Tuesday, July 3, 2012

How to: Eat at Chinese Restaurants

As most of you already know, there are few things more anxiety inducing for me than eating at restaurants that don't list calories. Where I try my hardest to avoid them, I know that it's an unavoidable part of life at times. That is, unless you're willing to become a social-eating pariah.
"You want to invite Jamie? Jamie only eats at Panera and Applebee's."
...is how I would imagine that discussion going.
So, as it is, you have to learn to prepare and conquer! One of the biggest calorie-offenders, and one of the hardest restaurant genres to avoid: Chinese.
There are few ways around this, so I'm just going to come out and say it: no Chinese buffet. No ANY kind of buffet, but especially not Chinese. American Chinese food is famous for it's grease and oil, which is unfortunately one of the things that makes it so popular. It is indulgent, and we are Kings.

All that said, my tiny hometown happens to have one of the world's-greatest Chinese food restaurants. (Fun fact: It's actually a Chinese and Mexican restaurant. How do you like them apples?) Where their food is honestly probably mediocre at best, I have yet to find a better tasting crab rangoon. Which brings me to my first survival tip!

Survival tip #1: skip the rangoon. Unless, of course, you're at Jasmin's in Eudora, Kansas. And then eat the crab rangoon, but prepare to expect it taking up quite a few of your calories. I would guess at about 200. That's why I don't eat the tips...just the creamy middle. *ding* Along with the rangoon, you probably want to avoid any of the extras in general. That includes egg rolls, fried spring rolls, and wonton strips. If you MUST participate, do...but know that any of those items will commonly set you back about 150 calories apiece (or a handful or so of the wonton strips), so limit yourself to one.

Survival tip #2: Say yes to the soup! (But keep it to a cup, rather than a bowl, if you can.) In any meal, it is a good idea to start or end with soup. Especially those with a water-based broth, rather than a creamy broth. Soup is usually quite low, and helps to fill you up! Hot & Sour and Egg Drop are both excellent choices. Also about 150 calories, but much more sustaining calories, those are.

Survival tip #3: Get it steamed. If you know you're going to Chinese, go in with the mindset of looking for dishes that are "steamed", or stir fry's that the cook is willing to  fry in broth rather than oil. (I believe this is called "stock velveting"...or at least that's how they refer to it at Pei Wei...) I find that if I go into a meal knowing beforehand what I want to look for/eat, I feel a lot less tempted by other things. It keeps my cravings at bay. Again, this is a really great tip for life in general. (Also to remember for this tip: ask for less sauce. I find Chinese food almost ALWAYS has way-too-much-sauce.)

Survival tip #4: Nothing fried. Ever. If it's fried, it WILL be high. I have no problem indulging in small amount of fried-ness, but when it's your main portion, it's just a bad idea.

Survival tip #5: Keep your protein lean. If you're really uncertain about the calories you're participating in, it's really easy to keep it light with the meat. Best choice always: shrimp. If you're not a fan of shrimp, opt for the chicken or tofu. You can find lower calorie dishes that still include beef, but beef dishes in general are more iffy. Your safest bet is seafood.

Survival tip #6: Use chopsticks. Using chopsticks helps you to eat slower, and only pick up the things you really want. That means all that extra sauce that fell to your plate will stay right there, on the plate!

Do you have any other great tips for eating Chinese? Leave them in the comments!
Do you have any thoughts/comments in general? Leave those too! I love to hear from you:)


  1. Great post, Jamie. We usually order from the traditional Chinese menu from our local Chinese restaurant. Less fried items and tons of veggies, seafood or tofu. They are also less oily. Most Chinese restaurants have a traditional menu, especially if you live in an area that does have a small Chinese population. Just ask. Also, we always share our meal and just get an extra cup of soup or just skip the soup all together. :-)

  2. Jamie, what I noticed at this meal, was that you separated your food BEFORE you started eating. I mean you took 1/2 of it and set it aside! I thought that was a great idea! I can normally visualize where 1/2 will be and only eat my portion, but in the case of Chinese food it is often hard to do. By dividing it in half (or thirds in some cases) FIRST it's easier to be successful and not eat too much!