Posts tagged: Chinese food

Just for Fun – Movie Review: The Search for General Tso

By , January 9, 2015

search for GTGeneral Tso is only one of the many fascinating characters that appear in this charming documentary that seeks to uncover the origins of one of America’s favorite dishes: General Tso’s Chicken. But The Search for General Tso is more than just a story of a dish central to America, it also recounts the history and struggle of those who make the dish.

General Tso starts simply enough, asking how did Chinese food become so popular in America and who was this General Tso. It’s that question – and uncovering how the dish came into being – that takes the movie across America, to China and eventually landing in Taiwan. But through that journey, the director – Ian Cheney – deftly interweaves the story of the Chinese in America. Unlike General Tso’s Chicken, that story is not always tasty.

Cheney interviews various historians and academics who explain how a people that represent a little less than 2% of the U.S. population have restaurants in almost every city, town, and village in America. Unfortunately, the explanation is often tied with our prejudice. By the late 1800s, with anti-Chinese laws and bias in California, Chinese

General Tso's Chicken

General Tso’s Chicken

could not find work and were driven into the laundry and restaurant businesses. Many left California in the hopes that other parts of the United States would be less prejudiced. But as the story of David Leong demonstrates, that was often a misplaced hope. A World War II veteran, Leong moved to Springfield, Missouri to open a Chinese restaurant. In 1963, his new restaurant was bombed days before it was set to open. Leong would eventually find acceptance and popularity after inventing Springfield Cashew Chicken, but his story recounts the prejudice and violence that many Chinese-Americans faced.

But the movie leaves you with hope. The characters are poignantly portrayed -from the collector of Chinese menus (one from 1916!), to the man who travels the United States in an attempt to eat at every Chinese restaurant, to Cecilia and Philip Chang (of P.F. Chang fame), and finally to the chef who invented the dish. And each demonstrates that the love of this dish transcends race and that maybe, just maybe, has brought us all a little closer.

Rating: ★★★½☆

The Search for General Tso will be showing in select theaters throughout the United States this weekend. A complete listing can be found on the movie’s website:

The movie can also be easily downloaded through iTunes or Amazon Instant Video.

Just For Fun: Ping’s Seafood – Elmhurst, Queens Restaurant Review

By , September 3, 2012

Ping's in Elmhurst, Queens

I have a friend who, when he visits New York, needs to have dim sum.  Flushing is the usual spot to hit up for dim sum, but this time, we decided to explore a new and up-and-coming Chinese neighborhood in Queens: Elmhurst.  And that is how we found ourselves at Ping’s Seafood, a small, inconspicuous restaurant on the corner of Queens Boulevard and Goldsmith Street that specializes in Hong Kong dim sum.

Elmhurst is considered Queens’ “second” Chinatown, but rest assured, there is nothing second class about Ping’s.  The entry way itself let’s you know that.  Laminated and yellowed restaurant reviews from such renowned newspapers as the Queens Chronicle fill the vestibule; pictures of the chef with the famous and influential of New York, including Mayor Bloomberg informs the visitor: this is not a place to toy with.

But where as other restaurants might ride the tail coats of their prior fame, Ping’s does not sit by idly.  Instead, Ping’s offers some mighty fine dim sum; dim sum that rivals some of the better known restaurants of Flushing

Unlike the jumbo dim sum restaurants of Flushing, Ping’s is relatively small and as a result, quaint. The requisite red velour wallpaper with a massive, gold double happiness symbol fills the back wall of the restaurant but the front wall, covered with windows, allows in a tremendous amount of light (most Flushing dim sum places have few if any windows).  Floor to ceiling tanks of various crustaceans blissfully unaware that their end is near are found throughout the restaurant.  If the name of the restaurant didn’t give you the hint, the tanks sure do: this is a place to order seafood.

Although it was a Thursday afternoon, the restaurant was still half full and a full dim sum was offered.  If ordering unknown dishes from ladies

Ping's User Friendly Dim Sum Menu

pushing carts is how you get your thrill, Ping’s provides that, even on a weekday.  But if you have been put off by dim sum because you have no idea what could confront you when you unwrap that lotus leaf, Ping’s provides a radical, alternative way to order dim sum: a cardboard menu with clear pictures and a description in both Chinese and English.  For one of my dining companions, this was the most important aspect of Ping’s for it democratizes dim sum and unwraps the mystery of the gloriousness of the experience.  If I was of lesser moral character, I would have swiped a menu to keep.  Dim sum is pretty much dim sum everywhere and this menu is the dim sum decoder.

But Ping’s greatness does not just lay in its user-friendly accessibility.  The food was also solid: there were some dishes that far exceeded my expectations, a few that disappointed, with most providing a steady and good dim sum experience.  The seafood shumai were pretty amazing; the dumpling was bursting with shrimp flavor and was very fresh.  The same held true of thee steamed rice noodle with baby shrimp: a lot of shrimp-bang for your buck and the rice noodle was perfectly moist.

But perhaps the best dish and a dish that should not be missed is the steamed glutinous rice & pork wrapped in lotus leaf.  The rice had a light sweet taste to it and the texture was both sticky and slightly crunchy, making for a fun and delicious experience.  The pork turned out to be crispy sausage with a lot of pork and spice flavor, adding a perfect complement to the sticky rice.  Ping’s Steamed Glutinous Rice is perhaps some of the best in the city.

For me, the barbequed roast pork bun was a bit of a disappointment.  I found the pork too sweet and the bun was a bit too dry.  But one of my dining companions loved that the pork was extra sweet and thought that it was delicious.  I let him finish off the third bun.

We next ordered a series of dumplings – steamed shrimp dumplings, steamed pork shumai and steamed minced beef shumai.  As with all the shrimp dishes at Ping’s, the steamed shrimp dumplings were excellent – the shrimp very fresh and very full.  The texture of the dumpling wrapping was perfectly light and sticky, offering only a hint of an additional flavor and allowing the shrimp to steal the show.

Ping's Decor

As pork is an important meat in the Chinese culture, I expected the pork shumai, like its shrimp brethren, to be good.  But in fact it wasn’t.  The pork shumai was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the day and any trip to Ping’s should NOT include it.  Even my roast pork bun-loving dining companion thought the pork shumai was bad.  But not bad enough that we didn’t finish it.

Ping’s throws down the gauntlet: look out Flushing, Elmhurst is on the rise. Ping’s dim sum is well worth the trip: it’s a nice restaurant with better than average dim sum and the best sticky rice in the city.  It’s also a great experience for a dim sum first-timer.  Given that it is one of the few dim sum restaurants in Elmhurst, expect the weekends to be packed.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Ping’s Seafood
83-02 Queens Boulevard
Elmhurst, NY 11373
(718) 396-1238


Just for Fun – London Restaurant Review – Chilli Cool

By , October 2, 2011

London's Chilli Cool

Is it possible to go to a foreign country, live there for a number of years and remain completely unchanged?  In the case of British cuisine, the answer is a resounding yes.  Although England ruled countries with the world’s most flavorful food, the Brits never thought to incorporate any of the newly found spices into their own cuisine.  But while British food has remained unchanged, major cities in the U.K. are filled with foreign restaurants, which have a good number of British customers.  By choosing not to create a fusion cuisine, the Brits have guaranteed that cities like London have some of the most authentic ethnic restaurants;  arguably the best Indian food outside of India can be found in London (major props to Masala Zone – yes it’s a chain, but it was phenomenal).

But what about Chinese food in London?  For over 100 years, England ruled the island of Hong Kong and made significant inroads into the Mainland prior to the Communist takeover, with major concession areas in Shanghai and Canton.  But unfortunately, the number of good Chinese restaurants in London is scant.  In speaking with a London friend  who spent many years in China, she noted that there were only around three good Chinese restaurants in London, a disappointment indeed.

And that is how I found myself at Chilli Cool (the misspelling of “chili” is intentional), one of the recommended three, in the Kings Cross area of London.  From the moment you open the door to the restaurant, Chilli Cool is unmistakably Sichuan, with the smells of the region engulfing you- a very promising sign.  Additionally, Chilli Cool compromises two restaurants, one that serves Sichuan hotpot and one that serves appetizers dishes.  My friend and I opted for the main restaurant to try the dishes.

Savory Hot Spicy Chicken

The first dish we ordered, Sichuan Savory Hot Spicy Chicken (No. 6), a traditional Sichuan appetizer where the Chinese literally translates to “mouth-watering chicken”, was not just dead-on authentic but delish.  The chicken, served in a bowl drenched by a Sichuan hot sauce and sesame seeds, was tender and although the dish is filled with a canopy of spices, the flavor of the chicken (which is served cold) is not lost.  Instead, the spices only enhance the flavor. The chili is the main flavor of the dish, but the subtle smokiness of the black pepper serves as a wonderful compliment.  Any trip to Chilli Cool is incomplete without ordering the Sichuan Savory Hot Spicy Chicken – Chilli Cool offers the best version of the dish that I have had outside of China.

To shake things up, we then ordered the Hot & Spicy Spare Ribs (No. 29) and the Dry Fried Chicken with Cumin & Chili (No. 37).  Unfortunately that is where our culinary adventure began to go off course.  Aside from the meat selection – one with chicken, one with pork – the dishes were exactly the same.  Neither the English description nor the Chinese

Two of the Same - Dry Fried Chicken (near) with Hot & Spicy Spare Ribs

name of the dish signaled that two dishes would be virtually identical and our waiter did not let us know that perhaps choosing two of the same dishes was not a good idea.

Fortunately, the chicken version came out first and was amazingly good and flavorful;  if one had to choose between the two dishes (which one should otherwise it is repetitive), the chicken version is by far superior.  The chicken was lightly fried and breaded, giving the dish a lightness that is often not found in fried Chinese food.  For those with a more delicate palate, the dish was not overwhelmingly spicy and was bursting with flavor.  The scallions, onions and peppers were fresh and perfectly complemented the mild chili flavor.  However, the dish likely could have used a touch more cumin as that flavor went largely unnoticed.

As for the pork version, the spare ribs were a bit dry.  Additionally, the flavoring of the dish tastes better with chicken.  Arguably other pork dishes on the menu would be a better choice.

As our fourth and final dish, we ordered one of my favorites, Shredded Potato with Spicy Dried Chili (No. 18).  When I lived in China, this dish was a staple for me and when made right, is a good carbohydrate alternative to

Shredded Potato with Spicy Dried Chili

rice.  Unfortunately, Chili Cool could not have made it more wrong.  The dish, which is usually very lightly fried, came out drenched in grease.  If made right, the potato slices should be firm; in the Chilli Cool version they were soft and soggy.  For some reason, Chili Cool added cloves to the dish which was weird and messed too much with the flavor.  Our Shredded Potato dish remained untouched during our meal.

Although one of the dishes was largely inedible and we were not properly warned that two of our dishes were twins of each other, I would still recommend a visit to Chili Cool when in London.  Two of the dishes were pretty amazing and could easily compete with the Sichuan chefs of Chengdu or Chongqing.  However, it might be best to stick with the traditional Sichuan “appetizers” (like dan dan noodles and Sichuan dumplings).

However, do note that Chilli Cool is no where near “Chinatown cheap.”  With four dishes and one beer, Chili Cool set us back 40 pounds (approximately $63), a lot of money considering two of the dishes were not that great.  Chilli Cool holds promise to be an amazing experience but a more careful selection from the menu is necessary.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Chilli Cool
15 Leigh Street
London, UK WC1H 9EW
020 7383 3135
Nearest Tube Station: Kings Cross

Just for Fun: Restaurant Review – Macao Trading Company

By , August 5, 2010

Macau Trading Company - 311 Church Street, NY

***NOTE – On a return back to Macao Trading Co. in October 2011 (just for drinks), no longer on the menu were the to-die-for-lamb-chops. Given that the lamb chops were the best thing listed in the review, it’s questionable if a trip to Macao is worth it. Certainly the ambiance is still there and it would still be a good place for your out-of-town mother-in-law, but the food is only average; edible but average.***

Macau may be a tiny island neighboring Hong Kong, but it has an air larger than life.  The first and last European colony in the Far East (the Portuguese arrived in Macau in 1557, leaving 400-odd years later in 1999), Macau still maintains the romantic feel of its colonial past, where East meets West in the culture, architecture and food.  But with the romantic, there is also the illicit air of Macau’s colonial past.  As the gambling mecca of Asia since the 1850s, organized crime has permeated, controlling Macau’s largest industry – the casinos – and in many ways, its government as well.

But it’s this feel of illegality that makes Macau attractive and the backdrop for some of Hong Kong’s best gangster films.  So when my friend suggested that we have dinner at Macao Trading Company in New York City’s Tribeca, I was excited at the chance to be transported back to the mysterious and dark Macau.

Unfortunately, Macao Trading Company doesn’t exactly live up to its namesake, but not for want of trying.  The bar area of the restaurant could easily be found in the streets of Macau, with strong teak wood elements, Buddha statutes, and iron fans.  But as I sat there, sipping on a glass of Portuguese wine, waiting for my dining companions, I realized that the fault lied more with the customers.  Americans just don’t do colonial sleazy nearly as well as their European counterparts; we are too earnest I suppose.  But in order to help overcome such a deficit, the bar offered a wide selection of drinks, with specialty cocktails starting at $14 each (including a $15 mai tai).  Stick with the Portuguese white house wine.  It was tasty and refreshing on a hot and humid New York City summer night.  As soon as we were seated, we immediately ordered a carafe.

While we were expecting fusion, the menu was largely divided between solidly Portuguese dishes and decidedly

Tortilha do Macao

Chinese ones, with some Chinese dishes oddly of the Sichuan-style rather than Cantonese (which would be the native type of Chinese food in Macau).  We decided to start our adventure with a Portuguese dish – Tortilha do Macao – a lump of crab meat and potato, with a curry dipping sauce.  It was a heavy mix, with a comfort-food type texture but without any of the consoling flavors.  It was too much potato with almost no flavor of the crab and absent the curry dipping sauce, the tortilha do macao would be a dry lump of nothingness.


The Portuguese meatballs (as opposed to the Chinese meatballs) were equally as heavy but with much more of a taste – a very pronounced meat one.  Mixing ground lamb with ground pork and a juicy mozzarella center, the Portuguese meatballs were hearty but nothing to write home about.

The grilled lamb chops on the other hand were almost divine.  Or at least I thought so.  Initially we hesitated ordering the lamb chops because they were listed on the “small plates” side of the menu,

Lamb chops

and we are three people who like to eat lamb.  But the portion size was good – with more than enough for two servings each.  The on-the-bone lamb chops were perfectly tender with a smokey, barbecue taste.  Flawlessly complementing the lamb was a light and savory garnish of bean sprouts, radish, peppers and mango.  For me, the mix of these flavors is Macau.  My dining companions were a little less impressed, noting that lamb chops are a Cantonese specialty (this I never knew – how many times you go to Hong Kong and see lambs walking around?) and that lamb chops this good could easily be found in Flushing, Queens, at a cheaper price.  While this might be true, any trip to Macao Trading Company is not complete without these lamb chops.

Our next dish was a decidedly Chinese and one of my favorites – Ants Climbing the Tree.  While not an appetizing name, ants climbing the tree is a dish of glass noodles with minced pork and a red chili sauce.  It can be a fulfilling, flavorful dish but Macao Trading Company’s version falls far short of the ideal.  There was no distinction in flavors with the chili sauce overpowering everything else and the noodles too pasty.

Bacalao Fried Rice

Fortunately we ended our meal with a bang, the Bacalao Fried Rice – a very Cantonese dish that one dining companion commented was a dish her aunt would make if she was feeling experimental (note that in traditional Chinese cooking, the key is never to experiment but rather to perfect).  The flavor of the salted cod was perfectly pronounced and the use of jasmine rice was brilliant.  With the lamb chops, the bacalao fried rice was off the charts.

With its Tribeca address and dim lit interior, Macao Trading Company, as one of my dining companions noted, is the perfect place to bring your mother-in-law who is visiting from Cleveland and wants a crazy night out on the town.  But its neither terribly crazy nor terribly good.  At the very least though, the check won’t set you back too much.  With five dishes and a carafe of house wine, the bill came to $114 with tip ($38/each).  Macao Trading Company also picks up after hours, staying open till 3:30 AM.  The heavy food could be good to sop up some alcohol and after a night of partying the lack of flavor in some of the dishes will likely go unnoticed.  But in general, Macao Trading Company is average; if you’re in the neighborhood and want ambiance, give it a shot.  Just know what to order.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Macao Trading Company
311 Church Street (just south of Canal)
New York,  NY 10013
(212) 431-8750

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