June 13, 2004
Szechwan Garden - Good Food, Bad Marketing

There's an old joke in the computer industry that if IBM bought Kentucky Fried Chicken (I told you it was old), they would market the primary product as "Hot Dead Bird!" and that if Xerox bought KFC (update the joke a bit) they'd market it as "Warm Dead Bird." Neither firm's marketing efforts are particularly well regarded, though their products themselves were thought of kindly.

I've found the real-world restaurant equivalent of good product and bad marketing. Below you will see a (necessarily large) picture of a check from a delivery from the Szechwan Garden restaurant at 2901 N. Broadway in Chicago:

As you can see, this marvelous repast consisted of "General Tao's Soy Gluten" and "Cruspy Bean Curd". Yum. Makes your belly all hungry-rumbly, doesn't it?

Now, the food itself was quite delicious. I can highly recommend both dishes and the restaurant itself. As a vegetarian, it's very pleasing to find 97 individual vegetarian dishes on this huge menu. The problem is in the language. I don't think I've ever eaten anything with a less appetizing name than soy gluten; unless of course, that would be something that was "cruspy", which sounds to me somewhere between crispy and crusty. Ick.

It's not just these two dishes that have the name problem. Looking over the menu, I find "West Lake Veggie Wheat Gluten Soup". That name is going along just fine until you hit "gluten". Given that my delivery person spoke no English beyond the basic integers, "Hello", and "Thank You", I suspect that the problem is that the owners and operators are not native English speakers. But I can't explain why they can use "Seitan" for "Mongolian Seitan", but use "wheat gluten" just about everywhere else. They even revert to "gluten" in the description of Mongolian Seitan - "Thin slices of luscious and tender wheat gluten stir-fried with mushroom green onion."

The menu uses "soy protein" for tofu about 60% of the time for some inexplicable reason. All these names are next to other much more appealing sounding dishes like "Snow Lotus with Lemon Sauce", "Emerald Bodie Roll", and "Melody on River (Hot or Not Hot)" which pass for poetry by comparison. Keep reading, and it's back to "Soy Gluten in Garlic Sauce", and the delicious sounding "Twice Cook Wheat Gluten".

Given this is the vegetarian part of the menu,I'll take "Chinese Orka and Tofu" to be Okra and Tofu and not some diabolical killer whale and soy protein dish (Imagine the size of the wok you'd need!).

They don't do this on the non-vegetarian part of the menu. You'll see no "Kung Pao ass of a cow", or "Braised Motile Muscle Tissue of an icthyoid" - it's "Kung Pao Beef" and "Braised fish filet". Perhaps there's a collective menu resource for new Chinese-Americans from overseas to use for restaurant menus and no one had tried to sell vegetarian food before?

My fear is that the unconventional names will keep you from this restaurant or from trying the dishes listed with strange names. Don't let it. The food here is a welcome change for vegetarians who like Chinese food but hate the veggie fried rice and stir fried veggie rut.

Be patient with their English, translate the items into more appetizing names in your mind, and enjoy a greater variety of Vegetarian Chinese food (and non-veg Chinese) than you could get from any other neighborhood chow mein joint.

Szechwan Garden
2901 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 525 6677
(773) 525 6678

Open Tuesday to Sunday 12:30pm - 11:00pm, closed Monday

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at June 13, 2004 2:01 AM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

How's the kitchen coming along?

/hands Barrett another PopTart

Posted by Bryan on June 13, 2004 at 9:28 PM

To plagarize a note I just wrote to Meg in Paris on the same topic:

I have cabinets, but no countertops. I have a tile floor, but no grout. I have spaces for appliances, but no dishwasher, range, or new refrigerator. Our front bedroom has all its walls again, but is unpainted.

In other words, we're going into Week 2 as I expected

I'm hopeful they will finish early this week. I've got a backlog of recipes waiting to be cooked.

Posted by Barrett on June 14, 2004 at 10:09 AM

Guess what? Get over it. This is the best Chinese restaurant in Chicago, bar none. Who cares what they call the food?

Posted by ponyboy on December 29, 2005 at 5:49 PM

Thanks for the observations about menu language. It has long been a pet peeve of mine. Even those whose primary language is English are deficient, when it comes to menu creation. It must have something to do with food people. You're either into food making, or you're into language and spelling, but just never both.
I enjoy picking at the errors, with my favorite waiters and waitresses. Can I substitute the ranch eggs from the No. 7 for the farm eggs on No. 3? May I have just regular virgin olive oil, not extra virgin? What is the difference between the vegetables that come with the blackened salmon, and the vegatibles on the Sides menu?
Asians are the worst, of course. Special ingredients that you don't find "around houses"? Tiger Cry? Drunken Chicken? Ah, how I miss my Lumpinee.

Posted by P. Morratto on February 27, 2007 at 10:17 AM
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