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"Special Flavor Chicken"- Have You Seen in Boston?

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I'm finally remembering to ask if anyone has seen on local Chinese menus- 2 dishes I used to really enjoy in Boston long ago.

On Galen St., just outside of Watertown Sq, there was a really good restnt, Hunan Palace, in the '80's. They had "Special Flavor Chicken' which was thinly sliced breast meat in a thin tomatoey glaze with fresh cilantro. No chili peppers in sight.

Also in the 80's at Royal East in Central Sq. they had Lemon Chicken, which was thin chicken breast cutlets sandwiched with chopped waterchestnuts, fried in crunchy coating and napped with a not very sweet lemon 'sweet 'n sour' type sauce. I have read recent reports of Royal East's changing owners (from Island Hopper, yes?)
I had something like it at Szechuan Garden II in Woburn a few yrs ago, but it was dry as cardboard and i never got it again.

I know the majority of you are dragon breaths, and these dishes may well have been individually created by their respective chef, but has anyone seen these dishes in Boston? thx much!

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  1. I believe Mandarin in Reading had a dish on their New Years buffet that was called Special Flavor Chicken, but I don't see it on their regular menu. I thought it was an odd name for a dish, but it was tasty. Unfortunately, I don't remember what else was in it.

    1. You might also look for "mystery/mysterious flavor chicken" which shows up now and then. I know Mary Chung has it, and Zoes did before the accident. Not 100% sure this is the same thing but it seems reasonable to think so.

      1. I've also seen it around town as "Strange Flavor Chicken", but I've never tried it.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Boston_Otter

          I've eaten strange flavor chicken many times and it never had a tomatoey glaze.

          Chef Changs did taste iof dry coriander, but not cilantro.

          1. re: C. Hamster

            Interesting! I always figured it was the same dish. My mistake!

            1. re: Boston_Otter

              I also think it was fried like the general's

              But if you name something vaguely as "strange" or "special" maybe that gives you license to do anything you want.

              I definitely would have remembered a Chinese dish that was tomatoey with fresh cilantro (yum!)

              1. re: Boston_Otter

                I believe there is a dish which translates to strange/mysterious flavor chicken but I don't think it's quite what the OP describes. I suspect the OP had an A-C dish which utilized the name.

                I could be 100000x off base but I associate tomatoes with taiwanese cooking, but who knows.

            2. re: Boston_Otter

              GOOOOO,OTTER! that was it! STRANGE flavor chicken, not special flavor chicken. I would ask myself where my name memory went, but that would be pointless. Anyway, that's what it was- Strange Flavor Chicken. And it was chicken and sliced bamboo shoots, tomatoey glaze and cilantro. And these were the days- '70'S and '80'S, before cilantro was a well known entity, so i think the cilantro accounted for the 'strange flavor'. thx otter.

              1. re: opinionatedchef

                I remember strange flavor chicken dishes from that era and earlier, none had tomato. IIRC they were various versions of bang-bang (spelling varies) chicken--a little sweet/sour/spicy, with cilantro.

            3. "Mysterious Flavor Chicken" is on the regular menu at Wang's in Somerville, on Broadway's, uh, rooster block (alongide Pini's pizza and Woody's liquors).

              It doesn't taste particularly mysterious to me; at least, no moreso than anything else at restaurants using staple ingredients I didn't grow up with. But I do enjoy it.

              1. http://www.chefchowshouse.com/menu-po...

                never had it there but I know exactly what you are talking about. I miss it too because it was my cousin's place and those were the original Joyce Chen clan of cooks knew how to cook that dish in the 80's. Go figure, I can't cook it.

                2 Replies
                1. re: janetc4ads

                  janet, FanTAStic!! I can't thank you enough. I wish i could run over and try it right now (and it looks like they have the same Lemon Chicken too!) Can't wait!
                  It was your cousin who owned Hunan Palace? Is she out of the food bus? I think she birthed 3 children during the course of when I knew her......

                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                    Yes, it's my male cousin who owned it. They just retired after Chinese food bus got too competitive. Same with my dad/uncle's place in Harvard Sq. House of Peking. All the chefs are from the original Joyce Chen in Fresh Pond in Cambridge that has been gone for years. The secret ingredient is ketchup. LOL

                2. Back before it moved and then closed due to a building collapse, Zoe's in Somerville had a Sichuan dish it called strange flavored chicken. The sauce reminded me of what Mary Chung puts on its dan-dan noodles: peanut butter or sesame paste, vinegar, soy, sugar, plus some chili and Sichuan peppercorn heat. Zoe's is claiming to reopen soon; maybe they'll offer it again.

                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                  15 Replies
                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    Those appear to be different animals. This dish, which janet found at chef chow's, has a light tomatoey glaze with fresh cilantro. but thx. At least i now know to try mary chung's dan dan noodles w/ a peanut sauce(which i was seeking in another thread!) Thx mc.

                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                      one more place to try is Wok in Wellesley. However, the chef is 2nd generation from HK so may be a bit different.
                      http://www.wokwellesley.com/about-cha...

                      Here is what i know that goes into the sauce......thin sliced white chicken (marinated with corn starch water mixture mixed with veggie oil to coat so that the chicken is not dry). Add the veggies like the snow peapods, etc. Then add the basic sauce (this is the trouble i am having to recreate this sauce) with little sugar and ketchup at the end. The basic sauce is the based sauce for most of the dishes on the menu including kan Pao chicken. I miss that dish too, was very popular at my dad's restaurant. Good Luck!

                      1. re: janetc4ads

                        well janet, you are one hot ticket! so lucky for me that you saw my post! and ketchup! if that isn't a kick, i don't know what is! plse imagine me hugging you in appreciation!, and please give my fond thoughts to your cousin and his wife!

                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                          Will do. My dad had a frien who also opened a restaurant in Arlington. Looks like his daughter is now running it. Their SFC may also be similar. I believe their last name is Luo. It's call Shanghai Village. Let me know if any if these restaurant are close to my cousin's SFC. Thx

                          1. re: janetc4ads

                            yes! they list both SFC and Lemon Chicken. I will ask them about their preparations! They have my fav crab rangoon in Boston too! (even though i know it's not an authentic dish.) Thk you again!!

                      2. re: opinionatedchef

                        according to the OED, ketchup is a chinese word for a type of condiment though i am not sure that it ever contained tomatoes. Nonetheless, i prepare a couple of chinese dishes with tomato sauce, one of which, if memory serves, comes from Robert Delft's excellent cookbook, the Good Food of Szechuan. Delft was a Chinese graduate student at Stanford, and I am not sure what became of him.

                        1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                          Since my angel, janetc4ads, refers to her cousins/Hunan Palace owners using ketchup as the secret ingredient in their Strange Flavor Chicken, the specific dish that this thread is about, I believe she is Chinese , and is using the word ketchup to mean the Heinz product we are all familiar with.

                          But thx for teaching me about tomatoes being in some trad Chinese foods.

                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                            Yes it's Heinz ketchup with tomato base, just use a bit to have that tang, Not the original Chinese ketchup that is fish base. It's interesting to learn of ketchup's Chinese origin.

                            1. re: janetc4ads

                              It seems likely that the word ketchup originated from the Malay word k'chap, which may have been appropriated from Cantonese. And as been noted the original ketchup was a brine or fish sauce that contained no tomatoes. It appears that several hundred years ago ketchup (or catsup or catchup) became a generic word for a sauce whose only common ingredient was vinegar.

                              Red ketchup is not used nor found in any Chinese kitchen. It appears the Strange Taste Chicken dish you are talking about is an American-Chinese concoction.

                              The actual Chinese dish (怪味雞 guài wèi jī) is a cold one that originated in the capital of Sichuan, Chongqing and contains sesame paste, sugar, vinegar, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, hot oil, Sichuan peppercorns and white pepper. It is hot and numbing, sweet and sour; hence its name: Strange Taste Chicken.

                              The tomato was one of the New World crops (along with maize, peanuts white potatoes etc.) that arrived in China around the 16th century. Despite China today being the world’s number one tomato producer, the crop is mostly made into paste for export.

                              Strange Taste Chicken photos:

                              https://www.google.com/search?q=%E6%8...

                              http://www.unctad.info/en/Infocomm/AA...

                              1. re: scoopG

                                well scoop, this is the first i've seen you on CH, but your profile indicates quite the sense of humor and crowded fan base. Just want to welcome you to CH and say that you can teach me anytime! love learning the history. Wouldn't it be interesting to find out that this particular ketchup-included recipe for Strange Flavor Chicken- was invented in Joyce Chen's restaurant, as Janet has said that her cousins, dad, uncle, and likely the Chef Chow people still operating in Boston- all trained in that kitchen.

                                I hope it might be addressed in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles but if it IS of Boston/Joyce Chen origin, i think it won't be in the book. Any other books you recommend for this area of inquiry? thx much.

                          2. re: cambridgedoctpr

                            It's Delfs, and makes an interesting search.

                        2. re: MC Slim JB

                          I believe their strange flavored chicken was listed as family style chicken on the menu. I also can say that it tended to vary, even with multiple orders in the same week I'd not always get the same thing but it generally was a vinegary, spiced chicken dish.

                          I'm also pretty sure that at some point they also had a 'mysterious flavor chicken' listed under their cold appetizers section but it's not listed on the latest versions of their menus I looked at online.

                          Also, I'm almost positive that this exact conversation has come up before, including the commentary about the tomatoey glaze found in the examples OC is talking about.

                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            I'm glad to hear that Zoe's is planning to reopen, but I'm also skeptical at this point.

                            1. re: KWagle

                              I called Zoe's last evening, and they said they'd be reopening next month. I confirmed that they meant July. Here's hoping—I've really missed Zoe's!

                              1. re: KWagle

                                Lay your eyes on the storefront and you’ll be convinced.