Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Authentic vs. American Chinese Food

In between stops on my Chinese food tour, I thought I'd give you some fun facts about Chinese food. This one comes from a Wikipedia search on American Chinese food. Enjoy!

American Chinese food typically treats vegetables as a garnish while cuisines of China emphasize vegetables. This can be seen in the use of carrots and tomatoes. Native Chinese cuisine makes frequent use of Asian leafy vegetables like bok choy and kai-pan, and puts a greater emphasis on fresh meat and seafood. As a result, American Chinese food is usually less pungent than authentic cuisine.

American Chinese food tends to be cooked very quickly and with a great deal of oil and salt. Many dishes are quickly and easily prepared, and require inexpensive ingredients. Stir-frying, pan-frying, and deep-frying tend to be the most common cooking techniques which are all easily done using a wok. The food also has a reputation for high levels of MSG to enhance flavor. The symptoms of a so-called Chinese restaurant syndrome or "Chinese food syndrome" have been attributed to a glutamate sensitivity, but carefully controlled scientific studies have not demonstrated such negative effects of glutamate....American Chinse cuisine often uses ingredients not native and very rarely used in China. One such example is the common use of broccoli in American Chinese cuisine.

To read more go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Chinese_cuisine.

Who knew there was such a thing as "Chinese food syndrome"? I really better watch out for that! And if authentic Chinese food does not include "a great deal of oil and salt", then I will have to say "no thank you", give me the American version any day! Oil and salt is what defines American food, right?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jacky Chen (not Chan) III

Date: Saturday, June 20, 2009
Time: 1:30pm
Location: Newton, KS
Restaurant: Jacky Chen III
Overall Rating: 1.5

Egg Roll: 1
Food Quality: 1.5
Price: 3
Atmosphere: 2
Service: 2

As I said in my “Mission & Background” entry, I will when I can, venture out of Lincoln, Nebraska to taste some Chinese cuisine around the country and give you my fairest rating. This past weekend I took a jaunt down to Newton, KS to visit my mother. We went out to eat (as we nearly always do) at Jacky Chen’s Chinese food buffet. We arrived at about 1:30pm and to our dismay nothing on the buffet was fresh. I was trying to make excuses for them about it being later in the lunch time frame, but as my mother put it “that doesn’t matter.” And I couldn’t agree more!

I went straight for the Chicken Egg Roll and Vegetable Spring Roll. Both were very dry, which seemed to be the theme of this dining experience. DRY! I couldn’t even finish the egg roll (a very rare occurrence). Next I tried the Crab Rangoon, not bad if you like a lot of cream cheese and not so much crab. They didn’t have Cashew Chicken and I couldn’t really find anything close to equivalent. So, I tried the Spicy Chicken. It was the best item I found on the buffet. Just enough spice, not overpowering, and the chicken was a good consistency. General Tso’s Chicken was just ok. Tried a Crab Stuffed Mushroom. It would have been good fresh. The Garlic Mushrooms needed more garlic flavor. The Teriyaki Chicken on a stick was so dry I could hardly get it off the stick. Last, I tried the Japanese Chicken, which was nothing spectacular. I’d stick to perfecting their Chinese food before they venture to Japan.

I can say they had a good variety of food. This place is kid friendly with many other options besides Chinese food. I tried a Cheese Stick and Fried Okra. Like a broken record, they would have been good FRESH. They had sushi too. I tried the California Roll (just about the only sushi I will try off a buffet). You can never be too safe with raw fish. It was average. Not exceptional, but not bad. The price for this buffet was $6. That was the silver lining – I didn’t break the bank to eat bad food!

So, if any of you happen to be in Newton, KS sometime in your life and your heart is craving a little Chinese flavor, I recommend going to Jacky Chen’s Chinese buffet only if you can get there as soon as it opens. If you can’t be at the door as it unlocks, I’d order off the menu, or better yet, drive about 20 miles East to Wichita and take your chance at another Chinese food establishment.

Fortune: “An interesting musical opportunity is in your near future.”

Turns out that musical opportunity was closer than I thought. For the first time in nearly six years I have a car with a CD player! For my trip down to Kansas I found all my old CDs from high school and literally sang until my throat was on fire. Forgot how good it feels to hear old songs I love, reminisce about high school friends, and even play a little air guitar all in the privacy of my little bubble on wheels. Give it a try sometime!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Highlands Great Wall

Date: Friday, June 12, 2009
Time: Approx. 12:00pm
Location: Lincoln, NE
Restaurant: Highlands Great Wall
Overall Rating: 3.2

Egg Roll: 3
Food Quality: 4
Price: 4
Atmosphere: 2
Service: 3

I went to the Highlands Great Wall for lunch with Andrea last Friday. This is a fast food Chinese place. However, the food quality is WAY better than ordinary fast food. The Egg Roll was a little better than average. It had chicken in it and the cabbage pieces were small and well cooked, which I really like. The food was hot when it came out. You order at the counter and they bring it to you. The people were friendly. Felt a bit rushed when ordering (good thing I knew exactly what I wanted), but that's to be expected at noonish. The Cashew Chicken was really good! They used full cashews in just the right amount. The sauce was typical for that dish, sweet and salty together. The vegetables were cooked just right and the chicken was a typical chinese consistency. It was even great cold, which is how I ate the leftovers for dinner that night. Don't judge if you haven't tried it...I would eat any Chinese food cold! I tried a couple bites of Andrea's dish - Vegetables in a Garlic Sauce. It was excellent. I could tell they use fresh vegetables.

The portions were what you'd expect for an American restaurant, HUGE. I ordered a medium portion size and had more than enough for dinner that night too. Andrea had a large size and the rice had to be served on a separate plate. She gave me her leftovers (that's a good friend) and I can attest that it was great cold as well when I ate it for dinner Saturday night! This was been such a great Chinese Food week! The price was right on for the portion sizes. Each of our dishes were $7. Worth it when you can definitely get two meals out of it, or stuff yourself to the brim in one meal. So overall, the numbers average out to 3.2, but for simplicity sake I give it a 3. I would absolutely recommend this place if you are on the West side of town, in a rush but still want some excellent Chinese cuisine.

Fortune: "Products are merely physical expressions of ideas."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jade Rivers

Date: June 10, 2009
Time: Approx. 12:30pm
Location: Lincoln, Nebraska
Restaurant: Jade Rivers
Overall Rating: 2.5 Egg Rolls

Egg Rolls:
Food Quality: 2.5
Price: 4.5
Atmosphere: 2.5
Service: 3.5

I went to the Jade Rivers Chinese Buffet yesterday for lunch. I wouldn’t go so far as to put “famous chinese buffet” in the title on the menu, as they did. They didn’t have Cashew Chicken, so I tried the Almond Chicken, which by the way, did not have any almonds. It was just OK. That word really kind of sums up the whole experience. They had pork and vegetable egg rolls. Both were very dry and I had to use soy sauce. Side note: If you have to use soy sauce on an egg roll, in my opinion, that is not good. The Crab Rangoon was the worst I’ve had. It was bone dry. No filling at all and they were very small. The Vegetable Lo Mein was average. A little dry and the noodles were thick. The Egg Drop Soup as so so as well. It had green onions in it and looked a little oily. The General Tao’s Chicken was what you’d expect for a buffet, along with the Orange Chicken. Generally, good hot or luke warm, but try to get it while it’s hot! The best item I ate was the Teriyaki Chicken. There was no breading, but the sauce stuck to it well, giving it a full flavor. The chicken pieces were a familiar consistency too. Always good to see in a Chinese restaurant. The last item I tried was the Indian Chicken. It needed a bit more flavor. I was expecting to taste that Indian flare, but might have been expecting too much for this place!

I’d like to come back and eat off the menu to give a fair rating of food right off the cooker. Overall for a buffet, I give it a 2.5 out of 5. The price was $5.99. So for that cost, the level of food was right on value. The service was good. All people were very friendly and prompt in removing plates. We were even asked if everything was good, which is unusual for buffet-style places. Restaurant was clean. Definitely felt like I was in an “American-Chinese” place. The Chinese ambiance was lacking a bit. If you’re looking for cheap Chinese food with fair quality and mass quantities, this is your place. http://www.jaderiversbuffet.com/

Fortune: “Share your insights with close friends for rewards this week.”
A perfect fortune for the first week of this blog. These are my insights, shared only with close friends…so far.

Rating System

I will rate each restaurant on a scale of 1 to 5 egg rolls in five categories, along with an overall rating. The categories are: Food Quality, Egg Roll, Price (Value), Atmosphere, and Service. Yes, the egg roll is a separate category from all other food. You can tell a lot about the food just by the egg roll! Think about it.

Since I can't try everything on the menu in one sitting, I will order the same three things at each restaurant: Cashew Chicken, Egg Drop Soup, and of course, and Egg Roll. This will help me to fairly rate each restaurant on the same items. If there are people with me, I will kindly ask to try a bite of what they are having in order to add some variety. To all my friends...you've been warned. If I am at a buffet, I will taste as many foods as I can. And lastly, I will only drink water as to not tamper with my taste buds!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Background & Mission

Some of you may be wondering who in the world would dedicate a blog to the love of Chinese food. For all of my fellow Chinese food lovers...no need to explain. Since I can remember my favorite food has been the egg roll. Some of my greatest childhood memories with family and friends have been around a bowl of moo goo gai pan, an egg roll (or two) and a crab rangoon. I'm almost positive I came out of the womb with an egg roll in hand. Although my mom cannot confirm. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I've driven 50 miles one way, just to taste one more time the best egg roll in my opinion.

So for fun, I made it a goal this year to visit all the Chinese food restaurants in Lincoln, Nebraska and share my experiences with the world (or maybe just my close friends). My mission is to do the dirty work for you when it comes to the best Chinese food in Lincoln, NE, and from time to time, around the country. For I hate nothing more than to waste money on a bad dish of cashew chicken. I vow to be fair in my ratings and diligent in the pursuit of the best overall meal and egg roll in town. You can rest assure I have over 20 years of experience in this field of study. My taste buds are well trained and my eye for sweet & sour quality, superb.

I dedicate this pursuit to my parents, who have always supported my love for Chinese food. Taking me out for nearly every birthday and even a Thanksgiving or two. And to my best Chinese food eating buddy, Bethany. She kept the passion alive and drove that 50 miles with me!

Keep a look-out for my next blog about the rating system and method of critic.