Tag: Chinese

Notable Nosh: Palais Imperial Style Kung Pao Chicken

PI StyleKung Pao

This dish appears on the menu of Ottawa’s Palais Imperial as ‘Imperial Style Chicken (spicy)’. However the Chinese character entry (reproduced in the inset in the above picture) reads Gōngbǎo jīdīng, and translates, in its most common spelling form as Kung Pao Chicken (Cubes).

For ages, I have rather thought of starting an ongoing blog feature here called ‘The Kung Pao Chronicles’ as I find this a very interesting dish indeed. I still may get around to doing that someday (maybe), but, for now, I am going to continue trying this widely variable dish wherever, and whenever I get the chance and I may, occasionally, share the experience here.

My interest lies mostly in the fact that I have come to regard ‘Kung Pao dishes’ as being a good way to assess a Chinese restaurant. This is because you typically find it reproduced it three ways:

  • Chinese style;
  • Westernized Chinese style; and,
  • Straying so far from the basic theme as to be neither of the first two.

I am not going to go on at great length about the characteristics of these, except to say that the latter case will generally consist of some chicken with peanuts, or cashews, in some sort of hot sauce. This is true of all three cases, of course, but the basic Chinese tradition has certain other essential features as well. In today’s case, Palais Imperial follows the essential idea pretty well…

The one thing that is to be noted is that there is a lot of ‘bulk’ here in the form of vegetables, and indeed, this could really be called ‘Kung Pao Veggies with a Bit of Chicken Added’. Most recipes will often only include some green onion along with the chicken and peanuts, but here, the Palais Imperial includes red and green bell pepper, water chestnuts, celery, carrot, bamboo shoot, baby corn, and mushrooms. To be fair, of course, a restaurant has to be cost conscious, and a certain amount of filler is to be expected. Here though, it really was quite a lot at the expense of the chicken quantity.

The chicken in this dish was actually cut more in slices (piàn), rather than dice, or cubes (ding), but this is hardly fatal to a ‘proper’ Kung Pao dish, and I note that Palais Imperial used the darker thigh meat, which is more in keeping with Chinese tradition, as opposed to the white breast meat more commonly used in westernized versions.

The ‘heat’ for this version comes from the addition of Thai style dried red chili and this restaurant has given the dish the one of the signature ‘Kung Pao’ flavor elements, which is a ‘scorched’ chili flavor obtained by frying the chilies in the cooking oil until they darken before adding the other ingredients. This allows the unique flavor, and the heat, to permeate the finished product.

Beyond the chili heat, a Kung Pao dish is also slightly sweet and sour. In westernized versions, both elements tend to get exaggerated, of ten to the point that the sauce is pretty much the same sort of ‘sweet and sour sauce’ typical in these restaurants. The Chinese version is much more understated but, funnily enough, this place has actually gone to the other extreme. There is a tiny bit of sweetness, but very little ‘tang’. All in all, though, the dish I was given was delicious, with just the right amount of heat for me. They seem to cleave pretty close to the traditional Chinese original, with the deviations being no more than their proprietary, individual touches…

 

Notable Nosh: General Tso’s Chicken Palais Imperial Style

imperial general tso 1

It is still only about a year and a half since I tasted a dish of General Tso’s Chicken for the very first time. Since then, I still only managed to sample just a couple of other versions, but my plan is to try a good range of them, from as far afield as I can, in hopes of getting a handle on this highly variable menu item. The one pictured above was served to me at the Palais Imperial Restaurant in Ottawa a little before this past Christmas. The last version I had before it, a Japanese Restaurant General Tso’s Chicken, was pretty awful, but this current one was pretty decent…

The chicken (probably thigh meat) was very juicy, in large chunks, and was deep fried in a light batter coating. The sauce was very thick and, while sweet, was not overly slow. It was, I would say, ‘Oyster Sauce sweet’, rather than , say, Hoisin Sauce. It had a tang to it, probably rice vinegar, and there were a fair number of scorched red chillies throughout. These chillies (Thai, or African Birdseye) were indeed hot when bitten in to, but they only lent the sauce a sort of background heat, somewhere about the level as if a splash of Tabasco had been added.

The only criticism I had was that the dish had just a bit of a burnt taste and there were black flecks on the chicken. This was not, I am fairly sure, from scorching the chillies, nor intended, rather I think that the oil being used had not recently been changed. Aside from that, which in no way ruined the dish, I thought this very well done. I think I shall use this as a basic model when I come to attempt this dish at home.

Dim Sum: Ginger Beef Dumplings

PI Ginger Beef Dumpling

I had these particular dumplings at the Palais Imperial in Ottawa a while ago. They weren’t spectacular exactly, but they do get a mention for being a bit unexpected.

The full name from the Chinese characters on the menu (see the inset in the above picture), read Ginger Scallion Beef Dumplings, which amplifies the English name by also specifying the scallion that is included, not as part of the filling, but as a steaming ‘companion’ along with the thick shreds of ginger. What is a bit odd is that the final character in the name is (jiǎo) which typically refers to a dumpling with a flour wrapper. Here, a bean curd skin, also known as ‘tofu skin’ is used to enclose the filling. This product, which is purchased in dried sheets and then reconstituted, is often used to make steamed rolls in dim sum houses, but only occasionally to make dumplings in this shape.

Anyway, the filling here was decent if unremarkable (lightly seasoned and well textured), but the choice of wrapper really made for a different experience. Tofu skins, when steamed, don’t have the same al dente resistance as wheat doughs and it has almost a ‘papery’ mouthfeel when you first bit in to it. That may not sound especially appetizing, but, in fact, it is quite a nice texture and makes a pleasant change in a series of dumpling courses. I enjoyed these…

Yimin Dim Sum House

Yimin 1

Normally, when I do a restaurant review, I not only do it as a blog post for these pages, but I also as a post to the Zomato Restaurant Review website as well. In those cases, I generally take pictures of both the outside and the inside of the restaurant, and also do a detailed criticism of the ambience and service as well as the food. On this occasion, I hadn’t planned on reviewing Ottawa’s Yimin Dim Sum House, but had rather dropped in for a quick lunch after discovering that a place I had meant to dine was closed that day. I didn’t take the usual interior and exterior photographs (the picture above is ‘borrowed’ from the restaurant’s online menu page, but I did take pictures of the dishes I had and kept notes. I’ll do a proper review at some point on a future visit to Ottawa, but, for now, I’ll just share with you the meal I ended up having… Continue reading “Yimin Dim Sum House”

Yangtze – A second visit.

Yangtze 1

The Har Gow pictured above were served to me as part of a dim sum lunch at the Yangtze Dining Lounge in Ottawa’s Chinatown. I first visited this place almost 8 years ago and I later prepared a short review based on my notes. It was a very brief and rudimentary review, especially as I did not take any pictures.

My notes of that first visit recall, at best, a mediocre experience in that there were a couple of decent dim sum offerings, along with some not so good, and service that varied from server to server from moderately friendly to brusque and unwelcoming. On my recent second visit back in August of this year, I found that little had changed. The dim sum on offer was passable, but distinctly unimpressive, and the service, while generally friendly and efficient on the part of the ‘cart-ladies’ was sharp to the point of rudeness on the part of the hostess (as was the case 8 years ago, although I cannot say if it was the same person or not).

Anyway… the Har gow pretty much reflected the overall experience. I have had many worse, but here the wrapper had a bit of a doughy-raw taste and the shrimp inside had very little flavor at all. The only thing I like about these, really, was the size. I dislike overly large Har Gow as they are unwieldy to eat and often tear under their own weight, especially where you have to take more than one or two bites. These ones were just right for a single mouthful each. Continue reading “Yangtze – A second visit.”

Foodstuff: Ma-Po Tofu Sauce Mix

Ma-Po Tofu Sauce Mix 1

I picked this little item up on a whim while shopping for other stuff. I don’t use pre-packaged sauce mixes all that frequently, nor do I use tofu often, but I have been curious about the classic Sichuan dish,  Mapo Doufu (spelled ‘Mabo Tofu’ here), and I thought this might be an interesting way to experience it for the first time. The package states that you need to add nothing except ground meat and tofu, and so I used nothing else myself except for just a little scallion… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Ma-Po Tofu Sauce Mix”

Dim Sum: Steamed Squid 蒸魷魚

Yangtze Steamed Squid

Steamed squid is a regular offering in dim sum restaurants and is a dish I rarely pass up. Sometimes, you find squid steamed with a curry sauce but, in my experience, the curry sauce usually served is a bit insipid and I generally don’t care for it.

The offering you see pictured above is one I was recently served at the Yangtze Dining Lounge in Ottawa. Most of the dishes I had that day were not actually that great but this particular one was first class. Commonly, squid pieces are often dusted in a flour of some sort before steaming but these were steamed ‘clean’ and the effect was very well done.

The pieces of ‘tube’ were very plump and thick and I would have guessed that they came from a fairly large specimen but the tentacles that were also steamed alongside were obviously from very tiny squid. I am not sure if the body flesh came from a different animal than the tentacles, or whether the flesh ‘plumped’ up during the steaming process. In any event, the cooking was expertly executed and the result especially tender. As usual, ginger, and a little scallion were added, and both of these were added deftly so as to just give a hint of their presence in the background. I have had this dish many times, both at home and in restaurants, and this was one of the best.

Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing

Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing 1

I actually picked this product up on a whim while shopping for some other items at Kowloon Market, my favorite Asian grocery store in Ottawa. These vacuum-packed duck wings area product of China and intended to be used pretty much ‘as is’ rather than requiring any preparation. The picture on the front of the pack, which shows the plain wings sprinkled with a little green onion and sesame seeds, describes this as being a ‘serving suggestion’. Anyway, I was intrigued by this product, which appears to require no refrigeration, and I brought some home with me.

Anyway … when you open the main package, there are 5 of the individually vacuum-sealed wings inside. I am not sure how the wings are cooked (the package is silent on the issue), but I think they may be slow baked after being marinated. When you open one of the wings, the dominant aroma is of star anise, and I was expecting to not like the wings as I am not keen on the flavor. I tasted one, before reading the ingredients and I found, to my pleasant surprise, that the dominant taste seemed to be fennel. This proved to be correctly identified as the ingredient list reads (for flavorings):

Chili, soy, salt, sugar, aniseed, pepper, Sichuan pepper, fennel, liquorice, kaempferiae (Galanga), cinnamon, cardamom, clove, bay leaf, and ginger.

In truth, I think some of the additions may be… well, theoretical, as I couldn’t identify much beyond the fennel (which, luckily, I like a lot). The chili, which is listed first, and should thus be a major ingredient, is nowhere apparent, and the product is not remotely hot at all… Continue reading “Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing”

Foodstuff: Chuan Pi Broad Bean Sauce

Chuan Pi Broad Bean Sauce 1

I try many different Sichuan Broad Bean Pastes with Chili, which typically are identified, in genuinely Chinese products, by the characters 辣豆瓣酱 … this product, however, is somewhat different than those I usually counter. I don’t plan on buying it again, but I thought I would share my experience … Continue reading “Foodstuff: Chuan Pi Broad Bean Sauce”

Notable Nosh: Japanese General Tso’s Chicken

Japanese General Tso

General Tso’s Chicken (or some spelling variant thereof) has become so ubiquitous that most people who have dined in a Chinese restaurant have had it at one time or another. Surprisingly, though, even though the dish has been popular for a decade or so, it was only last year that I tried it for the first time. There are many different variations on the basic theme, of course, and one can almost so that no two representations are more than passingly similar. After my first try, I decided to order it in various locations and see if I could get a handle on the range of different preparations …

My first experience was in a fairly westernized Chinese restaurant in Vancouver. Just recently though, I was down in Ottawa and I came across an appetizer version in a Japanese restaurant. It was an ‘All-You-Can-Eat’ Sushi place and it had a small section of ‘Chinese Food’ listed on its extensive menu.

Anyway, the result you see here was … well, interesting. Even in my limited experience with this dish, I can pretty much guess that experienced aficionados would probably say that, whatever this dish is, it is NOT General Tso’s chicken. There are no vegetables in the mix (although, to be fair, this was meant as an appetizer so ‘filler’ was not needed), but the sauce that covered the chicken was completely off base. The chicken itself was actually pretty good… it was only dusted with flour rather than being battered (which is a plus to mind), and it was fried to the point of being nicely crispy on the outside. As for the sauce?

Well, as far as I have been able to tell, General Tso’s Chicken is supposed to have a bit of a fiery bite to it. It is not a ‘hot’ dish, as such, but it should have a little chili somewhere in the mix to give it a little spark. Here, though, the spicy heat quotient was zero (zip, zilch, nada, nyet, niente… etc.). The actual result was much more like the sort of sweet and sour sauce poured over chicken balls in the lower end ‘Chinese’ restaurants. It was, to my mind, quite a bit like ketchup diluted with a little vinegar, and with extra sugar added. Not horribly bad, at all… just not right. I rather think the good General might be rolling over in his grave at the thought of this production in his name…