In southwestern areas, there are Chinese restaurants, and the tastes of their cuisine is so very different from what Roy and I are accustomed to, namely Cantonese style. Out here, the Chinese cooks come mostly from San Francisco’s Chinatown, and the cuisine is mainly Mandarin style. The Chinatowns of New York City, Philadelphia, and the many restaurants of the east coast region are primarily Cantonese. So, not only two different dialects, but two different cooking styles. When we ask for a particular dish, well, it is not exactly what we are used to, and sometimes, extremely different.
Take for example “Chow Fun”, also referred to as “Ho Fun”; a dish made by stir frying a wide rice noodle (about ½” wide) with a protein (beef, chicken, pork, shrimp or tofu), bean sprouts, Chinese broccoli and, sometimes, onion. I have asked owners of local Chinese restaurants (namely in Moab and Cortez) if they make this dish, and the answer is always yes. However, the dish we usually receive is made with lo mein noodles which are more tubular, like spaghetti, and starchier. Not the same as what we am used to, and very different indeed; and we do not particularly care for the taste or texture.
However, it has not been just this dish that is different; the fried rice is not, fried that is, but steamed and has very little flavor to it. The sauces are thinner, less flavorful; the various dim sum are drier. Now maybe it is the cooks in the restaurants; I really cannot be sure, since I have never been to Chinatown in San Francisco and experienced the restaurants there. Then again, what if I had lived most of my life in California, and then gone to Chinatown in New York City and Philadelphia…how would I react to the difference in cooking style?
I already know that restaurants out East, that say they serve Southwestern/Mexican cuisine, are far off the mark of the real cooking styles. I know that the Cuban style, very predominant in Florida, is very different from Puerto Rican which is very different from Mexican. I have tried it, so can speak from experience. But what if someone has not tried the different styles; how can they know the difference, appreciate it, and know when they are being served something completely different? Simple answer is, try it, or you will never really know. If you have the opportunity to travel to a place which has a completely different cuisine than you are used to…try it! Please, stop with the “ewwww”s, or the “not gonna put that in my mouth”; why deny yourself a pleasure because of a little fear and/or ignorance? If you do not like it, at least you tried it, and do not have to try it again, unless you are feeling brave enough for another chance at it.
Here is an authentic Cantonese style recipe for Chow Fun.
Beef Chow Fun (Ho Fun)
(From "The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen" by Grace Young, https://www.graceyoung.com/cookbooks/cookbook-1/ )
8 ounces bean sprouts, about 4 cups, rinsed and drained well
1 pound Chinese broccoli
1 pound flank steak, well-trimmed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 teaspoons cornstarch
3 teaspoons rice cooking wine
2 tablespoons Chinese dried black beans
2 pounds fresh broad rice noodles
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 slices of ginger
1 1/2 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 scallions, cut into 2-inch sections
3-4 tablespoons oyster sauce
1) Cut the broccoli stalks in half lengthwise if more than 1/2 inch in diameter. Cut the stalks and leaves into 2 inch-long pieces, keeping the stalks separate from the leaves.
2) Halve the flank steak with the grain into 2 strips. Cut each strip across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place in a shallow bowl, add the soy sauce, cornstarch, and rice wine, and stir to combine; set aside.
3) Rinse the black beans in several changes of cold water and drain. In a small bowl, mash the black beans with the back of a wooden spoon. Leaving the noodles as a slab, cut noodles crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide strips.
4) Heat a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil, ginger and garlic to wok, and stir-fry about 15 to 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the beef, spreading it in the wok. Cook, undisturbed, 30 seconds to 1 minute, letting the beef begin to brown. Add the mashed black beans and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes, or until beef is browned but still slightly rare. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon oil into the wok and stir-fry the broccoli stalks for 30 seconds. Add the leaves and 1 teaspoon salt, stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes until the stalks are bright green and the leaves are limp. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Rinse wok and dry it thoroughly.
5) Re-heat wok over high heat, add 2 tablespoons oil to the wok with the noodles, spreading them in the wok. Cook undisturbed for 1 minute, or until slightly crusty. Add the bean sprouts and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes. Return the broccoli and beef with any juices that have accumulated to the wok, add the oyster sauce and scallions, and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes, or until heated through and well combined. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
I have watched videos on making the noodles from rice flour. Oh dear hearts, I have mentioned many times that I am pasta making challenged, and this reaches into the realm of Asian noodle making as well. Unless I can find a shop that sells the noodles, with chances of slim to none, the alternative is to do, as many do with lo mein, go Italian! Spaghetti can be substituted for lo mein noodles; and pappardelle can be substituted for the necessary wide rice noodles. Let me share my recipe with you.
My Simplified Shrimp Chow Fun, aka working with what you have on hand.
1 (8 oz.) package pappardelle noodles
Stir Fry Oil
1 (16 oz.) bag mixed stir fry vegetables, thawed
1 (16 oz.) bag of small/medium shrimp (50-60), shells removed
½ tsp. ground ginger
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
½ cup soy sauce, divided in half
Preparation:Prepare pappardelle according to package directions, drain, then lay out on paper towels to remove any excess water.
In a Wok, or Wok style skillet, heat two tablespoons of stir fry oil, high heat; add vegetables, shrimp, ginger, garlic, ¼ cup of soy sauce and one tablespoon of sesame oil. Mix together and let cook for 5 minutes; mix occasionally. Remove from Wok and set aside.
To Wok, add two tablespoons of stir fry oil, high heat; add in noodles and let cook for 5 minutes. Add in one tablespoon sesame oil and ¼ cup soy sauce; mix and let cook another 5 minutes. Add in vegetable/shrimp mixture; continue mix all together for 5 minutes to keep noodles from sticking.
Makes 4 servings.
Now do not feel disheartened if you just do not have the will or desire to make either of these two recipes. There is hope for enjoying this yet! Thai restaurants have a dish called “Pad See Ew” which is incredibly close to Chow Fun. In Monticello, we have Ja-Roen Thai Sushi, and when we have a craving for Chow Fun, it is Pad See Ew for us. Even though the owner, Sam, has passed away, his son is keeping the restaurant open, and still serving up wonderful Thai cuisine and sushi. A new dessert was introduced, a mocha cream cake, served in 4 pieces. Make sure to order a separate serving for each person, otherwise hands will find forks jammed into them, as the delectable pieces are fought over.
Remember, wherever you travel to, make sure to try out new dining experiences. Otherwise, how will you ever know you like it, if you never try it!?!