The Tale of the Secret Menu in a Chinese Restaurant

Your “Chinese-ness” can be judged immediately by which menu you order from in a Chinese Restaurant

Illustration: Jensen Lo

“This is for guai lou!”

From that point onwards, the lou pan leong would never allow me to order from the “white-washed” menu again. There was once, when I was craving for the westernised version of jiang chung chicken (ginger and scallion chicken), I was going there to order a takeout. Being a Chinese food purist most of the time, it took me quite a long time to admit that I craved for the “white-washed”version of Chinese food at times. The less intricate Chinese dishes — jiang chung chicken, sweet and sour chicken and salt and pepper fried chicken.

“It’s winter, it’s cold outside, you should eat more.”

After a year of advocacy, the entire restaurant crew became my adoptive Chinese family in the UK. She basically took care of me with Chinese food, exactly how a Chinese grandma would. When I didn’t meet the rice consumption standards of a typical Chinese person, she would instead top up my bowl with a surfeit of rice. As most Chinese restaurants in the UK offer bottomless rice, I was bewildered with the extraordinary amount of rice a typical Chinese student would usually have. However, in a Chinese restaurant, I was the outcast who who wouldn’t eat more than a bowl of rice. Therefore, as how our Chinese grandma would keep reminding us to have more rice, the lady boss would top up my rice bowl whenever it’s empty.

Ma Po Tofu. Illustration: Jensen Lo

“The chicken is different from the Hainanese Chicken!”

When we walked into the restaurant, my adopted Chinese family greeted us with a distinctive warmth and hospitality — something you shouldn’t expect if you’re a “rookie” in any Chinese restaurant. The lou pan leong sat us down and served us a pot of tea as she waited for our order. It didn’t take long the order as I was ready to impress my parents with these dishes.

Stir Fried Kailan. Illustration: Jensen Lo
Chinese Steamed Chicken with Ginger Scallion Oil (instead of Chilli Sauce). Illustration: Jensen Lo

I write about the Asian experience I grew up with and would like to connect with like-minded people through storytelling. Connect at

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