Let me tell you a bit of a story… I used to have a favorite Chinese restaurant and at this restaurant they served a variety of your typical Chinese take out dishes but also some incredible Indian food and a fusion of everything in between. Now this restaurant is basically located a world away from us as we live in Abbotsford and it’s in Surrey about 50km away or so…. needless to say getting take-out is pretty much out of the question.
Every year around my birthday I get asked where I’d like to eat out. Usually this is done not only to celebrate my birthday but also to facilitate a meeting of family all of whom are scattered about here and there in the Lower Mainland near Vancouver. Having been introduced to this restaurant by a Sri-Lankan friend of mine as resident of Surrey in the early 2000’s, the place quickly became my new favorite Chinese restaurant and go-to for ‘ethnic’ cuisine. Naturally, we held family gatherings there at least once a year.
The food was always amazing and consistent. The dishes were spectacularly presented; served with an abundance of brightly colored vegetables and meticulously garnished. The vast and seemingly endless array of menu items, each with a perfect balance of sweet, spicy, and tangy flavors, always left us something to talk about and look forward to again the next time. My most talked about dish? Chilli fish.
Until something happened. It had been a couple years since Kim and I had been there but the cravings were still strong. I often spoke of going there, but the idea always seemed so far off because of where we live… but at that particular point in time we were hungry, and passing close by on our way home from Vancouver. Now normally this place is packed full to the brim on a Friday night but when we arrived we were greeted by an unusually empty parking lot. Similarly, the dining room was nearly as empty. Being only a party of two Kim and I decided to order just three dishes, settling on a few of our favorites… chilli fish, lemon chicken, and beef chow mein.
The chilli fish was always amazing. Small bite-sized pieces of fish, deep-fried, tossed in a tangy sweet sauce , served Szechuan style sweat-inducingly hot, with an abundance of fresh chillies. This time it may have well been called ‘fish’ because there was a curious absence of any chillies, and as such the flavors fell flat and were not well balanced. Granted, I get that we are a couple of ladies and I didn’t specifically tell them I want it ‘Thai spicy!’ but when we sit down and very purposefully order ‘Chilli Fish’ you’d think we know what we want to eat.
Now up was the lemon chicken. A great looking dish, pleasantly marinaded and deep fried chicken served with a fresh lemon sauce and garnished with lemon slices, sesame seeds, and chives. It was okay but not quite what I remember.
Next arrived the beef chow mein. Now this stuff is usually the food of the gods and a visual treat but this time there was an overwhelming amount of onions. It’s like they put nearly a whole medium sized onion in this dish… underlying that, however, was a distinctly odd, old taste, and not in a good way. I was trying to work out exactly what item was responsible for this speculating it was the noodles, or beef, but didn’t get very far into that due to it being disgustingly bad. This dish was basically inedible and at the cost of $13.95 we figured instead of throwing it out we’d let the chef know politely on our way out and give the food to the dogs when we got home. We don’t normally let anyone attempt to make a dish again for us after having received even worse food back again the second time, but after mentioning that we are normally big fans of the food and there was something different about the chow mein this time as we were walking out the door the waiter insisted that we wait a moment for them to make it better. And we trusted them. We reluctantly stayed for another few minutes until the dish was made for us fresh again and put in a take-out dish. We thought… what could we have to lose? this dish was going to be for the dogs.
When we got home we were greeted with the usual sounds of affection! Three Corgi crosses with stubby legs and a Jack Russell Terrier… all hungry from being at home alone all day. We are thinking about how exciting it will be to share the beef chow mein with them! First, though, we figured we should try the new dish to see what it tastes like (and pick out the onions.) Opening the container, though, we are greeted with… even more onions?! Scraping our way through the dish to the actual chow mein-y bits yielded us an even lesser reward. The onions have been mixed all through! Probably in an attempt to cover up the bad taste. Yep, when we try the actual chow mein it has the same dank, disgustingly old flavour although now it has been fully and completely permeated with an overwhelming raw onion flavor. The dish reeks…
As the dogs and our excitement quickly fades, the revised beef chow mein, unsalvageable and inedible even to our dogs, was reluctantly and surreptitiously hucked into the trash.
TLDR; Restaurant changed hands/recipes but retained same menu and name. The food is now nothing like it used to be.
And so the pining and lamenting about my old favorite Chinese restaurant begins… but the cravings are still very real. Perhaps the only way I’ll get over them is to recreate their dishes!!
Here’s my take on their lemon chicken and their old vegetable chow mein! Enjoy the photos and recipe below!
Chinese Take-Out Style Lemon Sauce
2 large lemons, juiced and zested or about 2/3 cup juice and zest
(optional) 1 lemon, sliced.
nearly one cup sugar
2 cups chicken or beef stock (as pictured above)
1/3 cup corn starch
1/3 cup cold water
Bring two cups stock and sugar nearly to a boil. Add lemon juice and zest (optionally, half the sliced lemon.) Add water to corn starch to make a slurry then add to lemon sauce. Stir until thickened then then remove from heat. Serve food immediately garnished with remaining lemon slices.
3/4 cup corn starch
1/3 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
Thoroughly mix together ingredients. Marinade and/or dip chicken pieces in an egg mixture before coating with this. Deep fry dredged pieces as soon as possible at 350 degrees F until golden brown.
Chinese Style Marinade for Chicken
2 large skinless chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces
1 extra large egg, beaten
2 tblsp Shoaxing cooking wine
1 tblsp dark soy sauce
1 tblsp sesame oil
Mix all ingredients together. Marinade chicken pieces for about half an hour.