Information on regional (and international) variations in Chinese food?
July 18, 2013 4:34 PM   Subscribe

Philadelphia Chinese restaurants have dishes that I haven't seen elsewhere: Tomato Yat, fried gizzards, etc. I'm wondering about other regional and international variations in Chinese food as it is served to locals (not Chinese immigrant populations). What are some well-known variations?

I'm particularly interested in American regional variations, and would enjoy blogs, articles, or books on the subject. I also welcome MeFite's own personal observations, of course.
posted by Deathalicious to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I can recommend The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, which is about American Chinese food. It has some interesting things about how different dishes came to be and the variation of these different dishes.
posted by brainmouse at 4:40 PM on July 18, 2013

When I lived in Montreal, all the cheepy Westernized Chinese places served "beef balls", which none of my Canadian friends thought was weird at all. In contrast, my NE US favorite of crab rangoons was no where to be found. There's also this AskMe question on the opposite question as to why Chinese takeout places are so similar.
posted by fermezporte at 4:41 PM on July 18, 2013

Best answer: Missouri cashew chicken
posted by neroli at 4:58 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In New Orleans, yaka mein has morphed away from its Chinese roots.
posted by neroli at 5:04 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

From growing up in DC:

A preponderance of peking duck restaurants, usually with elaborate signs of golden ducks. Well-loved by some presidents.

Chicken with cashews which seems rarer in Philadelphia? But maybe that's just this neck of the suburban woods.

Crispy-fried beef, which is sweet and spicy and not at all like Han Dynasty's mouth-tingling beast
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:09 PM on July 18, 2013

Best answer: Rhode Island's chow mein sandwich.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 5:20 PM on July 18, 2013

Also, almond chicken that's breaded/fried chicken covered with a brown gravy is something that seems common in some areas and impossible to find in others (if anyone could point me toward some in PDX, I'd be eternally grateful).
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 5:23 PM on July 18, 2013

Best answer: Lucky Peach issue 5 may be of interest to you.

While this doesn't exactly answer your question, David R. Chan is a third generation Chinese-American who has eaten at 6000 Chinese restaurants in America. But while he seeks authenticity, he's also eaten quite a few (US) regional specialties that are mentioned in this article.
posted by peripathetic at 5:50 PM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Also, Indian Chinese cuisine is a thing!
posted by peripathetic at 5:51 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had dishes with scrambled eggs (NOT egg fu young) in England.
posted by brujita at 6:28 PM on July 18, 2013

Best answer: In New England, "duck sauce" is a tasty thin fruit sauce mixed up in-house, not the bright orange goopy corn syrup in packets elsewhere in the US.

This isn't a local dish per se but in New England the doughy, pan-fried pork dumplings are "Peking ravioli".
posted by threeants at 6:31 PM on July 18, 2013

Best answer: I've never had Calgary-style ginger beef, but it's supposed to be a regional specialty.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:58 PM on July 18, 2013

Minnesota's cream cheese puffs. Essentially, wontons triangle-wrapped around a ball of cream cheese and fried.
posted by whatzit at 12:31 AM on July 19, 2013

I like Chinese Indian food in Homebush Sydney Australia. It's sold in Indian resturants, but has a Chinese style to it -

Funny thing with this question, I've had Chinese food in the US once, from Lucky's in Cedar Park Philadelphia. All the vegan punks who visit Phili rave about it. Cheap and Nasty.
posted by Burgatron at 3:33 AM on July 19, 2013

Cold sesame noodles (composed of noodles, a huge semisolid blob of sesame sauce, and some shredded carrot and/or cucumber), appears to be pretty specific to Connecticut or maybe New England. Such a dish was totally unknown in all the places I went to in the Midwest, and the one time I ordered it in New York, it was noodles with sesame oil and fried chicken. I've never not seen it in CT Chinese food restaurants.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:09 AM on July 19, 2013

Cold sesame noodles, what a great example! I've got the impression they are really a New York City area thing (so, your Connecticut example matches). They are rarely/never on the menu in Boston.
posted by whatzit at 5:28 AM on July 19, 2013

Hm, I got so wrapped up in the thought of cold sesame noodles I didn't notice that you mentioned NYC as well. My (multiple) experiences in NYC were more as you described the Connecticut style (carrot cucumber and sesame sauce) and never with oil and fried chicken. Sub-regional variety of regional dish??
posted by whatzit at 5:30 AM on July 19, 2013

I've only seen Soup Dumplings in San Francisco and New York, but they are a THING!

Also my favorite Chinese place in the Atlanta area makes a tofu dumpling in a chicken sauce that is really yummy and I promise you, I've never seen it anywhere else. It's called Pocket Tofu, and it's formed into a dome the size of a mashed potato scoop you'd get in grade school. You get about 7 of them in an order and kids love them! They are light and fluffy like a southern chicken dumpling.

Also as an aside, in most Atlanta Chinese places, Pork Fried rice has pieces of pork in it, you know, regular gray pork. But in one place by our house, they make proper Barbeque Pork Fried rice and it's my crack. I love it so.

We have a pretty large Chinese immigrant population, so we're lucky in that if you ask politely, your server will describe and bring you stuff from the untranslated part of the menu. So while all the other people are eating fried, breaded chicken in sweet gloop sauce, I get to have "spicy, crispy chicken."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:20 AM on July 19, 2013

Oh, sorry whatzit, NYS not NYC; I was upstate when I got the ones with the chicken. But now I know what I'm eating the next time I go to the city!
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:21 AM on July 19, 2013

Soup dumplings are authentic, original Chinese food, and not specific to the US. Shanghai is most famous for them. (Also, xiaolongbao "little basket buns" are slightly different from xiaolong tangbao "little basket soup buns" or from regular tangbao "soup dumplings").
posted by jiawen at 10:06 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The thing that's called "General Tso's Chicken" in the rest of America is called "General Gao's Chicken" in Boston.

You see a lot more Sichuan and other Western Chinese food in the DC suburbs than elsewhere -- cumin lamb, tea-smoked duck, lots of stuff with ma la flavoring.
posted by ostro at 10:27 AM on July 19, 2013

Best answer: Nthing the recommendation for Fortune Cookie Chronicles! I found it informative and enjoyable, and while it's ostensibly about the author's quest to learn the origins of General Tso's/Cho's/Gao's Chicken, it covers a lot of different topics under the umbrella of Chinese food in America.

San Francisco is supposedly the birthplace of American Chinese, in particular the stuff-covered-with-brown sauce subgenre. Just the other night (over Chinese!) I was lamenting how hard it is to find my favorite Chinese dish from childhood, Moo Goo Gai Pan, here on the west coast, at least in the SF Bay Area. There are certainly very similar dishes, but they're not called Moo Goo Gai Pan, they don't have those adorable baby corncobs, and they're covered in a brown sauce rather than a clear one. It's very difficult to find non-brown-sauced Chinese food at all here except in high-end and/or authentic restaurants.

The main exception: Walnut Prawns, a dish with fried prawns and walnut covered in a creamy and very sweet sauce. It's on most Chinese menus here--and I'd never seen or heard of it until I moved here.

Where I grew up in the Southeast, all the Chinese restaurants were (at least nominally) Hunan. Out here on the West Coast they're mostly Szechuan, and the Hunan places are rare enough to be notable.

Oh, and Chop Suey was invented in San Francisco and I've never seen it anywhere else I've lived in the U.S., though I don't know if that counts since I think at this point no one actually considers it real Chinese food.

The cream cheese-filled wontons whatzit mentions are also to be found in Utah, and they are delicious.
posted by rhiannonstone at 3:30 PM on July 19, 2013

Best answer: I recently wrote an article on regional Chinese American dishes, which in turn refers to the Smithsonian project on this very topic. It discusses cashew chicken, almond chicken, and the chow mein sandwich among other items. This thread raises a couple of points which deserve further comment. There are a lot of unique Chinese dishes which you'll find only at one single Chinese restaurant. so unless you can find the dish at multiple restaurants in a geographic area it wouldn't qualify as a regional variation. Also, it's difficult to determine if you have a regional variation unless you have tried Chinese food throughout the US. Just because one particular region has the dish and another region doesn't, doesn't mean you can't find it elsewhere. For example cold sesame noodles are very common in many cities where there are concentrations of non-Cantonese Chinese people. Likewise, the Americanized dishes crab rangoon and cream cheese wonton are actually fairly common throughout most of the US. And geographic evolutions of standard dishes are more common than unique regional dishes. For example I believe Yaka Mein is probably a version of what has had several names in various parts of the US (e.g., Yat Gaw Mein, Yetcamein) that can vary between noodles in soup and noodles in stir fried form.
posted by chandavkl at 8:39 AM on July 22, 2013

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