Sherman's Food Adventures: Panda Express

Panda Express

Okay, go ahead. Go right ahead and laugh. In fact, throw some tomatoes at me. Wait, save those for a nice sauce... Panda Express. Need I say more? Considered the antithesis of real Chinese food by many while ridiculed for its non-Asian staff, I personally think it is often misunderstood. You see, there is no reason to compare it with an authentic Chinese restaurant. C'mon. Really. It's North American Chinese fast food. It is what it is. If you really needed to compare with anything, you'd have to look at places such as Manchu Wok, Flaming Wok, Famous Wok and the sort. So why on Earth did I end up with Panda Express food despite the plethora of really good eats in Portland? How about visiting the food carts and my son not wanting to eat any of it. I had to practically force him to eat the fries from Potato Champion! For the love of... What kid doesn't like fries??? Thus, it forced my hand. I resorted to visiting a place which would most certainly lead to my ancestors rolling in their graves. But hold it right there. As mentioned, I don't come to Panda Express looking for a 10-course Chinese meal, unless I wanted fried meat slathered in every colour of the rainbow.

It was getting late and we pulled up and walked in. Other than the one Asian employee, we were the only Asians in the place. We ended up getting a 2-item and 3-item meal each. Viv went for steamed rice with Mushroom Chicken and Veggies. I went for the triple crown of fried with Chow Mein with Beijing Beef, Mandarin Chicken and Sweetfire Chicken. The Chow Mein was mainly for the kiddies and yup, they ate it. Well, it was Americanized chow mein, what can I say? The Beijing Beef was actually pretty decent compared to other "ginger-type" beef dishes. Large slices of meat that was not fried to a crisp combined with lots of flavour, it was alright. I wasn't so fond of their Mandarin Chicken. I've had it in the past and when done right, it's moist with a crunchy exterior laced with a sweet and tangy sauce. This time, it was dry. The Sweetfire Chicken was essentially the same with a different sauce.

On the other hand, the Mushroom Chicken was quite good. The chicken was tender and cooked right while the zucchini was still a bit firm. The Mixed Veggies were really crisp and still had life in them. Too bad that there was no flavour whatsoever. Yah, yah, I'm sure some of you are snickering at me as you read this. But once again, let's not look at this as real Chinese food. On a side note, I've had "Chinese food" that has less in common with the actual cuisine than Panda Express. I'm in no way, shape or form implying that Panda Express is something that I would frequently eat. However, in a pinch and with reasonable expectations (or low expectations), it is your typical North American Chinese food. It's too bad that they advertise it to be "gourmet" Chinese food though... Makes for an easy target to ridicule...

The Good:
- It's convenient
- If you are expecting North American Chinese food
- Inexpensive

The Bad:
- If you are expecting authentic Chinese cuisine
- Some of the stuff looks to be sitting out too long
- Lots of fried stuff with sweet and sour sauces

Panda Express on Urbanspoon


slif said...

As much of a food snob as I can be, Panda Express and its orange chicken holds a special place in my stomach as I lived a block away from 1 for 3 years while living in Boston. When you're homesick, sometimes any place that has a rice cooker running until 11 PM at night will do nicely :-)

KimHo said...

At least (1) it wasn't McDonald's or any other fast food restaurant; (2) it wasn't Kawawa! :D

We could draw comparisons to Kent's Kitchen but that would be a longshot: At least Chinese people do go there!

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed that Panda Express offers so many healthy choices.... MSG free.....
I really don't think it's fair to compare PE with authentic Chinese food.... anyone who thinks they are going to find authentic food there should really get a reality check.
Sherman, you really shouldn't apologize for liking food that isn't considered to be authentic.... food is all a matter of taste.....
I've had some pretty good tasting 'sushi' on Mexico which is in no way authentic.... but it was darn tasty.

LotusRapper said...

My son is Eurasian. He won't eat fries, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes. But give him a bowl of plain rice and tofu stew, he's happy as a clam.


But I agree with Slif. Nothing to be ashamed of. Even this sort of pseudo-Chinese food can bring comfort to a downhome CBC (almost) boy like me when you're homesick, or simply have been traveling and haven't had "rice" for a few days.

Speaking of North Americanized foods, this book I highly recommend. Author was recently in Vancouver as part of the Laundry Kids night held at Foo's Ho Ho:

Good insights to many of the real or perceived North Americanized Chinese dishes.

Natasha Reed said...

Hmm, I guess it depends on experience because every Panda Express I've ever been to has employed mostly Asian folks. Panda Express is a good fast food place go to for me--great veg, who doesn't love the orange chicken, and tasty spring rolls. Fast, cheap and tasty.

To me, trying to compare Panda Express to authentic Chinese food is like telling people that Long John Silver is the same kind of seafood as Ray's Boathouse.

P.S. I can't blame your son for passing on the Potato Champion fries, I didn't care for them myself. Eww! ;-)

Sherman Chan said...

slif, I actually agree. I've had Panda Express quite a few times and it does what it's supposed to do. I just get flack from some people... LOL...

Kim, yup, Panda Express is a whole lot better than other fast food places.

LR, I agree, I shouldn't be ashamed. But somehow, the Chinese in me sometimes comes out in full force!

Natasha, I totally agree we can't compare it with an actual Chinese restaurant. Not fair at all. I do not mind Panda Express and in fact, I like some of their offerings. As mentioned, sometimes the Chinese in me comes out and feel ashamed... LOL... Yup, Potato Champion was underwhelming! Hey, did we go to Portland like at the same time? And the same places too!

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