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Food review: So Much Gau, So Little Time

Students Choose Area...s Best General Gau...s Chicken at ABSK Event

By Diana Jue
STAFF REPORTER

General Gau’s Chicken Festival

MIT Asian Baptist Student Koinonia

Student Center Mezzanine Lounge

September 2, 2006

MIT students are fond of and skilled at eating. The Second Annual General Gau’s Chicken Festival, hosted by MIT ABSK, offered students the opportunity to rate a popular sweet-yet-spicy entr e while introducing freshmen to what may become a good friend during the next four years.

The festival boasted myriad varieties of General Gau’s chicken from eight different Boston-area restaurants. Inspired by Boston’s ChowderFest and Maine’s Lobster Festival, the festival let students whet their appetites with bite-sized pieces of General Gau chicken, carefully consider the subtle tastes and lingering aftertastes, submit their vote for Boston’s best General Gau’s Chicken, and finally indulge in a plate of greasy Chinese food.

Armed with a score cards and pens, judges approached the Gau table to blind test and carefully consider one of the school year’s first decisions. Tasters evaluated the glistening General Gau’s chicken on a scale ranging from one (inedible) to seven (excellent) and ranked their top three picks for Taster’s Choice in three categories: flavor, smell/appearance, and texture. Written comments were encouraged, but verbalized remarks from amateurs and self-proclaimed food connoisseurs created an atmosphere of serious stomach-worthy competition. The winner emerged through popular vote, although the votes of participants who also did this last year were weighted more heavily because of their presumed experience with taste-testing General Gau’s chicken.

Experienced Gau enthusiasts warned freshmen and first-timers about the gravity of judging this favorite Chinese restaurant take-out item. “This is an art,” warned Justin Y. Lai ’07 at the beginning of the event. “Don’t take it lightly.”

Last year’s winner from Dragon Garden Restaurant continued its reign as General Gau Chicken Champion. The scrumptious delight was lauded by almost all of the evening’s critics for its delicious blend of sweetness with a hint of spiciness. First-time General Gau tester David P. Backus ’10 commented that it had “the right combo of flavor” for him. Some tasters, though, commented that the taste was relatively bland compared to the other Gau entries. Appearance also matters: Tiffany Lee ’08 commented that the chicken simply “looks yummy”.

In second place was the entr e from Happy Garden, a newcomer to this annual competition. The dish’s sweetness and overall delectability earned it the Taster’s Choice award for best flavor. Whether the Gau’s crunchiness improved the chicken, however, depended on personal preference. The dish also won the Taster’s Choice award for best texture because of its unique crispiness; Yunji Wu ’09, though, thought that there was too much breading and that the chicken “tastes like shrimp,” while Courtney Sung ’10 said that the excess breading created a dish more aptly named “General Gau’s dough, not chicken.”

Coming in with the third place prize was last year’s second place winner, the General Gau’s from Hong Kong Caf . This dish packed in the spice more noticeably than the first and second place winners, and the added kick distinguished it from its competitors. Aesthetically pleasing to the eye, the Gau received the Taster’s Choice for best appearance/smell. Nahathai Srivali ’10 liked its appearance because “it’s not all red” like some of the other Gau entries, and its shiny sauce also aroused tasters’ appetites.

In last place was the entry from Pu Pu Hot Pot, a restaurant near MIT whose unfortunate name foreboded the taste of its General Gau. After sampling this chicken, most judges had the same sentiments and asked, “Where’s the taste?!” While many tasters concluded that the dish tasted like chicken without sauce, Lee commented that it tasted “like nothing.” Pu Pu’s chicken received low marks in both taste and appearance, but some tasters thought that the soft breading made for excellent texture.

The top three overall winners also swept the top three rankings in each of the Taster’s Choice categories. However, General Gau’s chicken dishes from Chef Chang’s House, Victoria Seafood Restaurant, and Quan’s Kitchen all received high marks in the Taster’s Choice category for best flavor. In the category for best appearance/smell, Quan’s Kitchen, Royal East, and Chef Chang’s House received high marks. Happy Garden dominated in the best texture category.

Overall, MIT students found judging General Gau’s Chicken a difficult yet rewarding task. During the blind taste test, David Um, MIT ABSK’s co-director, loudly remarked, “These are all good!” Brandon Yoshimoto ’08 found it interesting that chicken dishes with the same name can have starkly different tastes at different restaurants. Most students found that this made ranking the chicken even more perplexing.

Other dishes from these restaurants provided a typical MIT student’s Chinese take-out dinner. Victoria Seafood’s Kung Pao Shrimp and Royal East’s Ma Po Tofu offered more balance with the mostly sweet General Gau chicken, while Chef Chang’s shrimp and water chestnuts complemented the Gau’s breading with a distinct crunch. Quan’s special salted pork chops are known to be among the best of those at the local Chinese food restaurants, and Happy Garden’s crab rangoons were an especially tasty appetizer.

The second annual General Gau’s Chicken Festival went well even though its timing conflicted with rush events. Not only were freshmen introduced to a possible late-night companion, but they also saw how MIT students can participate in the finer points of life.

The results of the festival, along with the phone numbers for the restaurants, are posted online at http://web.mit.edu/absk/www/.