chicken salad originates from china

according to dad, everything comes from china. i would agree with him on firecrackers, ice cream, and even spaghetti. but i must say, there is just nothing chinese about chinese chicken salad. do mandarin oranges, sliced almonds, fried noodles, and chopped scallions really make it chinese? what dynasty does this delicacy come from? is it szechuan or hunan style cuisine? puh-leez. (note – my dad never said it came from china, but i bet he could make a case for chinese chicken salad.)

so it’s not really chinese, and i can joke all i want about its origins, but truth be told, i love a good chinese chicken salad. i’ve had so many at different places, including the the famous feast from the east in westwood, california chicken cafe, chin chin, and of course, wolfgang’s. in recent weeks, like today, it’s been from cubby’s cafe on the corner. they’re all good, but the best one is the one i’d build by picking the best components of everyone else’s.

everything, including the chicken, should be shredded in my chinese chicken salad. for some reason, it feels more chinese that way; all torn up like the chaos of dim sum and the harshness of the language. i am not ashamed to admit my love of iceberg – it’s perfect for chinese chicken salad, along with napa cabbage. it’s just not quite right when it’s dressed up with delicate mesclun or baby greens. save those for burrata cheese and grape tomatoes.

i’m not especially fond of carrots in any salad because they’re too hard, and shredded carrots actually make things worse. without a spoon, i can’t pick them up off the plate. no tomatoes, no mushrooms, no peppers. the only other vegetables that are really appropriate are long sliced green onions and long bias sliced cucumbers.

california chicken cafe adds sliced almonds and those squishy squirty mandarin oranges, which i love. chopped almonds are hard to pick up and don’t stick well enough to make a good bite. ccc, instead of the usual fried chow-mein noodles, adds regular corkscrew pasta. now that’s just wrong. i like feast from the east’s fried won ton strips. they’re more substantial, they stay crispy in dressing, and they fit in with the whole “shred” theme.

what is a salad without dressing but just a bowl of vegetables? every chinese chicken salad dressing is a permutation of ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and sesame oil. so many people rave about chin chin’s ginger dressing, but i find it a bit tart. without oil, it makes the salad extremely healthy, but the dressing renders too watery. feast from the east’s dressing is good, but they are the opposite of chin chin, leaning a little too far toward the oily side. apparently, other people love it enough that it’s been bottled and sold in stores. the dressing award goes to cubby’s. although they dice their chicken and it often tastes like leftover lunchmeat chicken, the chinese-style dressing is sticky sweet, salty, and i have no idea what’s in it. there’s probably sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, but there’s something else – i suspect it’s the juice from the mandarin orange cans.

maybe next week i’ll bring my own chicken salad and just use the dressing from cubby’s. yeah. now i’m a chef.

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  • Anonymous

    I absolutely love when you said this: “it feels more chinese that way; all torn up like the chaos of dim sum and the harshness of the language.” That sentence exudes both sounds and flavors of food. Good work!
    -Eve

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