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Hacking SF: How to Order Chinese Food

When you're sick of lemon chicken.

Are you tired of feeling like your foodie friend’s favorite Chinese spot is nothing more than a stark, fluorescent-lit space and menus lined with pictures advertising greasy dishes? You also saw that article about Yank Sing and are now convinced that “non-asian” button has been a factor in your Chinese-dining fails. With so much delicious Chinese food to be had in the Bay Area, how can you successfully conquer your next wok-fired meal? Here's how.

Do Research. Do you know what it takes to make a truly authentic bowl of Won Ton Noodle soup? Neither do we, but there are chinophiles abound on forums like Chowhound doing all the hard work for you and they’re willing to share their guidelines – and favorite spots to indulge - with you.

Look around. You’ve walked into a place and you are handed a menu. But before you bury your eyes in the possibilities, stop and survey the room around you. What have other diners ordered? Do you see any commonalities amongst the plates on the tables in the room? Think of it this way, you aren’t going to walk into the House of Prime Rib and order chicken, are you? (If your answer is yes, stop reading now.) Take a cue from the seasoned and choose what the restaurant does best, it’s always a good starting point.

Go outside of your comfort zone. That means no beef with broccoli or kung pao anything! Sure sometimes you can find an awesome sweet and sour pork but often enough the strong point rests on a dish you might be less familiar with. Save the cashew chicken for your next Panda Express run and take a walk on the wild side: hello X.O. sauce!

Stick with the basics. And no we’re not reneging what we just said about ordering orange-flavored beef. But, in a culture whose philosophy revolves around yin and yang, it’s not too far fetched to believe that those principles would translate to the table as well. Chinese meals revolve around balance and we’re talking texture, flavors and even the components of the dish. Did you order something fried, great now add something sautéed! Chicken in one dish, try pork with the next!

Sharing is caring. This is a cuisine that revolves around family-style dining –lazy susan, case in point. In a group, the idea is that there are several dishes ordered and shared. Not to worry though, if you’re eating solo you can skip the spread and get that all encompassing chicken with vegetables dish – or you can do what we do and order it all anyway, then pretend you plan to bring home the leftovers… if there are any.


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