Tastes of China with CE's Jingfeng Wang

In order to help the CoE community branch out and try new foods we talked to two members of the CoE staff to get their insight on cuisine from their countries. Associate professor in civil and environmental engineering Jingfeng Wang shared his insights into Chinese food and why it makes some Americans nervous. Click here for Prashant Khare's guide to Indian food.

Where are you from in China and how long have you been in Atlanta?

I am from Beijing. I have been in the United States for 25 years and came to Atlanta five years ago.

What foods did you typically eat growing up in Beijing?

I ate a lot of rice, steamed bread, and noodles. The usual stuff you would see at Chinese restaurants here. 

Is there much difference between Chinese food in China and how it is served here?

The materials are the same here and in China, but the way it is prepared is sometimes different. The variety of cuisines is different too. China is so big, that food can vary from city to city, but any big city will have anything you like, just like here. There is enough migration that local specialties are available everywhere in the cities. There's so much more variety than you will see here, unless you go to Chinese restaurants in New York or Los Angeles or the Bay area. The Chinese food in Atlanta is pretty good though.

Where are the best Chinese restaurants in the Atlanta area?

Most of the good restaurants are scattered around, in Duluth, Marietta, or Buford Highway. They are most concentrated in Doraville around Buford Highway and 285. I like a place called Royal China. 

What's something different that people should try that's not your typical Americanized Chinese food?

Hot potHot pots are very popular in China but not here yet. That is something good to try. There's a hot pot restaurant in Doraville that's relatively new. It's all different kinds of food cut and sliced, along with boiling soup, then you dip it in. I don't see many non-Chinese people there, and I don't know if it's because they don't know about it or if they don't like it. It is called Little Sheep. There's a spicy soup or not spicy, or you can try both. Then there are sauces and meats and vegetables — it's like a buffet. You can try lots of different things, so it could be something new for some people.

There are not a lot of Asian food options around campus, so even Panda Express isn't bad. It's Americanized, but it's good. I would like to have more options.

Many Chinese restaurants have their menu divided into American style Chinese food and authentic Chinese food. Why do you think that is?

Not everyone is brave enough to try things they've never had, and those menus don't tell you what something is. If people are reserved it is intimidating. One big difference is that Chinese people, and people around the world eat organ meat, but Americans don't like that idea. You can order chicken feet, stomach, liver, kidneys, etc. People have a perception about the taste and texture, but maybe if they didn't know and they tried it, they would like it, or accept it. Go to a dim sum brunch at a Chinese restaurant — that's what dim sum means — it's Cantonese for brunch. They take a cart around with prepared food on it, and you can see what you like. There are familiar foods too, like steamed buns. They also serve chicken feet. It's not really that strange if you get past the perception. I encourage people to try it. You might not like it but try it anyway. You  never know.

Different restaurants serve different varieties as well. Don't give up if you don't like one restaurant. Try the same food somewhere else. 

Is Chinese food in Atlanta representative of what you would find in China or is it from one region?

Right now there is a shift in Chinese food in America. Historically, most people who come to the U.S. have been from the south of China, in the Canton or Hong Kong area. They brought one type of cuisine from China. Now there are more people coming from the north and west, and they bring their styles of cooking, so you will be seeing it soon. right now most of it is Cantonese.

One place to go to taste the variety of Chinese food is the Great Wall supermarket in Duluth. They have a food court with many vendors, and they have pictures of the food. It's up I-85 off of exit 104 on Pleasant Hill Road. It's a big Chinese supermarket and you can see everything before you order. They have some Szechuan cuisine, which is spicier. Cantonese food is mild and fresh. Szechuan has stronger flavor, and sometimes spicier. I think most Americans will like it better. It is tasty. 

So look around and try some different places. Some of the best are along Buford Highway, but on the back side. You may not see them from Buford Highway, so you have to go looking.