20: Beef pies at Chou's Kitchen
From the outside, Chou's Kitchen looks like your average strip-mall Chinese take-out joint. Take a closer look, though, and you'll see that Chou's isn't just another temple to sticky orange chicken, fortune cookies, and other typical American Chinese fare.
Chou's Kitchen, which is operated by partners Lulu Zhou and Sunny Zhao, specializes in the cooking of northeast China's sweeping Dongbei region. In the wide and diverse spectrum of contemporary Chinese cooking, northeastern China often gets overshadowed by more well-known regional cuisines, like the bold, complex, and peppercorn-laden cooking of Sichuan, which is popular across China and the U.S.
The cooking of Dongbei, by contrast, is known for its hearty and more subtle properties. Wheat, not rice, is the region's staple starch, which means that noodles, flatbreads, and dumplings are common in northeastern Chinese cooking.
Another well-known regional dish is guo bao rou, thinly sliced pork in a deftly balanced sweet-sour sauce. To overcome the challenges of short growing seasons and grim winters, chefs rely on pickling; suan cai, for instance, or pickled cabbage, is a hallmark of Dongbei cooking.
"Stewed pork neck bones" may not sound tantalizing, but this simple dish is intensely satisfying: the tender, garlicky meat flakes right off the thick bones. Chou's Kitchen also makes some mean dumplings, including a credible rendition of Xiaolongbao, the famous Shanghai soup dumplings, which here are delightfully wobbly and fragrant.
The thing to try at least once, though, are the beef pies. Chou's beef pies are wondrous, hockey puck-shaped pastries stuffed with pan-fried beef patties, which are steeped in a light, gingery broth. You want to take your time with the beef pies. They're served incredibly hot, and it's a good idea to nibble a small opening to help release some of the steam trapped inside. The meat, once you get to it, has a gentle crisp, and the broth pulsates with sweet, garlicky flavor.
True, this is a dish designed to warm your bones in the depths of winter. The meat pies at Chou's are so good, though, you'll gladly devour them well into a sweltering Arizona summer.
Chou's Kitchen. 910 North Alma School Road, Chandler; 480-821-2888. Thursday through Tuesday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Wednesdays.
1250 East Apache Boulevard, Tempe; 480-557-8888. Mondays through Fridays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 4:30 to 10 p.m.; Saturdays & Sundays 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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20: Beef pies at Chou's Kitchen