The Chinese New Year holiday is over, and we are firmly ensconced in the Year of the Rooster. So let's take a look at some of the classic regional Chinese chicken dishes found around the San Gabriel Valley. (First, we should explain that there’s no tradition involving eating the animal representing the year. For holiday-related foods, you should be having other items, including dumplings and noodles.)
Home to a huge Chinese population, the SGV is the place to go to enjoy regional, even city-specific, dishes. A wide range of regional variations on chicken dishes, from the Big Plate Chicken found in northern and northwestern-style restaurants to the fiery, chili pepper–laden Chongqing fried chicken cubes, along with many others, abound around the valley. Here are four of our favorite, classic Chinese chicken dishes. Don’t look for orange chicken, General Tso’s or other Americanized Chinese items here, as we’re restricting it to food that entirely originated in China.
From its origins on the island of Hainan, the eponymous "chicken rice" became popular throughout Southeast Asia. This is particularly the case in Singapore, where it’s considered the national dish. After poaching the chicken in a base of ginger, scallions and sesame oil, the stock is removed and used to flavor the rice. Traditionally, it's served with two or three dipping sauces: a dark, sweet soy; minced garlic with scallions; and chili oil with garlic and soy. Due to its widespread popularity, Hainan chicken can be found on many menus. We even did a Top 10 list, though it's hard to beat the reigning and longtime champ, Savoy Kitchen. Other prime versions can be found at Side Chick in the Westfield Santa Anita Mall as well as an organic chicken version at Green Zone.
Green Zone, 534 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel. (626) 288-9300, greenzonerestaurant.com.
Savoy Kitchen, 138 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra. (626) 308-9535.
Side Chick, 400 Baldwin Ave., Arcadia. (626) 688-3879, facebook.com/eatsidechick/.
Kung pao chicken
While the name is familiar, the authentic version — gong bao ji — forsakes the sugariness inherent in the Americanized version. It’s also much spicier. Considered a Sichuan dish, though that is disputed, the real deal features a much heavier use of chili peppers and some numbing Sichuan peppercorns. The neighboring province of Guizhou claims to be the point of origin for the dish. Fortunately, in addition to a couple of the most acclaimed Sichuan restaurants in the country, Chengdu Taste and Szechuan Impression, there’s a Guizhou-style restaurant in the SGV, Taste Guizhou, so you can do your own comparison.
Chengdu Taste, locations in Alhambra, Rosemead, Rowland Heights.
Szechuan Impression, 1900 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra. (626) 283-4622.
Taste Guizhou, 17919 E. Gale Ave., Suite 101, City of Industry. (626) 839-9989.
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The eastern province of Shandong is home to what is considered one of China’s eight great traditions of Chinese cuisine. The signature chicken from Shandong is boiled, then quick-fried. Served at room temperature, atop diced cucumbers, in a pool of black vinegar, soy sauce and minced garlic, it's on nearly every table at Earthen Restaurant in Hacienda Heights, where it appears on the menu as House Chicken.
Earthen Restaurant, 1639 S. Azusa Ave., Hacienda Heights. (626) 964-1570.
Originating in the southern province of Jiangxi, three-cup chicken gets its name from using a cup each of three key ingredients: soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil. Ginger, garlic, basil and sugar are added and the chicken is cooked until the liquid is absorbed, giving it a deep, rich flavor. The dish is especially popular in Taiwan. In the SGV, it turns up on menus at some Shanghainese places and at the few sit-down Taiwanese restaurants. A standout is the organic chicken version at BeBe Fusion in Alhambra.
BeBe Fusion, 201 E. Bay State St., Alhambra. (626) 284-1288.