Review: Great China

Great China
2115 Kittredge St
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 843-7996

It is a true saying that a man must eat a peck of salt with his friend before he knows him.” (Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote)

If that were the case, then I know Jessica Lu VERY well, as we ate (what seemed like) several pounds of salt at Great China on a Thursday evening not too long ago. And boy, was it good! Renowned for its Peking Duck, Great China is another Berkeley-hole-in-the-wall, and yet people from all over the Bay flock here for the delicious Peking Duck served NOT with steam buns, but paper thin rice wraps. Divine! Jessica, Em and the family came up to Berkeley for that very purpose – to satisfy the need for some tasty duck. This was the first time I had been out to a Chinese restaurant with them, and was pleasantly surprised when they ordered dishes left of the beaten path. Very refreshing, and very different from the claypots and salted crab my family loves so much. And as a preface, I am certainly going to mess up the names for all these dishes, but I hope the pictures will help.

When it comes to Chinese food, ambiance is no longer a criteria. I am looking for some amazing soul food (I am Asian after all), with plenty of bold and homey flavors that are soo comforting. And Great China did not disappoint. Our first dish was a cold stick cellophane noodle (it had the consistency of jello-agar) that had been tossed with different veggies in a wasabi and soy sauce dressing. There were also pieces of sea cucumber and abalone, I believe, in the dish. Very different, but very tasty. It was refreshingly light and not coated in oil like so many Chinese dishes, which is always a perk. It makes for a great appetizer, and the wasabi is just enough of a kick to get your taste buds ready for the rest of the meal.

Now for the most important dish – Peking Duck! Peking Duck is a dish of crispy duck skin typically eaten with steam buns, green onion and hoisin sauce. Also, there is usually duck meat on the platter, but the duck skin takes center stage here. What makes this Peking Duck spectacular is that the skin was so well prepared that there was not even a sliver of fat left on the skin. And from what I’ve heard, Great China’s duck is cooked and marinated for an extended period of time, resulting in an intensely savory flavor in the skin. Also unique is the paper thin wrappers, very different from the pancakes or steam buns. I would have liked the steam buns better, but those are also extra carbs I could probably save for something else…

Such as this crab meat and steam bun dish! This is another dish I have never eaten before, but am soo glad that I did! The waitress brought out a huge mountain of steaming crab meat on this heavy platter. Steam was still rising from the succulent meat, and yet embedded right at the apex of the crab meat dome was a pristine white egg. The waitress promptly set the dish down, cracked the raw egg onto the hot crab meat and thoroughly incorporated everything so the hot crab meat cooked the egg. Accompanying the dish were hot steamed buns. Jessica showed me how to eat it too – tear into the bun, stuff with crab meat, close bun, and eat. Delicious. Crab meat alone is amazing. But this is heaven on earth. And I have no idea how this was made, let alone what it’s called. If you happen to know, leave a comment, because I would love to order this again.

And as if I hadn’t had enough, we also had a sea cucumber dish. Yes, sea cucumber! I am fairly certain sea cucumber is not a typical, run of the mill item found in every Chinese kitchen, but somehow it managed to sneak into 2 dishes that night. This was a sautéed dish, complete with green onion and some sort of a garlic and oyster marinade I believe. If I am wrong, please correct me. I really think I should learn just enough Mandarin to order food. I am soo serious too. Currently, my Chinese lexicon includes things like, “Weisheme” and “Wo bu xi huan ni” and “Nei hao” and “Tai jen”. And I’m sure I butchered all the pinying but you know what I’m trying to say… well, Piggy does at least. And I realize that sea cucumber, though a delicacy, is not my favorite thing in the world. Don’t get me wrong, this dish was great, I’m just not a big fan of big squishy pieces of sea cucumber, especially because this is what it originally looked like (see right). See what I mean? It doesn’t look too appetizing does it? Looks slightly poisonous actually, but it’s a delicacy… It makes me wonder how our ancestors discovered that eating sea cucumber was okay… Maybe one of those trial and error things? I know not.

The other dishes that night included fillers like chow mein, which isn’t unique in the least, but Great China does a good job with the basics, making it a well rounded restaurant, covering both the specials and fundamentals. The only thing I have to complain is that they really want you to enjoy the food, so time between the dishes is spaced out, so you can truly savor the dish and I suppose each other’s company? Personally, I want to devour my Chinese food – that’s how I can truly appreciate it. But Great China IS GREAT, and you should definitely stop by for any of the above dishes. It’s amazing. So next time you’re on Kittredge, give a hollar and maybe we can split a duck – or two…

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3 Responses to Review: Great China

  1. getinmybelly says:

    YUM! It’s a shame that I was sick that day; I couldn’t taste a thing! EXCEPT… I was really surprised to find that the flavor of the crab and steamed bun dish was strong enough for me to taste a little (or maybe the wasabi from the appetizer cleared up my sinuses). Still, I’ve been to Great China more about 5 times, and it has never been a disappointment! And the food is ALWAYS served hot and steamy!

    The cellophane noodle appetizer is called “double skin,” a direct translation from its Chinese name. They’re actually made of mung beans, aka “green beans,” which are often served as a dessert in drinks or as a topping to shaved ice (they are associated with Red Beans). Tapioca Express, Q-cup, Quickly, and Fantasia all sell green bean drinks and slushies… It’s fascinating to know that the same type of beans were used to make these slushies and cellophane noodles. Even better, because the cellophane noodles are made of beans rather than flour, it’s a healthy alternative to noodles and pasta. Cellophane noodies are easy to overcook and often turn “mushy” when they sit for too long. Great China does a great job in cooking the cellophane noodies just right, so that they’re slimy and slide off your chopsticks. I highly recommend this dish!

    According to the Great China menu, the crab meat dish is called “Sauteed Crab Meat – served with four buns and ginger onion sauce.”

    I agree with Anh. If you ever dine at Great China, definitely try these few dishes (especially the double skin, peking duck, and crab meat). These are the three dishes that I’ve ordered every time I’ve eaten there… We drive up to Berkeley from San Jose JUST for these few items. You won’t be disappointed.

    — eLu

  2. Pingback: Food and Exercise « GETINMYBELLY

  3. christine says:

    ANH!!! (This is Anh writing, right? Haha)

    That sounded so good. Beyond good. I seriously want to drive to Berkeley now for it, except that it’s like… 3:30 am and it’s closed. Or is it? 😛

    I used to love sea cucumber when I was little, I’m not quite sure why though! Probably because of the squishiness of it all… but now every time I think of them, I imagine tanks in a classroom and classifying animals. *sigh

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