Science - March 18, 2004

Chinese takeaway survey

Who doesn’t like the convenience of Chinese takeaway? No preparation and not much washing up afterwards. But what does it taste like and does it have anything to do with Chinese food? Wb bought takeaway at four of the Chinese restaurants in Wageningen and invited two Chinese researchers and two Dutch students to taste the food.

The panel
The panel consisted of Dr Chun-Ming Liu, senior scientist at Plant Research International (PRI), Xinying Ren, PhD student at PRI, Maartje Jung, a student at Plant Science, and Fabian Smeets, a Biotechnology student. They all regularly buy Chinese takeaway dinners; Chun-Ming, Fabian and Maartje twice a month, Xinying as often as once a week. “I can have the food delivered, there’s no washing up, I don’t have to cook and I can order what I want,” says Xinying. She often asks the restaurant where’s she’s a regular customer if they could make her something with the ingredients that she specifies. “It is a little more expensive than a menu of the month, but it’s more tasty and I can just ask for vegetables if I want. I generally eat two or three days from it, so it doesn’t work out that expensive.” Maartje also likes having her meal delivered at home. “It’s free and don’t have to go out when it rains.”

The procedure
The food was bought at four restaurants: Eastern Express in the Churchillweg, Nieuw China in the Asterstraat, De Chinese Muur in the Schaepmanstraat, and Hao Yuan on the Stadsbrink. At three restaurants Wb ordered a menu of the month, because that’s what most people do. Because Nieuw China has no such menu, two common dishes were chosen. To keep the test objective, the panel were not told where the food came from. Prawn crackers (kroepoek) and fried bananas, which are often part of the menu, were also ordered at each restaurant. The total price of the meals, including the extra prawn crackers and bananas, varied from 14.60 euros (Eastern Express) to 18.40 euros (New China, but no menu of the month).

The test took place at the Wb offices. The female panel members drank jasmine tea with the meal, although both generally drink water. Funnily enough Xinying also likes karnemelk with Chinese food. The men drank beer. Fabian: “Beer tastes better with Chinese food.” The first good thing about the food was that everything was still warm when it was served. Xinying: “That’s because it’s wrapped well with paper.” The panel members judged the food from the plastic boxes it came in and the panel members served themselves.

The food
As you not only taste with your mouth but also with your eyes and nose, the panel were asked to give their opinion about the appearance, the smell and the taste of the food. One awful looking dish was the chicken with spicy Peking sauce from Eastern Express. Maartje: “The orange-brown sauce looks slimy.” Nevertheless, she liked the taste. A tasty looking dish was the Tjap Tjoy (or Chop Choy as the Chinese researchers wrote) from New China. It was colourful and looked fresh. The panel commented though that it contained too many beanshoots (taugé) and that the vegetables were a bit too soggy.

The meals were accompanied by rice (Eastern Express and New China) or noodles (Chinese Muur and Hao Yuan). Rice and noodles are part of every Chinese meal. The rice from Eastern Express wasn’t fresh according to Chun-Ming. Everybody found it sticky and tasteless. The other rice was better. The noodles from the Nude-restaurant (Chinese Muur) were also lacking in salt. The panel really liked the other noodles. “This is almost real Chinese food,” was the comment from both Chinese researchers. Prawn crackers are also Chinese food. “We only have them in small pieces,” explained Xinying. The crackers all tasted differently. Maartje complained about an unpleasant aftertaste of the crackers from the Nude-restaurant, whereas Xinying was more enthusiastic. The prawn cracker from New China was a bit darker than the others, but was the best according to Chun-Ming.

None of the panel members had anything good to say about the fried bananas: they were too greasy and oily, and often smelled like the frying fat or doughnuts. Fabian’s comment on the bananas from New China: “This tastes like grease, grease, grease and a little banana.” Chun-Ming and Maartje preferred the bananas from Hao Yuan, because they were least soggy and tasted reasonable. Nevertheless fried bananas have nothing to do with Chinese food. “Fried bananas is an African dish,” said Xinying. A dish that also has little to do with Chinese cuisine is chicken saté. The panel found the saté ajam from the menu of the Eastern Express moderately tasty. They were a bit more positive about the saté from the Chinese Muur because it had better tasting meat. Hao Yuan was the best. Maartje: “I taste chicken for once.”

The conclusions
“Each restaurant had one good dish,” concluded Fabian at the end. The others agreed with him. The two best dishes came from Hao Yuan and De Chinese Muur. The panel liked the Foe Yong Hai with chicken, egg, onion, sweet pepper and bamboo from the latter, and the Gon Bao Kai, chicken breast in Gon Bau sauce from Hao Yuan. Both the Dutch and the Chinese panel members liked this dish a lot, that contained peanuts, meat and mushrooms. Xinying: “It’s a typical dish in Chinese restaurants. They just need to make it a bit more spicy to get the real taste.”

Nevertheless the general conclusion of the panel members was not positive. Maartje: “Most food looked greasy.” They all liked the Tjap Tjoy from New China because of its colours and because it contained vegetables for once. Chun-Ming explained that real Chinese food contains a lot of vegetables and is quite light. “The restaurants here should use more vegetables, especially in the menu of the month that’s popular among many people.” Xinying agreed with him. “Restaurants here use a lot of meat. The food should be more balanced. That’s also why I often ask the restaurant to make me a dish with ingredients I like, such as broccoli.”

At the end of the test the panel judged that the meals gave reasonable value for money: they were not expensive but also not of high quality. The table was covered with plastic containers with leftovers and cold dishes, and crumbs from the crackers. At least the panel members were no longer hungry. “I’ve had enough Chinese food for this month,” sighed Fabian.
Yvonne de Hilster

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