Please welcome Vicki Essex and boy does she have some yummy talking going on. I love Chinese food, like many of us, but there’s nothing better than getting the inside scoop. Thanks Vicki!
Chinese Food…or As I Call It, “Food”
Being Chinese Canadian myself, I’ve always wanted to share my culture in the pages of a Harlequin romance book. An important part of that lies in the traditional foods my family eats regularly. Unfortunately, Tiffany Cheung, my heroine, she doesn’t see a lot of the world-class Chinese cuisine in the small fictional town of Everville. In fact, her family runs an American-style Chinese restaurant where they serve sweet and sour chicken balls, egg rolls, and chop suey.
These aren’t delicacies we eat at home. Ironically, having grown up in Toronto, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to American-Chinese food until I was much older, so I had to research what menu items the Good Fortune Diner might serve. I read a couple of great books: Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States by Andrew Coe, and Eating Chinese: Culture on the Menu in Small Town Canada by Lily Cho. They provided some really interesting insight into the history and migration of Chinese cuisine across North America.
Since I didn’t get to share all of the delicious recipes I know in the book, I thought I’d talk about what my family would order at a Chinese restaurant.
For four or five diners, I recommend three or four dishes to share, plus white rice. The dishes should look different at a glance, with colors across the rainbow and at least two meat choices and one vegetable dish. If the restaurant is authentic, they will also frequently provide a soup course—usually a thin pork or chicken-based broth with various dried goods and herbs—and a dessert course, which could be a sweetened bean soup like red bean soup, or fruit, usually orange slices.
Are you looking to get a little more adventurous than General Tao chicken? Want to impress people the next time you have to order food? Try some of these simple but delicious menu items:
Sauteed snow pea shoots with garlic: I love this green. It’s wholesome and delicious and is like a meatier and sweeter version of spinach.
Braised beef brisket: This stewed beef is frequently made with daikon or turnip, ginger, onions and star anise, and is delicious with its sauce on rice or on noodles.
Gailan with oyster-flavored sauce: Sometimes called Chinese broccoli, this dark green vegetable has a slightly bitter flavor, with a thick, meaty stalk and thick green leaves that are delicious and healthy for you. It’s also easy to make at home—just boil for 5 minutes with salt and oil in water, and serve with oyster flavored sauce.
Yow gai: This is a simple boiled chicken, usually available in a half or whole chicken portion, served with ginger and scallion oil/sauce on the side. It’s frequently available at Chinese barbecue houses.
Lobster: Many Chinese seafood restaurants have a lobster special. I recommend lobsters in ginger sauce, a staple in Chinese banquets. The lobster is chopped up and stir fried with garlic, ginger and scallions. Very tasty, though it can be a little challenging to eat. And yes, it will be the whole lobster, so be prepared to have a lobster head on your plate. It’s actually a very tasty part to eat.
Do you have a favorite dish you order from your local Chinese restaurant? Leave a comment below and I will randomly draw a name to win a signed copy of Back to the Good Fortune Diner.