Food & Nutrition

What to Order from the ‘Secret’ Menu at Chinese Restaurants

You’ve been missing out on authentic Chinese food all this time!


Chinese takeout is a weekend staple in America, but did you know that there’s a whole other side of Chinese food you’ve been missing this whole time? Turns out, the sesame chicken and shrimp lo mein that litter our coffee tables on Friday nights are not classic Chinese dishes. American Chinese food is often stickier, sweeter, and unhealthier than traditional dishes.

Ready for another surprise? Check out the reason why you’ll never find Chinese takeout boxes in China.

But have no fear! Turns out, plenty of Chinese restaurants actually have a “secret” menu that they give to Chinese people and fluent speakers. This menu includes traditional Chinese dishes that are bursting with more texture, flavor, and nutrients than the American-Chinese food that we’re familiar with. Here’s how to get in on all the authentic goodness:

Ask for the “secret” menu

When you get to the restaurant and the hostess hands you an English menu, make conversation and ask to switch it with the Chinese menu. Don’t be afraid to open up the dialogue and converse with your waiter; they usually have great recommendations for tasty traditional fare.

Try new things

Don’t be afraid to experiment once you get the menu! “The secret menu will often contain elaborate dishes with offal like chicken feet, braised duck’s tongue, or braised pig’s trotter,” says Ching-He Huang on TODAY. If you’re a picky eater or you’re just beginning to dip your toes into Asian cuisines, it’s OK to start with the “American” menu. But if you’re bold, the secret menu will offer plenty of interesting flavors and ingredients that you’ll love. Check out the 10 healthiest Chinese dishes you can order tonight (and not feel guilty about).

And if your restaurant doesn’t have a secret menu…

Don’t sweat it! You can try to order “off the menu” items like the Eastern-style sweet-and-sour dish (the sauce will be dark, and it’s made with rice vinegar and sugar instead of tomato puree). Popular video blogger Laowhy86 spent ten years of his life living in China, and his secret menu favorites are scallion pancakes, sour cabbage fish soup, dry pot beef, and fried flat noodles, according to DIGG. So try ordering one of those dishes if your go-to restaurant doesn’t have a secret menu.

Next time you’re craving Chinese food, do some extra hunting for an authentic Chinese restaurant and pick something from the secret menu. You’ll never go back to that sweet and sour chicken. Next, find out the 57 secrets your waiter isn’t telling you.

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