Tuesday, January 25, 2022 Jan 25, 2022
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You can’t win at restauranting without the Oriental edge
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Undoubtedly, you’re beyond chop suey and sweet-and-sour pork. Here’s how to demonstrate graduate-level expertise when eating Chinese:

1. The old saw about eating where the nationals eat is still a good one. With the influxof Chinese people into the Dallas area, therule is easy to apply. If you walk into aChinese restaurant and discover that lessthan 40 percent of the customers areChinese, walk right back out. You will findrestaurants in all categories of affluence thatcater to the Chinese trade, from Dynasty inAddison among the fanciest to tiny placeslike Lee’s Catfish in Richardson. Most ofthem these days are in the northern suburbs-Chinese immigrants in the Eighties typically have plenty of money and congregatein the high-tech engineering neighborhoods.

2. If there are two menus, make sure youget the one with Chinese characters on it (no,of course you can’t read them-most disheswill probably be translated, but at least youknow you aren’t being treated like a chowmein rube). One person must order foreverybody at the table-Chinese dinners areserved family style, often with a lazy susanin the middle of a big table, and to say “he’llhave shrimp” or “I’ll have chicken” shows instantly you are not in the know. Besides, when one person does the ordering, he or she can try for the aesthetic balance among the meal’s dishes that is known as “wo.” On the surface, this is as elementary as making sure the dishes have a pleasing variety of ingredients (different kinds of meat and vegetables), a balance of flavors (some dishes hot and spicy, some blander, some a bit sweet, although most Chinese don’t like sweetness in meat dishes as much as they think Americans do, so be careful), a harmony of colors and textures (you don’t want all the dishes to come plastered with a brownish sauce). When you’ve mastered all that, you can get really religious and attempt to master the different Taoist spiritual categories into which all foods fit-at that point, you’re on your own.

3. Never order an egg roll or a pu-pu platter except for a snack or take-out-these arethe Chinese equivalents of hot dogs, and youwould never begin an elegant meal with a hotdog, would you? Dumplings are fashionablethese days, but if you want to be really cool,you will forego these as appetizers, too. Stickto things like chicken salad with sesame-oildressing or the Chinese variety of smokedfish. Soup is fine, of course. The Chinesekeep a cup of soup filled from a centraltureen and drink it throughout a meal (theysave tea for the end, generally-the perpetually refilled teapot at Chinese restaurants isan Americanization).

4. When in Peking… Notice what kindsof delicacies fill the menu when you havelocated the right sort of place. Maybe at firstyou won’t be able to manage the sea slugs orchicken’s feet or pork liver. You can still bevery Chinese if you order a whole fish,preferably steamed. A side dish of Chinesecabbage or Chinese broccoli would alsoshow that you know what you are doing andcause little discomfort if you’re squeamish.

5. You must, of course, manage chopstickswith a dexterity that would do credit to DougHenning or a cardsharp. A small bowl of riceshould be held in the other hand as a kind ofplatform for the food-it conveniently catches the drippings of the sauce and gains awonderful flavor. It is not absolutely politeto serve yourself from the common disheswith your own chopsticks, but at the end ofa meal, when the pickings are there for thebold, it shows a racy sort of elan to do so. Ifyou pick up a fork, you have blown it-youmay as well go ahead and order one fromcolumn A and two from column B.