article originally created for the Chew Philly Tastebook
When I think about the many reasons I love Philadelphia's Chinatown, diversity is one of the big ones. It is not only the many regional cuisines of China that are represented, but we are lucky enough to live in a city with a Chinatown that hosts Korean, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Japanese, Burmese, and Cambodian restaurants. I wanted to highlight a few region-specific restaurants in Philadelphia's Chinatown and a few of my favorite dishes from each. If you find yourself with a big, hungry group, you can even make an easy DIY Chinatown food tour with this list.
The Restaurant: In 2013, Philly got its first Xi'an style restaurant- Xi'an Sizzling Woks, still located at the corner of 9th and Arch. Fun Fact- when it first opened, it called itself Xi'an Famous Foods but had to change the name due to the branding of the Xi'an Famous Food restaurant group in New York City.
The Cuisine: Xi'an, in the Shaanxi province, is located around the middle of China; the prevalence of Muslims is represented in the cuisine. You'll see more lamb and a lot of cumin and vinegar.
What to Order:
Xi'an liang pi noodle- signature cold noodle dish, note the pieces of gluten (yes, gluten)
Wonton in Chili Oil- a solid version of a popular appetizer
Celery mixed with dried bean or bokshoy with soy beans- appetizers to cool you down between spicier bites
Sauteed Spicy Chicken & Noodle - big, saucy dish with curry soaked potatoes, great for a group (pictured)
The Restaurant: Half a block north on 9th Street, you'll find Rangoon, Philadelphia's only Burmese restaurant.
The Cuisine: Burma borders China, Thailand, and India and lucky for us, the food reflects that confluence. Expect a lot of protein over rice, and the use of curry, fish sauce, and lemongrass.
What to Order: [stick to appetizers here, they are the most unique part of the menu]
Burmese Tofu - made with chickpea flour (pictured)
Green tea leaf salad - the fermented tea leaves have a funky, unique flavor
Thousand Layer Bread with BBQ Beef (pictured) or Chicken or Potato Thousand layer pancake - beware, the vegetarian potato version is spicy
The Restaurant: Move one block west to 10th St for a taste of Malaysia at Penang, unless you'd prefer a BYO policy, in which case go for Banana Leaf, around the corner on Arch St.
The Cuisine: Malaysian cuisine also reflects a diverse population of Malays, Chinese and Indians. You'll find satays and stews and ingredients like chili peppers and coconut.
What to Order:
Roti Canai- similar to Rangoon's thousand layer pancake, eat this crepe-like appetizer while it's hot
Beef Rendang- slow cooked beef simmered in coconut milk
Chow Kueh Teow - traditional stir fried rice noodle
Mango Tofu- it's just delicious
For more Chinatown secrets, including where to go and what to order, join me on my Chinatown Food Tours!