exotic.

      In my limited experience, the vast majority of "generic" Chinese eateries I've come across tailor their offerings to the local tastes, based on ingredients that are locally available and relatively inexpensive, and what standard dishes they think will sell (fried rice, chow mein, orange chicken, beef & broccoli, etc.). I would think that of the standard ingredients found throughout the nation, rice might be transcultural in this case - conjee/jook might be a candidate. Fried rice is pretty generic, but Yangchow or LapCheung (Chinese dried sausage) is easy to make. Dumplings might also work since flour and (usually) pork are basics in most areas. Handmade noodles are probably out unless the place has a "ringer" with this skill.

      1. raytamsgv RE: mizzdee May 21, 2012 02:58 PM

        Many people have their own definition of "real" or "authentic" Chinese food. My opinion is that it really doesn't matter. All that matters is that you like it.

        If you like a restaurant's food and go there often, they will love you regardless of what you order. Trust me.

        2 Replies
        1. re: raytamsgv
          Bacardi1 RE: raytamsgv May 21, 2012 04:11 PM

          Ditto. There are a LOT of so-called "Americanized" Chinese dishes that I consider real "comfort food". "Shrimp in Lobster Sauce", "Singapore Noodles", various Lo Mein & Fried Rice dishes, etc., etc. I'd be lost without them.

          Some do even have authentic counterparts that I make at home. For instance - the "Shrimp with Lobster Sauce" you get at your local take-out can be delicious, but won't be authentic, since it most likely will be lacking in the addition of Chinese Preserved Black Beans, among other things. (Very easy to keep on hand in your own pantry, by the way.)

          1. re: raytamsgv
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            Steve RE: raytamsgv May 21, 2012 05:30 PM

            "All that matters is that you like it."

            Not exactly. Nobody starts out reading long novels, listening to serious music, or eating foods that are unfamiliar in style and substance. Tastes have to be developed.

            The OP already has the instinct that there is more out there in this big world of ours that is off limits to her. That is a valuable trait that can lead to tremendous pleasures for anyone with an open mind.

            I say be inquisitive and do not settle for the familiar. Many Chinese families start off a meal at a restaurant with a consultation. If a restaurant is talented and enterprising, they will very much welcome and encourage your interest. I have found many such places, though I do not have experience in Charlotte. Ask queastions, ask if they have Chinese customers that order different dishes than the usual, ask to see if by any chance they have a Chinese language menu. Ask where the family or chef is from.

            I am against the idea of treating waiters like intelligent vaccuum cleaners: there to fill you water and take your order. Strike up a conversation and show some interest. Let them be your guide. You may be surprised at what you can discover.

            Here are some generic tips:

            Ask if they can make something dry-fried. Noodles can develop a wonderful wok char to them if they aren't drowned in a sauce. Kung Pao Chicken can be great dry-fried. Speaking of KPC, after you ask for dry-fried, you can always sprinke on your own Sichuan peppercorns: buy a small jar from Penzey's online. Toast them in a skillet and then put them in a pocket grinder that you can take with you to the restaurant. Voila, authentic Sichuan Kung Pao Chicken.

            Ask for a simple green vegetable. Do they serve baby bok choy? Water spinach? Any other leafy greens unfamiliar to you? Just simply sauteed with garlic. Are there any Asian supermarkets in your area? Go to the produce section and investigate what's there.

            Happy eating, and I hope you find a place that has some talent in the kitchen.

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            Puffin3 RE: mizzdee May 22, 2012 09:08 AM

            I think 'real' chinese food is only prepared and consumed by chinese. I used to deliver fresh fish to some chinese restaurants every few days. Once in a while the line cooks, if they were sitting in the back of the kitchen on their lunch break would offer me a bowl of whatever they were eating. This food was always VERY different tasting then what they were making for the customers out front. So IMO the chances of ever getting 'real' chinese food by walking into a chinese restaurant in NA is slim. Go to China and get into the country and eat where the locals eat. Only then can you understand how profoundly different 'western' chinese food is from chinese food prepared in rural China is.

            4 Replies
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              bulavinaka RE: Puffin3 May 22, 2012 10:23 AM

              >>Once in a while the line cooks, if they were sitting in the back of the kitchen on their lunch break would offer me a bowl of whatever they were eating. This food was always VERY different tasting then what they were making for the customers out front. So IMO the chances of ever getting 'real' chinese food by walking into a chinese restaurant in NA is slim.<<

              So instead of first going to rural China, why not do what I mentioned above? :)

              1. re: Puffin3
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                Steve RE: Puffin3 May 22, 2012 10:53 AM

                You make a good point in that all restaurant in the US are first and foremost American restaurants, with the clientele the biggest dividing line between flavors, textures, and ingredients.
                If you are looking for a restaurtant that is entirely authentic (and good), well that is a hard thing to find.

                However, if you are willing to accept finding a handful to a dozen really satisfying dishes that are true to their origins, then I can think of quite a few places in my area which would give the OP a good idea of Chinese food.

                1. re: Steve
                  arktos RE: Steve May 22, 2012 11:43 AM

                  'would offer me a bowl of whatever they were eating'

                  I'd be willing to bet it was something green in a brothy white bowl.

                  1. re: arktos
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                    Puffin3 RE: arktos May 22, 2012 03:55 PM

                    That was about it but there was always a 'certain flavor' I've never tasted since in any chinese restaurant. I suspect they put a bit of dried fish in the broth.

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                phalanxausage RE: mizzdee May 22, 2012 09:30 AM

                I too live in Charlotte. Go to Dim Sum on Central. They have a regular menu & on the back is their "Authentic Chinese Menu." Explore it without fear. There's a lot of good stuff on it & the staff is very helpful. If you go on Saturday or Sunday you can enjoy their dim sum as well.

                7 Replies
                1. re: phalanxausage
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                  mizzdee RE: phalanxausage May 22, 2012 09:38 AM

                  Love that place!! And its walking distance to my house...

                  1. re: mizzdee
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                    phalanxausage RE: mizzdee May 22, 2012 10:04 AM

                    I live just down the street, too. I may have seen you there. It's my daughter's favorite restaurant. She's a dumpling fanatic & the dim sum blew her mind the first time she went.

                    1. re: phalanxausage
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                      mizzdee RE: phalanxausage May 22, 2012 10:10 AM

                      Well hello neighbor!!! Pleased to meet you.i am sure we have run across each other.i like the lil asian market next to it...dh and I go there a lot.have you tried the pho next door?

                      1. re: mizzdee
                        southernitalian RE: mizzdee May 23, 2012 06:19 AM

                        I'm also in Charlotte and was going to suggest Dim Sum or Tomi, in the Colony Place shopping center on Colony Road. The pho (Pho Hoa) next door to Dim Sum is the best I've ever had. Anywhere.

                        1. re: southernitalian
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                          mizzdee RE: southernitalian May 23, 2012 06:27 AM

                          Ill try both...thanks!

                  2. re: phalanxausage
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                    escondido123 RE: phalanxausage May 22, 2012 09:52 AM

                    Just looked at the menu online, sounds great. Chicken feet with black bean sauce certainly doesn't strike me as particularly Americanized nor does Jellyfish. Please let us know how it was.

                    1. re: escondido123
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                      bulavinaka RE: escondido123 May 22, 2012 10:28 AM

                      I looked them up on yelp and the photos show legit dim sum items. Also things like shrimp and taro, and turnip cake are not typically found in Ameri-Chinese eateries - those kind of dishes remind me of what my Malaysian-Chinese mother-in-law makes off the cuff. The menu also offers the dishes in Chinese characters.

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                    escondido123 RE: mizzdee May 22, 2012 09:49 AM

                    I have a number of Chinese friends who were born in China, live here and return to their homeland regularly. I have eaten in their homes a number of times and some dishes are familiar to me--dumplings, roasted duck, ground pork with noodles--while others are not, especially those using tofu skin. This group tends to cook very mild dishes and it gives me some insight into everyday Chinese cooking. (Of course it is not the same as if I went into some village in the country, but then the odds of that happening are about a million to one.)

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: escondido123
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                      SteveRB RE: escondido123 May 22, 2012 10:14 AM

                      Here is a food blog I found yesterday showing food from restaurants in Chengdu, Sichuan.

                      www.eatdrinkchengdu.info

                      1. re: SteveRB
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                        escondido123 RE: SteveRB May 22, 2012 10:41 AM

                        Looking through half a dozen posts, it was obvious to me that there were many dishes that most Americans, myself included, would not enjoy....not because of the flavorings but because of the main ingredients--intestines, tripe and pigs' ears. I have had all of those once and that was enough for me.

                        1. re: escondido123
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                          bulavinaka RE: escondido123 May 22, 2012 10:52 AM

                          I used to feel the same about various "non-conventional" parts relative to American dining, but forcing myself to try offal in various ways from various cuisines has resulted in actually enjoying a fair amount of it. I still detest liver and onions - sorry mom...

                          1. re: bulavinaka
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                            escondido123 RE: bulavinaka May 22, 2012 11:20 AM

                            I've tried at least one of them in French, Italian, German, Chinese, Mexican and American recipes--it's either flavor, texture, appearance (for tripe) that nixes it for me.

                          2. re: escondido123
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                            mizzdee RE: escondido123 May 22, 2012 11:48 AM

                            And the running joke that my chicken isnt chicken..but indeed cat

                            1. re: escondido123
                              huiray RE: escondido123 May 22, 2012 01:15 PM

                              ...and that is a large reason (but not the only reason of course) why one hears often of the "You No Like" reaction and reluctance to do many traditional/"authentic" dishes when a random Western person asks for those dishes in some Chinese restaurant or other...
                              Oh, as far as the flavorings go - I suspect that various smells/tastes would also be challenging for many, no? For example, salted dried fish, har mai (dried prawns), fermented bean curd, etc...
                              :-)

                              1. re: huiray
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                                mizzdee RE: huiray May 22, 2012 01:22 PM

                                I am the rare one..im intriguied and would love to at least tey it

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                                  phalanxausage RE: mizzdee May 22, 2012 02:45 PM

                                  Seriously, pick up a take out menu from Dim Sum on your way home today. They have dishes that feature most of what huiray mentioned.

                              2. re: escondido123
                                paulj RE: escondido123 May 22, 2012 05:32 PM

                                Intentionally choosing dishes using those yuk ingredients might be the best way of getting 'authentic' (non-adapted) items. Keep in mind that textures, especially contrasting ones, are important part of Chinese (and neighboring countries) food. So tripe might be kept chewier than you would find in menudo; they might even favor book trip over honeycomb for that reason. Tofu skin and gluten are other texture items.

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                                  escondido123 RE: paulj May 22, 2012 06:17 PM

                                  I don't doubt that, but if authentic doesn't taste good to me, what's the point?

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                            jhopp217 RE: mizzdee May 22, 2012 10:24 AM

                            I live in NY and in the 70's and early 80's before everything became so commercial we would go to authentic places. I also had the honor of going to Chinatown in SF with two food critics. In both, I had jellyfish, bamboo shoots, different types of dumplings which were light and airy, not dense like most in takeout places (which I do like). Duck dishes were also very common and Peking duck is eaten in China I am told. I also remember there being tons of noodle dishes. Even more so than dishes containing rice.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jhopp217
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                              Steve RE: jhopp217 May 22, 2012 03:40 PM

                              The north of China can be as dry as dust. No rice grown there. It is all wheat all the time in the form of noodles, buns, dumplings, pancakes, and bread.

                            2. Motosport RE: mizzdee May 22, 2012 10:28 AM

                              We have the luxury of living in NYC where there are many choices for "Authentic" Chinese food. Even the restaurants with 80 % authentic dishes will still have some "American" (Gen Tsao's etc) on the menu for the less adventurous.
                              In my experience most places will take requests. So, find a few authentic dishes that you like and make requests. Each chef may have his own idea but you'll get something you will like.
                              Don't worry about feeling "stupid". Save that for Paris.

                              10 Replies
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                                bulavinaka RE: Motosport May 22, 2012 10:33 AM

                                >>Don't worry about feeling "stupid". Save that for Paris.<<

                                LOLing...! I don't have to go to Paris to feel stupid - I wake up in that state... :)

                                1. re: bulavinaka
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                                  mizzdee RE: bulavinaka May 22, 2012 11:47 AM

                                  Lol..i spent a summer in France as a teenager.I did my best to speak Franch and not behave as a touristy butt- hole.And despsite the reputation that the French are rude...I encountered it only twice
                                  Once from a drunken jerk talking about my hair and
                                  breasts...hair was pink..( it was late 80s) and i do have unsmall breasts..lol
                                  The other was from surly hotel front desk " gentleman" when i asked for clean sheets..

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                                    bulavinaka RE: mizzdee May 22, 2012 11:53 AM

                                    >>...and i do have unsmall breasts..lol<<

                                    Considerate and unsmug. The loss of those two who you encountered and our gain...

                                    1. re: bulavinaka
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                                      mizzdee RE: bulavinaka May 22, 2012 12:02 PM

                                      It was an amazing time! I enjoyed Angiers,Normandy the most.Paris whilst yes it was fine..it was not my top city.I would love to go back.

                                    2. re: mizzdee
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                                      phalanxausage RE: mizzdee May 22, 2012 12:06 PM

                                      I've been to France a couple of times. They have been some of the nicest, most accommodating people I've met in my life.
                                      If you're a neighbor & had pink hair in the late '80's I'm sure we know each other.

                                      1. re: phalanxausage
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                                        mizzdee RE: phalanxausage May 22, 2012 12:15 PM

                                        Im sure we must have passed each other.hey..out if curiousity..what is your take on Crazy Fish? Also in our " hood"

                                        1. re: mizzdee
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                                          phalanxausage RE: mizzdee May 22, 2012 12:37 PM

                                          I've only eaten there once but it was exactly what I expected- good ideas indifferently prepared. KC can make a great menu & any dishes that are made in advance by the prep crew tend to kick ass. Unfortunately, having a competent/sober enough line cook is a long shot. It's the same issue I had with Fat City but Fat City was ok because it's harder to screw up a sandwich than a tuna steak.

                                          1. re: phalanxausage
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                                            mizzdee RE: phalanxausage May 22, 2012 01:12 PM

                                            You are my cosmic twin.I know EXACTLY what you mean.
                                            Im so sad to see the final end though of La Unica..sighh
                                            I do see now though...it is to be " crazy taco". I cried when my fave lil Bahn mi place closed down

                                            1. re: mizzdee
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                                              phalanxausage RE: mizzdee May 23, 2012 05:06 AM

                                              I saw the sign at what was formerly La Unica. I assume KC's involved?
                                              Fortunately there are tons of good taquerias in town. My wife isn't too keen on Mexican food & I work near a lot of good Mexican food, so I don't look for much near the house.
                                              If you miss good banh mi, go to Le's in the Asian Corners mall at the intersection of N Tryon & Sugar Creek. They're cash only but the banh mi are the best I've had in town.

                                              1. re: phalanxausage
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                                                mizzdee RE: phalanxausage May 23, 2012 05:13 AM

                                                Ty for the bahn mi tip! Yeah..assuming crazy taco is his too...shrugs

                                2. paulj RE: mizzdee May 22, 2012 05:40 PM

                                  Reading can help you prepare. There are lots of cookbooks and travel accounts about food in China (F Dunlop comes to mind). Fortune cookie chronicles gives insight into the American Chinese restaurant culture, from tracing the origins and distribution of fortune cookies, to tracing the travels of undocumented Chinese restaurant workers.

                                  Also are there Chinese groceries nearby? Browse the ingredients. Do they have a deli or takeout? That's where I find things like drop-flank stew, fried belt fish, eggplant, and tripe dishes.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: paulj
                                    1sweetpea RE: paulj May 22, 2012 07:42 PM

                                    I live in a small city (200,000+), which has a small Chinese community. Most Chinese restaurants offer the combos of North Americanized fried slop with fried rice and dishwater wanton soup or fluorescent red hot and sour soup. A few also offer serviceable dim-sum and a menu that they don't translate from Cantonese/Mandarin into English. I spent several weeks in China about 8 years ago and had to face massive menus in Chinese characters that weren't translated. If they were, they were typically terrible translations that were often inaccurate. I observed most diners ordering directly with servers, without even glancing at menus. Locals know a) what the restaurant can do well and b) what ingredients are available and in season. I do believe that I can go into one of the more authentic restaurants in my city and just ask for what I want, assuming that the ingredients are readily available. I'm rarely turned down if I request gai lan (Chinese broccoli) or snow pea leaf or ong choi (water spinach). The "szechwan" restaurant in my city offers loads of combos that only the non-Chinese diners order, but they are thrilled to bring me shredded roast duck with ginger, or beef brisket and tendon with gai lan, or shredded chicken salad with black vinegar, cabbage and seaweeds. These are a far cry from chicken soo gai or chop suey or mu shu anything. It takes a lot of effort to get to the point where they don't bring a dinner plate, knife and fork automatically when you sit down, but don't despair. I can order hot and sour soup now and they automatically produce black vinegar, to make it more sour, without me asking. I do believe they they are happy that we are willing to delve deeper than the cheap combos, not simply because the dishes are more expensive, but because their foods appeal to us. I hate book tripe, but I'll try pretty much anything else, at least once. Chinese foods have opened my mind to pig's tongues, intestines, pig ears, chicken feet, fatty char siu, turnip cake, duck tongues and pig stomach ... less so tripe, but I'll keep trying. I can appreciate congee with thousand year old eggs and pork, or conpoy, or fermented fish/tofu.

                                    The strongest words of encouragement I can offer you is to be honest with your local restaurant owners and servers. Tell them your desires and emphasize that you want to sample all the tastes of what they do best. Let them guide you, but only after you've emphatically stated how far you're willing to go .... today.

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