I had an excellent lunch last weekend at the cafeteria at United Noodle. For $6.95 you get to sample 2-3 dishes, but I guess because I asked a lot of questions the owner let me try several other dishes as well. I think this is the closest you can get to home-cooked authentic Chinese food in the Twin Cities without getting invited to someone's house. The woman who owns United Noodle explained to me that the dishes do not have names they are just what she makes in her home. The food cannot be tied to any one region but is a smattering of dishes from all over China.
The best dish I had was scrambled eggs that were cooked with scallions and crab juice. I do not know how to expalin it any better than crab juice, but she explained that when they have crab on the menu they take the juices from the crab and mix it with eggs. The dish was very rich and silky -- it reminded me a little of the egg custard with seafood at Midori's Floating World Cafe. I also really enjoyed a sticky rice which was cooked with bits of pork, dried shrimp, and some vegetables. It was similar to the sticky rice in a banana leaf that I have had at Mandarin Kitchen for dim sum. We also ate pork stir fried with pickled Chinese vegetables which was a really nice combo. The stir fried Chinese long beans were a little less interesting, but were also good. The only dish I found a little disppointing were the crabs with ginger and scallion. The crabs were very small and I found it very difficult to extract the meat.
The tradition of going shopping and having lunch at the department store goes back a long time. I have vivid memories as a kid of going with my mom to a department store and stopping for lunch and having a turkey club sandwich. Think of this as the 21st century version -- you go shop for your Asian groceries at United Noodle and then when you are done shopping you stop for lunch you get to eat eggs with crab juice and scallions or pork with pickled vegetables. If that is not progress, I don't know what is!