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Jul 31, 2012 11:48 PM

Crispy Chinese Chicken Salad at Ming’s of Palo Alto

Ming’s of Palo Alto is often cited as an originator of the California-Chinese dish, Chinese Chicken Salad. Available with the original fried chicken or a steamed chicken option, Ming’s Chicken Salad can be ordered as an appetizer, $5.75, half-order, $9.40 or full order, $18.00. It’s also an anchor on lunch special plates alongside vegetable fried rice. Every customer at Ming’s orders this dish. Since I’d never tried it, I stopped here for lunch yesterday.

The presentation of the appetizer portion is pretty tricked out. A deep-fried wheat wafer crisp sporting a pinked edge and similar in texture to fried eggroll wrappers forms a cup for holding the portion. Red cabbage provides threads of color among the toss of puffy rice noodles, shredded iceberg lettuce, and cilantro. A scatter of crushed peanuts crowns the salad.

The chicken, a mix of white and dark meat, is pulled into big chunks rather than shredded. Skinless, there's nothing crispy about the chicken. Yet, the richer flavor and fragrance of deep-frying carries through.

The dressing tasted more mustardy than the version at Chef Chu’s, my most recent experience with Peninsula-style chicken salad. Chef Chu’s dominant flavors are soy sauce and garlic, whereas Ming’s is a bit tarter and decidedly more salty. Or maybe I was unduly influenced by the pot of hot mustard on the condiment tray.

For contrast, here's a photo from 2010 of Chef Chu's version. The chicken has a brown, fried edge and clearly is sliced rather than pulled apart.

I quite liked this dish, preferring it to Chef Chu's, and would order it again. During lunch time there is a $1.25 charge for tea.

1700 Embarcadero Road
Palo Alto, CA 94303
Phone: (650) 856-7700

Some background on Chinese chicken salad,

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  1. I remember Ming's chicken salad growing up, but then I don't think they skinned it—I still crave that combination of hot mustardy dressing and crunchy fried chicken—guess the low fat silliness put an end to that...

    3 Replies
    1. re: Armoise

      Hope the fried skin is going to good use, maybe the employees get it in a staff meal. The chicken appears to be fried with the skin on, since the flesh is not browned. Or maybe in my appetizer size portion, I happened to get none of the skin.

      Both Ming's and Chef Chu's offer a steamed chicken option. Yes, the fat police hold sway.

      I was surprised at how different the dressings were for the two restaurants. I've not had Su Hong's yet, which would the other Peninsula chicken salad stalwart.

      (P. S. Nice to see you back on the board again!)

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Anyone have any reports on Ming's as a dim sum stop? It's close to work and I've never tried it, but curious if its comparable to even say a Fu Lum Mam in MV?

        1. re: FattyDumplin

          I was shuttled off to a smaller dining area when I told the hostess that I didn't want dim sum (and did not have to wait for a table in the busier dim sum area). I did get a glimpse of the carts and things on tables when I visited the ladies room. Nothing looked particularly appealing, but looks can be deceiving.

    2. First fortune cookies and now another LA/SF controversy over who invented the chicken salad. I think New Moon which opened in the L.A. produce district in the 1940s takes credit in Los Angeles.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Chandavkl

        This article says that New Moon opened in 1956, the same year as Ming's.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          New Moon had occupied two locations on San Pedro St. in the produce district, first a ramshackle cafe, then a nicer restaurant with a lounge. I thought the the cafe was a little bit older than the mid 1950s. The Tom family also ran the pioneering Chinese grocery store on the same block, Wing Chong Lung.

        2. re: Chandavkl

          I'm looking at Johnny Kan's cookbook, _Eight Immortal Flavors_, published in 1963. It has a recipe for coriander chicken salad (so see gai) aka hand-shredded chicken. Though this article says no menu from Kan's can be found that lists the dish until the 1970's, here it is in his 1963 book.

          The cover notes refer to Ming's of Palo Alto as a subsidiary of Kan's.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            How does the Comforts' version in San Anselmo compare?
            I've not tasted Comforts', Ming's/Palo Alto or Chef Chu's.


            1. re: Cynsa

              I've been to Comforts once but did not order the chicken salad. Comforts' must be dramatically different since the ingredients listed for the salad included no cilantro, hot mustard nor soy sauce.

              1. re: Cynsa

                I've had Ming's, Chef Chu's (used to live in Sunnyvale) and Comforts (popular teachers' lunch at the Marin school where I work). Comforts is a very pale imitation of the others - it's kind of bland without the soy sauce and hot mustard (I can live without the cilantro), and really is not in the same delicious category!

              2. re: Melanie Wong

                I remember Ming's when it was on El Camino, in an area with no sidewalks, in the early 60's.

                1. re: Alan408

                  The website says it was founded in 1956 and moved to its current location in 1967.

                  Did you have the Chinese chicken salad then?