May 13, 2011

Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude: Authentic vs. Inauthentic Menus

Cuidado! Fridays Are Now Under Construction:
For the next month of Fridays, I am departing from the Pink Floyd theme - it's a test (of sorts). I do not necessarily want to be a food blogger, but I do LOVE to talk about food prep, cooking food, eating food and just plain FOOD. So! I am going to use the next month of Fridays to test this out by talking about cooking, sharing some recipes, maybe even talking about how Manoj and I have had to compromise in this all important area of Food.  No joke, it has been one of the most difficult aspects of our marriage. Oh, and I dedicated Fridays to the topic so that folks who are not interested in food can just scoot right past these posts.

Updated!  The name of the restaurant is Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica, MA

My two favorite Chinese meals are distinctly memorable to me. The first happened in 1993, in Karachi, Pakistan of all places. It was a very fancy Chinese restaurant and the meal was to DIE FOR. I was stunned by the meal, in particular, because it was nothing like Chinese I had ever had in all of my 22 years.

Of course it wasn't! After all, it was Chinese food made for Pakistani folks. It was rich, creamy, spicy and exploding in flavor.  More importantly, it was my first realization that Chinese folks adapted their food according to the tastes of the people among whom they were living.

My Second Memorable Chinese Meal was in Boston in 2007. Manoj and I were staying with our Indian friends, Ajay and Shravanthi, who simply RAVED about this place. We walked into the restaurant and immediately, I suspected we were in for a treat. I was the only White Person and Manoj, Ajay and Shravanthi were the only Indians. And the rest of the patrons were Chinese, sitting around huge, circular tables piled with food.  Seriously - it was CHINESE PEOPLE EATING CHINESE FOOD.

Who knew?

It was amazing to me to have THIS kind of Chinese food. Super spicy, non-fried, non-crispy, and most decidedly, NOT SWEET. It was savory and sour. Not too heavy.

 And no,  I was not hungry two hours later.

Okay...okay... this is not some boring recount of two amazing Chinese meals I had, but rather it is the start to an important lesson I learned about a month ago.  After the experiences in Boston, instead of thinking "Whoa.  How can I get this sort of meal in Kansas City?", I just assumed that we were too Backwater Hillbilly Redneck for Authentic Chinese even though I live in freaking OLATHE which is some sort of a Mecca for Chinese folks in Kansas City.

Oh sure, I had heard awhile back that Bo Lings, a popular restaurant here in Kansas City, has Authentic Chinese Menus, but I have never been a big fan of their food.  It was not helped by the fact that last year, we approached them with one of our business ideas and they literally STOLE THE IDEA, even to the extent of copying word for stinking WORD from our website.  So, a menu from Bo Steal-ings is not going to hold much water with me.  Grudges?  I got 'em.

Anyway!!   A month ago, I learned that yes, you can actually ask for Authentic Chinese menus at restaurants around here and it has rocked our world.  So far, we have tried Lucky Fortune in Overland Park/Leawood (95th and Nall) and Szechuan Dynasty here in Olathe at 119th and Strangline (next to Oklahoma Joe's).  We do love Lucky Fortune, but they are a hike, so we will stick mostly with Szechuan Dynasty.

With both restaurants, I had to push back a little when I asked for the Authentic Menus  - they both were hesitant to hand them over and I do not blame them.  They perhaps assumed I wanted what is considered "Chinese" here in America - sugary and deep-fried stuff.  Now that the gal at the Szechuan Dynasty knows us, she is very friendly and laughs when I pick up our order.  Last time, she excitedly said to me "I wish more Americans would try the real Chinese."

However, I am not here to recommend specific restaurants in a specific city  because this can probably be done anywhere in the United States.

So, am I crazy?  Did you know that you can walk into Chinese restaurants and ask for a different menu than what is normally served?  Have you done this before?  Is it only Chinese restaurants that have this thing going on?

Now, if only Indian restaurants would get on board with this concept.

Let's start a movement, folks.


luckyfatima said...

I love this post. I am not a stickler for "authentic" but I am a huge food snob and very much a stickler for high quality and well-prepared. I feel American-Chinese has a bad rep as sweet, corn starch laden glop. Well, sometimes that's what it is. But a good resto with all of the classic Chinese-Americana wins my heart. Beef and broccoli, orange beef, General Tso's, Mushu wraps, crab rangoons, those are the dishes of my childhood. Of course, I love a great traditional dim sum place, love Cantonese BBQ duck, squid, abalone, crab and rice steamed inside of a lotus leaf, tofu stir fried with pickled Chinese vegetables, and on and on! I love "real" Chinese food, too.

I used to really dislike desi Chinese food until I did a series of cooking classes on it in Dubai and learned some great recipes-everything is Singapore this and Manchurian that! I love Manchurian Balls, Cauliflower Manchurian, and stuff like that. A real eye opener for me because the desi Chinese I had eaten in restos there was pretty awful---lot's of ketchup in everything was what had defined desi Chinese for me before that.

So much good stuff to eat out there, all with such interesting history of cultural intersection and amalgamation.

Looking forward to next week's intestinal post!

Moderndayhermit said...

I've been eagerly awaiting you to blog about food!

I found out from folks I worked with a while ago that the Chinese places have the 'real' menu. What a happy surprise. My friend /co-worker Ning has taken us to a Shanghainese place and it's just wonderful.

Some co-workers of ours are Indian and once told her, "If you want great Chinese food, go to India!" a memorable moment for sure, lol.

Christine said...

Well, now I'm dying to know which restaurant in Boston that was.

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

I used the term "Boston" broadly. It is Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica (Link:

Melanie said...

I am so blown away by this, I can honestly say I never knew you could ask for a different menu! So what do you order when you are ordering the real deal?

Christine said...

Ah, that was after my time in the area. I used to live right by Chinatown in Boston, though. And I used to live with Chinese med students, who would take me to restaurants and just put food in front of me. Fond memories.

Vikram Christopher said...

There are a few more authentic chinese restaurants if you want to try out here in Overland Park, Olathe & Lenexa. Try this one at 87th & Farley (next to the library) called ABC cafe and Jen Jen at 91st & Metcalf (opposite Whole Foods). There is one caleld Lucky Wok at 87th & Lackman. You gotta ask for the other menu here. Hope you like trying out these places.

maya said...

I heard on the radio--Pollan, maybe?-- that if the menu is not in English, you should just ask for the most expensive item on the menu and you'll be in for a treat.

Plum wine never appears on East Asian restaurant menus, but you can get it. Ask; receive :).

Cara said...

I had no idea!

stephanie said...

No. Freaking. Way! I had no idea... I must try this (although I'm not sure whether the traditional menu has many vegetarian items on it?).

I've only had decent (as in not greasy, not feeling ill or thirsty or hungry an hour later) Chinese food in one restaurant around here, but I think it is the real deal because of the number of Chinese diners that are always there.

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

I have ordered a variety of beef dishes with much success. Am now in HEAVEN over cumin beef at Szecuan Dynasty. Manoj has had great luck with Gong Bao chicken.

Thanks for the recommendations!

That is hilarious, yet probably good advice!

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...


The places we've eaten at had good vegetarian options - it will just depend on the restaurant. Yeah, I know what you mean about seeing Locals eating in an ethnic restaurant. It's always a good sign. :-)

Noelle said...

The title of this blog made me overlook it at first. Did I enjoy the words put together? Yeah. Did I think it probably referenced some sort of intestinal upset? Yes. Considering I am the go-to poo-poo story lady (I may TM that), subjecting myself unsolicited to another seemed like something I could skip. However, after reading your more recent post that referenced this one, I am so glad I did! I never thought about asking for an authentic menu. Never knew it existed. I'm going to try this more often :-). As a side note on wishing Indian restaurants had the same option, a friend of mine from Maharashtra always rolls his eyes when they ask him how spicy he wants it. He just tells them, "Make it like at home, brother." Not a bad approach!

Goofy Girl said...

I'm reading a book now called "Asian Dining Rules" that explains WHY the restaurants have two menus (and yes, most of them do - surprise!). Basically, most westerners do not want or expect traditional Chinese food (present company excepted, I'm sure).

I've personally never been brave enough to ask for the 'other' menu. Also, keep in mind that the Chinese menu might be in (who woulda thunk it) CHINESE! So you might have to ask some questions to get something that sounds good to you.

Happy eating! (LOVE the food Friday idea, Kelli!)