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It is, easily, the best iconic to-go alembic in comestible history — a Totem of Takeout, an origami box congenital for noodles, pork, shrimp and chicken. It’s technically an isosceles trapezoid solid, a three-dimensional representation of a aerial academy geometry problem.
The Chinese aliment takeout alembic was built-in in the aftermost decade of the 19th century, aback it was accepted as an “oyster pail” because, well, it was acclimated for to-go orders of oysters. It was additionally used, for abounding years, for honey — and was until afterwards Apple War II, aback Chinese takeout competed with pizza for the aliment best Americans took home to eat while watching The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” on baby black-and-white TV screens. And for best Chinese restaurants, it’s still the accepted for takeout.
This white, waxed alembic added generally than not comes with a red cartoon of a pagoda on the ancillary (which is, of course, Japanese) and the words “Enjoy” and “Thank You” emblazoned on the top, and over the fold. Some years ago, the Smithsonian paid accolade to the alembic with an display alleged “Sweet & Sour: A Look at the History of Chinese Aliment in the United States.” And the byword “sweet & sour” is abnormally apt, for this is not a alembic congenital for afire spices of Szechuan and Hunanese cooking. I assumption dim sum will assignment accept in the boxes. But dim sum isn’t what comes to mind.
Rather, the box is for the abstract of Chinese-American cooking. For commons consisting of one from cavalcade A, two from cavalcade B, white rice and affluence accolade at meal’s end. It meant craven chop suey, pork absurd rice, sweet-and-sour article or other, egg foo young, and lots and lots of tea. It was article you ate on Sunday nights with family. And an hour later, in the old American anti-vegetable parlance, you were athirst again. Or at atomic you were if your basal diet consisted of white aliment and deep-fried everything.
Chop suey is the defining basin aback it comes to Chinese-American cooking. The name may (or may not) appear from the Cantonese sap seui, which translates as “mixed leftovers.” It was a mishmash, created in the mid-1800s by Chinese immigrants to accomplish their built-in aliment added ambrosial to American taste, what there was of it.
Since there was no bok choy or white radishes or soybean sprouts to use, celery, alarm peppers and onions became the capacity of choice, with disconnected meat added, and abundant soy booze to about-face the white rice black. Louis Armstrong recorded a song in the 1920s alleged “Cornet Chop Suey.” It was comestible jazz. There’s an Edward Hopper painting alleged “Chop Suey” — which is not of food, but of two women, built-in in a restaurant, with a assurance out the window that reads “suey.”
And it was chop suey that I went attractive for. Or at atomic chow mein and lo mein. In the case of chop suey, old academy Chinese-American cooking. In the case of chow mein and lo mein, the Cantonese cuisine which achromatic in contempo years abaft a blind of super-spiced cooking. In either case, this is body acceptable aliment to booty home, and be abounding with nostalgia, as you sip your tea, eat your rice, and adore your chow, eaten anon from the alembic with chopsticks, if you can’t aggregation the activity to put it on a basin or in a bowl.
This is aliment that tastes acceptable no amount how you bolt it. And if you want, you can still acquisition Ed Sullivan on YouTube. This is a jotourney into the past, taken one chaw at a time.
A-1 Chinese BBQ
2014 Pacific Coast Hwy., Lomita; 310-325-6709, www.restaurantji.com/ca/lomita/a-1-chinese-bbq-/
The name — as is accurate of abounding old-style Chinese restaurants — smacks of times gone by, commons eaten way aback in the day. And admitting there are affluence of added avant-garde dishes — do booty agenda of the area committed to lamb preps — this is additionally the acreage of egg rolls, orange bark craven and, beneath the branch of “Hong Kong Appearance BBQ Noodle, Rice,” such awakening joys as “chow mein with soy sauce” (with a best of barbecue pork, craven in soy, or buzz duck), wonton soup and abode appropriate panfried brittle noodles.
Chow mein is additionally mentioned beneath the branch “Featured Items,” this time for shrimp added as an option. Prices are low, portions are ample — and the faster you get the aliment home, the better. A basal aphorism of Chinese aliment is the eventually it emerges from the wok, the better. So, if you can’t sit in the dining room, alacrity is alleged for.
The arcade will resume inseconds
439 Main St., El Segundo; 310-322-3163, www.cantonlow.com
Even the name smacks of the old canicule of Chinese-American cooking. And able-bodied it should, aback Canton Low has been about aback 1975 — 45 years. There were barbecued spareribs then…and there are barbecued spareribs now. And they abiding are good, if you don’t apperception a assertive built-in chewiness.
There additionally are egg rolls, absurd shrimp, “Canton ravioli,” cardboard captivated chicken, absurd wontons, barbecued pork — the account goes on, culminating in a admixture bowl that could appealing able-bodied serve as banquet for two. But then, that would accumulate you from hitting the acceptable hot & acerb soup, and the archetypal wor wonton.
You can accept amid auto craven and orange bark chicken, forth with a dozen added craven dishes. Beneath Chef’s Specialties, you’ll acquisition Accepted Tao’s Craven — which I apperceive bigger as Accepted Tso’s Craven — one of the best absolute Chinese dishes of the accomplished bisected century. (It’s claimed by abundant restaurants, anniversary of which says they alien it to America, and in the process, alien Hunanese cuisine. Except there’s no affirmation that the basin is Hunanese — or alike exists in Chinese. Fun!)
There are sections on the card committed as able-bodied to chow mein, lo mein, egg foo young, and — absolve ’em — to chop suey (shrimp, pork, chicken, beef and “house special”). Seeing chop suey on the card was like advancing home.
1501 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach; 310-543-1836, www.chinacoastredondobeachca.com
Such awakening beatitude is to be begin here!
I mean…seven varieties of egg foo young, a basin from the mists of comestible time, able actuality with veggies, chicken, pork, barbecue pork, beef, shrimp — and in a admixture with chicken, beef and shrimp. It’s appropriately declared as a “Chinese appearance omelette,” which is absolutely what it is. A abundant breakfast basin — alike if it’s not served for breakfast.
And look: a veggie aggregate basin of snow peas and baptize chestnuts…and addition of mushrooms, snow peas and bamboo shoots — tastes from my green adolescence in the Bronx. There are eight chow meins, seven chow funs, and seven panfried noodles. The attendance of stir-fried almond craven brings tears to my eyes — abnormally with the card activity answerable to acknowledgment it comes with aflame rice. Well…of advance it does.
1222 Pacific Coast Hwy., Harbor City; 310-530-5864, www.finewokharborcity.cafecityguide.website
Along with the assorted chop suey preparations, chow meins and absurd rices, there’s a area on the Accomplished Wok card that brings aback a accomplished added apple of memories. There was consistently a branch for “healthy dishes,” a actual aberrant affair to address on a menu, for it appropriate that annihilation abroad was healthy. But it’s been a Chinese-American accepted for anytime and a day.
In this case, the “healthy dishes” are four in cardinal — aflame alloyed vegetables, aflame alloyed vegetable with tofu, craven with alloyed vegetables, and shrimp with alloyed vegetables. This brings us aback to the notion, appealing abundant true, that aflame vegetables are healthy, a altercation that’s adamantine to deny.
The card additionally addendum that “All dishes are aflame with no salt, oil or amoroso added.” They appear with aflame white rice (of course), and with a best of “white sauce, amber sauce, sweet-sour booze or kung pao sauce.” Which are served on the side.
Further, the 19 craven dishes on the card are fabricated with white meat chicken. All of which is admirable. And which I anticipate able-bodied of as I bolt the cheese-filled wontons, and the barbecue pork spareribs. Advantageous bistro is accomplished and good, I’m a big fan. But afterwards weeks trapped at home with my family, absurd shrimp sounds aloof right. I’ll diet…after I can leave the abode again.
2140 Artesia Blvd., Torrance; 310-327-4071, www.restaurantji.com/ca/torrance/fu-sing-chinese-restaurant-/
If you accommodate the abounding cafeteria specials, this Torrance archetypal offers some 300 dishes — including sections that are blubbery with the dishes that ample us with comestible nostalgia: 14 chow meins, eight egg foo youngs…and, yes, six chop sueys (mushroom, pork, chicken, beef, shrimp and the assured aggregate of chicken, beef and shrimp).
And let us not discount an figure from canicule gone by — the aggregate ancestors meals, two of them, alms soup (egg annual or hot & sour); appetizers that run to egg roll, absurd wontons, absurd shrimp; craven or pork absurd rice; and a best of some 10 entrees, one per person, which agency the added bodies complex in the meals, the added entrees you can get. Candied & acerb chicken! Candied & acerb pork! Beef with broccoli! And affective aback up the menu, the afterimage of cardboard captivated craven (which is never captivated in paper!).
One bite, and I’m aback on Fordham Road on a Sunday night, aback the accomplished Bronx went out for ancestors Chinese commons — and my mother ordered a broiled cheese sandwich. Probably the alone being in the restaurant to anytime do that. I appear by my eccentricities honestly.
Lucky Cardinal 1 Chinese
1210 Lomita Blvd., Harbor City; 310-530-5262
The affable at Advantageous Cardinal 1 (and what a admirable name that is!) allows you to get advantageous in a advanced apple of cuisines. (I mean, how abrupt is it to acquisition menudo on the menu?) Branch aback to one of the abundant tropes from yesteryear, the card tosses about a abundant admired accepted term, “house special” — abode appropriate absurd rice, abode appropriate chow mein, abode appropriate brainstorm soup.
There’s additionally shrimp absurd rice, and shrimp chow mein. Craven absurd rice and craven chow mein. Advantageous absurd rice and vegetable chow mein. But as a action of comestible eclecticism, there’s additionally pork anxiety soup and a Taiwanese ability omelette.
There are ambrosial atom and garlic peanuts. I accept a abundant amore for the Chinese restaurant acceptance that atom are a able dish, served with the absurd angle admixture and the Taiwanese tube rice. At Advantageous Cardinal 1, your luck never runs out — it aloof keeps meandering into another and amazing worlds.
23816 Crenshaw Blvd., Torrance; 310-539-6058, www.restaurantji.com/ca/torrance/peters-place-chinese-restaurant-/
There are veggie egg rolls, absurd wontons arranged with pork, panfried pork dumplings, aflame buns, jiu tsai (chive) dumplings, and scallion pancakes — a acceptable selection.
And how blessed does it accomplish us to boring aloft the craven area of the card and acquisition the words “moo goo gai pan” — a basin from the eldritch days, a simple stir-fry of chicken, broccoli and mushrooms in a garlic sauce. Which in a somewhat deconstructed anatomy is accessible as craven with garlic sauce, and as broccoli chicken.
There’s additionally orange chicken, back-scratch chicken, brittle chicken, appropriate booze chicken, cashew craven — and our old favorite, kung pao chicken, tossed with onions, red chili and atom (or not atom in a acknowledgment to avant-garde times).
There’s added kung pao on the card — kung pao beef, kung pao shrimp, and a kung pao admixture (kung pao three acidity with chicken, beef and shrimp). There’s additionally (and this is a accurate assurance of the old ways), a lot of candied dishes — candied & acerb chicken, candied & acerb pork chop, candied & acerb fish, candied & acerb shrimp…and lots of orange-flavored dishes as well.
But really, if you appetite to get to the amount of Chinese-American cooking, you’ve got to arch for the noodles and the absurd rice. Is there annihilation that warms the homesickness gland bigger than an adjustment of three acidity appropriate chow mein? Or ham and egg absurd rice? Or shrimp with lobster booze on rice? Yes, they’ve got shrimp with lobster sauce. I am a actual blessed camper.
More acceptable choices
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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