Hakkasan, San Francisco
Welcome to Foodnut.com’s Beginners Introduction to an Authentic Chinese dinner. This article follows our Beginner Introduction to Chinese dim sum. In this guide you will find a comprehensive introduction to Chinese Food that will help guide you in your new exploration into Chinese food. Authentic Chinese food is foreign to many people, so we thought it would be useful to write up a short tutorial on what to expect, and what to order.
We would like to help people expand beyond the usual potstickers, broccoli beef, sweet-and-sour pork, General Tso’s chicken, etc. No sharks fin dishes here. Many Chinese restaurants can be a loud and intimidating place with lots of different foods, faces, and languages being spoken. We are seeking to bridge the gap and get more folks into world of Chinese dining. No more looking around at other tables and pointing their dishes.
Be sure to read Best Chinese Restaurant, San Francisco
Here are some of Foodnut’s Favorite Chinese restaurants around the world – Koi Palace, Daly City, California – Sea Harbour, Richmond, BC Canada – Lung King Heen, Hong Kong, China – Lei Garden, Beijing, China – Hakkasan, London, UK.
Good places to begin your San Francisco Bay Area Chinese food experience include:
Look for a popular Chinese restaurant in your area, preferably one that is extremely busy, which will increase the likelihood that the food is of high quality. For the most part, a Chinese restaurant with good dim sum, probably also serves up a solid dinner. Some restaurants take reservations by phone, so be sure to call ahead to prevent waiting. Restaurants advertising dim sum at all hours should probably be avoided. Also avoid Chinese restaurants during the Chinese new year season, typically in early February.
Chinese immigrants, many from the Canton region brought Cantonese Chinese food to the US in the early 1900s. We concentrate on the well known Chinese Cantonese style of cuisine. This style of cooking emphasizes super fresh, seasonal ingredients were the flavors of the food are not masked by heavy spices or sauces. Other forms of Chinese food include Shanghai, Sichuan, Hunan, and Beijing.
When you’re first seated at a dim sum restaurant, you’ll be first asked what type of tea you would like. A safe bet is to ask for the classic Oolong black tea. If the waiter has limited English capability, say “Oolong Tea please”. Ask for a fork and water if you need one.
Chinese etiquette dictates that the person pouring tea should pour some for everyone else before serving themselves. When receiving some tea, you should make a knocking action on the table next to the tea cup as a way of saying thanks.
When you need to you refill, you can ask for more tea by simply flipping up the top of the teapot and waiting for the servers to notch it.
Unlike a dim sum lunch meal where carts and food may circulate throughout the restaurant, Chinese Restaurants have menus for ordering at dinnertime. We will focus on a fairly representative meal that we feel mainstream American eaters would enjoy. Seafood is typically marked as Market Price, so be sure to ask for the price per pound before you order. Do not be alarmed if the server tells you that you will not like the dish.
Chinese restaurants in the US do not serve cat, dog, or many other items that scare folks away. Only outside the US can you find exotic dishes like starfish, scorpion, and donkey penis. The names of each food item may be slightly different than our guide. Please do not hesitate printing this article out or opening this page up on your iPhone or smart phone and showing our pictures.
A sampler dish of BBQ and Cold items is a good place to start. Restaurants will vary their selection but most have Crispy skin Roast Pork, BBQ Pork, Beef Shank cold cuts and Jelly Fish.
Soup is a very important part of Cantonese Chinese dinner. Some folks often spend hours cooking soup every night at home. Soup of the Day is typically available in changes daily. Winter melon soup might be on the menu during one season, Lotus root soup another. Soups are pretty mild and should be ordered to garner the full experience. You can ask for lay tong and the waiter should know what you want to order.
Roast Squab is a classic Cantonese dish. Juicy and tender on the inside, crispy on the outside, when cooked correctly. Boney but worth the effort. Dip into the accompanying seasoning salt or squeeze the lemon for maximum effect.
Steamed Chicken is a simple dish that usually comes with a nice ginger, scallion dipping sauce. Order a half or whole chicken depending on the number of guests.
Roasted Duck is typically juicy and full of tender meat. The skin can harbor a lot of fat though.
This dish is more of they banquet dish then an everyday item. Roast Duck Skin with buns – Not a lot of meat to this preparation, mainly crispy skin and fat along with chives, plum sauce, and perhaps sugar.
Fresh seafood is a mainstay in Chinese restaurants. The Chinese are obsessed with super fresh, seasonal ingredients. Finer restaurants proudly display their vast collection of seafood tanks prominently. The fish and shellfish in the tanks can be ordered with various cooking styles including steamed with garlic, steamed with black bean sauce, deep-fried salt-and-pepper style, etc. Make sure you understand the price per pound before you order.
Steamed Dungeness Crab in garlic sauce – Very messy but an extremely well cooked version of crab.
Steamed Fresh Fish – Fresh live catfish from the seafood tanks. Freshly steamed and cooked perfectly. Lots of bones though. Ask for a live fish of appropriate size and price.
Sauteed Scallops and Prawns with straw mushrooms and snow peas is a nice hybrid dish.
Rice is the starch staple for many Chinese dinners. You can choose to liven it up by ordering a more hearty fried rice dish.
Fried Rice with dried scallops and egg whites is a common dish. The more modern Fried Rice Fujian Style is a lot meatier version.
Beef with Asparagus is a nice mixture of meat and a seasonal vegetable. You can also order it with the old standby, broccoli.
Peking style Pork Ribs is a variation on sweet-and-sour pork. A little more authentic, but no Bell peppers or pineapple.
Vegetable options vary depending on the location in season. Common vegetable options include green beans, eggplant, Chinese broccoli, pea shoots, bok choy, and a choy.
Steamed Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan) is a simple and healthy dish full of blanched Chinese vegetables. This dish can also be prepared stir fried with garlic. These are often served with oyster sauce, which vegetarians may want to omit.
Braised Chinese Eggplant in a Clay pot is often cooked with preserved vegetables and shredded meat. A great dish. Vegetarians should ask that they omit any meat.
Prime Mushroom Stew in a Clay pot with soft tofu has several kinds of mushrooms and lots of snap peas. This is an example of a typical tofu dish that you should order based on the type of ingredients you like.
Dessert is not a strong part of Chinese dinner. Most restaurants will have a very small dessert menu. Many authentic Chinese restaurants automatically serve a complimentary dessert soup that changes daily, to such inclined diners. You may have to ask for this free item.
As an example, Silver House in San Mateo served up a dessert soup of taro and sago. Other typical dessert soups include red bean, mung bean, or coconut sago.
Some Chinese restaurants will have a small subset of their lunch dim sum items available for dessert. Here are a couple of our favorites.
Deep-fried sesame balls are crispy deep fried dough balls filled with a sweet black sesame paste. The filling can be an acquired taste.
Mango pudding is a more mainstream dessert with pudding, chunks of real mango, and a topping of sweet condensed milk.
The following items should be on your order list. Chinese Greens without oyster sauce, tofu Clay pot, stir fried eggplant, bean curd, fried Rice with egg, and a vegetable soup.
Pretty standard billing here. At the end of the meal, the waiter will add up the total and present you with a final bill. Ask for to go boxes if necessary. Service that many American Chinese restaurants is fair to poor, so tipping may be less than you are used to.
We hope you found this introduction to Chinese dinner helpful. Our goal is to get more folks expand their palettes and to try this tasty cuisine. Please leave comments and suggestions to help us improve this article. Thank you to Elvis and Kubette for their help on this article.