• How to Properly Drink Tea at Chinese Restaurants in San Francisco

    Han Lijun

    Pouring white tea at tea house in SF

    Anyone living in The City by the Bay who is craving for some kung pao or chow mein can conveniently satisfy their taste buds at a popular San Francisco Chinese restaurant —but if you want your experience to be more unique than that of the average diner, how about immersing yourself in authentic Chinese culture and cuisine while you’re in there? If you know your oriental culture, then you’ll know that this means making tea a part of your meal. Here are some tips:

    Don’t drink tea first at Chinese restaurants.

    Tea shouldn’t be consumed on an empty stomach—this is because the beverage has a high alkaline content, whereas your stomach juices are pretty much all acid. When the two substances meet, they produce a chemical reaction that could make you feel bloated, among other things, so your enjoyment of your meal will be lessened.

    Drink white tea with fried food

    Typically, pure white tea produces a light infusion, so it’s best paired with fried food that are lightly flavored, like a basic salad, for instance. You could also try it with fried or deep fried finger foods (e.g. dumplings). Too flavorful food might overwhelm the white tea and make you feel as if you’re drinking nothing more than hot water.

    Drink bitter teas with sweets.

    According to an article by CNN’s Travel writer and editor Virginia Lau, you should seek to pair sweet foods with bitter tea variants:

    Sweet food is best paired with tea that is more bitter. Loong cheng green tea helps moderate the sweetness of desserts.

    Like pu-erh tea, drinking green tea helps lower cholesterol levels and break down fat.

    But while most teas are best brewed in boiling hot water, green teas like screw shaped green tea and loong cheng only need to be brewed in water that is about 75 to 85 degrees. If the water is too hot, it will be difficult to maintain the same fragrance in the second brew.

    Smell before you drink at Chinese restaurants.

    Just as fine wine is to be sipped and savored to enjoy, a tea’s quality should also be tested before you gulp down the entire cup. When it comes to teas though, scent is the key—if it gives off a nice aroma right off the pot, it’s most likely fresh and of good quality.

    An excellent Chinese restaurant in San Francisco like Chili House SF has its own range of teas that will complement their dim sum and other dishes just right. So the next time you visit your favorite Chinese restaurant, try a cup of their recommended tea and start warming up for the tasty dishes to come.

    (Source: 12 things about tea your local dim sum restaurateur won’t tell you , CNN Travel)

  • What Ingredients Can You Expect from a San Francisco Dim Sum Dinner?

    Han Lijun

    The streets of San Francisco isn’t exactly short on Chinese food stores and restaurants. You’d probably know them by their distinctive signs with Mandarin or Cantonese characters, not to mention the mouthwatering smell of cooking noodles and fresh spices wafting from inside these establishments—but how well do you really know your Chinese food? Here are some of the most important ingredients of Chinese food and Dim Sum in San Francisco restaurants like Chili House SF.

    Bean Sprouts

    Whether stir-fried on their own or added into noodles and soups, bean sprouts are a staple in Chinese cuisine. These are often divided into two types: soybean sprouts and mung bean sprouts. The latter are much smaller in size than the former, which has a distinctive yellow head the size of a small bean. Mung beans are more commonly used, though.

    Bok Choy

    The Chinese love to put vegetables into their dishes, and among these, the bok choy or Chinese cabbage is perhaps the most prominent. They are often served in steaming hot soups, or separately, either steamed or stir-fried. Bok choy also makes an excellent pairing with tofu—a suitable choice for those looking for a scrumptious yet absolutely vegan dish.

    Chili

    Here’s a zinger: chili peppers aren’t just for Mexican food, as this article from The Woks of Life blog states:

    [C]hili peppers come in a vast number of varieties–too many for us to keep up with. In general, the smaller the chili, the hotter they are. A lot of Chinese dishes call for either long hot green peppers or small red chilis, both of which can be found in any grocery store.

    Stir fried vegetables, fish, chicken, and even the more exotic dishes like frogs and pork intestines can be flavored or spiced right up with a nice serving of hot chilies.

    Sauces

    Chinese cuisine calls for a wide variety of sauces that will keep your taste buds tingling and your hands grabbing for more the entire meal. Soy sauce and fish sauce are among the most popular, along with runners-up like hoisin, oyster, sesame, rice wine, and (again) chili sauces also gracing the plates of authentic Chinese restaurants.

    Before you go to your nearest Chinese restaurant or call up places like Chili House SF for Chinese food catering services , it pays to know just what types of ingredients you can expect in your food. Understanding what makes up authentic Chinese cuisine could help you better appreciate the culture and stories behind the flavors that you have grown to love.

    (Source: Chinese Ingredients Glossary , The Woks of Life)

  • Eat to Impress in San Francisco Chinese Restaurants: Table Etiquette

    Han Lijun

    So your firm in The City by the Bay finally won over that big client from a Chinese company after a long time of negotiating, and all you have to go through now is a business dinner with them in one of the best San Francisco Chinese restaurants ; sounds easy, right? Well, that depends, really—there are actually pitfalls when it comes to food etiquette that might inadvertently offend your guest, so to be sure, avoid things like…

    Sticking your chopsticks vertically on rice.

    Resist any temptation to place your chopsticks in the middle of your bowl of rice—you know what that looks like? Incense for the dearly departed. Indeed, the Chinese consider this placement of chopsticks offensive because you just put a harbinger of death on the dinner table. To avoid this, make sure to look for the chopstick rest (there’s always one in restaurants) and place your chopsticks on it.

    Occupying the seat of honor.

    In Chinese culture, the seat facing the entrance is referred to as the “seat of honor”, which is to be occupied only by the host—but since you’re in a restaurant, it doesn’t really matter, right? Well, it might be a nice touch to offer this particular seat to your client, so he gets a feel of how important he is to your company.

    Flipping the fish.

    When the waiter serves you a whole fish, what do you do? Here are some tips from an article in The Straits Times :

    Fish is usually served at a Chinese meal as the term “have fish” in Mandarin sounds the same as having a surplus. When a fish is served whole, once one side is eaten, never flip the fish over!

    This custom started in Chinese fishing communities, when the fish symbolises a boat. So flipping it over indicates flipping the livelihood over. So how do you get to the other side? Simply use the chopsticks and grab the backbone and lift up. Set it on the side of the dish and there, more deliciousness to consume.

    Forgetting to tap the table.

    It’s bad practice for a host or anyone in the dining table to let the tea run dry on any of the cups, which is why you should constantly have it refilled. If your client chooses to do this, don’t forget to give the table a gentle tap as a simple way to say thank you.

    So whenever you’re a guest in a Chinese client or colleague’s home, or dining with one in famous Chinese restaurants in San Francisco like Chili House SF, be sure to know enough of the necessary etiquette to keep from offending your companion, including other diners in the restaurant.

    (Source: 8 Chinese dining etiquette tips , The Straits Times)

  • A History of Tofu & Its Role in Chinese Food

    Delicious tofu-based dish at Chili House SF, a Chinese restaurant

    The History of Tofu in Chinese Food

    While otherwise considered simple and non-spectacular in its base form, tofu when skillfully cooked is an integral part of some of the well-known best Chinese food in San Francisco and elsewhere in the world. History Channel historian Dr. Libby O’Connell favors eating tofu herself and has something to say about the origins of the versatile ingredient:

    Tofu has a long, impressive history in China. As early as 1600 B.C., the ancient Chinese cultivated soy beans, which remain a vital source of protein and other nutrients throughout Asia today. During the Han Dynasty (between 206 B.C. and 220 A.D., about the same time as the Roman Empire’s glory days), the Chinese production of bean curd became widespread.

    How exactly tofu was discovered and first cultivated isn’t known, but there is one existing legend that explains how. According to the tale, tofu was accidentally invented when a cook decided to make flavored soybeans using a substance called nagari. However, the cook ended up with bean curd instead of the flavored soy beans. Back then, the Chinese named it doufu, and was already a local meal staple as early as 100 A.D.

    The subsequent visit of Japanese priests during the Nara era (710-794 A.D.) to study Buddhism in China gave way to the delicacy being given its modern name. The priests brought the Chinese doufu with them back home to include it in their vegetarian diet. A Shinto priest by the name of Nakaomi was credited with the first mention of the name “tofu,” which was regularly used as an altar offering back in the day.

    Fast forward to the age of exploration and modern tofu history. Tofu first found its way into Western consciousness when the Spanish explorer Domingo Fernandez de Navarrete personally saw how tofu was made. He documented the process in his book A Collection of Voyages and Travels, which was published in English in 1704. The popularity of tofu reached French shores and was first produced in France around 1880. 15 years later, tofu was introduced to Americans for the first time by Hirata & Co, which then led to the first-ever mass production of tofu by T.A. Van Gundy and his La Sierra Industries in California back in 1929.

    Today, tofu is widely considered an integral part of authentic Chinese cuisine and various other Asian dishes. Restaurants like the Bay Area’s Chili House SF offer some of the best Chinese food in San Francisco with tofu as a central ingredient. As it turns out, eating tofu fills a hungry tummy; while learning the history of tofu provides a direct look into the evolution of Asian cuisine.

    (Source: Lunch with Libby: Tofu, History.com, February 22, 2013)