THERE'S bound to be a clash in ideals and philosophies when East meets West, but people -- no matter where they're from -- often find common ground in food. And, it's fun to compare notes.
Meals and ideals
make a tasty mix
At home in Beijing, Tian Lijun, a China Daily reporter, frequently accompanies the staff's restaurant reviewer on assignments. Her complaint: "Many of them are not worth writing about."
Lijun is one of eight Beijing journalists studying full time at the University of Hawaii through the Parvin and Freedom Forum Fellowship. She's managed to squeeze in such extracurricular activities as chowing down on Vietnamese fare here, as well as the cuisine of Golden Dragon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, dim sum at Legend, and Maple Garden ("our home base!").
She's also learned firsthand what every good local knows -- that it's almost impossible to be on a diet here.
"It must be something with the food," she said. "I cannot control myself. I gained 7 pounds, and people tell me it's natural to gain 10 pounds here. So I have three pounds to go."
We made a good attempt at adding that poundage at Doong Kong Lau at the Chinatown Cultural Plaza. The longtime Honolulu "institution," Doong Kong Lau bills itself as a Hakka seafood restaurant focusing on the dishes of Southern China. We take it for granted here, but as Lijun pointed out, the restaurant actually offers a "chop suey" mix of Northern and Southern styles to appeal to those expecting to see their favorite Chinese dishes.
To hear her tell it, Beijing cuisine doesn't seem very appealing. "It's more salty, the meat is really greasy, the vegetables are cooked with soy sauce. They don't use (as) much sugar as here."
WHAT we call Peking Duck ($12 half, $23 whole at Doong Kong Lau) is known in China as Beijing Roasted Duck and is usually ordered to impress out-of-town visitors, she said. Doong Kong Lau does it up in a way to cure any homesickness, with skin appropriately crisp, tender meat wrapped in its soft layer of fat, served with soft white buns, plum sauce and green onions.
We started with Hot & Sour Soup ($5.95), a Szechuan rarity in Beijing. This one was hot, without being overly sour. Its primary filler was bamboo shoots, cut matchstick thin, but requiring a lot of chewing.
Lijun sampled a local staple of Steamed Pork Hash with Salted Fish ($6.95) for the first time. This version was double the thickness and stiffness of most, although she more politely described it as being "very firm," adding, "I'd like to make this."
Seafood on Fried Rice ($6.50) was impressive with its array of whole shrimp, squid and sea bass. A specialty of Spicy Salted Chicken ($8 half, $15 whole) was more plain than special, like an order of Ginger Chicken without the benefit of the salty sauce of oil, minced ginger and onions.
While soup and vegetable dishes averaging $6 here would run $2 in Beijing, crab is a luxury that would run $30 for a 2-pounder. Here, market price was $20 for a 2-pound crab stir-fried with ginger and onion.
The treatment was heavy for our tastes. I would have preferred less gravy, while Lijun said that she prefers it simply boiled and accompanied by wine, a combination believed by Chinese to be good for one's health.
On a whole, it was an experience worth writing up.
Doong Kong LauWhere: Chinatown Cultural Plaza, 100 N. Beretania
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily
Prices: About $40 for four
Call: 531-8833 or 521-8848
-- excellent;To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- below average.