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can anyone educate me about regional chinese specialties in the SGV?

I've been wandering around the SGV (with a dash of rowland heights) the last few weeks and, as one of the white folk, I want to make sure I'm clear on what I'm actually eating, so I have lots of questions.

Beijing - obviously peking/beijing duck is the dish everyone cares about, but what else is unique to Beijing? I've heard that Beijing is the best food city in China. Is that just because it's a conglomerate of different regional cuisines, or is there something else specific about it? I know I've had a simple pork dish that comes with a side of tofu pancakes that seems to be unique to Beijing. (I've only seen it on the menu at Shen Yang in the SGV). Are the pies at Beijing Pie House a Beijing thing? On that note, where's the best spot to get Peking duck?

Shandong - beef rolls and hand torn noodles and pork buns. 101 and JTYH?

Xi'an/Shaanxi - lamb, hand torn noodles, lamb burgers, bread seems to be the gist of it.

Xinjiang food seems similar to Xi'an food. What's the difference?

Chongqing vs. Chengdu Sichuan - Chengdu Sichuan seems a little less grimy but the menus seem to be the same. what are the differences? Is Chongqing food just lumped in with Sichuan cuisine?

Yunnan - From what I remember in China (haven't hit Yunkun Garden yet) bridge noodles, spicy hot pots, sichuan type dishes - what else?

Shanghai - XLB, braised pork, expensive as hell seafood?

Hong Kong food seems identical to Shanghai spots in my head, minus the dim sum part. Ex: XLB - i recognize this is a shanghai dumpling, but it's also a common dim sum dish. did HK take it from shanghai, or are they different?

Shenyang/liaoning food - korean type chinese food, but I don't really know the specifics, even though I've been to shen yang SG (was not impressed btw).

Hunan - fish head, spicy as hell everything?

Nanjing/Wuxi/Jiangsu - Nanjing duck? I've stopped by Nanjing Kitchen on Las Tunas. That's my only experience with it.

Taiwanese in the SGV seems to be all about stinky tofu and tea houses, although I've heard Be Be Fusion is good and I mean to stop by. What else is Taiwanese?

Are all the dumpling places like, say, Luscious or Dean Sin World offering cuisine from a specific region or are they just general dumpling houses? I see bao everywhere.

Any other province or city serve a lot of food in the SGV that I'm missing out on - and where can i get it?

I apologize if I'm woefully wrong about anything. correct me!

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  1. This will be a long, drawn-out, contentious discussion. :)

    But the following thread should be quite scintillating.

    1 Reply
      1. re: Servorg

        I was going to post that link to the LAT article, but unfortunately it doesn't give descriptions of the popular regional dishes. It is a great "cheat sheet" though.

        Actually, neither of the CH threads goes much in depth as to what each cuisine is about; they're mostly recommendations for restaurants (which makes sense for the context of those posts).

        OP's obviously already done some research, and needs more expert opinion and knowledge (something which I am unfortunately unable to provide). Paging K K, et al. :-)

        1. re: PeterCC

          Paging KK for some historical perspective, TonyC for some on the ground reporting, and Ipse for some exceptional Chinese restaurant expertise as well as chandval for his broad swath of knowledge.

          yeah, i don't know shit about how to answer this question.

          1. re: kevin

            JThur01, Mr. Taster, et cetera, for experienced non-Chinese perspectives, ad infinitum. :-) I think our collective Chinese cuisine knowledge is pretty broad and deep on this board. Do you think it's second to, or superior to, our Mexican cuisine knowledge on the L.A. board?

            1. re: PeterCC

              Not kevin, but I would say that the Chinese food discussions tend to include historical and regional perspectives (i.e., comparing the Chinese food scene in LA to that of other cities) that I don't necessarily see a lot w/ the Mexican food (or Latin-American?) threads, even if there seems to be as much knowledge about "where" to go for tasty food....

          2. re: PeterCC

            Exactly, although I don't want to discourage recommendations - those threads are helpful.

            1. re: tentacles

              Don't miss this http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/682331 linked thread (from within another one of those threads above) posted back in 2010.

              1. re: Servorg

                Whatever happened to exilekiss?

                1. re: a213b

                  Evaporated in a puff of smoke...I think Mollyomormon would probably know since she was part of his posse for the battle roast chicken here on the L.A. board. But since we don't out our chow bretheren, and Xkiss always maintained his anonymity while participating here, it's not really a good idea to put it out there, even if someone knows.

                    1. re: Servorg

                      I'm glad Mollyo has reappeared, is doing well and offered us some great news. Maybe it's just me, but it's very unsettling when a regular and frequent poster suddenly stops posting - same for exilekiss. One can't help but include the worst of things when speculating what has happened to them, but like in Mollyo's case, we know that life often takes us to where we have to readjust our priorities, with time being the least negotiable. Just the same, there's no denying that we are a community of sorts, and as informal and anonymous as this can be, contributions are dearly appreciated, affinities are felt and bonds form.

                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        I'd like to to think, if I asked some other members of this community to join me in doing a chow extravaganza to rate a certain dish across multiple restaurants, but also asked them to please respect my anonymity both during and afterward, that they would honor my request.

                        The fact that no one has come forward to talk about the reasons behind the vanishing act of Xkiss is, to me, the highest form of integrity. Having someone other than Xkiss come forward to say what happened to him, unless asked to do so by Xkiss, would be a real invasion of privacy and a let down to me.

                        Besides, not knowing lets me come up with my own tales. Like the one about Xkiss finishing Navy Seal training, getting selected as a member of what is popularly known as Seal Team 6, and was there on one of two modified Black Hawk helicopters which flew to Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2nd, 2011 and did what they set out to do.

                        1. re: Servorg

                          Great tale - can't imagine what he ate to celebrate - def not MREs.

                          1. re: Servorg

                            "... which flew to Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2nd, 2011 and did what they set out to do..."

                            Mission Objective #1: The OBL compound, and
                            (lesser known) Mission Objective #2: Find some great local biryani takeout

                            1. re: J.L.

                              Hard to spot good take-out from the helicopter.... ::snort:: ;)

                          2. re: bulavinaka

                            Yea. That sounds good. And as for anonymity I always thought Xkiss was a chick and not a dude.

                          3. re: Servorg

                            Oh, I wasn't looking for anyone to "out" him; just didn't know if I'd missed a swan-song post of his, given my infrequent rumblings on this board.

                            That said ... I like the tale you and JL have spun!

                2. also, i believe the original Din Tai Fung is from Taiwan. Same prices as in the US to boot.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: kevin

                    Really? Taiwan is that expensive?

                    1. re: tentacles

                      No, just DTF. Heh. Tainwanese street food, or mom and pop cafe food, is all quite cheap in Taiwan. Relatively cheap in SGV too.

                  2. Can we add a in-depth analysis of all the different types of dan dan noodles?

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: echoparkdirt

                      Might as well.

                      Let's let it roll.

                      We got enough bandwidth to play with. :)

                      1. re: echoparkdirt

                        that'd be cool too.

                        why are the dan dan noodles at chengdu taste totally different from the ones at lucky noodle king?

                        1. re: tentacles

                          Why does the pizza at Mozza taste totally different to the pizza at Sotto?

                            1. re: bulavinaka

                              Bob's knees may be trick, but his questions were ever so slightly sarcastic and educational in a good way...

                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                Only to the Chinese, who (i'm exaggerating - but just a little - so don't pull out the knives and/or sharp chopsticks) think anything with cheese tastes like rotten milk.

                        2. I'll be the sacrificial lamb and start the controversy that is sure to follow. I am most familiar with Cantonese foods for a number of reasons.

                          Like the other major regional cuisines, the dishes and cooking styles are heavily influenced by geography and weather. The Guangdong province has subtropical weather and a long coastline. Because of this, Cantonese food emphasizes freshness of ingredients and milder seasonings that enhance the flavor of the foods. There are different subsets of Cantonese cuisines: Chiu Chow, Hong Kong, Hakka, Toisan, etc.

                          Soups are an important part of Cantonese foods. They are typically clear and are boiled for a long time to extract the flavor from the ingredients.

                          Seafood is also important. A running joke is that if a Cantonese cook thinks a dish needs improving, he/she will add some seafood to it as the first step.

                          In terms of cooking styles, steaming is often used. Stir frying is more common in restaurants because it's faster. Regardless of the technique, the seasonings should not overwhelm the original flavor of the ingredients. Typical seasonings include black beans, soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger, and green onions,

                          When you go to a Cantonese restaurant, look for dishes that are prepared like this, because some of them will try to cook dishes from other regions. You will be disappointed if you try those. XLB is one such example.

                          If you want good Cantonese food, find a restaurant that serves great dim sum, but go for dinner instead. It will cost more, but you should be able to get a good sampling of Cantonese cooking.

                          Hong Kong-style cafes are a mix of Cantonese-style dishes along with what they imagine Western food to be.

                          Cantonese and Shanghai styles are superficially similar, but if you eat enough at those places, you'll be able to tell the difference. I know many Cantonese people who cannot stand Shanghai dishes. They often complain that Shanghai cooking uses too much sugar and that the braised dishes are too heavy.

                          17 Replies
                          1. re: raytamsgv

                            I'm with you on Cantonese food. I love seafood so there you go.

                            And this statement is a great point:

                            "If you want good Cantonese food, find a restaurant that serves great dim sum, but go for dinner instead. It will cost more, but you should be able to get a good sampling of Cantonese cooking."

                            1. re: raytamsgv

                              btw, at Seafood Village, what exactly is a bitter melon soup ?

                              and what constitutes their combination platter of appetizers ???

                              thanks a bunch.

                              1. re: kevin

                                It's not a bitter "melon soup", it's a "bitter melon" soup. Bitter melon is a vegetable, some varieties look like a pale, thick cucumber, but the flavor is bitter. The Indian variety is small and dark green, and more bitter than the Chinese variety. It's known to help reduce blood sugar, among other things.

                              2. re: raytamsgv

                                So how would you tell the difference between a Shanghai restaurant and a Cantonese restaurant, assuming no dim sum and no obvious signs (like with the word Shanghai in the name)?

                                1. re: tentacles

                                  I think the simple solution, rather than attempting to decipher the menu to form a conclusion, is just to ask.

                                    1. re: tentacles

                                      I think the main issue with menu reading (like tea leaf reading) is that there may be a big chunk of a menu dedicated to standard dishes and only a small subsection that is what is truly spectacular, and often times they're not listed in the "chef's special" section of the menu.

                                      1. re: PeterCC

                                        how about the live seafood tanks ????

                                    2. re: PeterCC

                                      if you're able to comprehend the regional dialect being spoken (if any) it would help, not to mention improve your chances for a more enjoyable eating experience. at one place i won't name, once i & my girlfriend at the time ordered the same thing, i used cantonese while she used mandarin.i got my order a full 5 minutes earlier.

                                      and there are places where if you don't speak the variant dialect or at least mandarin, you can have an awkward time. plus some places will make things not on the menu if you are able to discuss this with the waitstaff. i did so as recently as last sunday.

                                      but some wait staff can be helpful if you ask them what's popular, some overly so (like the lady at kam hong) who will encourage you to order half the menu to drum up business.

                                    3. re: tentacles

                                      There are certain dishes more common to Shanghai restaurants, such as braised dishes, eels, lion's head meatball, etc. Of course, xlb on their dinner menu is a dead give away.

                                      In Cantonese restaurants, look for honey walnut shrimp, fish maw soup, salt and pepper shrimp/pork, stir fried beef with ginger and green onions, anything with XO sauce, etc.

                                      The big problem is that there isn't a uniform way to translate the names of dishes into English. It's much more obvious if you read Chinese.

                                      1. re: raytamsgv

                                        <<Of course, xlb on their dinner menu is a dead give away.>>

                                        Of course, once you say something like that, the contrarian in me awakens...I have seen XLB on the menu at many Cantonese and Taiwanese.

                                        1. re: Ciao Bob

                                          There are exceptions to every rule. XLB's are served everywhere due to their popularity, but it's pretty uncommon as a dinner menu item at most cantonese places.

                                          1. re: blimpbinge

                                            And I would very hesitant to try XLB at a Cantonese or Taiwanese place. My friend from HK despises XLB and the like (and actually refuses to eat any Chinese food that's not HK-/canto-style, which is pretty typical of many HK/cantonese people, I think).

                                      2. re: tentacles

                                        I'm assuming you've read a bit of Wikipedia for background before asking this SGV-related question on the Chowboard. But just in case you haven't:

                                        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_...

                                        Generalizing is not a good thing, BUT in this case, it may help you distinguish between Cantonese & Shanghai. They are totally distinct regions:

                                        Cantonese => emphasis on seafood (FRESH, a la live saltwater tank, seafood). Less emphasis on freshwater critters. Lots of roasting (pork, duck, goose). More rice-based starches (fried rice, chow fun) as opposed to wheat/flour-based dishes, with some noodles interspersed (egg noodles being a major player here).

                                        Shanghai => emphasis on braising ("hon sao"), more freshwater critters (hairy crab, trout, lake fish, eel, shrimp, & clams). Lots more flour-based treats (bao, such as xiaolongbao, shenjianbing, mantou). More land-based meats (pork). Anything "expensive as hell" because SH'ers like to show affluence in their gastronomy.

                                        Again, I don't like generalizing (so many exception can apply to what I said above), but I suppose it's better to have a hazy idea than no clue whatsoever.

                                        1. re: J.L.

                                          I thought the Cantonese by way of Chiu Chow like to show off their culinary affluence and ultimate expertise ?????

                                        2. re: tentacles

                                          Since Guangzhou is rich in produce with access to plenty of fresh seafood (and delicacies available year round) and having different fruits and vegetables that are always in season, Cantonese chefs take great pride in being able to make adjustments according to climatic and seasonal changes. In summer and fall, dishes tend to be lighter, while in winter and spring dishes are richer and more flavorful.

                                          Shanghai is part of Huaiyang Cuisine (淮揚菜 - huái yáng cài) which originated in the lower reaches of the Huai and Yangtze rivers. Huaiyang cuisine has profoundly influenced the culinary culture of Anhui, Shanghai, Suzhou and Zheijiang. Huaiyang Cuisine uses more sugar (rock) than the other cuisines and is as raytamsgv mentions – and has also has been said, many foods are “red-cooked” (紅燒 hóng shāo) in various types of soy and sugar or braised in Shaoxing and other wines.

                                          Shanghainese chefs are known for meticulous preparation in order to rich flavors with pure taste. Original flavors are preserved in braising, stewing, roasting. Because Shanghai incorporated the outside influences from the rest of China (and some foreign too) many Shanghainese feel they have the most diverse food.

                                        3. re: raytamsgv

                                          about the the geography/climate thing - examples of how that might play out include how rice is the primary staple crop where the climate permits, (where you are more likely to find seafood, BTW) while wheat is the staple crop inland and as a consequence you have breads and noodles being your primary starch (rice noodles notwithstanding). so a menu heavy on breads, dumplings, noodles is likely to reflect an inland cuisine. (taiwan is kind of an exception to that though, although i have noticed that taiwanese cuisine tends to emphasize intensity of flavor over volume of food)

                                          of course, the limitations of resources has a huge impact on potential limitation of the cuisine. as a consequence, some cuisines can be very authentic yet not rate a huge demand. i'd use wuhan as an example; IIRC there's only one such place in prospect plaza in SGV. but if one naturally likes seafood, they would have a natural affinity for cantonese/chiu chow, and most kinds of dim sum (and vice versa). ditto for those who enjoy noodles with a chewier texture, restaurants with a rep for chewier/al dente noodles will have greater appeal, which leads to one generalization that tends to hold across the board; an emphasis on contrasts of texture as well as taste (an emphasis that is quite foreign to western palates IMO), and you may be able to discern a pattern of how certain tastes are used to complement certain textures with some cuisines. for example, spicy with foods with a slippery mouthfeel. also, some dishes that are extremely tasty are also extremely simple (and inexpensive in terms of cost in raw materials). sometimes less is more, and it reflects ingenuity to find that balance and you may have to pay for that ingenuity for a dish that may seem overpriced based on the description of the ingredients.

                                          it's my take that the shanghai-ese consider themselves to have the most refined palates which is reflected in how seriously they take food even when the dish is relatively humble in term of cost/origin of ingredients, which unfortunately you won't really be able to experience IMO without spending some time in shanghai. i'm personally not a fan of sweet XLB myself.

                                          the overall point is that there can be a divergence between perceived tastiness and authenticity of the cuisine based on the preferences/biases/cultivation of the individual palate. and so YMMV.