My favourite Chinese restaurant in the sixties was closed down by the health inspector. I never suffered a bad stomach after eating there, but the chef had taken to keeping live poultry in the kitchen, which is against the rules.
The sort of Chinese restaurant I like features food which many find bizarre. You probably don’t normally tuck into chicken feet and jellyfish, but you shouldn’t be prejudiced against trying these interesting flavours and textures.
The one unifying feature in Chinese restaurants is the consistent rudeness of the waiters, but I discovered the reason for this when I worked in Soho. Most of these chaps gamble their money at Mah Jong or on horses. How much tip you leave is therefore considerably less important than whether luck smiles on them. It has now become part of the treat to be served with curled lip and averted eye, and I would miss it if I weren’t. There is more than one sort of hospitality, and in Chinese restaurants the food’s the thing.
There are plenty of good Oriental supermarkets in larger cities, with large choice of noodles, specialist cooking equipment and Chinese spices, including five-spice powder, a mixture of star anise, anise pepper, fennel seed, cassia and cloves. (And if you find out why disgusting bright red food colouring is so much prized in Cantonese cooking I would be obliged if you would let me know.)
The flavour of sea bass marries well with Chinese spices and treatment. A dish without butter or cream will allow you to eat a creamy starter or dessert, and yet finish the meal not feeling queasy with cholesterol.
© 1990 Shaun Hill. All rights reserved.