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Moo Goo Gai Pan and Other Mysterious Chinese Menu Items, Explained

Moo Goo Gai Pan and Other Mysterious Chinese Menu Items, Explained

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When we order what passes for Chinese food in this country, we tend to stick to a handful of familiar items. Well, we’re here to demystify them for you.

Moo Goo Gai Pan and Other Mysterious Chinese Menu Items, Explained (Slideshow)

As opposed to menus for many other cuisines, which often provide an explanation or description for each dish, Chinese menus, for whatever reason, often leave us in the dark. They list moo goo gai pan with nothing in the way of explanation: Does it contain some sort of meat? Noodles? Vegetables? Sauce? Nobody is exactly sure why Chinese restaurants usually don’t venture to explain what’s on their menus — maybe they just assume that because all menus are essentially identical they’ve seeped into the collective unconscious — but most of us remain entirely in the dark about what some of these menu items are.

Some Chinese menu items (and by Chinese, we mean Chinese-American, by the way) are fairly self-explanatory. Order chicken with string beans and you’ll get, well, chicken with string beans. Other items, like sweet and sour pork and General Tso’s chicken, are so engrained in American culture that they might as well be, say, hamburger. If hamburger’s on a menu, you know what you’re going to get. Same with General Tso’s.

We’re not saying that there isn’t anybody out there who gauges a restaurant based on the quality of their sha cha beef and orders it every time. We’re just saying that there are far more people who are completely mystified by the dish than people who are well-versed in all its nuances. So if you’ve always been intrigued by those slightly mysterious Chinese menu items but have never been adventurous enough to order them, read on. And if you think we’ve left any off, let us know in the comments!

Chow Fun

This staple Cantonese dish gets its name from the noodles involved, which are called ho fun. They’re wide and flat, with a chewy texture, and usually paired with a protein (beef chow fun, chicken chow fun), bean sprouts, onions, and occasionally other mixed vegetables, all cooked in a wok with soy sauce over high heat.

Chow Mein

Chow mein translates to “fried noodles” in the Taishan dialect of Chinese, and that’s exactly what they are. When you see chow mein on a menu, it usually implies that the dish will consist of noodles, meat (there’s usually one indicated), onions, celery, and occasionally other vegetables, mixed with soy sauce; it’s occasionally synonymous with lo mein. There’s also crispy chow mein, which is primarily composed of fried flat noodles topped with a thick brown sauce. When you’re ordering, ask whether it’s steamed or crispy so you know what you’ll be getting.

Things You Should Never Order From A Chinese Restaurant

It's tempting after a long day at work to take the easy route for dinner and drop some dollars on Chinese food. After all, it's easy, tasty, and you don't have to do the washing up, but although going out for Asian deliciousness is an easy choice when you're tired and hangry, it doesn't come without its risks. Not all restaurants are created equal, and the same is true for the food they make. In some restaurants, the food on your plate may be indistinguishable from that found on a plate in Beijing, but in others, the food you awkwardly wrangle into your mouth may be about as authentically Chinese as Kentucky Fried Chicken, and have all the health "benefits" to match. So next time you decide to eat with sticks, just remember some things are better left on the menu.

10 Healthiest Chinese Food Takeout Options

Chinese takeout is delicious but not always the healthiest choice, as it’s typically loaded with salt, sugar, oil, and processed additives.

Luckily, there are some healthier takeout options if you’re craving Chinese food.

Here are the 10 healthiest Chinese takeout options, along with tips to choose healthier entrées, side items, and sauces.

Egg foo young is a Chinese omelet made with eggs and chopped vegetables. It may also contain meat, such as beef, pork, chicken, or shrimp.

Because it’s made with eggs, it’s rich in protein, containing 106 calories and 10 grams of protein in a single patty (86 grams) ( 1 ).

Egg foo young also contains vegetables like onions, carrots, and peas, which increase the fiber and nutrient content of the dish.

To make it even healthier, inquire whether your egg foo young can be lightly fried instead of deep fried, and avoid the salty brown sauce that’s often served with it.

Chinese dumplings are pockets of dough filled with seasoned meat and vegetables, usually pork and cabbage.

They are often fried, but you can choose steamed dumplings to cut down on calories and fat. One medium steamed dumpling is only 40 calories ( 2 ).

Although the soy-sauce-based dipping sauce is low in calories, it’s high in sodium, so try to limit how much sauce you use if you are salt-sensitive.

Hot and sour soup is made with mushrooms, bamboo shoots, eggs, and ginger in chicken broth. It also contains vinegar and spices, which add the hot and sour components to the dish.

On the other hand, egg drop soup is made simply with ribbons of cooked egg in chicken broth. However, takeout versions may be highly processed and contain additives.

Both soups are low in calories — containing only 65–90 calories per 1 cup (240 mL) serving — and you can make them even healthier by avoiding the fried lo mein noodles that are often offered as a topping ( 3 , 4 ).

Moo goo gai pan is a lightly sauced chicken and vegetable stir-fry containing mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, and water chestnuts.

Because it’s full of vegetables and lean chicken, it’s relatively low in calories. However, the chicken provides plenty of protein, making it a filling dish. One cup (216 grams) contains only 160 calories while offering 15 grams of protein ( 5 ).

Be sure to ask for light sauce, as the sauce is likely to be high in salt and sugar.

Beef and broccoli is a simple dish of stir-fried beef and broccoli in a light sauce.

It’s a relatively healthy dish, low in carbs, and high in protein. However, it’s often made with inexpensive, fatty cuts of beef. One cup (217 grams) contains 336 calories, 23 grams of fat, and 23 grams of protein ( 6 ).

Like moo goo gai pan, its sauce may be high in salt and sugar, so you should opt for light sauce.

Chop suey is another stir-fry dish made from meat, eggs, and thinly sliced vegetables in a light sauce. It’s often made with pork.

Like other stir-fries, it’s a healthier choice because it’s made from a protein source and vegetables. One cup of pork chop suey with no noodles contains 216 calories and provides 23 grams of protein ( 7 ).

However, you should choose light sauce to further limit the salt and sugar content.

Chicken and broccoli is similar to beef and broccoli, consisting of chicken and broccoli stir-fried in a light sauce.

However, it’s a leaner option than beef and broccoli that still offers plenty of protein. One cup (153 grams) provides 13 grams of protein and only 145 calories ( 8 ).

If possible, choose to go easy on the sauce to limit the sodium, sugar, and calories in this dish.

Many Chinese restaurants offer a baked salmon option, which is a great choice.

Baked salmon is high in protein, rich in healthy omega-3 fats, and contains no carbs. A 3-ounce (85-gram) portion cooked with butter contains 156 calories, 21 grams of protein, and 7 grams of fat ( 9 ).

Paired with a side of steamed vegetables, baked salmon is a perfect entrée for low carb or keto dieters.

Happy family, or triple delight, is a stir-fry made from meat, such as chicken or pork, seafood, and vegetables.

It’s served in a thick brown sauce, usually over rice. Although its exact nutrition info is not available, happy family is high in protein because it contains both meat and seafood, while the vegetables add fiber.

Like other stir-fries, you should choose light sauce to limit the added calories, fat, sugar, and salt.

Buddha’s delight is a great option for vegans and vegetarians. It’s a stir-fry made with tofu and steamed vegetables like bok choy, cabbage, and broccoli in a light, savory sauce.

Because it’s completely plant-based, it contains some fiber, as well as protein from the tofu. One cup (217 grams) provides 193 calories and contains 3 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein ( 10 ).

Additionally, tofu is one of the few complete proteins available to vegans and vegetarians, meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids your body needs to build new proteins ( 11 ).

When trying to order healthier Chinese takeout foods, it’s important to be aware of the cooking method that’s used.

Many Chinese takeout entrées are battered and deep fried, and you should avoid these, as they are high in added fat, starch, and calories.

Others may be water-velveted, or coated in cornstarch, to provide the smooth, velvety texture of the meat in many stir-fries. Water-velveting is healthier than deep frying but still adds extra starchy carbs and calories.

Ideally, you should choose entrées that are baked, steamed, boiled, or sautéed in a small amount of oil.

Additionally, you should consider serving size. The typical serving size for a Chinese takeout entrée — especially stir-fries — is 1 cup (200–240 grams). Because Chinese takeout often comes in large portions, a single order could contain up to four servings.

To limit calories, make sure you measure out an appropriate portion size and save the rest for other meals.

Another important consideration when choosing healthier Chinese takeout is your side item.

Typical Chinese takeout sides like fried rice, lo mein noodles, crab rangoon, and egg rolls are high in calories, fat, and carbs.

Healthier choices include steamed brown rice, sautéed or steamed vegetables, spring rolls, or soups like egg drop soup or hot and sour soup.

Most Chinese takeout dishes are also served in some kind of sauce. Sauces can be a significant source of calories, fat, sugar, and salt in Chinese dishes — even if it doesn’t seem like there’s much sauce.

As a general rule of thumb, thicker and stickier sauces, such as General Tso’s, are higher in sugar and calories, while thinner sauces are lower in calories unless they are very oily.

Order your dish with light sauce or sauce on the side so you can control how much is added to your food.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a controversial additive that’s found in many Chinese takeout dishes. It’s a concentrated source of salty and savory umami flavor and has a flavor profile reminiscent of soy sauce ( 12 ).

However, MSG has long been the subject of scientific controversy. Some people claim that it causes headaches, asthma, and weight gain, but there’s little evidence to support these claims ( 13 , 14 , 15 ).

Recent research has found that MSG presents little risk of harm to most people when consumed in moderate amounts ( 16 ).

Regardless, if you’re concerned about MSG in your food, be sure to ask your local Chinese restaurant if they use it. In light of the controversy surrounding the substance, some Chinese restaurants have chosen to stop using the additive.

Although many Chinese takeout options are unhealthy, there are healthy choices as well.

Stir-fries are a great option because they contain protein from meat or tofu, as well as vegetables, which add fiber and nutrients.

You should also choose healthier cooking options and side dishes, and limit the amount of sauce on your food and your portion size.

Where to get good Chinese food in China

In China, you have different options to grab some good food. But there are some differences regarding the food quality which should be considered.

Maybe it’s obvious, but you usually take a risk with anything off the street or in a small restaurant. You get a higher quality, if you eat at a “chain store”, a restaurant or at restaurant ins malls/ shopping centers. The best rule seems to be: go with your gut ! If you don’t feel comfortable or have the impression, that the restaurant isn’t as clean as it should be, you should not eat there. Otherwise, give it a try!

Tip: Even if you don’t plan to eat street food, you should visit some of the local night and food markets. There is no better way to get to know a country than experiencing their cuisines. People who have a good sense of smell should be aware of stinky tofu!

What are local delicacies around China?


Feature: Salty, simple, fewer vegetables with wheat as the staple food

Regions: Beijing, Xi’an, Inner Mongolia, and Northeast China

Whole roast lamb


The Best Chinese Presentst for Friends and Family

China has one of the oldest civilizations in the world, so it should come as no surprise that people everywhere are obsessed with its culture, cuisine, fashion, art, history and more. Here are just a few tips for finding and buying the coolest Chinese gifts this side of the Huanghai Sea!

Did you know that Chinese checkers originated in Germany and has nothing to do with China at all? Similarly, koi fish are a Japanese species, and those pointed straw hats that you might think of as “Asian” are actually a Vietnamese staple. You’ll want to avoid making these kinds of cultural errors in your gift, especially if your recipient is actually from China. They’ll take one look at a teapot with a koi fish on it and realize that you didn’t do your homework.

Narrow Down Their Interest Areas

Why do they like Chinese culture? What appeals to them? If they’re Chinese themselves, what do they miss about their home country, and what would touch their heart when they’re reminded of it? Rather than wading through a gigantic pile of Chinese-related goods, try to narrow your focus into something like “food” or “fashion” or “film.” You can always branch off from these things later, but having somewhere to start will let you explore your options without getting overwhelmed by 2,000+ years of culture.

It’s cliche, but it’s true: China has a lot of knockoffs. They aren’t all bad some of them are just as cool or functional as the original, and purchasing them can save you a lot of money. Others, however, are total scams, so you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for any deals that seem too good to be true. Know how to spot fakes, and read reviews to make sure that customers aren’t complaining about the products that they received. You might also want to double-check things like translations. Don’t give a heartfelt romantic gift that actually has a Chinese menu printed on it!

5 Healthy Chinese Food Orders That'll Save You Hundreds of Calories

From beef and broccoli to chicken lo mein, we found the healthiest swaps for your favorite dishes.

Whether you&rsquore burning the midnight oil at the office or can&rsquot muster enough energy to whip up a quick dinner at home, Chinese takeout is just a few Seamless clicks away.

The problem is most dishes are loaded with artery-clogging oils and sugary sauces&mdashnot to mention a flavor enhancer called monosodium glutamate (MSG), which can spike your hunger. The average Chinese takeout dish can easily pack in more than a day&rsquos worth of calories, fat, and sodium. For example, a serving of orange chicken from Panda Express will cost you 490 calories and a whopping 820 milligrams of sodium&mdashand that&rsquos not counting the fried rice and egg rolls.

So what can you do to slim down your order and ensure you&rsquore getting a balanced meal? We asked Keri Glassman, MS, RDN, CDN, founder of Nutritious Life, to break down the best and worst Chinese food options out there. Here are her tips for navigating the takeout menu.

How to order healthy Chinese food

Protein and produce is best! &ldquoStick to ordering simple meals like meat and veggies. Order sauces on the side to control the amount that is put on the food and ask for extra veggies,&rdquo says Glassman.

Most Chinese dishes have skyrocketing amounts of sodium&mdashlike sweet and sour chicken and fried wontons&mdashso if you know you&rsquore ordering in for dinner, eat less sodium throughout the day. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 2,3000 milligrams of sodium a day with an ideal limit of 1,500 milligrams. Be sure to also drink plenty of water with your meal to help reduce the salt onslaught.

The healthiest Chinese food takeout options

Skip this: Egg rolls
Order this: Shrimp spring rolls

Egg rolls might pack some veggies, but it&rsquos not enough to forgive the processed meats and deep-fried shell&mdashplus the sweet dipping sauce. Instead, Glassman suggests ordering shrimp spring rolls made with rice paper wrappers. They&rsquore often filled with carrots, lettuce, and bean sprouts, making a low-calorie and nutrient-dense side. &ldquoEat your food as is when it arrives and avoid soy or hoisin sauce,&rdquo Glassman says. These sauces tack on unnecessary calories and can hike up your daily sodium count.

Skip this: Pork dumplings
Order this: Steamed vegetable dumplings

These doughy pot stickers are usually small orders, but their calorie and sodium counts say otherwise. Take, P.F. Chang&rsquos four-piece pork dumplings. Just a serving has 330 calories and 720 milligrams of sodium&mdashthat&rsquos enough for a meal, not an appetizer. Plus, it&rsquos not just the deep-fried dough that&rsquos the issue. The fillings call for a variety of ground meat, including pork, beef, and chicken, that&rsquos been doused in everything from sesame oil to oyster sauce.

A better pick is to go for steamed veggie dumplings, which have bok choy, red pepper, garlic, mushrooms, scallions, and fresh ginger. Consider splitting the dish with your significant other or a friend, so you can save your calories for the main dish.

Skip this: General Tso&rsquos chicken
Order this: Honey garlic chicken

Ever wonder what makes General Tso&rsquos chicken addictive? It&rsquos a mysterious combination of cornstarch, orange juice, and rice vinegar, and sugar&mdashthe recipe for a diabetic coma. To get your salty, sweet fix, Glassman says an order of honey garlic chicken is the way to go. It&rsquos slightly healthier with fewer additional calorie-laden sauces.

Skip this: Beef and broccoli
Order this: Shrimp with brown rice and veggies

A simple order of beef and broccoli might seem like a good choice, but the salty black bean sauce alone might be a day&rsquos worth of sodium. P.F. Chang&rsquos beef and broccoli dish, for instance, has 770 calories, 33 grams of fat, and 2,110 milligrams of sodium. Oh, and 33 grams of sugar. Yikes!

For a healthier alternative, Glassman recommends ordering shrimp with veggies and brown rice (instead of white or fried rice) and having the black bean sauce on the side. &ldquoAdd one to two tablespoons of the black bean sauce to the shrimp in a mixing bowl. You&rsquoll see you really don&rsquot need much more than this to get the same flavor,&rdquo she says. &ldquoYou get lean protein from the shrimp and lots of antioxidants, fiber, and even a bit of water from the veggies.&rdquo

Skip this: Chicken lo mein
Order this: Chicken chop suey

While it&rsquos tasty and super filling, a cup of chicken lo mein can easily cost you a 1,000 calories of refined carbs, unhealthy oils, and blood sugar-raising sauces. Glassman says chicken chop suey is a much safer bet because it includes plenty of stir-fried veggies that&rsquoll keep you satiated. &ldquoOrder brown rice and portion out a few tablespoons into the veggies and chicken versus the veggies and protein sitting on top of a plate of rice,&rdquo Glassman adds.

5. Anything on a Stick

Boyd suggests ordering skewered proteins, like the beef or chicken found on a pupu platter, if you want a protein-rich meal. &ldquoWhile they may marinate the chicken, pork and beef in a sugary concoction at some places,&rdquo she says, &ldquothe protein content you&rsquoll get from ordering teriyaki skewers far outweighs the other choices you may have.&rdquo If you want to be really savvy, she recommends ordering a side of stir-fried mixed vegetables (with sauce on the side, of course) so you don&rsquot miss the deep-fried snacks that often accompany a pupu platter, like egg rolls and fried wontons.

A few other healthy Chinese food ideas Boyd suggests? Shrimp spring rolls (just skip the soy sauce to cut back on sodium), egg drop soup, chop suey (usually just a mélange of veggies and protein), chicken or shrimp lettuce wraps and Peking duck with veggies. A general rule: As long as you choose vegetables over rice and carb-laden sides (and stick to stir-fries instead of deep-fried dishes), you should be in the clear.

Sauces for Main Dishes

Many Chinese takeaway dishes will offer simple dishes involving a meat type in a sauce, such as &lsquobeef in black bean sauce&rsquo, or &lsquochicken in sweet and sour sauce&rsquo. Here are some of the most common sauces used, and what they will taste like:

Black Bean Sauce

A rich, almost black sauce made from fermented black soya bean paste, known as douchi, mixed with soy sauce, garlic and chilli. It is typically used in stir-fried meat dishes to add a strong salt and spice flavouring.

Hoisin Sauce

Made from soybeans, starch, vinegar, garlic, sesame seeds and red chilli peppers, this sauce tends to be rather thick and strong smelling. It is used as a glaze for meat, and as a sauce in duck pancakes.

Oyster Sauce

A commonly used sauce in Chinese cuisine, oyster sauce was originally made from cooking oysters until their juices caramelised. Now it is more readily available, instead made from cornstarch and sugar, flavoured with oyster and coloured with caramel.

Quite simply a sauce made from plums! It is mostly enjoyed with duck dishes, or as a dip for starters such as spring rolls.

A peanut-based sauce made from crushed peanuts, coconut milk, dark soy sauce, brown sugar, coriander and garlic. While most satay is quite mild, some have added red chillies for a bit of heat.

Sweet and Sour

Made from sugar, soy sauce, ketchup and vinegar, this sauce tends to be enjoyed as a dip or pourable sauce with crispy chicken balls in Chinese takeaways.

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Moo Goo Gai Pan Recipe Allrecipes DA: 18 PA: 31 MOZ Rank: 49

  • Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat until it begins to smoke
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What Exactly Is Moo Goo Gai Pan, Anyway

  • Take moo goo gai pan, for example
  • It’s actually a lot simpler than its name might suggest: It’s typically just sliced or cubed chicken (gai pin in Cantonese) with button mushrooms (mohgu in Cantonese) and a variety of other vegetables, usually including bamboo shoots, snow peas, water chestnuts, and Chinese cabbage.

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  • I can see that “moo goo guy pan” is supposed to be a transliteration of the dish name to phonetically sound like the Chinese name, but I’m afraid it has been modified to make it easier to pronounce
  • The more accurate transliteration of that dish in Cantonese is “maw goo guy peen” or 蘑菇雞片. Maw Goo 蘑菇 – Mushroom

Moo Goo Gai Pan Recipe Authentic Chinese Food Recipes Blog

  • Moo Goo Gai Pan is a typical Americanized Cantonese dish, a simple stir-fry dish using button mushroom and chicken slices as its main ingredients
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  • Moo Gai Pan is a healthy Asian Chinese stir fry of chicken and mushrooms
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Easy Moo Goo Gai Pan Recipe & How to Make Moo Goo Gai Pan

Moo Goo Gai Pan is a classic Chinese dish with tender chicken pieces and mushrooms then add in crisp vegetables such as carrots, water chestnuts, snow peas all stir fried together with a …

Moo Goo Guy Pan Tai Hong Chinese

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Moo Goo Gai Pan: Mushroom and Chicken Stir Fry The Woks

Moo Goo Gai Pan is a Cantonese dish and translates directly to “mushrooms and sliced chicken." I remember this classic healthy Chinese dish from my first job in a Chinese restaurant in upstate New York where this Moo Goo Gai Pan were served amongst a host of Americanized Chinese

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My grandma always orders moo goo gai pan when we eat out at chinese, so I wanted to try this recipe out and hopefully surprise her one day! I think she will be happily surprised with this one! I did change the veggies up a little bit to my liking and how it's served at our local chinese

Moo Goo Gai Pan (蘑菇鸡片) Omnivore's Cookbook

  • Moo Goo Gai Pan, or “mo gu ji pian”, means mushrooms and sliced chicken
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  • Moo goo gai pan is a simple Americanized version of the popular Chinese stir fry dish
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  • Moo goo gai pan is a simple American-Chinese stir fry made with chicken (gai pin in Cantonese), mushrooms (mohgu in Cantonese) and vegetables such as carrots, snow peas, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts
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  • Chinese (Mandarin) Pronunciation: Chinese (Hong Kong) Pronunciation: How To Pronounce Moo Goo Guy Pan

Neareastchinese – Restaurant Menu

Moo goo guy pan $13.95 Cashews chicken guy ding (vegetables) $17.95 Beef broccoli $13.95 Szechuan Beef $16.95 Curry chicken $14.95 Lemon chicken $13.95 Soo Guy (Sweet sour, pineapple sauce) $13.95 General Tao chicken $14.95 Kong po chicken (hot & spicy) $15.95 Chicken chow mein $10.50 Pot stickers (home made dumpling ) Pork $9.95

What a REAL Chinese Home Cooked Meal in China Looks Like

Watch my Chinese wife try the hottest pepper in the world! She didn’t have a good time!
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The Patreons have voted and you guys wanted to see what an average, normal, everyday meal looks like in China. Chinese food is diverse, so we are covering Cantonese food today. We head to the wet market and buy all of our fresh Chinese ingredients, and head home to cook a normal Chinese meal. Vivi did her best! Enjoy, and don’t forget to become a Patreon if you want to help shape this channel and it’s topics!
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Pea Tips and Spicy Pig's Ear

General Tso's chicken doesn't get much respect these days. Those deep-fried chicken nuggets with their brown, sticky sauce have taken chop suey's place as the most mocked item on a Chinese restaurant menu--the way people talk, you'd think the General was the Colonel.

Thirty years ago, General Tso's heady dose of ginger and garlic and crisp, flash-sauteed broccoli was an exciting change from the pale, bland, slimy chop suey and chow mein that dominated Chinese menus. Now they're all in the same boat, dismissed with a sniff by food sophisticates as "Americanized."

As long as I've lived in Ann Arbor, I've heard rumors that you can get authentic off-menu Chinese food here if you know where to look. Though my editor reminded me that what one culture considers authentic does not necessarily align with what another culture considers tasty, I decided the time had come to finally chase those rumors.

So where do Chinese people go for Chinese food in Ann Arbor? And what do they order and why?

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a self-described ABC--American-born Chinese. Bilingual in Chinese and English, and well traveled in Asia, she writes and speaks widely on Asian-American issues and Chinese culture, including contributing reviews of family events to the Observer.

She suggested meeting at Asia City on Washtenaw one Sunday. One of Ann Arbor's Chinese high school classes would be there for lunch and a lecture by Yu-Jin Kung, a formidable woman of a certain age who once taught Chinese table manners to American diplomats. Her talk was in Chinese, but Frances whispered a simultaneous translation in my ear, and a few items struck me as not only easy to remember but delightfully arbitrary.

Mrs. Kung says: "Eat from the front of your plate to the back. Only dogs eat from the middle. Also, don't shake your chopsticks, and don't ever put your chopsticks in your mouth." If this seems like an odd rule for an eating utensil, she delicately demonstrated that your chopsticks are

meant to convey the food to your mouth. Once they're knocking on the door, your mouth is expected to do its part. (The adept Mrs. Kung also demonstrated how to drink from a glass without smearing it with lipstick, which--if you're wearing lipstick--is not easy.)

She ended on a grand, philosophic note: "Use your very best manners, all the time, even when you're all alone. That way, when you are out in company, you will be relaxed and natural."

Americans, and probably Chinese too, come to the Asia City buffet for the crazy, all-you-can-eat bounty--fried rice sits next to mashed potatoes and gravy, gloopy broccoli-and-cheese casserole next to something that looks like chop suey.But it also includes well-rendered Chinese classics--and Frances led me to a few oddities that were certainly not put there for Americans.

Specifically, check out the first table on the left. Along with Jell-O, you'll find some rubbery-textured things such as seaweed salad and sliced pig ears. Frances calls these Chinese cold cuts: "In China you would eat them as a late-night snack or at the beginning of a banquet." She continued to wander the buffet with a practiced eye, quickly picking up her favorites and ignoring the rest: "these wide rice noodles are very good, and they do a pretty good mapo tofu, as well as these sesame balls."

We finished with two soups, red-bean-and-taro and white-fungus-and-date. Courtesy of Mrs. Kung, I knew to eat these with a spoon, because both are cold and sweet hot, savory soups are drunk from the bowl.

Frances teaches a Beginning Chinese class at WCC. At the end of the semester, she always takes her students to TK Wu, where their final exam is to order a meal in Chinese. In April, she let me join them.

Everyone ordered one dish, and we passed them all around. Some students had asked Frances for recommendations, and she wasn't shy about giving them, so we ate a lot of her favorites from the menu section labeled "authentic Chinese dishes": roast duck, shrimp/eggplant/tofu hot pot, chicken and jalapeno, TK Wu's Special Pork ("very fatty and not very good for you--it's like stewed, uncured bacon," she smiled), and pea tips with garlic. A "pea tip," she explained, doesn't even have a standardized translation, sometimes showing up on menus as "pea greens" or "pea leaves." You can also find these leaves and tendrils trimmed from young pea plants in area Asian markets, and quickly saute them yourself. At TK Wu, they're so green you can taste the chlorophyll.

Wei Bee laughed in recognition when I told him I was pursuing rumors of off-menu Chinese food. Born near Beijing, he lived some years in Korea before his family moved to Saginaw to work in the Chinese restaurant industry. Eventually, Wei's father would own several restaurants in Ann Arbor, and he still owns the building that now houses Ypbor Yan.

As a student, Wei worked at one of the family's restaurants: "At the end of the evening, the cooks would make two or three things for themselves to eat, and [Anglo] customers would often approach the table and say 'Hey, that looks good, why don't you put it on the menu?'"

Wei met his wife, Lisa--an ABC from a Chinese-restaurant-owning family in Cleveland--a few decades ago, while they were students at the U-M. The founders of Sweetwaters Cafe, they are self-assured navigators of restaurants in general, but they're peerless when it comes to local Chinese.

The Bees suggested meeting for dinner at Kai Garden on Main, which, unlike many local Chinese restaurants, doesn't claim it specializes in Hunan and Szechuan cooking. This alone is a tip-off that it might be a good place to eat actual Chinese food, Wei noted: very few Chinese immigrants are from the provinces of Hunan or Szechuan, and the place names themselves "aren't recipes for anything. You don't know what you're going to get."

Kai Garden's main menu resembles other local Chinese menus, but there's a second menu of Hong Kong and Taiwanese specialties. Anglos usually have to ask for it, but it's handed out automatically to anyone who looks Chinese, and that's the one we ordered from.

"Pigs' feet are considered a delicacy. They're so inexpensive here, Chinese go crazy over them," said Lisa. We began with a first course of "delicious pork hock with jelly fish" and "beef tendon"--the kind of chewy, gelatinous "Chinese cold cuts" Frances had pointed out to me at Asia City. Though "pork hock" suggested huge knucklebones, the meat was sliced wafer-thin in cross-section and fanned out over loops of opalescent skeins of chewy jellyfish, with a vinegary dipping sauce. The beef tendon, sliced in lozenge-sized bites in a garlic sauce, was still another species of chewy.

We also could have chosen cold shredded pig stomach or spicy pig ear, which in fact, I did order another day. The pig's ear was like the pig's ear at Asia City--cold, about the size and consistency of a sliced dried apricot, here in a slick red-pepper-flecked sauce. Like all of the cold cuts I tried, it was, above all, cold and rubbery.

At Asia City, Frances had raved over the spicy duck feet, which unfortunately they didn't have the day we were there. Nor did I get to try chicken feet, which, she told me, are also a bargain in the U.S. In fact, I concluded that chewy, cartilaginous animal parts are so popular in China, and so unpopular here, that this is by far the most reliable way to bypass "Chinese-American" and get straight to the real stuff--if it appeals to you. But that's an "if" some can't cross, and there are plenty of other options.

Wei remembers that "ants on the tree" (vermicelli in a sauce flecked with pork) was one of the things that his father's staff made at the end of the day. It's on the menu at Kai Garden, so we ordered it. Oily and deeply flavored, it's spicy, soul-satisfying comfort food if you like the slightly viscous texture of bean thread noodles. We also sampled a hot pot of salted fish and diced chicken. Hot pot is Chinese pot roast: meat, bones, gravy, and some well-stewed vegetables and it's a pretty good bet in a Chinese restaurant--hard to screw up, and hard to imagine anyone really hating it, though it might not be the most exciting thing you've ever eaten. Waitress Tina Yin, who's worked at Kai Garden for years, says she recommends hot pot as an entry-level dish for Anglos who want to taste real Chinese food. During their spring season, Tina also highly recommends water spinach and watercress, sauteed with (optional) shrimp paste.

Lisa chose our third dish, black mushroom with Shanghai bok choy. Black mushrooms are considered "lucky" in China, but they've never caught on with Americans--hence, they're unlikely to appear in dishes reinvented for American taste buds. Be forewarned: they're large, dense, and chewy--one nearly throttled me as I struggled to reduce it to something I could swallow.

Wei and Lisa tried to come up with some rules for ordering good Chinese food (my own rule No. 1 would be "invite Wei and Lisa out to dinner"). Wei noted an exception to his rule that geographic names are meaningless: "Mongolian beef actually is a classic Chinese recipe--although I don't know what they mean by it here," he said, scanning Kai Garden's regular menu with amusement--he'd never seen it: "I've seen this moo goo gai pan in other restaurants too. Gai means chicken," he says, then thinks a minute, "so I guess this means something like chicken and vegetables." Not a ringing endorsement of authenticity, despite the Chinese name. Also, he advises, "don't order anything with broccoli"--it's not a Chinese vegetable.

Lisa, after thinking a bit, says: "whole fish, that's pretty Chinese." And, broccoli aside, big piles of sauteed vegetables are very Cantonese, "but you don't often see them on a menu--it's too plain for most people." Her family is originally from Canton. She looks slyly at Wei: "In Beijing, they stew all their vegetables. You never see green ones there."

"You're right," Wei says mildly. "Personally I like Cantonese food the best. We do overcook our food in Beijing."

Lisa says poor execution particularly bedevils Cantonese food. "Wonton soup is wonderful, but I don't know of any place in town that makes a good one. Egg foo young is kind of like a Cantonese omelet. We make it at home, but restaurants here tend to turn it into kind of a deep-fried thing." And she explains the lobster-less "lobster sauce" that has been on Chinese restaurant menus for generations: "a very good Cantonese sauce made from egg and pork, and it's meant to go with lobster. Chinese restaurants in this country are where people go for inexpensive food, so they rarely offer the lobster that's supposed to go with it!

"You know what?" adds Lisa thoughtfully, "There's nothing wrong with American Chinese food. I long for it sometimes--the chop suey, the chow mein. I'm thinking a lot of other Chinese Americans, and just older Americans, long for it too. I've often thought a restaurant that did it right could be a great success."

Greg Guo emigrated from Beijing twenty-five years ago and owns the Evergreen Restaurant in Plymouth Mall. He knows three generations of customers by their distinctive preferences in food. "Seniors still ask for old-style Cantonese food, like chop suey, egg foo young, so forth. This food is a hundred years old." It's sometimes called Toisan, or Taishan, after the region near Canton that exported nearly all of the Chinese workers who built America's western railroads.

Middle-aged eaters order "Szechuan" and "Hunan" dishes. "When we opened our restaurant in 1992, things like kung pao chicken were popular. It's Chinese food, but with lots of changing." Strict health regulations and the unavailability of true Chinese produce explains some of it, but also: "Chinese food is salt-based--it doesn't have much sugar. Recipes here add sugar" for the American sweet tooth.

About five years ago, Greg started to see a third wave of customers: "When we opened twenty years ago, there weren't many Chinese students, and those who were here couldn't afford to eat in restaurants." Now Chinese students form enough of a constituency to make real Chinese cooking worthwhile, and it's easier to provide because American farmers are now growing Chinese produce. Though, paradoxically, the new Chinese generation is so worldly that "they want not only Chinese, but food from Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan."

In addition to old-style Cantonese for older seniors and Hunan/Szechuan for baby boomers, Evergreen has added a "traditional Chinese menu" for the new generation. Greg called over a waitress, and she quickly circled the most popular items on it: Shanghai-style pork buns, spicy beef tendon, spicy tripe, lamb stew, cumin lamb, jalapeno beef/pork, meatball casserole, salt-and-pepper baby ribs.

She hesitated a bit over pork intestine, conceding that intestines are popular with the Chinese but a pretty tough sell to Americans.

Later that day, over at Great Lake Seafood Restaurant on Carpenter, I was hoping to have a conversation like the one I'd had with Greg Guo. The waitress allowed that whole fish, and fresh lobster and crab from the live tank, were particularly popular with Chinese customers, but she wasn't interested in an extended conversation about who orders what.

She did say, though, that she thought General Tso's chicken had been kicked around enough: "We Chinese like it, too."

Watch the video: How Did Moo Goo Gai Pan Get Its Name? (August 2022).