Why Doesn't My Chinese Food Taste Like The Restaurants?

phatch

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I was waiting for someone to say it and finally... So true... It's MSG. And maybe a well seasoned wok. You just cannot develop that kind deep flavor in such short time span without relying on a short cut. 

I rather disagree. If there's a secret it relies on the power of fermented flavorings. Most of the seasonings like rice wine, soy sauce, oyster sauce, bean paste, leverage time and microbes for flavor. Rather than time in the pan, they build on time in fermenting.
 
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How I learned was I ate at many authentic Chinese places with Chinese friends. This way, you learn what you like. Secondly, I had a Chinese give me a tour of the Asian markets so I began to know the basic ingredients.

The chef's above have given some great advice. More than one person mentioned high heat. I have a super stove with a 34,000 BTU burner, which is better than most homes have. The restaurant has a 100,000 BTU or even hotter. Food can become fragrant when cooked at such heat. You cannot duplicate that exactly with better equipment. Millionsknives above mentioned outdoor wok -at home, that is the way to go. The smoke created by proper wok'ing it too much for a flimsy indoor hood.

The cheftalk site has recomendations for cookbooks. Grace Young's books are popular. The Food of China is good starter book.
 
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Here is my mise en place for stir fry tonight - shrimp marinated in ginger, garlic, pepper flake, oyster sauce, dark sesame oil, white pepper, anchovy paste and corn starch.  The plate contains clockwise from 1-o'clock - ginger, garlic, red bell pepper, shaved celery, seasoned tomato, pineapple, in the center is cilantro.  These are laid out in order of operations.  The pot has steamed broccoli and the little bowl has raw peanuts. The sauce is oyster sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, tamarind sauce, low sodium soy sauce, fish sauce, peanut butter, coconut milk and corn starch.  I'm using virgin coconut oil and sesame oil and I'm probably leaving something out, but you get the idea.  This is not a "challenge" dish for this month - /img/vbsmilies/smilies/lol.gif

 
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Got any shao hsing wine, or sherry. A little bit can make a difference!
 
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Not counting the meat, fowl, fish or shell fish, I like to have most of these ingredients ON HAND. I tend to cook extemporaneously so I may not have everything planned but with these ingredients I can coble together fairly good flavors. I do keep a supply of Thai and Chinese noodles as well.
#Chinese EssentialsCommentsBrand(s)
1Jamine RiceFragrant Long Grain aka Hom Mali - “good smelling”Elephant Brand
Golden Phoenix
2Soy Sauce  Kikkoman
Pearl River Bridge
San-J Organic Tamari
3Soy, BlackThai brand with molasses (add flavor and some sweetness.)Healthy Boy  (Thai)
4Soy, Mushroomdark syrupyLee Kum Kee or
Pearl River Bridge
5Sa Cha SauceChinese Sauce made from shrimp, brill fish and a mixture of spices, has an aromatic seafood flavorLee Kum Kee
6Char Siu SauceChinese BBQ sauce wt honey and MaltoseLee Kum Kee
7MirinRice Wine, sweet (actually Japanese)Kikkoman Aji-Mirin
8Oil, peanut    
9Oil, Toasted hot sesametoasted sesame oil seeped with red chillesLook at ingredients
10Fish Saucemade from anchovies and water
Tiparos
11Shaoxing cooking winefermented from rice from Shaoxingmany
12Vinegar, blackstronger smoky woodsy flavor than rice vinegar.Chinkiang
13Vinegar, seasoned rice wine  aka sushi vinegarMarukan
14Corn starchThickener and sauces  
15white pepper    
16Chinese (tianjin) chilies(both crushed and whole)  
17Sichuan pepper    
18Garlic    
19Fresh Ginger    
20Dried mushroomshot pot, stir fry, soup, spring rolls  
21Fermented Black beansshell fish, fish, stir fry  
22scallions    
23onion    
24Napa cabbage    
25firm tofu    
26Water Chestnuts    
27snow peas    
28bean sprouts    
29Green bell peppers    
30carrots    
I make my own hot sauce from peanut oil in garlic, ginger, red arbor chilles, and fermented black beans.
 
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@Steve TPHC  Nice list. 

I read in a book (that I cannot seem to find at the moment) that the combination of flavors has as much to do with taste as it does philosophy. Each ingredient represents something, each process brings out the "chi," and the collection of ingredients within that process needs to be harmonious. It completely upended my perception of food in general. Especially Chinese food. 

I wish I could remember the book. It's buried somewhere. 
 
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I'd be tempted to add two things to the list: yellow bean paste, hot bean paste and fermented vegetable.
 
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The health unit in my city made restaurant health inspections available online for all to see.  No offense and i don't mean to be racist, a majority of chinese and Japanese restaurants have received severe infractions and some have even been closed down 1 or 2 times.

Long story short, add some cockroach puree
 
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The health unit in my city made restaurant health inspections available online for all to see.  No offense and i don't mean to be racist, a majority of chinese and Japanese restaurants have received severe infractions and some have even been closed down 1 or 2 times.

Long story short, add some cockroach puree
I worked for Lockheed Martin in San Jose. The cafeteria was run by the Marriot Hotel. In 9 years, I have gotten sick there three times because of unsafe food handling by the staff. I also ate off a Mexican food truck for 11 years without even getting sick. Eventually the truck was shut down because it did not pass code.

Can you draw any conclusions from these data. Not too much.

I can say that if a place makes me sick, I am not going to want to eat there. I am sure our cafeteria never failed a health inspection.
 
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@Steve TPHC  Nice list. 

I read in a book (that I cannot seem to find at the moment) that the combination of flavors has as much to do with taste as it does philosophy. Each ingredient represents something, each process brings out the "chi," and the collection of ingredients within that process needs to be harmonious. It completely upended my perception of food in general. Especially Chinese food. 

I wish I could remember the book. It's buried somewhere. 
In Chinese Gastronomy, the authors Hsiaang Ju Lin and Tsuifeng Lin speak to the harmonious "marriage of flavors". Their second chapter is dedicated to "flavour". Perhaps this is the book you are thinking of?

The Chinese have perected their art for 5,000 years while I...I am still in the stone age!
 
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