A White Girl’s Guide to Chinese Food
By Elizabeth Zakszewski
Taste of Asia
267 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
As you can tell by my last name, I’m Vietnamese. No one ever laughs at that joke. I’m actually quite American. I grew up loving “Chinese” food — sweet and sour chicken and cashew chicken were always my favorites. It wasn’t until I came to MIT that I ventured into more “authentic” dishes than my old standbys.
I was craving Asian food one Friday, so I crossed the Harvard Bridge with a couple of friends to go restaurant hunting. One companion didn’t like Thai food, and another didn’t like Indian food, which limited our choices. It wasn’t until we passed Symphony Hall that we found Taste of Asia, whose name looked generic enough to suit everyone. I first noticed the unique decorations — the restaurant is styled after a “mod” diner but also includes traditional elements like Chinese fans and a fish tank; somehow, these styles don’t clash. My favorite touch is the neon sign shaped into Chinese characters.
I first tried the Egg Drop Soup ($3.25), a classic American favorite. I found it too garlicky, but my boyfriend liked his. I much prefer the version of this soup at Mary Chung’s (464 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge), which I’ve frequented since my freshman year when a sharp upperclassman alerted me to it. Mary’s has a lot of great dishes, and their Sweet and Sour Chicken ($6.75) is among the best I’ve had.
Another of my favorite Chinese dishes is sesame chicken. I like it with crispy, fried, breaded chicken, and the 77 Mass. Ave. Lunchbox Express food truck version with sliced white chicken is just not the same. I asked the waitress at Taste of Asia and happily discovered they make the dish ($9.95) my way. It tasted just the way I like it and was even served atop a bed of crispy thin noodles with a flower-shaped orange rind as garnish. I was impressed.
I ventured back alone on a Saturday afternoon to further explore the menu. I had to wander back to the kitchen to let someone know I was there, and at one point, I had to stand up to request more water. But I brushed off the lazy service, attributing it to the fact that the place was dead, and it was around 90 degrees out; everyone gets lazy. Besides, it didn’t stop me from enjoying my meal, and the service had been great on the more busy night when I’d been there. I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t offer a lunch menu, but that didn’t deter me either. Now that I’d tried my “classic favorites,” I was ready to try my “new favorites.”
Ever since my friend from Thailand took me to a Thai restaurant back home and ordered Chow Foon (wide flat noodles) with her dish, I have been in love with them and now try them at every East Asian restaurant I go to. I was dismayed to find that the Beef Chow Foon here ($6.95) was littered with onions (I hate onions), but the noodles were still delicious. The beef was fine too, but the best Beef Chow Foon in the area comes from Royal East (792 Main St., Cambridge). I’ve never been disappointed by any beef dishes there, but stay away from the Cashew Shrimp unless you like bland dishes filled with diced celery. Though Royal East is a bit expensive, it’s my favorite Chinese restaurant here because it has high-quality food, I adore the ambiance (understated and soothing), and it’s a nice walk from East Campus.
The coup de grace of my visit to Taste of Asia was the Peking Ravioli (pork) (six pieces for $5.95), another dish I would have never thought to order until I saw an astute friend order it at Mary Chung’s. The ravioli at Taste of Asia, which I ordered fried, came in the form of large doughy dumplings that reminded me of pierogies (my favorite dish from the actual culture of my heritage). I think these are now my favorite Peking Ravioli, which says a lot, since I love this dish at both Royal East and Mary Chung’s.
One minor disclaimer I must give is that I got sick later that evening, though there are a number of possible causes beyond the food at Taste of Asia. I would still give the place another try, even if just for that Peking Ravioli. Even if your favorite dish is not one of mine, this would be a nice place to try for comparison with your local favorites.