A takeaway meal the other night gave me much food for thought. We’d ordered Chinese, fancying exotic spices, assorted rice and lighter food. I was also indulging She Who Knows’ sweet tooth, with sweet and sour main course rather than my preferred curry or peppery Szechuan, along with old favourite of Chinese catering here – banana fritters.
What was delivered was a disgrace: spare ribs with rich sauce but barely any flesh; ‘special’ rice with little of the promised pork, chicken or prawn; then a sweet and sour which would mystify Chinese anywhere else in the world.
The sauce was stickily sweet but had no tang of ‘sour’, with a few ‘king’ prawns deep (rather than shallow) fried in this odd takeaway tradition and, consequently, tasteless. (Originally, perhaps Chinese attempted to copy our traditional battered fish takeaway.)
The dish was full of ‘water chestnuts’, another tasteless oddity of English-style ‘Chinese’ food. For only single portions of all, our bill was £20. That would have bought a feast in Hong Kong - I know, after living there years. Their only bad meals were attempts at British cuisine.
We might laugh at foreign mistakes over our traditional fayre; such as ‘roast lamp’ or ‘vile chops’ (i.e. lamb or veal) which I’ve memorably been offered. But Chinese cuisine is the finest and most versatile in the world. The spiciest meals I’ve enjoyed were in their restaurants, yet also the most subtle and delicate sauces with, for example, seafood; also the most varied and exciting starters, then innumerable styles for every meat, fish and vegetable under the sun.
(Even the tastiest cabbage, savoured on its own in cheesy cream sauce.)
Why won’t these expatriate chefs proudly cook us superb, authentic food?
As for fast food, Cantonese shallow frying is the freshest and tastiest you’ll find anywhere – while only requiring cheap ingredients. That is, of course, everywhere but here!
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