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Explanation of Asian Restaurant Reviews

Asian Food Styles

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Note: See Rating & Cost Info. for more details about Asian restaurant rating criteria

Asian Restaurant Reviews on this web site include the following information:

Tea for Chinese restaurants is jasmine hot tea by default, since I find this to be the most commonly served and it is generally my preference. If another type of tea is served I will include this information in the review (I usually drink whatever "house" tea is available).

Other "default" teas are hot green tea for Japanese restaurants, iced "Thai tea" for Thai and Lao restaurants, and hot chai tea for Indian restaurants. Most of the time the tea listed is the one I drank or the one that I think would be most appropriate for the food served (jasmine is usually my favorite when the food is not extremely spicy).

For hot tea the following classifications apply:

  • Bags: Brewed with tea bags.
  • Brewed: Brewed in a large batch in the kitchen. "House" (free) tea is almost always made this way.
  • Loose Leaves: Served in a pot with loose leaves placed in the water (not from tea bags).
  • Herbal: Sometimes there is a fine line between loose leaf tea and herbal tea. I'm classifying herbal tea as lighter and usually better quality tea, many times brewed in a special glass pot.

MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) is noted only for Asian food, but it is in fact used in many different cuisines (including American). The reason I include this information for Asian food (except for Indian) is that I think it is generally expected that MSG will be used. This has changed to the point that there are probably more restaurants in the United States that do not use MSG than ones that do, but MSG is still widely used in Korean, Vietnamese, and other cuisines. A "No" label on this web site generally means that they do not add MSG to the food, but many owners say the ingredients they use might contain a small amount. If I get a telltale migrane headache from eating at a restaurant I will classify it as using MSG no matter what the owners tell me.

Asian Food Styles generally correspond to the country of origin of the food served. My definition of "Asian" food generally includes food styles that are classified as "Oriental," although I have included food from India because I have such a passion for it.

Chinese. The Insight Guides China book identifies four major Chinese cuisines as follows:

  • Cantonese: the food of Guangdong province and Hong Kong
  • Sichuan: the food from the central province of Sichuan (Szechuan) is popular throughout China
  • Huaiyang: the food of the eastern seaboard includes a variety of styles, the most well-known of which may be the cooking of Shanghai
  • Northern: Includes food from Shandong, Beijing, and other northern regions. Food within the city of Beijing, though, has traditionally been more varied because of the emperors bringing in the best chefs from other regions of China.

The web site of Chinatown Restaurant in Austin also has a good description of the regional Chinese food styles.

With Chinese restaurants being among the first to bring Asian food to the United States, this cuisine also became one of the most Americanized (as well as adapting to other countries such as the Indo Chinese cuisine in India that has become a food style in itself). On the west coast and in larger cities it is easier to find authentic Chinese food, although many times it is offered through a "Chinese menu" (written in Chinese), a "secret" menu (that they many times do not offer non-Chinese customers), or they simply take special requests. One of the purposes of this web site is to get past the "standard" menus that restaurants many times offer and to suggest ways of ordering authentic Chinese food. My main method of determing whether food is authentic is through experience, although I have a language barrier in ordering food as the Chinese do. I will say, though, that I regularly eat Chinese food several times a week, and authentic food whenever possible.

Indian. The main division of Indian food is between the northern and southern part of the country, but in the United States the great majority of Indian restaurants serve northern food. Southern Indian food is more spicy, and is generally my favorite. I generally avoid Indian buffets, and when I eat food from a buffet the restaurant usually gets a scrore several points lower than the ones where I can order from the menu (sometimes a buffet is your only choice). If an Indian restaurant is authentic, serves food from a specific region of Indian (either north or south), and has a large vegetarian menu with good food, this is usually one that I will really enjoy. If a restaurant has a Thali sampler plate this is usually what I will order.

Japanese. True Japanese food is much more than sushi, but there are a few restaurants with such good sushi that this is worth experiencing in itself. Normally at good Japanese restaurants I will order sushi for an appetizer and a cooked item for the main meal. I like Japanese restaurants in Seattle not only because they generally serve very good Japanese food, but also because salmon teriyaki is one of my favorite ways to enjoy this type of fish. Seattle has a number of "teriyaki" restaurants and these are good for fast food, but they generally do not have the type of Japanese food I find in the more expensive restaurants. The Southwest seems to be covered by teppan grill restaurants where the chef cooks the food on the grill in front of customers and performs a knife throwing show while cooking. Usually the food at these restaurants is good because they use good steak, but to me this is not real Japanese food.

Korean. For years my only experience with Korean food was in El Paso, I think because Korean restaurants tend to locate near military bases. The best Korean dishes are usually the barbecued meats (but this is the Asian definition of "barbecue"), and I have found the Korean meats many times to be better than similar marinated meats served in Mexican or other types of restaurants. I love good kimchee but I never really found it until I tried restaurants outside El Paso. The small side dishes served in Korean restaurants are usually excellent, and are many times the best part of the meal. The restaurants in El Paso gave me a good sampling of the type of side dishes served in Korean restaurants throughout the country. The restaurants in El Paso used to serve a very weak tea that I think was made from a grain called Korean iced tea, but I have rarely found it available recently (and I will order it whenever it is available).

Lao. Lao food is extremely spicy but very flavorful. Some soups are other dishes are less spicy. I usually order a bowl of "sticky rice" to help cool the mouth when eating spicy Lao food. Amarillo has very good and very authentic Lao food. Otherwise, I usually have to look for Lao dishes in Thai restaurants. Some Thai restaurants are owned by people from Laos, but they serve Thai food because this is more familiar to the American public. Many dishes are actually served in both Laos and Thailand, and there are slight differences in the way they are prepared between the two countries.

Malaysian. My first experience with Malaysian food was at Malay Satay Hut in Seattle, and since then I have found the food in other cities. Malay Satay Hut did ginger dishes better than most of the Seattle Thai restaurants, but I think this was because Malay Satay Hut was pretty authentic while some of the Thai restaurants were Americanized. From my experience Malaysian food has a lot of sweet dishes, such as ones made with mango, but they are balanced with other flavors. In Seattle the Malaysian food includes a lot of seafood dishes, but this is something less obvious in other parts of the U.S. that are not located close to the seacoast. Meat cooked on a skewer is popular in Malaysian food. Malaysian food runs in a range from very spicy to non-spicy, and I think either way the food is "authentic."

Thai. In a really good Thai restaurant I will like almost anything they serve, but for me to "like" it the food needs to be not overly sweet and Americanized. Actually I still like Thai food even when it is Americanized, but I do not give it as high a score if it does not taste authentic. To me the Noodle Boat in Seattle and Thai Palace in Oklahoma City are two of the best and most authentic Thai restaurants I have experienced (and I like everything served in both places). My favorite dishes are usually phad khing (ginger) and pad prik khing (red curry without coconut milk). The red curry (with coconut milk) is usually a pretty good test of the restaurant, along with the basil dishes. In really good restaurants it is also evident that the spiciness helps bring out the flavor of the food, rather than just being spicy for its own sake.

Vietnamese. Monsoon in Seattle serves dishes I have not seen anywhere else, but otherwise I look for standard dishes such as a vermicelli noodle bowl, pho, or canh chua (Vietnamese hot and sour soup). I like almost all Vietnamese food, but I do not give high scores to places where the food is not as flavorful as it could be. It seems that almost all Vietnamese restaurants use MSG, so flavor alone is not enough to impress me (they also need to give me something I can eat without getting a headache). I usually do not use banh mi sandwiches or pho as the basis of the restaurant's rating unless this is their specialty (I usually eat a noodle dish if they have it). Things such as a clay pot or "Vietnamese pancake" are special treats, and are usually served only in the better Vietnamese restaurants.

Asian (General). Restaurants serving food from several Asian countries are becoming very popular, but ultimately I have to decide on just one and place an order (unless I go to the restaurant multiple times). I try to order what I think is the restaurant's specialty, but in most cases I am probably not as impressed as if I go to a restaurant that serves that type of cuisine exclusively. Sometimes general Asian or "Asian fusion" restaurants impress me so much that the general rules about them not being as good do not apply (such as with Wild Ginger in Seattle).

Chinese New Year Celebrations
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