Regional Chinese cooking in Greater Boston

Well, I just walked through the Food Court in Downtown Crossing, and I can verify that Yum Yum is still there, and they are making jianbing there (though the one I saw them finishing looked like it was going to get comically overstuffed with potatoes, some sort of meat, etc). Menu still looks interesting, so I’ll have to pay it a visit sooner or later.

In the meantime, I also finally made it to Hot Eastern, in Chinatown in that food court building. I was with a small crew, so I only ordered a handful of dishes, but what I had was promising. Their dan dan noodles (擔擔麵) offered nicely browned beef bits, and a gently spicy sauce with a hint of sesame paste (much less than Fuchsia does, and seeming more right in my book). I had a chef’s special app whose Chinese name I didn’t take down, but it consisted of thin slices of cucumber and fresh pork belly draped over a wooden dowel and suspended over a small bowl with Sichuanese chili oil. This was fantastic – chlii oil had lovely depth of flavor without overpowering, the cucumber and pork dipped in it made for a nice mix of cold and spicy, crispy and soft, a little sweet and a little fat. Just perfect. Their Sichuan dumplings (衝餃子) were not in the usual pool of chili sauce that I’m used to – that would be more like the dip for the cucumber and bacon thing. Instead they were swimming in a mix of vinegar and chili oil and broth which was interesting (though I liked it better by dipping the dumplings into the chili oil from the other starter).

We also had dry-wok beef (乾鍋肥牛), with a lovely mix of vegetable textures from lotus root and potatoes to wood ear and a sauce with a fine depth of flavor, whose chili heat caught up with you after a few bites. The northern style eggplant (北方茄子) was a nice contrast, in a velvety brown sauce, though we felt that a splash of the vinegar from the dumplings gave it the extra oomph that it needed.

In short, not necessarily the spiciest Sichuanese I’ve ever eaten (though their boiled beef 水煮牛肉 looked promisingly evil), but nice execution with real complexity of flavor. I’ll be back with reinforcements to try more stuff!

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So I have made it to a few other Hunanese restaurants in the greater Boston area. A friend had recommended Xiang Yu China Bistro http://www.xychinabistro.com/ which is in a space at the corner of St. Paul and Beacon, near the Holiday Inn/Coolidge Corner. This location has been challenging for anybody to make a go, as it’s just far enough away from a busy center that most people don’t think to stop by. I was impressed on a first trip. The menu isn’t pure Hunanese the way Sei Bar is; Shanghainese things like soup dumplings and sheng jian bao, Taiwanese dishes, and Sichuanese dishes fill out the menu. But the Sichuanese apps had real fire and an above average Sichuan peppercorn kick. The Hunan mains didn’t quite have the depth and complexity of flavor that Sei Bar reaches, but they’re quite good, and knife work is at a high level. I will definitely be back here (and the place could use your love, given where it is).

I have been several times for lunch at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen in Kendall Square, since I now work in the Kendall area. So far, I don’t know what to make of it. It’s nice that they de-mystify the menu, explaining flavors and having non-Chinese speaking staff, so that you can get flavor without having to sport a Changsha dialect accent. But I don’t get anything from any of the lunch specials beyond heat, with the hot iron plate chicken being a particular disappointment (the chicken was layered on top of the vegetables, so it didn’t get any caramelization from the hot plate and the whole thing tasted insipid). I will concede: lunch specials are rarely as good as the main courses, but the prices go up significantly for the mains, and I’ve been leery of going back at dinnertime. So it has been added to the list, but with reservations.

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Timely post. I work not too far from that area too (in Charlestown), and was looking for an interesting place for dinner for an after work event, and Sumiao came up as a possibility. Sounds like it may be a “keep looking”.

I also learned about this place that does Uyghur cuisine on Cambridge St, and was very curious about any experiences with them. I’m sure some may consider Uyghur cuisine not an official Chinese regional cuisine (especially natives of that area, given the political strife), but there is no doubt about Chinese cuisine’s influence on some of the dishes.

EDIT: Somehow left out the “please share any experience there with us” request, so there.

http://silkroaduyghurcuisinetogo.com/

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Rosulate and I have both made references to Silk Road earlier in the thread. They are very short references; rosulate described it as “controversial,” and my take is that they do some dishes in a very interesting fashion (their XinJiang “big plate” chicken has interesting flavor that you can pick out among the shards of chicken bones for instance, though Home Taste does a similar dish and I wonder if they do a better job with it). Other dishes that I had there with my wife were just flat-out bad. I don’t claim to have a deep understanding of the cooking of the region, but what we had did not leave us with a deep eagerness to go back. (I should add that both my wife and I lived for a year in China, and my wife went to XinJiang for a weeklong adventure, drinking yak tea and vodka in a yurt with an outhouse that emptied out onto a cliff, all by way of saying she has had good XinJiang food before, and didn’t count this in that category.)

I’d opt for Sumiao for dinner over Silk Road; you have a smaller chance of being disappointed, even if neither one is likely to blow you away. For that matter, MuLan in Kendall Square might be a better bet for solid Taiwanese with Sichuanese influences.

Oh, sorry, I missed that. That’s what happens when I’ve been spotty on this board for so long.

Appreciate the report back. I’m a long time fan of Mulan’s back from my days in working in Kendall Sq proper. Was really hoping to find something new and different. Oh well – back to the drawing board, or at least looking at non-Chinese options.

There’s also a dedicated Silk Road thread:

No worries. It wasn’t mentioned at great length, so it was easy to miss. And I’m not a fan of tearing down places, so I didn’t write at great length.

The thread that fooddabbler links to shows the issue of the unevenness of the place. I agree that the dry fried noodles were good. The pumpkin manto were interesting, but after two or three, the flavor wears out its welcome (so, OK if you have a large crew and everybody has one or two, not so great if it’s only one or two people). The big pan chicken, as I say, is OK if you’re into spice and don’t mind plucking out bone shards from your meal (some don’t mind, others do). Execution and service are sufficiently uneven that I can’t recommend the place unconditionally. You have to go in, knowing it might be a hit, or it might be a flame-out.

I am also realizing, as I look at the map, that there aren’t many places in the Charlestown and north area at all. I would have to imagine this is more about my ignorance than about there not being decent alternatives, but I wouldn’t know where to start, I fear.

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Sorry I keep adding additional messages, but additional thoughts keep coming into my head. Have you looked to the north, rather than the south? After FuLoon hit it big, Malden seems to have become a hot spot for authentic Chinese eats. Sichuan is king in Malden, unsurprisingly, but there are some at least interesting sounding places that have popped up.

One that I just found on a Google Maps search is Golden Garden http://maldengoldengarden.com/, the southernmost of the Chinese places and closest to Charlestown. Click through to the menu, and you see two or three things that bode potentially well for authenticity: (1) misspellings in the English translations in the menu (beakfast); (2) Chinese characters in the web site based take-out menu (I’m guessing the dishes with Chinese translations are likelier to be authentic than the ones that don’t have them); (3) six different kinds of Peking ravioli fillings. Might be worth an experiment and report! (And I wonder: is this place related to the place that closed in Belmont? Though I realize “Golden Garden” isn’t exactly an unusual name for a Chinese establishment.)

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I’ve been to Golden Garden a couple of times & it’s good. There’s reports here on the board somewhere.

Pretty sure it’s still owned by the same people who ran the Belmont place, they had both of them going for awhile.

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Same owners. I have been to the Golden Garden in Malden a couple of times. They murdered the Crispy Sweet & Sour Pork.

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Uyghur cuisine is not one of the main schools of Chinese cooking (Sichuan, Guangdong, etc), but I would say the food itself is extremely popular (and leaving politics far far away from this conversation) in China. Growing up in Northern China, street vendor slinging large fistful of barbeque lamb skewers over charcoal grill and sprinkling them with ground cumin and pepper was a common sight. The smell was so ingrained in my memory that just catching a whiff of it on the streets in Flushing made me feel like a child all over again. Big plate chicken was a later arrival but has been embraced by all the noodle restaurants (Xinjiang or not).

It’s disappointing to hear that Silk Road is not better; the menu certainly offers many dishes not seen elsewhere.

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Yes, Uyghur food does seem popular in China – judging from a visit to Beijing a couple of years ago. Here are two dishes from a popular restaurant there, Crescent Moon:

Skewered whole fish:

Meat pie:

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Silk Road has recently been added to the Caviar delivery service. Oddly, they offer for delivery things not on the restaurant menu, including whole lamb for $488.

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hey, let us know if it’s any good!

I was just going to ask you the same thing. For those with smaller appetites, there’s also a half-lamb on offer for $288.

Made hungry by this discussion, though, I did order – more modestly – from them through Caviar tonight. I’ve had all kinds of availability and delivery issues with them in the past, but Caviar is a generally reliable (although often expensive) service. The food hit all the right notes tonight. The big plate chicken was complex, with a lovely heady fragrance from Sichuan peppercorns and star anise. And, as good as the chicken in this dish was the generous quantity of soft, flavor infused potatoes. (The version of this dish we had from Home Taste two weeks ago was not nearly as good, on every count.) The lamb with scallions was tender, and very nicely “lamby”. And, our favorite, the dry noodles, was a knockout as always. Of course they’re always capable of turning out less lustrous food tomorrow, but today they sang.

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Unfortunately, what has been perpetrated on 糖醋裡脊 (the original Hunanese sweet and sour pork) in the United States is such a historical travesty that I pretty much never order that anywhere outside of Changsha. And even though Peking ravioli and Pu Pu Platter have Chinese characters on the menu, I wouldn’t order those either …

But 麻酱凉粉 Green Bean Noodle w. Sesame Sauce ? 酸菜白肉 Sour Cabbage with Steamed Bacon ? 麻辣腰花 Pork Kidney with Spicy Chili Sauce? Now you’re talking …

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To sunnyday: Hey, don’t take my word for it. Fooddabbler and I clearly had different experiences at the place, and I don’t exactly have any claim to identifying authenticity in Uyghur cookery. You might love it (but while there’s plenty of room to agree to disagree, that’s why my curated list is personally curated).

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Not to nitpick but I think sweet and sour pork dish is not Hunanese in origin (many regions claim to be the inventor but no definite answers from what I can tell), nor is it the same as “guo bao rou” listed in Dongbei restaurants like Golden Garden or Gochi. I have not tried the Gochi version but the Golden Garden one is not good. The best rendition in the US is probably in Flushing, where the Dongbei scene is vibrant and seriously delicious.

The Dongbei dish should have a faint vinegar fragrance but shouldn’t be prominently sour, nor should it be overly saucy. Ideally, the plate under the meat should be dry instead of full of sauce. The breading and vinegar used are also different.

There is also the Cantonese dish of Gu lu rou, typically made with rib meat and pineapple, which is the likely ancestor of sweet and sour pork seen in the US.

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What do you like at IQ Kitchen? The menu seems to encompass a lot more styles than just GuiZhou, so I’m curious what they do well. I’ll be at Newton North High School on Saturday, and looking to do a takeout lunch run.

the only time I went there I got the spicy beef soup with noodles. That was in 2017, though, and I believe that the ownership is totally different from when I went there so it might be totally different these days. (when I went the menu was fairly limited). If you try it let us know if it’s any good!

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold