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Over A Billion Served

Exploring the many facets of Chinese cuisine


One would think that China's various cuisines, thousands of years old and feeding over a billion daily, would be better known in the United States. Unfortunately, examples of faithfully prepared dishes from the Chinese cuisines of Hunan, Cantonese, Sichuan and Taiwanese, for example, are infrequently found in the US, with the notable exception of San Francisco. What's not to like about authentic Chinese? Well, there's the fat, grease, skin, bones, offal, and the eating of mammals such as monkeys, dogs and cats. Additionally, Americans have come to expect Chinese food to be inexpensive. Yet genuine Chinese, like French cuisine, uses fresh, often expensive ingredients which must be precisely cooked by a highly skilled chef.

Also, Americans have changed Chinese cuisine: American Hunan is not as fire-breathing hot and garlicky; Cantonese, China's haute cuisine, has become benign and ordinary here. Americans want spicy or crispy in dishes which historically are slow-cooked, salty and sweet. The reality is American Chinese food bears faint resemblance to actual Chinese.

Charlotte has over 100 Chinese restaurants. A few of these specialize in a specific Chinese cuisine and some offer two menus: one for Chinese/Asians and one for others.

Dim Sum Chinese Restaurant is not much to look at, but the food is a feast for the eyes. Flip through the beverage section, past the roundup of the usual suspects : ho-hum Sha Cha Shrimp and tiresome General Tso's Chicken : and you'll find "Real Chinese Food," a section devoted to Cantonese specialties. If you're unfamiliar with Dim Sum (Chinese small plates), the trolley rolls on the weekends from 11am until 3pm and you can visually inspect over 40 items.

Dim Sum Chinese Restaurant, 2920-B Central Avenue. 704-569-1128.

Taiwanese cuisine is perhaps the least understood of all the Chinese cuisines. This cuisine is an amalgamation of all the people who have settled on that island for thousands of years. Miso soup, for example, is as common in Taiwan as it is in Japan. So is seaweed salad. The best spot to get your fill of Taiwanese is from the Cheng brothers at Tomi Restaurant in south Charlotte. This restaurant is attractively appointed and the food is fresh and flavorful.

Tomi Restaurant, 7741 Colony Road. 704-759-1288.

Another attractive Chinese restaurant is DragonFly. This menu offers a mix of cuisines: Cantonese noodle dishes; Hunan orange chicken and beef; and Sichuan twice-cooked pork. DragonFly, however, does not make claims to "authenticity." Here, each dish has its own creative style and flavor.

DragonFly, 5110 Park Road. 704-527-3868.

Skip to the back of the menu for "authentic" dishes at Dragon Court. The prices go up a bit, but so does the quality. This section has many Hong Kong dishes, reflecting the chef's culinary heritage. Some items feature XO sauce, which is made with soy sauce, sugar and fish sauce; it's a Hong Kong specialty. The Dim Sum is exceptional, but again, it's best to pick from the trolley since choosing from a dim sum menu can lead to the decrial: "It looked good on paper!"

Dragon Court Chinese Restaurant, 4520-40 North Tryon Street. 704-596-0228.

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