To search for the best Chinese restaurants, several basic tips apply. If you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can judge a Chinese restaurant through the window. When every dish looks the same colour, or is drowned in too much sauce that’s brown or congealed, try the next place down the block. Establishments that advertise as cooking in several regional schools, like “Cantonese-Sichuan-Hunan,” probably aren’t good at any. When in a French restaurant, you wouldn’t order Italian; when in a Shanghainese, try to stay away from the specialities of other regions listed in the menu out of obligation to general tastes.
Ordering rarely turns a mediocre restaurant into a great one, but can often make a very good one mediocre. Try to get someone to read Chinese listings, point at what Chinese customers have ordered, or, barring that, follow the advice of the waiter or choose from the listed chef’s specialities – unless you suspect them as merely being the most expensive. Don’t be afraid to ask which fish are freshest, which vegetables are in season. For large groups, have some cold dishes, one noodle or dumpling dish, one soup, and one whole fish, plus a variety of vegetables and stir-fried meats in varied sauces. Rice should be as minor a part of the meal as a dinner roll. Fried rice is rarely worth ordering, soy sauce rarely worth adding. And always try something new – you’ll never run out of tastes. Indecisive? When in doubt, do as the Chinese do. Order more.
Taken from John Krich’s book “Won Ton Lust” with permission. © John Krich. Published by Kodansha International. ISBN 1-56836-178-5.