From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Eggs, Oggs, Uggs?

Eggs are one of the most fascinating foods on earth. I was always hypnotized as a child whenever a Tarzan and Jane movie were on television. I was so impressed with Jane when she'd whip up those giant ostrich eggs. I never knew that ostriches lived in the jungle, just like lions...

As an animal lover, I often wish that all the eggs at the market were produced from free roaming hens. If you get a choice in the matter, the free roaming hen eggs are much tastier because they come from happy chickens who aren't stressed. Of course, that's a matter of opinion...

One thing that you won't find at your local market are cartons of ostrich eggs. Too bad, because all the carb restricted dieters would be in Egg Heaven.

A few egg options at your market include the brown eggs, which cost a tab more than the white eggs. Brown eggs have a richer taste and the yolk tends to be a bit darker than the yolk found in white eggs. Both brown eggs and white eggs contain about the same number of calories: Based on one large egg:

Egg White 17 calories

Egg Yolk 59 calories

Fried Egg 92 calories

Hard-Boiled Egg 76 calories

Poached Egg 76 calories

Scrambled Egg 100 calories

If you are watching cholesterol, check out the egg substitutes found in the dairy case which contain about 25 calories per serving. These are wonderful for whipping up quiches in a hurry. I generally take one carton of egg substitute, add a cup of white skim grated cheese, a few sliced mushrooms, about 1/2 cup of skim, a dash of salt and pepper, then we pour the mixture into a pie shell and bake at 350 degrees until done.

There are an abundance of egg recipes in traditional Chinese cooking. They include Egg Foo Yung, egg custard, egg drop soup, egg rolls (a bit of a misnomer) and my favorite (not really), Thousand Year Eggs.

These preserved egg delicacies are known in China by many names, most notably: "Thousand year eggs" and "Hundred year eggs." Do they really take this long to prepare? No. Food historians and contemporary cooks tell us Thousand Year Eggs are ready anywhere from 45-100 days. The titling numbers hold special good luck significance in Chinese culture.

"Eggs, preserved (ancient eggs, century eggs, hundred year-eggs, Ming Dynasty eggs, or thousand-year eggs) are eggs coated with a claylike mixture of lime, ashes and salt, then buried in shallow earth for about 100 days. The lime "petrifies" the the eggs: makes the whites firm, gelatinous and amber-coloured; the yolks, spinach-green and cheeselike. (The Chinese call these "eggs with skin" because of their black outer coating. The English names, although romantic and exaggerated, describe their antique appearance--they do look as though they've been buried for centuries.) Preserved eggs usually are eaten uncooked for breakfast or as hors d'oeuvres, and served frequently at banquets."

Most interesting of Chinese preserved eggs are the so-called thousand-year-old eggs (also called hundred-year-old eggs, ancient eggs, or Ming Dynasty eggs), a delicacy unusual in appearance, odor, texture, and flavor, and usually bought in the market rather than made at home. Despite their name, thousand-year-old eggs are usually cured for just a few months, and are said to be most tasty at about a hundred days. The eggs of chickens and other birds may be processed into thousand-year-eggs, but duck eggs are the commmon ones used. This, and the importance of duck eggs in preservation by salting, probably derives from the fact that they are produced only in localized habitats suited to ducks and need to be shipped to market, yet spoil more quickly than chicken eggs...Various methods of curing, from simple to elaborate, may be followed in making thousand-year-old-eggs. Salt is first dissolved in a small amount of water in a large bowl; then pine ash and lime are slowly added, and the micture stirred until it reaches a muddy consistency. A thick layer of the mixture is applied to clean duck eggs, which are then rolled in a tray of husks, of rice or some other kind, to give them a non-adhesive coat to prevent them from sticking to anything. Then they are placed in a big earthenware jar which is covered loosely and left to stand. The eggs are removed every three days and rearranged in the jar, and after fifteen days the jar is sealed and left for another month. At that time, after 45 days in total, the eggs should be ready. A more lengthy procedure is one involving an initial three months of soaking the eggs in a brine made of water, salt, lime, lye, and tea leaves. Then the eggs are dried, covered with a paste of clay, lime, ashes, and salt, and buried in the earth for further aging. By whatever process, the end product has a yolk that is green and resembles cheese, and a white that is yellow or amber and of a gelatinous consistency. In eating a thousand-year-old egg, one must first remove the mud and carefully clean its shell. Then one normally eats the egg, which has the smell of ammonia, uncooked. It may be eaten with hot rice for breakfast or a late night supper, or cut into pieces and served as a snack with soy sauce, sometimes garnished with gingerroot strips or slices, or with a sauce made of vinegar and shredded ginger. Such eggs may also be prepared in other ways, as in 'Fried 100-Year-Old-Eggs' or 'Old and Fresh Eggs,' a steamed dish that includes both thousand year-old egg yolks and fresh eggs. The ultimate in combining types of 'Steamed Three Variety Eggs,' which includes in a single dish thousand-year-old eggs, salted eggs, and fresh ones.

Personally, I will stick to the traditional fare that doesn’t cause even the one with the most intestinal fortitude to turn green.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Puddle Jumping for Shrimp

Last weekend, my boss sent me a text message saying that he was planning a plane trip, and he asked if I wanted to go along for the ride.
I am a pretty major flying enthusiast. I love being in the air, I enjoy going to the local air show (and in fact, there will be one this weekend here in town with the Air Force Thunderbirds) and I like watching people fly model airplanes.
This love of planes goes back to my younger days, when my Dad would take me flying with him, and we would go to a model airplane field to compete. (Okay, HE would compete, I would go along for the ride.)
But I digress…

I readily agreed to the invitation, and after hashing out the details, we decided that we would fly down to a quaint little city called Palacios and have lunch there. Apparently, they had seafood to die for.

 When I got to the airfield, I was thrilled to see what awaited me. It was a fun plane, a 2-seater that was designed to go fast. (The entire time, I thought we would be flying in a Cessna, the type of plane that my Dad used to fly.) Oh no, this one was WAY cooler… it looked sleek, and trim, and it looked like it was meant to go fast.

(I will confess that I read this sticker with a little more than a bit of trepidation, but felt relatively sure that since the plane had already logged 450 hours, and my pilot had logged 250 that I would be okay.  But still...)

The trip through the crisp, cool and clear air was fast and uneventful, with plenty of scenery to enjoy on the way, and we landed at a little air strip in Palacios, in Matagorda County an hour after takeoff. There was not a soul around, and it was so quiet that you could literally hear the ducks quacking and the seagulls squawking. A few minutes after arriving we were greeted by Mr. Wayne Dodd, the owner of Outrigger Grill, and he whisked us to his restaurant, a mere 5 minute jaunt from the airfield.

Walking into the restaurant, I was struck by its hometown charm, where everything mounted on the walls, and every bit of decoration had its own story. It is the kind of place with a relaxed atmosphere, where you would meet the family, and where everyone knows everyone else’s name.

The weather was beautiful, so we sat outside, by the bar and dance stage. On the menu for me: Fried shrimp and catfish. I was not disappointed.


The town of Palacios, is known as the “Shrimp Capitol of Texas” and the freshness of the shrimp was testament to that truth. I would have been surprised if the shrimp was more than a day old, and it certainly could not have been frozen prior to cooking.

Chef Cheryl Dodd had found the perfect batter recipe, one that was not soggy, greasy, or over seasoned. The shrimp and catfish were fried perfectly, with each bite accompanied by the prerequisite crunch into the batter. The shrimp were HUGE (and I think I actually got 1 extra) and the bites of catfish were perfectly seasoned as well.

And the Hush Puppies?

Prior to coming to Texas, I had never had, or heard of a hush puppy. A hush puppy is basically an onion-y corn meal ball that is fried. Most that I have had prior to this trip were soggy, or overly flavored. These, however, were perfect. Crunchy on the outside, soft and tasty on the inside. They did not have any taste of fish, which demonstrates the care that the chef used in frying them. (Most cooks who do not know better will fry all of their items in the same oil, resulting in an amalgam of flavors, with non-seafood items picking up seafood tastes, and so on. That is clearly not the case here.)

The only item whose absence from the menu I lamented was that of a fried calamari. The batter that Chef Cheryl uses would be a perfect one for a Calamari and Shrimp basket.

Outrigger Grill is testament to the fact that a family owned business, even a restaurant, can succeed. Wayne and Cheryl have done a fantastic job making Outrigger Grill an environment where their diners can eat at their leisure, and enjoy the whole experience at the same time. I hope to be able to return to their restaurant at some point in the near future and sample a different dish on the menu. In the mean time, if you are ever in the area, stop by 515 Commerce Street, Palacios, TX 77465 and give their shrimp a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Until Then, Good Eating, Friends...

Outrigger Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Celebrate a 38th!!!

Recently, Nancy, my lifelong friend and fellow blogger celebrated her 38th anniversary with her husband, Tom. I was contemplating what kind of advice I could possibly offer her for a celebration, but seeing how successful she has been, creating and raising a wonderful family, I figured that she didn’t need my advice.

So I am just going to gift her a favorite recipe of mine, hopefully one that she and her family will like. (There is even an element in it that her resident Muscovy Duck, Cruzer, will enjoy.)

38th Anniversary… hmm… In keeping with the Chinese/Asian Theme of my most recent posts, I was tempted to suggest a visit to the 38th Parallel. However, I remembered that a successful marriage, especially after 38 years, has very few lines of demarcation.

Other notable 38’s include Gerald Ford, 38th President of our great country… The only person to become both the unelected Vice-President and President of the United States.

The 38th Element in the periodic table should be renamed Luvenhim, although in truth, it is Strontium. It is a very important element used for maintaining proper chemical balances in a salt water reef tank.

The 38th Ryder Cup was just played and won by Europe, as the US team, captained by Corey Pavin, fell flat at the end. (This is a golf reference, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the game.)

If your 38th is a benchmark for the 38th year of hell that you may have had to endure, (clearly not the case for Nancy & Tom) I might recommend a .38 Special. One heckuva gun, designed by Smith & Wesson.

In the event you decide to utilize the legal remedies for such hell, the 38th Judicial District of Texas is located in Uvalde County. Call me for more details. (I know who I had darned well better not be hearing from… ahem… Nancy…)

So here is to Nancy and Tom; Congratulations on 38 years, with many more to come. You two have done well, with 2 awesome kids whom I have had the pleasure of knowing & going to school with. Clearly, we should all strive to follow in your footsteps.

I offer you, as my gift, my recipe for Pine Nut & Chicken Lettuce Wraps. From my wok to yours, from my heart to yours.

Good Eating, Friends…

Pine Nut & Chicken Lettuce Wraps


o 1/4 cup soy sauce

o 4 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

o 2 teaspoons cornstarch

o 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, finely diced

o 1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped

o 1 red pepper, finely diced

o 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

o 3 scallions, thinly sliced

o 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

o 1 head Bibb lettuce, (leaves separated, washed and dried)

o 1/3 cup hoisin sauce


Gather these tools: cutting board; chef's knife; measuring spoons; dry measuring cups; small mixing bowl; spoon; large saute pan or wok; wooden spoon

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and cornstarch. Set aside.

In a large saute pan or wok over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and saute diced chicken breast and saute for about 2 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. Add the remaining tablespoon oil and saute water chestnuts, peppers, and scallions until soft.

Return the chicken to the pan and add the toasted pine nuts. Add the soy sauce mixture and stir-fry until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute.

Arrange lettuce leaves on a large platter. Top lettuce leaves with a heaping spoonfuls of the chicken mixture. Dollop with hoisin sauce and serve immediately.

about this recipe

The inspiration for this dish comes the traditional Chinese "Chicken Soong." Made with finely diced chicken, water chestnuts, peppers, and pine nuts, this recipe can be served as a first or main course. Top spoonfuls of this light saute with sweet hoisin sauce and serve in Bibb lettuce cups.

Good Eating, Friends…

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Tofu For You!!

I discovered, over the weekend, that  a food sensitivity that I had as a child has reared its ugly head again...: Suddenly, my body's ability to digest and process eggs has gone to the gods.  Oh, recipes that do not FEATURE the egg seem to be okay, but if an egg is the main ingredient, consider the fat lady singing.  This sensitivity brings to mind a milk allergy (or lactose intolerance) that I also had to suffer through as a child.  I was relegated to dried powered milk (which actually wasn't all that bad) and soy milk.  The latter, not so much.  Turns out that the enzyme that exists in cow's milk just doesn't get broken down well in my system.  Too bad, as I do like whole milk, avocados, bananas, and latex gloves.  (The gloves, not for consumption, of course...)

While I am a firm proponent of healthy eating and plenty of vegetables, I would fail miserably at trying to transition to a strictly vegetarian diet.  The options of a meatless meal are plentiful, but I will shameless promote the benefits (and myriad of options available) of tofu and soybean.  What is Tofu? It's made from the Soya bean; it's a very high protein food but it is not from an animal source. That makes it ideal for vegetarians, but can be enjoyed by anybody obviously who wants to know how to cook with Tofu.

And a big plus: Tofu has zero cholesterol. That's unusual for protein. Meat, eggs, cheese, milk - they are laden with cholesterol.

Better still, Tofu is loaded with "cholesterol-like" substances called Phytosterols. They compete directly with cholesterol at absorption sites in the small intestine, inhibiting the absorption of cholesterol from other foods that you have eaten at the same sitting. Eating only two grams of phytosterols a day will reduce the bad cholesterol in your bloodstream, called LDL, by a massive 10%. That's a lot. For many it means the difference between having to take those nasty cholesterol lowering meds, and not taking them.

Thousands of years ago the soybean was used as a grain or staple food. It was probably cooked as one would a cereal, congee style, and was one of the main food items in early China. Few doubt that the soybean was a principal part of many meals. Later, the use of this legume changed and changed even more when there were ways to grind it. That process followed by heating it, then filtering the resultant liquid made a milk. When the soy bean was ground fine, it could then be used as a flour. The soybean left whole could also be sprouted, or made into various pastes and sauces. Later still, the Chinese learned to coagulate the milk and make the curds into what we now call bean curd or dofu.
Some think that coagulated soybean milk began in Japan, but that is not the case. Rather, it was in the Sung Dynasty (960 - 1280 CE) that dofu was taken from China to Japan. Records show that it made the journey thanks to Buddhist monks. Once in Japan, however, they made it softer, whiter, and more delicately flavored. In Japan they called it tofu. There is little doubt that dofu’s original homeland was in China.

Dofu probably made its way westward from China in the 1600's. One gentleman, a friar from Europe, wrote about it saying: the Chinese turn the milk into great cakes like cheese. He also said that this food item is white as snow, eaten raw, also boiled and dressed with herbs, fish, and other things, and he said that it could be dried and/or smoked.

Long before that, when soy beans were made into milk, they had to be soaked, ground with water, then heated, filtered, and finally cooled. The Chinese drank the liquid made in this process and they drink it made in other ways. Some say they consume more soy milk now than ever before. They give it to the elderly. They give it to mothers that do not nurse. And, they give it to their babies, even to some of their older children.

When heating soy or any milk, if you let it stay a few minutes, the exposed surface gets a film on the top. This, the Chinese take off, usually with a stick, and hang it up to dry. These dried sticks are called dofu pi. When they cool the milk slightly, then add a coagulant, the milk curdles and the curd is called tohua. The coagulated milk is pressed into large or small blocks called soy bean cakes or dofu. Should the milk be cooked between layers of cloth, these white sheets of soy milk are very soft. They are called chien chang; you may have seen this spelled in various ways.

The pressed cakes of tofu can be frozen. Frozen, it is called tung tofu. When defrosted and used, these once frozen cakes are known as brainy tofu because the texture gets spongy and it looks a little like brains. Mostly unfrozen, the tofu cakes, called bean curd in English, can be purchased as is or they can be bought deep-fried (tofu phao). They can also be dried (tofu kan) or smoked (tofu hsun), or they can be fermented and known ad fuyu. Some people are concerned that these fermented squares are strong tasting, others adore the taste and deem it mild. Once, Irvin Berlin’s family served fuyu to Westerners, namely two chaps in the military; those fellows loved it!
In markets, bean curd has many names, and in homes it has many uses. Dofu or tofu, can be purchased somewhat akin to the way it developed in Japan as silken tofu. The coagulant is different than that used for Chinese beancurd; the Japanese use nigiri and the Chinese use calcium or magnesium chloride, or they use one or another sea salt. Chinese dofu is more firm than silken bean curd, and it is the least pressed of Chinese coagulated soy milk. Most bean curd including silken tofu can be found loose or packaged in plastic containers sealed with a thin film of plastic. Keeping out air in this manner helps the bean curd stay fresher longer. Some is found pressed a lot, its edges a lot thinner than the center part; this is usually called firm or hard tofu. Silken bean curd is best used in soups or steamed; and it is commonly used with a minced shrimp and egg white mixture placed in the center of the top, then steamed. It can also be had with half a hundred year old egg on the top.

Soft dofu or tofu is used in soups and in braised dishes. The firm varieties are most often stir-fried or stuffed and then braised, or shallow or deep-fried. Fried bean curd is most often found in bags of ten or more one-inch squares. They are light brown on the outside and light colored on the inside. Using them, one cuts them up and puts the pieces in soups and in braised dishes. These cubes can be cut in half and stuffed; they are often turned inside out before frying, and they can be braised when stuffed.

Extra-firm bean curd can be found after it was boiled with soy sauce and/or five spice flavorings. Called brown bean curd or five flavored bean curd or even spicy bean curd, it is primarily used in stir-fried dishes. It is found plain or boiled with soy sauce and seasonings, and there are markets that call it 'hard' bean curd. When you cook with this variety, cut it into thin slices or noodle-like strips. Actually, some manufacturers are now making this hard variety into noodles; and some call it ‘striped’ tofu. There is another common kind, called fuyu, or fermented tofu. Some call this type 'smelly;' it is found bottled, cut in one-inch squares in a solution of brine that may be clear or red, or another oolor, with or without chili peppers and/or other seasonings.

There is list of ten uses of soy milk. They are but a handful of the ways you might find soy milk in an Asian market, and are: pressed bean curd, soft beancurd, wrapped beancurd, deep-fried beancurd, beancurd sheet, beancurd puff, dried beancurd, beancrd skin, beancurd sticks, seweet beancuird sheet, and five-spiced beancurd. These items can be on the shelves, in refrigerator cases, and in store freezers. Lest you think these are all that are a available, a group of college students in New York were challenged to see how many kinds they could find in a Chinese supermarket in Flushing, Queens. The winner located forty-three different varieties and won three Chinese cookbooks for her efforts. Can you find these and others in a market near you?

Belowis a recipe that use bean curd. You might want to try it, and you should make up some others with any of the many other kinds your find when exploring a Chinese or Asian market.

Lamb with Bean Curd Chips


1/4 pound beancurd sticks

4 Tablespoons corn oil

1 pound lamb loin, thinly sliced

6 slices fresh ginger

2 scallions, cut into two-inch pieces

4 cloves garlic, sliced

1/4 teaspoon each of sugar and salt

1 teaspoon mushroom soy sauce

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon thin soy sauce

1/4 cup canned water chestnuts, sliced

1/4 cup straw mushrooms, cut in half the long way

3 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with a like amount of cold water


1. Deep fry beancurd sticks in oil until crispy, then drain them and soak in cold water for one hour. Reserve two tablespoons of the oil and set it aside, Cut the beancurd into two-inch lengths, and set it aside.

2. Blanch the lamb in boiling water, then drain, and set the meat aside and discard the water.

3. Heat the reserved oil and stir-fry the ginger, scallions, and garlic for half a minute. Then add the sugar, salt, all three say sauces, and 1/4 cup water and bring to the boil. Immediately thereafter, add the meat, beancurd pieces, water chestnuts, and mushrooms. Reduce the heat and simmer covered for half an hour.

4. Add the cornstarch mixture and bring to the boil and stir until thickened and clear, then serve.

Or... Try the

Tofu Fries!!

1 package Extra Firm Tofu packed in water

Oil for frying

Seasoning Salt : (use all , any or mix your own personal blend)

1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon of dried parsely /oregano/marjoram /thyme

1 teaspoon of garlic salt (for you salt lovers!)

1. Remove tofu from package. Cut into 1/8″ – 1/4 ” slices. Blot dry with paper towel. Slice lengthwise again into 1/8″ -1/4″ strips.

2. Mix seasoning salt ingredients together in a small bowl.

3. In large pot or fryer, heat about 3-4 inches of oil to about 350 degrees. Carefully lay tofu strips into hot oil. Work in small batches, do not allow tofu strips to touch each other in hot oil. They will stick to one another while frying. Cook for about 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oil and blot on paper towel to remove excess oil.

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Chop Suey - DeMystified

Questions about chop suey abound (as do those about chow mein, but that is another subject). Newspapers and magazines, authors and editors, materials on the web, and folk in many countries, the United States no exception, ask or tell tales about this dish. Some are way off base, others adding tidbits to what is known. It is what one of my previous posts calls “the best known of the Chinese dishes among foreigners.” After having done a little more research, I can now on to say that chop suey “is widely supposed to be an American invention.”

Really, what is this best known dish; and who and where was it invented? To answer the what: its basic recipe is chicken livers and gizzards fried with sliced fungi, bamboo shoots, pig’s tripe, and bean sprouts. In our youth, or since then,  it has gone the way of all good things. We never had nor did we ever see a dish with all of these ingredients. If not that, then what is chop suey? As to where it came from, it did not spring virgin from anyone’s brain in America. So then where did it come from?

Many variations of one or another person’s tale, factual or not, invented or expanded, with identification of location or not, can be found; and clearly all of them cannot be correct. Does anyone know what is? Here are some sources, gathered to put myth and misconception together, telling which are documented and which may come from the mouths of a dingo. Not wanting to be one of them, we sought out original sources, and a few early recipes.

Generalists begin by searching encyclopedic sources, so I checked in several. Alan Davidson’s The Oxford Companion To Food, published in 1999 by Oxford University Press, says that chop suey “may be the prime example of CULINARY MYTHOLOGY invented in San Francisco towards the end of the 19th century...and spreading out from there to become a standard item in the American repertoire, and indeed all over the world.’ Davidson refers to Anderson’s Food of China, published in 1988 (Yale University Press), who speaks of Li Shu-fan’s 1964 volume titled Hong Kong Surgeon. But that is getting ahead of the tale to be told.

Because one source can be a dud, I checked another encyclopedia. Chop suey, in Kenneth F. Kiple and Kriemhild Coneè Ornelas’ World History of Food, strangely has no entry for chop suey. However, it did appear in conjunction with Chrysanthemum coronarium. There we found 'chop suey greens;' and they were also called 'Japanese greens' and 'garland chrysanthemum.'

Leaving that tome, I tried looking up Chinese histories, as they might provide something of value. There are only five in English that I could find. Several did discuss food in China or Chinese food in general, and four of these did not even mention chop suey. But before diving into them, I looked at early Chinese cookbooks published in the United States. There I found many recipe variations, even variations in spelling including 'chop suey, chop sooey,' and 'chop sooy,' to name but three.

The earliest source for this dish was found in the third earliest Chinese English-language cookbook ever located. It is a volume published in 1911 and housed at the New York Academy of Medicine. The book, written by a westerner, Jesse Louise Nolton, is titled Chinese Cookery in the Home Kitchen. This book was published by the Chino-American Publishing Company in Detroit, Michigan. About its Chinese Chop Sooy recipe, it says that “in its various forms, (it) is the foundation of all dishes served in the Chinese restaurants.” It goes on to say that “with any one of the many forms of Chop Sooy, combined with other appetizing ingredients and flavorings, the most delectable dishes can be evolved. Success in these combinations depends largely upon the ingenuity of the cook.” This book has ten different recipes to make this dish, not one with gizzards or tripe.

The earliest cookbook to use the term chop suey in its title was published in 1928; the Mandarin & Chop Suey Cook Book. Like the first, it was not published on the east or west coasts where most Chinese lived at that time. This book was done in Chicago by the Pacific Trading Company. Another book with this dish in its title is the Girnau Chop Suey Chow Mein Cookbook. That volume was published 1931 by the Fredic H. Girnau Publishing Company in Los Angeles. These books were written by both Chinese and non-Chinese authors. The Nolton book, not paginated, has seventy-one leaves printed on one side, and thirty six recipes; Nolton was not Chinese.

The second book, no author given, is ninety-six pages and has seventy-seven recipes and a chapter titled Chop Suey. In it and elsewhere in its pages are a literal handful of recipes to make chop suey. The third book mentioned above is a forty-eight-page thirty-five recipe pamphlet. Its author identifies himself as a Chinese chef who has been practicing for fourteen years. In 1940, another book, simply titled Chop Suey, was published in Boston by the John Worley Company. 'Chop Suey' in a title next appeared in 1953. Then it was used in a thirty-four-page eighty-recipe pamphlet that had very few for chop suey. This booklet says it is published by Chop Suey and written by Ling Mei Mei.

Au Man Sing, who compiled and edited many booklets, is a certified chef. His publications which have many different titles have many chop suey recipes. We located ten of them published from 1932 through 1974. The first is titled Chinese Cookery and printed in Honolulu by Creart Press. It was republished as the Chinese Cookbook and then The Chinese Cook Book in 1936, and then redone many times thereafter. The last was called The Chinese Cookbook of Many Delights and was published across the country in Reading, Pennsylvania (by Culinary Arts Press).

Every one of Chef Au’s booklets have a chop suey section with a dozen different recipes and others elsewhere in his pages. One unusual one in the so-labeled section is for Winkle Chop Suey (winkles are snails). Other interesting titles are for Chop Suey Soup, Chop Suey Tofu, and Beef Heart Chop Suey. A few of these appear at the end of this article; but none include tripe or chicken livers.

Sonya Richmond in The Art of Chinese Cookery, a 1964 London hardbound published by W. & G. Foyle Ltd. includes an interesting four-page chapter titled: Chop Suey. She says, “Chop suey, though appearing in every Chinese cookery book and served in every Western Chinese restaurant, is not a creation of the Chinese.” Hers is the first cookbook to make such a statement; the others say nothing of its origin.

Richmond recounts a tale about an American restauranteur who invented this dish and why. About it she says: “that is the story. No doubt there are others equally improbable, but one fact remains...Chop Suey is a tasty and succulent dish and whatever the facts of its dubious origin, it...will remain a firm favourite with all lovers of Chinese style cooking.” She goes on to say “Chinese people do not spurn it, that it is eaten and enjoyed by Chinese both in their own country and in Western Chinese restaurants.” Oops, does she mean the Chinese brought this non-Chinese dish back with them to China? In her book, she offers four chop suey recipes including one for Fruit and Vegetable Chop Suey.

Now to some facts that hopefully make some sense. Chop Suey, as a dish in the United States and elsewhere, was known long before and after Nolton wrote about it. Henry Low, in a 1938 volume published by Macmillan in New York titled: Cook at Home in Chinese, includes a chapter titled: Chop Suey. It is twice as long as Richmond’s and includes twenty-two Chop Suey recipes. Some are a variation of one or another basic recipe already provided in his book. Most are ordinary. Not so the last one in the book called Sweet and Pungent Chop Suey.

E.N. and M.L. Anderson edited a chapter in K.C. Chang’s 1977 book called Food in Chinese Culture. In that chapter, titled: Modern China: South, readers learn that Chop Suey is not a made up American dish, but rather a distinctive regional variation from Toisan, an area south of Canton. They say it came to America with about half of all the early Chinese immigrants. Furthermore, they say that Toisan’s claim to fame is that it gave the world chop suey. In that chapter, they advise that the Cantonese words, tsap sui, mean miscellaneous things, or at worst, miscellaneous slops. They refer to it as a sort of hash of leftovers warmed up with bean sprouts and a very folk-like dish.

In that chapter, they tell a widely known myth that says: “One night, after hours, a Cantonese restaurant in San Francisco was importuned, by persons he could not refuse (drunken minors in one version, Li Hung-chang or other famed Chinese visitors in others) to serve food. However, he had no food left. So he stir-fried the day’s slops and created the dish. Its origin in old Toisan was traced down by the indefatigable hunter (of big game and food) Li Shu-fan (1964).” The author of Sons of the Yellow Emperor, on page 333, agrees saying “there is no doubt the dish (chop suey) had been an offer in restaurants in New York long before the story got about that is had its origin in America.

Chop suey has a long history in America and a longer one in China. It is a dish still made in western and Chinese restaurants and still found in Western cookbooks. I located what may be the newest one, a recipe for Chicken Chop Suey in a 2003 volume titled Favorite Chinese Dishes. That book was sold in the United States but published by Parragon Publishing of Bath U.K., no author cited. Perhaps chop suey needs further exploration.
The Li volume reads as follows: “Westerners, and many Chinese, believe that the popular dish called ‘chop suey’ is an American invention merely imitating Chinese cookery. Let me set the record straight: chop suey is actually a familiar Chinese dish originating in Toishan, where I spent by boyhood. The word ‘chop’I first tasted chop suey in Toishan in 1894, but the preparation had been familiar in that city long before my time. The recipe was probably taken by Toishan(ese) people, who, as I have said, are great travelers. Chinese from places as near to Toishan as Canton and Hong Kong are unaware that chop suey is truly a Chinese dish, and not an American adaptation. In 1923, when I passed through New York while campaigning for funds for the Kung Yee Medical College in Canton, I was shown a list of more than one thousand ‘chop suey’ restaurants in Greater New York alone. The owners, I was told, were invariably from Toishan or onef the neighboring districts where the dialect is slightly different from the Cantonese. These emigrants has originally come fr of the neighboring districts where the dialect is slightly different from Cantonese. These emigrants had originally gone to America during the early days of the Gold Rush in California (even today, San Francisco is still called ‘The Golden Hill’ around Toishan. When the Gold Rush was over they turned to operating laundries, and then chop suey houses.”

As to the taste of chop suey, Emily Hahn in The Cooking of China by Emily Hahn and the Editors of the Time Life Books (1968) says, “there is little we can say in favor of chop suey, a dish unknown in China. One explanation of its origin is that the dish was born when the famous 19th Century Diplomat, Li Hung Chang, traveling in the West as the Chinese emperor’s emissary, got indigestion from rich foreign food at banquets he had to attend. He had so agonizing an attack of biliousness following a hard week’s banqueting in the United States that his aide Lo Feng-luh suggested a bland diet. Between them the gentlemen thought up the plainest possible dish–a concoction of celery and other vegetables sauteed with a little park. Thus was chop suey born.”

Ms. Hahn goes on and says that ”According to another theory we can blame chop suey on America’s first transcontinental railways. To work on the building of them, indentured laborers were brought in by the thousands from southern China. Their American contractors learned that the coolies would toil patiently all day long, but had to have the rice they were used to. The American knew nothing about Chinese food, so they drafted cooks from the of the coolies themselves–self-made cooks whose highest talents could achieve nothing better than a sloppy stew ladled over rice. When the railways were finished and the workers were shipped home, some of the Chinese elected to stay in the United States. Among those who stayed were cooks from the old railway gangs, and they now set up in business for themselves, catering to other Chinese in humble sheds that were the first chop suey joints. When westerners found that the food was cheap they too became customers, always asking for chop suey because that’s all there was.” She and others are still telling that tale; is it out of ignorance?

Frederick J. Simoons, in Food in China says, there has been “controversy among Americans as to whether chop suey, still standard fare in many Chinese restaurants catering to the general public in the United States, is a true Cantonese dish or whether it developed in America. Suffice it to say that one is unlikely to find chop suey on the menus of better restaurants in Canton; that is seems to have originated in the Toisan area south of Canton.”

No doubt there are more tales about the story of Chop Suey.  In the meantime, enjoy reading these recipes, printed in their original format-- spelling and other errors included. The source of each recipe appears after its title. Nutrient analysis has not been done; the purpose is not to cook but to understand chop suey recipes.

Fruit and Vegetable Chop Suey

This recipe is as printed in, and is taken from Richmond’s: The Art of Chinese Cookery:

4 tablespoons cooking oil

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons heavy soy sauce

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

2 large onions, diced

1/2 pint stock

1/2 lb. chopped mushrooms

2 ounces dried fruit

1 teaspoon Ve-Tsin (this is MSG)

2 teaspoons salt

1 large tin peach caps, drained

1 lb. diced vegetables

2 tablespoons fruit syrup (from peaches)

1 small tin bean sprouts

4 and a 1/2 tablespoons cornflour

2 oz. Toasted almonds

1 lb. Plain boiled rice

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the mushrooms for two minutes. Add the diced vegetables, also the onions, and all seasonings. Cook for three minutes, stirring all the time, then add the heated stock and fruit syrup. Bring to the boil and cook for a further two minutes with the lid on then add the diced peaches, bean sprouts, and the dried fruit (cut up small where necessary). Stir and then add the cornflour mixed with a little cold water. Cook slowly until sauce thickens then serve on a bed of plain boiled rice, garnished with the roasted almonds.

There are many variations of the above recipe. For instance, try a large tin of pineapple instead of the peaches, or two tins of mandarin oranges. For added texture add one cup chopped raw apples just before adding the cornflour.

Chop Suey Soup

This recipe is as printed in and is taken from Au Man Sing’s Chinese Cookbook

Cut about a dozen Chinese dried and soaked black mushrooms into thin pieces, together with one-half can bamboo shoots and one-half dozen water chestnuts.

Boil all together in prepared soup stock about 10 minutes, then add two beaten eggs, and very finely chopped chicken, using white meat only; season to taste. Serve when eggs are done.

Sweet and Pungent Chop Suey

This recipe is as printed in and is taken from Lo’s Cook at Home in Chinese

1/2 cup sliced raw lean pork

1/2 cup sliced green pepper

1/2 cup canned pineapple, sliced diagonally

1/2 cup sliced celery

1/2 cup slice onion

1/2 cup vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black sauce (gee yeou)

1/2 cup sugar

a dash of pepper

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 cup stock or water

Put pork and vegetables in a hot greased skillet, and sauté 2 minutes. Add stock or water, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper; cover and cook 8 minutes. Add pineapple, black sauce and cornstarch which has been made into a thin paste. Mix well and cook 2 minutes more.

Chicken Chop Suey

This recipe is printed in and is taken from: Favorite Chinese Dishes published by Parragon



4 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tsp light brn sugar

1 lb 2 oz/500g skinless, boneless chicken breasts

3 tbsp vegetable oil

2 oniions, cut in fourths

2 garlic clves, crushed

10 oz/350 g bean sprouts

3 tsp sesame oil

3 tbsp water

scant 1¾ cups chicken stock

shredded leek, to garnish

1 Mix the soy sauce and sugar together, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

2 Trim any fat from the chicken and cut into thin strips. Place the meat in a shallow dish and spoon the soy mixture over them, turning to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

3 Heat the oil in a wok and stir-fry the chicken for 2-3 minutes, until golden brown. Add the onions and garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the bean sprouts and cook for 4-5 minutes, then add the sesame oil.

4 Mix the cornstarch and water to form a smooth paste. Pour the stock into the wok, then add the cornstarch paste and bring to the boil, stirring until the sauce is thickened and clear. Serve, garnished with shredded leek.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mastering Chinese USA

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching a new episode of Gordon Ramsay’s new show, a reality cooking show, in the fashion of American Idol, called Master Chef. In one of their challenges, the Master Chef Hopefuls were tasked with taking Mandarin Oranges and creating a Chinese style dish featuring that ingredient in the dish. Many of the chefs did a chicken stir fry, while there were a couple of creative dishes. One of the biggest mistakes that many of the chefs made was in their utilization of their protein as the main ingredient. I have stated on many occasions that the protein is always supposed to be an accent to the dish, not the main focus.

Sadly, this level of awareness was missed by almost all of the chefs, and it shows a clear degree of change that the Chinese Food culture has gone through.

Most urban Americans older than thirty can recall the recent metamorphosis of the Chinese restaurant business in this country. The pseudo-Chinese Chop Sueys of their youth have given way to Chinese food that is somehow more foreign. One restaurant owner I spoke to said of foods that used to pass: We do not serve Chop Suey; we do not serve Egg Foo Yung; but some people still think these are Chinese food.

Often the dishes served these days are spicy, made with what many consider more exotic ingredients. They are altogether unlike the bland bean sprout and chow mein noodle dishes to which Americans were accustomed. Szechuan and other regional fare have entered Chinese restaurant menus and are, for most Americans, standard Chinese food. The evolution represents, in part, a regional shift in Chinese immigration. No longer are Chinese immigrants primarily from regions in and around Guangzhou (Canton). In addition, from 1965 to 1984, the Chinese community transformed itself from sixty-one percent American-born to sixty-three percent foreign-born, and is still changing.

Restaurants, a crucial tourist draw in the Chinatowns where many early immigrants settled, provided visitors and Chinese clientele alike with Cantonese-style cuisine. As Chinese restaurants have increasingly attracted non-Chinese diners, and proliferated outside the boundaries of Chinatowns, menus have accommodated to the American palate and marketplace. The process of negotiation and transformation largely carried out by newer Chinese immigrant restaurateurs, entails creating and offering a product recognizably and exotically Chinese, and yet acceptable to their non-Chinese customers. Their dishes are symbolically loaded with multi-faceted connotations of ethnicity and authenticity.

Two restauranteurs I interviewed were brothers who emigrated from Hong Kong in the 1970's, although the family was originally from Nanjing. One brother managed the family restaurant, saw himself primarily as a businessman, and the food as a kind of mutable commodity. He developed his own pragmatic philosophy of culinary acculturation; if the customer likes Kung Pao Chicken with cashew nuts instead of peanuts, he has no objections. His brother, who managed the front-of-house operations, was more culturally offended by such alterations and would have chosen to be less accommodating.

This type of culinary transformation in ethnic restaurants seems inevitable. Chinese food in the suburbs needs to be prepared and served differently to American customers if businesses are to survive. In Chinatown, where greater numbers of Chinese diners are expected, a separate Chinese-language menu is often featured, and often with ingredients not offered to non-Chinese clientele. For most Americans, snake or fish lips would be considered unacceptable food. (There has been a recent trend toward greater experimentation and a certain authentic cachet is awarded the non-Chinese diner who adventures on the Chinese side of the menu.)

In the larger social context such culinary transactions are not only unacceptable; they can create a cultural gulf between the two groups. Countless ethnic slurs invoke foreign eating habits; early Chinese immigrants were often denigrated as rat-eaters. If a menu is too intimidating, the result is a loss of business. This is true even with ordinary food items such as fish. Americans want the filet, no bones, heads, nor the sense of eating a whole animal. The Chinese, on the other hand, want to see the whole fish and do eat every part of it, especially the head.

In Chinese culture, whether Taoist, Buddhist, or Confucianist, food is inextricably entwined in almost every aspect of their life. Food marks cultural change, family events and social transactions. They do not eat simply for nourishment or pleasure. To them, foods have an intricate network of meanings, particularly medical significance. Some beliefs are shared with American culture; spinach is good for blood, carrots for the eyes. Others are more specific to the Asian culture, such as the definition of foods as hot (jeh) or cold (liang,) or Yin or Yang. Persimmon, for instance, is not to be eaten with crab because crab is a 'cold' food. Food balancing is central to Chinese cuisine. Fundamental to this philosophy is the precept that fan (the rice or starch staple) is the center of the meal, linguistically synonymous with 'food.' Tsai (the vegetables, meat and sauce), are accompaniments. Noted Chinese culinary food scholar, E.N. Anderson defines tsai as that which facilitates the digestion of fan. Americans tend to reverse this balance, eating in what the Chinese would refer to as banquet or festival-style dining.

Alterations in the composition of the dishes and configuration of meals are not the only accommodations restauranteurs make. When serving their foods, the manner of eating is also transformed from Chinese style to Chinese-esque American style. One restauranteur referred to that saying that individual Americans prefer individual plates while Chinese diners traditionally share from a common bowl and do not think: This is yours, this is mine; they just think this is ours!

Duck sauce and fortune cookies were among American inventions and appear on restaurant menus to appeal to American customers. Restauranteurs are finding themselves responding to an increasing array of special requests. One related her belief that every dish can be modified but that some people go too far. For example, Chicken with Broccoli is a white sauce dish. She does not object if Garlic Sauce is substituted, but feels that Black Bean Sauce is inappropriate and distasteful. Some of these entreaties concern taste preferences and some respond to the intense concern with health and diet.

One recent event which dramatized the effect of culinary misapprehensions on the restaurant business was the resealeing of a report by the 'Center for Science in the Public Interest.' It revealed putative dangers in eating Chinese food, especially sweet-and-sour and batter-fried dishes and recommended that diners eat more rice and less of the oily, salty, sweet entrees, essentially counseling Americans to eat exactly the way Chinese diners would. In appearing to demonize the cuisine instead of the behavioral choices of the consumer, the report offended many Chinese restauranteurs. There was also a marked increase in such special requests as: 'No oil, no soy sauce, no sugar, no MSG. But I want it to be tasty.' Customers want foods steamed, sauce on the side, but expect gustatory experience to be unaltered.

One restauranteur says he can tell from what is ordered if there is knowledge of Chinese food or not. If the order Sweet and Sour Chicken, he knows that they do not have the hang of real Chinese cuisine. He commented that if they order traditional Chinese dishes and eat them in traditional Chinese configurations and combinations, the result would be far from unhealthy. He said: “Look at Chinese people, on average, they are skinny and they are healthy.”

Perhaps American audiences feel the need to modify Chinese cuisine more than foods of other, less exotically intimidating cultures. Dishes have been invented, altered, and recombined in an ongoing process of negotiation with the sometimes voracious, sometimes apprehensive dominant culture. Chinese restauranteurs continue to market a cuisine which is both highly structured and fairly adaptable, a diet which is alternatively vilified and canonized, and dishes which strive for authenticity, palatability and profitability in serving the eclectic American palate.

Good Eating, Friends…

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Chinese Food, Cafeteria Style

 I was invited out for lunch by Renee, one of my long time friends, and we decided that I would introduce her to Pei Wei Asian Diner. As she had never been there, I felt that it was only fair to introduce her to something different in the world of Asian food.

Our meal started with an order of edamame, and I ordered the Pei Wei Spicy, which had fried chicken, sugar snap peas and carrots and was drowned in a spicy chili vinegar sauce, with brown rice. Renee had the Dan Dan noodles, which were egg noodles topped with chopped chicken that had cooked in a garlic soy, served with scallions, bean sprouts and cucumbers.

Ironically, we both noted that the meal, while tasty, was loaded with sauce and sodium, making it a rather unhealthy meal. In fact, the most healthy part of the meal may have been the edamame, which is high in protein.

While the traditional Chinese food is very healthy, with an emphasis on vegetables, with meat being utilized more as a “condiment” than the main focus of the meal, the Americanization of food has resulted in an end result that is higher in fat and calories, and as Pei Wei proved, much higher in bold flavored sauces and seasonings.

(A little secret: Those of you who are brave enough to try and eat with chopsticks – do so!! A diner generally eats more slowly, since it is more difficult to grasp larger quantities of food than would end up on a fork. Also, using a pair of chopsticks also reduces the amount of oil that ends up being consumed.)

After the meal, I was left wondering what some of the healthy options might have been for the meal, and how that would possibly work into my campaign for San Antonio City Council. Cafeteria food is generally considered the subject of rude jokes and grim recollections from yesteryear. Think of it as a popularity contest between hospital food and prison chow, with cafeteria food making a surprising showing. But whether or not more exotic choices, such as sushi, or even a vegetarian stir fry could be added to the menu of a youngster’s cafeteria fare is nowhere near the forefront of many schools’ considerations.

The Texas Department of Agriculture reigns supreme over the Public School Nutrition Policy. Their guidelines are set up to appease the parents, administrators, school officials, health professionals and lastly, members of the food industry. Foods MUST meet the TPSNP standards if made available to students of school campuses.

With this in mind, it seems, sadly, that Asian food in the school environment may generally only make an appearance during a class or school heritage enrichment program. Such programs must be officially scheduled and part of the written curriculum, which then means that administrators have the authority to override a teacher’s decision to have such an event. Foods brought to such events must clearly identify nutritional information, especially if cooked with a potential allergen, such as peanut oil. Sadly, this tilt towards healthier dining options does not eliminate vending machines with sodas in them, or salty or sugary snacks.

In all reality, since so many of the public school systems release their menu early, allowing parents to decide whether or not to send their child/ren to school with a sack lunch that day, it is feasible to incorporate tasty and healthy dining options which COULD include the occasional Asian food choice. Asian foods can be mass produced on a scale to feed kids running through the line at a breakneck pace, so the evolution of cafeteria food is due to allow this kind of tasty transition. After all, “healthy” does not have to mean “not tasty.” It could also give nutritionists additional options as far as offering a meal that is simultaneously cheap, appealing and nutritious.

We can’t be fooled into disguising healthy food in pretty presentations, though. It needs to be understood that children have become more sophisticated in their tastes (try dining with mine) and thus often welcome new offerings such as sushi and chicken satay. Just don’t expect to see it in a cafeteria any time soon. Kids will also be able to identify the faux foods, like peanut butter made from soybeans, or low fat cheese pizzas. Forget about trying to offer a tofu burger. Therefore, if we were to offer a chicken stir-fry, it would be just that. Small pieces of chicken, stir fried with a minimal amount of oil, and loaded with vegetables that kids generally will eat at home.

Sadly, this taxpayer subsidized meal is often times the most healthy, nutritious meal that many of our children will get in a day. Thus, it is important that it be palatable, if not memorable.

This is what I would LOVE to see in a cafeteria – definitely a list of some of the healthier choices:

• Egg Drop, Miso, Wonton or Hot & Sour Soup.

• Stir fried, steamed, roasted or broiled entrees, such as cashew chicken, shrimp chow mein

• Steamed or baked tofu. (Yeah, right)

• Entrees made with lower sodium or lower caloried sauce, such as ponzu, rice-win vinegar, ginger and wasabi

• Steamed brown rice

• Edamame

If we do see anything, as long as it is not a fried, drowned option, it may pass. Skip the fried rice as well. And the egg roll. And the sweet and sour sauce. Sorry gang. We will figure SOMETHING out…

Until then, Good Eating, Friends…

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Demise of the Buffet

Yesterday, one of my new employees asked “Where can I get a great Chinese buffet?” I could not help but cringe, as, here in San Antonio, truly, there is no such thing. I have visited a couple here in town whose food has left much to be desired. They are a veritable hodgepodge of flavors that ended up tasting the same, regardless of the actual menu name.

Rudy and Jerry were determined, however, to get their mitts on a buffet, so I suggested Golden Phoenix, which is down the street from the office. (Okay, more like 10 minutes away.) I seemed to remember bringing some of their food to my wife’s office, years ago, and enjoying their hot and sour soup to excess. (The memories of heartburn still linger.) So I figured, why not, it’s been a few years since I have been here, let’s give them a try again.

I should have let them go their own way, and I should have fended for myself.

The restaurant, while recently remodeled and pretty, was the typical buffet, with islands of food in spread out across a broad expanse across the dining room floor. The food, in fact, was the first thing that I saw when walking into the restaurant.

There was plenty of food, including enchiladas, baked fish, sushi (that looked unappealing) and chicken nuggets, as well as the typical assortment of “Chinese food” to appease the locals. I helped myself to a spoonful of Kung Pao Chicken, Broccoli Beef, and Pepper Steak, a skewer of teriyaki chicken, and a few sautéed green beans.

I am already not a fan of “all you can eat” concepts, and the idea that so much of this “food” is available for people to fill up on is a bit horrifying, as the food I ate was the typical generic taste. If I had been in a true “analytical” frame of mind, I would have gotten a separate plate for each menu item, with a generous portion of soggy white rice to go with it.

But alas, I did not do so, and after about one mouthful of each item, I lost track of what flavor profile I was supposed to be enjoying. The broccoli beef was salty in flavor, the pepper steak was not peppery, and there was no “POW” in the kung pao chicken. I worry that they toned down their seasoning in the hopes of not offending the sensitive (hah) San Antonio taste buds.

Where had good Chinese food gone? Definitely not the way of the buffet.

The place was spotless, not just at the time we were there, but probably always as it was 'voted the cleanest restaurant in town' by a local newspaper. What also impressed was that the hot food was hot and refreshed every few minutes.

At that time food offerings, except for at the salad and dessert bars, were almost all Chinese though there were a few Canadian and universal non-Chinese dessert items included. The Mandarin buffet honored Chinese cuisine. Why is it that good things cannot last? On this visit there were more non-Chinese items being served and there was some slippage in quality.

Much has changed in the buffet restaurant scene and all is not for the better. Now there is a proliferation of buffets. Within a fifty mile radius of my suburban home, there are more than fifty; and they are not all equal. Some maintain food and ambiance standards, others are messy. Some are inexpensive while others cost the price of a meal in a good full-service restaurant. Some food served at them is more authentically Chinese than others. And, most recently these Chinese buffets are becoming a United Nations. One honestly put a sign outside that said 'international.'

Why this growing phenomenon? These restaurants speak to the shortage of trained staff and owners need for more income. Most importantly, they speak to the demise of the mom and pop Chinese restaurant. On the customer side, people want more variety at their meals, want a perceived bargain, and they love pigging out. Perhaps these buffets also shows that all too many people do not care about freshly made hot food and even that some do not know good food from mediocre.

Chinese buffets have greatly expanded in number and number of food offerings. No longer are non-Chinese items restricted to dessert selections. In our area, these buffet eateries first added Japanese food items, then one by one, foods from Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere in Asia. Most recently we have seen Italian and other European food selections, even South American and African foods. Common signs outside buffet restaurants read 'Chinese, Italian, and American items daily' or 'Chinese and Japanese food, here with a complete sushi bar.' We most particularly like the one that says 'Foods of twenty counties available on our buffet tables.'

Many buffet restaurants do catering on and off site and when they have a few parties to attend to, the restaurant customers fend for themselves. We have seen senior citizen discounts of ten to twenty percent, places with twenty to two hundred different food items, special prices for children, and costs listed with and without lobster. We also know of places that feature all the snow crab legs or all the lobster you can eat. Some have fruit bars with canned selections, other include a few fresh items and advise how healthy their buffet is. Many provide complimentary soda and tea, with or without free refills, most charge for coffee, and all tab the alcoholic beverages. A few have Mongolian barbecue selections or roasted meat prepared and sliced in full view. Still others provide hard and soft ice creams. And there is more. They are offering more and costing more, too.

In some ways these buffet restaurants speak to galloping changes in Chinese and all food, the increase in variety and preparation requirements, and other expectations folk have. As has the local supermarket that sells frozen dumplings, frozen Chinese TV dinners, and varieties of tofu, they are expanding their offerings. They are meeting the competition be it restaurant or the local supermarket's take-out selections.

As each city, state and country increase their ethnic populations, people learn foods from neighbors and friends and want to share meals with them. Everyone travels more wants to eat foods they tasted elsewhere. With more mixed-ethnic families, people want different foods to please everyone. The mixed buffet restaurant meets these particular needs. These are things small local Chinese restaurants can not do.

I wonder what local children think is Chinese food because many Chinese buffet restaurants bill itself as Chinese and food choices run the gamut from Sushi, found on the dessert bar, to Buttered Potato, Corn on the Cob, French Fries, and Onion Rings. These were next to Vegetable Lo Mein, Boneless Spare Ribs, Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce, House Special Mei Fun, Happy Family, Chicken with Garlic Sauce, and Stewed Sweet Potatoes.

I have been confused as the sushi was next to Canned Peaches, Carrot Cake, Chocolate Pudding, Fresh Cantaloupe, Pickled Carrot and Daikon Sticks, and a choice of vanilla or chocolate yogurt. I have seen Steamed Dumplings next to a tray of Jelly Donuts. The beverage area crosses cultures, too, mixing Orange Soda, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and other carbonated beverages with Chinese or American tea, and coffee your way, Cappuccino to regular.

We can only wonder where the buffet syndrome is going. Also wonder about its impact in small cities and towns. It has been spotted in one European city and may be in others. Clearly, we have to make a trip to Asia and see its impact there, if any. How is it doing in your neighborhood?

Until Then, Good Eating, Friends…

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a pie must be there on the second tuesday of the chinese new year