I'm trying to figure out whether Chinese food in America has changed radically since I could count myself among the under 30 crowd, or if I'm just embelishing memories beyond their reality. Whatever is happening, I find today's Chinese food pretty disappointing across the board.
The best Chinese restaurant I've eaten in over the last two decades was a place called "Asia Garden," in El Paso. They "imported" their chefs/cooks from Hong Kong, with the agreement they work there for two years. GREAT food! For me, the acid test for any Chinese restaurant is whether they make good egg foo yung. Very few places do. Asia Garden's egg foo yung was to die for! Figuratively anyway. Big luscious rounds of egg and vegetables that were like clouds full of divine flavor. Just fantastic. And so was everything else. You could only order by menu number, because no one there spoke English. Your bill would be written in Chinese. An adventure for both the soul and the taste buds. And then they had a kitchen fire and never again opened their doors. <sigh>
Chinese food was exciting when I was a kid too. Not just the Chinese food I had along Grant Avenue, when I spent a couple of weeks each summer with grandparents in San Francisco. All Chinese restaurants had unique and delicious dishes. I have no idea what it's called, but one restaurant in San Diego (George Joe's) did a special order dish in which chicken skin was wrapped around shrimp, stewed to perfection and served in a sauce with lotus root, snow peas and ginger. Made your taste buds dance and clap their hands!
I don't remember brocolli in anything back then. Today everything has brocolli in it. There was a lot of lotus root back then. And celery, bell peppers, cucumbers (cooked!)(good!), and more bean sprouts than you see today. The sauces came in a variety of colors. Today everything seems to be pale tan. And sweet and sour sauce was! Dark, like soy sauce. No red food coloring! And pungent with vinegar. If you inhaled while putting it to your mouth, you risked choking from inhaling the vinegar vapors. Fantastic! The only way I can get that today is to make it myself.
So I'm asking you... Is it me, or has Chinese food really changed as much as I think? And where do you stand? Is it an improvement, or does anyone else miss "the good old days?"