Aside from the dishes we are most known for, like our famous Peking Duck and Dim Sum, here at Chili House we strive to serve the widest range of authentic Chinese dishes. One of our personal favorites happens to be our delicious Beef Pancakes, a take on one of China’s most popular treats. Today we are going to take a look at the history of this storied delicacy and how it came to prominence.
The 3rd Century Origins of Chinese Pancakes
The snack, similar to what is known in China as “Jianbing,” traces its roots all the way back to the Shandong Province during the Three Kingdoms Period (220 – 280 AD). Legend has it that Zhuge Liang, the chancellor of the state of Shu Han, was struggling to find an effective way to feed his soldiers who had lost their cooking supplies during battle. As a result, Liang had cooks concoct a mixture of water and wheat flour to be cook thinly and evenly across copper-made griddles (and sometimes even using the soldiers shields as a cooking surface). The result was a light, crispy crepe that helps sustain and boost the morale of the soldiers on the battlefield.
The dish proved popular beyond the battlefield, later getting passed down across generations. Today, Chinese pancakes can be found cooking on street corners in every major metropolitan neighborhood across China. The recipe is quite simple. Start by layering and folding the wheat and bean flour pancake fries, eggs, scallions and cilantro. Finally, add chili paste, hoisin sauce and lettuce to taste. Then fold the pastry a few more times for easy eating on the go.
To say the least, Chinese pancakes have become the quintessential snack food in China. Every afternoon, they satisfy hungry workers and students across China. In contrast to popular American street fare, Chinese pancakes are anything but fast food. Every one is cooked fresh to order, meaning there is always a line at the local vendor. In fact, many plan their commute to work around setting aside enough time to grab one!
America’s Discovery of Chinese Pancakes
Up until recently one would have trouble locating the snack outside of China and Taiwan. However the popularity and reach of Chinese Pancakes grows every year. Today, people across the US work to recreate the snack they fell in love with in China. One of the most popular variations (and one that has proved quite popular with our customers as well!) are Chinese pancakes with beef . It is quite similar to the traditional recipe, the only difference being the use of slow-braised beef instead of egg. This variation is popular in Taiwan, and has found a strong following in Southern California in recent years.
Chinese pancakes are perfect for those looking to add another Chinese culinary icon to their list of favorite dishes. We suggest searching your area for restaurants and seek out all the different variations available. Don’t forget to stop in and try the absolutely delicious Chinese beef pancakes at Chili House SF as well!
(Originally published in July of 2016 – Updated in March of 2019)
The creation of the traditional Peking duck dish is something that requires a careful knowledge of an age-old skill. Prepared the same way since the Imperial era, this Chinese dish is an important cultural cornerstone.
The crisp skin combined with the correct fat to meat ratio is something that can’t be replicated utilizing shortcuts of any kind. Far too many people have been fed an inferior product, and there’s a very telling difference between commercially prepared Peking duck and the authentically prepared dish.
An Overview of the Traditional Method
The traditional method of Peking duck preparation is as old as the Northern and Southern dynasties. The chef would choose a White Beijing duck, a breed heavily domesticated in China, and roast the duck to slow perfection. They did this using either a convection method, or a second method that suspended the duck above the flame.
The second method has been continued with a great deal of success throughout traditional Chinese restaurants. The preparation of the traditional Peking duck involves the following:
- Choosing and plucking an appropriate White Beijing duck
- Air is pushed between its skin and flesh, and an incision is made to remove its entrails
- The bird is cleaned and skewered with a wooden rod which allows it to be suspended above the flame
- The duck is sometimes soaked in boiling water to tighten skin and then filled with water and sewn shut once again
- After being thoroughly hung and dried the duck’s skin will be brushed or marinated using sugar or other traditional agents
- The last step involves the suspension of the duck in a large oven at a temperature of around 500F for between 30-40 minutes
The duck will be deemed ready when its skin has a beautiful reddish color and has the crisp texture that can only be achieved via traditional cooking methods. In restaurants that continue to embrace the old ways, the chef will bring the duck to the table and slice it into more than 100 thin and succulent sections.
Why is the Traditional Method Preferred Over Modern Alternatives?
An article by Veronica Lin highlights some of the problems with cutting corners and utilizing cheaper and faster electric ovens. In Lin’s interview with chef Lu Xiaofei, she uncovers the advantages that cooking in the traditional large fireclay oven provides over modern electric means.
Lu notes the chef’s ability to carefully monitor the cooking duck and to make immediate changes when necessary. This close attention to detail combined with the original fruit flavors infused with the woods creates a finished product unique to this timeless method.
How Far Chinese Chefs in California are Willing to Go to Preserve Tradition
The practice of preparing and serving traditional Peking duck is so sacred to the Chinese culture that local California chefs and activists lobbied to have health code exceptions made in their favor. These exceptions allow the duck to be hung in the windows of traditional Chinese establishments while being dried according to ancient methods of preparation.
Since the exception was made for Peking duck in the 1980s , chefs have continued to embrace and practice cooking methods that keep a cultural tradition alive and well for future generations.
Each year, millions of Americans gather at Chinese restaurants on Christmas day. In fact, Christmas and Christmas Eve are the busiest day of the year for most American Chinese restaurants.
The combination of Christmas and Chinese food is iconic. According to Google Trends , more people search for “Chinese food/restaurant” during the week of Christmas than any other week the year. It isn’t just internet searches either. On December 25, Chinese food orders increase by as much as 152%, according to GrubHub in 2013. This phenomenon is not new.
Be sure to book early to take advantage of our limited Peking Duck or banquet dining options. Chili House SF experiences some of our busiest days of the year during Christmas and other holidays!
History of Chinese Food on Christmas Day
Chinese food became a traditional go-to within non-Christian immigrant communities. The tradition seems to have originated in New York City as far back as the late 1800s. Immigrants from cultures that don’t typically celebrate Christmas found they had time off to spend with family, but no traditions of their own. Chinese restaurants were open on Christmas day and offered an inclusive, welcoming environment. So a century-long love affair was born!
Chinese cuisine symbolized the urban, cosmopolitan lifestyle in the early 1900s. For many new Americans, enjoying Chinese food was a way to celebrate the great American cultural melting pot.
Since Chinese restaurants come in a range of prices, it is an affordable treat for budget-conscious families. Many Chinese restaurants offer family-style meals that promote sharing and camaraderie. Some San Franciscans who celebrate Christmas also opt to enjoy a Chinese meal on Christmas Eve or even Christmas day. They prefer the low-stress, relaxing experience.
Chinese Food as a Holiday Alternative
Lifehacker lists “eating Chinese food” as one of the top alternative activities for Christmas day. Other classic alternatives include going to the cinema as many new films release on Christmas day. Also, they suggest visiting parks and open spaces or spending time enjoying a favorite hobby. If you are feeling social, you will find plenty of company at a popular Chinese restaurant.
Other cuisines also see a boost on December 25, according to GrubHub. Muslim halal, Indian, dim sum, kosher, Thai, and Vietnamese food also saw an increase in takeaway or dine-in orders. Though these others have not yet reached the same level of popularity as Chinese food.
Ten Most Popular Chinese Dishes For December 25
Just in case you are looking for ideas of what to order, GrubHub told CNN the most popular Chinese dishes on December 25, 2014, were:
- General Tso’s chicken
- Crab Rangoon
- Egg Rolls
- Sesame Chicken
- Wonton Soup
- Fried Rice
- Sweet & Sour Chicken
- Orange Chicken
- Hot and Sour Soup
- Pot Stickers
(List source ” It’s true. Everyone eats Chinese food on Christmas ,” CNN.)
Enjoy a Worldly, Modern Tradition
While this tradition originated in immigrant communities in New York City, it soon spread across the nation. It quickly reached San Francisco, due to the thriving Chinese community.
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, continue a modern tradition by booking your Christmas Eve, Christmas, or Boxing Day meal at your favorite Chinese Restaurant. Don’t be surprised if your favorite restaurant is fully booked, reserve your table early to avoid disappointment.
At Chili House SF, we take a huge amount of pride in our Peking Duck. Our duck is always made fresh for patrons and never re-heated or pre-cooked. Our servers carve the duck, crispy and fresh, right out of the oven when it comes to your table. We only serve a maximum of twenty Peking Ducks per day and reservations are required because we insist on maintaining the highest standards in our preparation.
Patrons from local San Franciscans to visitors from around the world appreciate the care and precision with which our Peking Duck is made. From your seat at one of our tables, here’s how the spread will look when ready to serve:
At this stage, there are 5 components of the Peking Duck dish ready to assemble:
- The duck meat
- Steamed pancakes
- Sweet bean sauce
- Spring onions
Here is the proper way to then put together these components for a mouth-watering treat!
- Lay one pancake flat on your plate, and spread a small amount of the sweet bean sauce around the top-middle section of the wrap.
- Next, place a few pieces of duckon the top-middle section over where the sauce has been spread.
- Next, lay a small number of cucumbers and spring onions over the top of the duck meat. The goal is to have the duck be the juicy outer layer of the bite that first hits your mouth, followed by the more crunchy, textured cucumber and onion in the center of the bite.
- Fold the bottom half of the pancake over the meat, sauce and vegetables at the middle of the wrap.
- Pull the right and then left edges over the middle of the wrap, then flip over the assembled wrap.
- Pick up your delicious treat with your chopticks and enjoy!
Although it surprises many, the way in which you assemble the components of the Peking Duck wrap greatly influence the taste. Experimenting with more or less sauce, and changing the order of the assembly between meat and vegetables has a noticeable affect on the flavors of subsequent bites.
Finally, be sure to enjoy any leftover pieces of Peking duck meat as part of a delicious soup following the main course!
Dinner parties are popular all over the world, because they perfectly combine the pleasure of great friends and food with the comfort of your own home. If you’re looking for a new angle for your next dinner party, try making it a themed affair. A Chinese-inspired dinner party–complete with decorations, food, and entertainment–is a great way to stand out as the best and most creative host around!
To help your guests get into the theme, decorate the room with Chinese objects, such as a flag, decorative hand fans, and paper lanterns. Use a dragon statue as the centerpiece on your table and hang a Chinese-inspired tapestry on the wall. Ask your guests to wear embroidered robes, silk dresses, or loose pants. They can also carry fans and style their hair with chopsticks. Research how to write each guest’s name in Chinese characters and then write the names on thick card to use as place markers. You can use a calligraphy pen and add a few water color flowers, so your guests have a nice keepsake from the night.
Rather than dealing with preparation and clean-up time associated with cooking, try catering from Chili House SF in you’re hosting your party in San Francisco. Our award-winning chefs have decades of professional training in both Sichuan and Beijing-style cuisine.
For the appetizers, serve up egg rolls, pot stickers, beef pancakes and more. Popular choices for entrees include our House Special Fresh Filet Boiled in House Spicy Sauce, and Hand Pulled Noodle, Creamy Prawns with Honey Walnut, Mu-Shu Pork and Steam Chinese Cabbages.
For an authentic experience, encourage everyone to try eating with chopsticks–just be sure to also have forks on hand for those who are less dexterously advanced! Finish the meal with the perfect dessert: “Nian Gao” (traditional Chinese New Year cake) accompanied by steamed pears.
After dinner, keep your guests entertained with traditional Chinese games. You can set up a Mahjongg game with little Chinese trinkets as prizes or have everyone have their fortune told using Kau Cim sticks. The more adventurous members of the group can see how they fare with Chinese finger traps. You can also buy a Chinese puzzle box and place a small prize in it. Hide the instructions and have your friends take turns trying to figure out how to open it.
A Chinese-inspired dinner party is sure to impress your guests. The decorations, outfits, foods, and games will guarantee that everyone has a fantastic time. Your guests will get to enjoy great food and entertainment and will even get to learn about Chinese culture. Once you’ve experienced the taste of success, you’ll be eager to start planning your next themed dinner party.
Even children who are normally well-behaved can feel stressed in the unfamiliar environment of a Chinese restaurant. Not only is the food dramatically different than anything they have tried before, their parents’ expectations of them are as well. While it can be unrealistic to expect patience on top of quiet, respectful behavior, parents can engage in several activities while waiting for the food to help pass the time.
Distraction is the Name of the Game
Going to a Chinese restaurant for the first time is a novelty for most children. This is something that parents can use to their advantage. For example, they can explain that chopsticks in China serve the same purpose as silverware in the United States. If this catches the child’s attention, mom or dad can teach them how to hold chopsticks the right way. Many kids are already familiar with how to hold a pencil, which is a great way to start the demonstration. Placing a rubber band at the top of the chopsticks makes them easier for kids to use.
Asking for a few fortune cookies before the food arrives is one time when it would be good to eat dessert first. Finding a message inside of their cookie is a special experience for kids, even if they don’t know how to read yet. Parents can read the fortune and use it to play a game of make-believe with their children. Placemats with Chinese zodiac signs on them provide another opportunity to pass time by reading the appropriate one for each member of the family.
Kid-Friendly Chinese Dishes
Children who aren’t used to hot or spicy food may be startled by a traditional Chinese dish. It is better to start with milder flavors to get them accustomed to different flavors and textures first. Eggs rolls and dumplings are easy to cut up and kids will enjoy the novelty of dunking them into sauce. They may not even notice they’re eating vegetables at all. For kids who normally like soup, they should enjoy the taste of egg drop or wonton soup. These both tend to be more colorful than regular soup, which can appeal to a child’s sense of novelty as well.
Lo mein or cold noodles in sesame sauce will be just like eating spaghetti for kids. Vegetables and chicken in a light sauce, called Mo Goo Gai Pain, is easy for children to chew and tasty as well. Parents may want to avoid sweet and sour dishes due to the high sugar content.
Some Etiquette Tips to Keep in Mind
It can be hard for adults to know proper etiquette in a Chinese restaurant, let alone children. Nevertheless, parents should make it a point to impart the following:
- Avoid placing chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice. This may remind the servers of burning incense for the dead and is considered bad manners.
- Use chopsticks to pick up food but not to spear it.
- Don’t use the chopsticks as drumsticks to make sounds that may annoy other diners.
- Plan to take some leftovers home or the host may assume the children are still hungry.
By taking children to Chinese restaurants regularly, it will soon become second nature and etiquette will barely register as a concern.
If you have a passion for Asian cuisine and have visited a high-end Zhejiang restaurant, you may have heard of or tasted Dong Po pork. This is not a dish on every menu, as its complexity and richness make it a culinary treat only found in homes and authentic eateries in some regions.
Some interesting things to know about flavorful Dong Po pork include the following:
Unique origin. This dish has an interesting and ancient origin, discovered purely by culinary accident, by poet and scholar Su Dongpo . Legend is that he was preparing pork when he got caught up in a game of chess with a guest, leaving his meal simmering away for a long period of time. It has evolved from the early 1000’s to be a delectable dish found in contemporary Zhejiang cuisine .
Proper pork. If you plan on making your own dish, you first need a proper Dong Po pork belly recipe. Authentic, often hard-to-find ingredients are key for achieving the right flavor that distinguishes the tender pork, sweet sauce, and savory fat from other preparations. Perhaps the most difficult-to-find item is the Shaoxing hua tiao wine, which you should be able to order from a specialty Asian market or grocer; this wine brings depth of flavor and complexity to the rich pork belly during simmering.
Serving tips. Dong Po pork is a true culinary treat- not something that should be eaten every day. Per Eastern medicine, this dish should never be paired with certain foods to maintain accordance with the theory of medicine diet. Some foods warned about include:
- Smoked plums
- Shrimp and shellfish
- Squab, quail, or pigeon
- Lamb, beef, and donkey
- Water chestnuts
The next time you dine at Chili House in San Francisco, be sure to check out our Dong Po pork. If you are fortunate enough to have access to the authentic ingredients, make your own! Dong Po pork is a rich, savory treat that promises to melt in your mouth and tickle your taste buds.
Some people love Chinese food based on their Americanized perception of the cuisine. Favorites might include Chop suey, General Tso’s chicken, and Mongolian beef. Yet, those who crave authentic Chinese fare understand that the real dishes coming from mainland China often are both simpler in composition and have a much more powerful kick. One such dish that is incredibly popular is called Dan Dan Noodles.
Dan Dan Noodles History
If you enjoy Chinese Sichuan cuisine, you won’t want to miss Dan Dan Noodles. These famous spicy noodles received their name from the way in which they have been cooked and served in China.
“Dan Dan” refers to the type of carrying pole that street vendors would use to sell the dishes to pedestrians. The pole was carried on the shoulders of the vendor with two baskets on either side, one carrying the noodles and the other with the sauce. The name translates to “noodles carried on a pole.”
The most famous Dan Dan noodles are probably from a peddler named Chen Baobao in Zigong . His noodles gained notoriety because he carried them everywhere so that people could try them, and he used a two-celled pot to cook the dish. Today, they continue to be known as both tasty and spicy traditional Chinese cuisine.
What Are Dan Dan Noodles?
Dan Dan noodles themselves are made by rolling dough into noodles, although many recipes allow you to purchase and use dried Chinese egg noodles for the dish. While the noodles are an important ingredient, it’s the sauce and the remainder of the toppings that gives the dish its authentic spicy flavor.
Common ingredients of a Dan Dan noodles recipe include Ya-cai (preserved mustard greens), minced pork, soy beans, and chili powder. Often ingredients such as scallions, ginger, garlic, bok choy, and pickles are stir fried and combined with chili oil.
If you order Dan Dan noodles in the United States, it’s possible that you could get an Americanized version of this classic dish. In some restaurants, the spice is removed and replaced with sweetness. In others, sesame paste or peanut butter is sometimes added to the recipe.
Serving Dan Dan Noodles
Traditionally, Dan Dan noodles were considered a popular snack, so they weren’t served up as meal-sized dishes. In most places, they still aren’t. Most authentic Chinese chefs recommend that you serve Dan Dan noodles in smaller bowls. This is because the dish is best enjoyed hot, both spicy and at a higher temperature. Smaller servings allow diners to enjoy this special dish while the steam floats off of the surface and the topping remain crispy.
Come visit Chili House to try San Francisco’s best Dan Dan noodles. Check out this review on Yelp:
“Absolutely must get: Dan dan mien. The main reason I keep coming back here is for this dish. It’s hands down the best version of these noodles I’ve ever had and something I’ve introduced many friends to.” Jonathan Y., San Francisco
Peking Duck is one of the world’s most iconic dishes, dating back all the way to the early 14th century and the Yuan Dynasty. But can Peking Duck lay claim to the title of “world’s most famous duck”? In our infographic below, we size up the formidable Peking Duck against a younger but very worthy competitor: Disney’s Donald Duck.
In our research, we found that Donald Duck is very strong in a number of areas. With nearly 370,000 Google searches of his name per month worldwide, and an estimated 533 mentions per day on Twitter, Donald gets talked about more often than Peking Duck .
However, with the wisdom that comes from being nearly 700 years old, along with a searing hot internal temperature of 375 degrees Farenheit, Peking Duck won’t be giving up his crown easily.
Ultimately, we’ll call this one a draw, as Google Trends research shows varying levels of interest for the two ducks depending on location. In Australia, Peking Duck actually trends higher than Donald Duck, while in the Netherlands and Norway, people apparently can’t get enough of Disney’s animated quacker.
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One of the popular dishes available at any Chinese restaurant is Kung Pao Chicken. While generally associated with Westerners and the “westernized” Chinese cuisine, story of its origin can still be traced back to China.
The story begins in the Guizhou province in southern China. As a young boy in the early 19 th century, Ding Baozhen accidently fell into water not knowing how to swim. Thanks to the quick action of a local, Ding was saved and went on to hold a government post in the Sichuan province. Wanting to reach out and thank the man who saved his life years ago, Ding visited the man and his family to express his gratitude. While there, the man served him a dish he had never had before , featuring diced and marinated chicken, peanuts, and spicy Sichuan peppercorns.
He enjoyed the dish so much he asked for the recipe and started serving it to guests in his home as well. Not long after that, the dish spread across the province and took on the name Gongbao Jiding , named after the man responsible for its popularity.
As time when on, the Kung Pao Chicken made its way into restaurants all around China and eventually North America, where westerners fell in love with the spicy and savory dish. A crucial element of the authentic, “Sichuan-style” version features authentic Sichuan peppercorns, although Western versions of the dish could not utilize them until 2005 when an import ban was lifted off the pepper.
While the dish has remained quite popular in America and is still served happily in restaurants in China, the dish does not exactly hold the same clout . For one, chicken-based dishes are not as popular in China, as the meat produced locally is often dry and tasteless. As a result, chicken is generally imported from Japan. Also, most locals shy away from dishes that feature the starchy and syrupy suaces many American-Chinese restaurants feature.
For any fan of bold and spicy flavors, Kung Pao Chicken is a must-try dish. At Chili House, we prepare our own Kung Pao Chicken with the same spices and peppers that were featured in the original incarnation of the dish. Come visit us today for a authentic Sichaun experience!