Almost every country in the world now has Chinese restaurants. Over the last century they have moved across the Chinese border and been shared, loved, and certainly become irresistibly delicious to any city they open in. Of course, truly authentic Chinese food can only be found in China but Japan certainly has Chinese food it's own unique twist to become an outstandingly good import.
You can find all kinds of world-wide cuisine restaurants in Japan, and while they are all establishments doing business in Japan, there might be some cultural differences you can take advantage of, especially at the smaller, family-owned restaurants. Given my personal background and experiences, I’d like to share with you 5 tips you can try the next time you visit a Chinese, or more accurately, a Chuuka restaurant here in Japan. Some of these cheat codes might require some Chinese language knowledge from you, and some just need you to ask. I can’t guarantee all these to work for every Chuuka place out there, but it’s worked for me everywhere so far, and it never hurts to try if you might get something extra!
1. The Hidden Menu
Francis Chung on Flickr
In my previous articles, I have explained how the food in Chuuka restaurants have adapted to the Japanese taste. They aren’t genuine and the chefs certainly know it. So in some Chuuka establishments, they have prepared a hidden menu with genuine Chinese cuisines for the eaters in the know. To get access to it, just ask, “Can I see your Chinese menu?” If the place has one, you will find some new choices not available from the menus normally on the table, and are more likely to relate to the region where the staff are from. They probably won’t have photos attached, however, as you’re expected to know it. Ask a friend, Google it, or just test your luck!
2. The Real Hot Sauce
Dale Matteson on Flickr
Part of the taste alterations was to tone down all the dishes’ spiciness from its original level, and this may disappoint those who enjoy a good sweat on their brow with their meal (not as an ingredient, of course) and the hot condiments on the table just aren’t good enough! What should you do? Well, Chinese people love their hot sauces, and chances are that they have their good stuff or own home-made reserved for those who need them. Just ask, “Do you have la-jian(辣醬)?” and the waitress may just come back with a plate of the best (and spiciest) chilli sauce you’ve ever had. I wish some of them would sell their home-made hot sauces in store!
3. Refill the Peanuts
Mr Thinktank on Flickr
Some shops welcome your visit with a plate of free salted peanuts as you get seated. These little addictive devils are meant to keep you companied as you wait for your orders to arrive, but sometimes they just aren’t enough to satisfy everyone. Politely ask for more, and very likely you’ll get another plate of them.
4. Switch out Items
One issue I have with Japan is that when you’re having a set meal, switching out items is almost never an option, not even when you’re asking to replace it with something of much lesser value. On the other hand, Chuuka restaurant’s set-meals are very customizable from the beginning, with different main and side dishes to choose from. However, if there’s something in the set that you aren’t particularly fond of, see if they can change it. For example, the restaurant I frequent to includes a “deep fried side dish” with every set meal. Although not specifically written on the menu, you can actually choose from fried gyoza, spring roll, or fried chicken. Ever since I found out, my fried chicken set always comes with a side dish of extra fried chicken.
5. Free Upgrades
ClieistD on Flickr
Earlier I demonstrated how you can fulfill your spicy craving by asking for hot sauce, but if you want a hot dish to be hotter without adding a different taste, simply request them to make a spicy dish even spicier. The mapo-tofu or the Taiwan ramen might never taste the same again! Of course, don’t request that on a dish where they already offer a spicier version that costs extra. Other than that, the chefs are often glad to satisfy the customers and happy that you can appreciate hot food.
It will depend on the shop if these 5 tips would work or not. If it’s a small family owned shop, your chances of succeeding would be much higher than a chain. To increase your possibility even more, try to say them in Chinese! Even if you butcher it, it’s the effort that counts. For the Chinese staffs living away from their home country, it’s heart-warming to see you accepting their culture. In no time, they will recognize you as a regular and the extra peanuts and chilli sauce will be prepared automatically. Enjoy!