Everyday Noodles by: Dan Calig
Michael Chen has been faithfully serving food to the people of Pittsburgh for decades. His first restaurants, China Palace, are a staple and standard of the American-Chinese fare. There you’ll find all the classics, mouthwateringly juicy General Tso’s chicken with just the right balance of sweet to heat, perfectly cooked beef and broccoli and a fortune cookie to finish the meal. As far as American-Chinese food goes, it’s as good as it gets. But little known to most Americans, actual Chinese food in China is a very different thing.
General Tso never ate the dish named after him, our version of broccoli isn’t native to China and though its past is shrouded in history, the fortune cookie seems to have hailed from Japan and first became popular in California. The reason for this is simple. Our meat and potato diets weren’t ready for traditional Chinese food when it began to appear here in the 19th century, so the savvy Asian restaurateurs of the time began to alter the recipes to better suit their new customers. They added regional ingredients, changed flavor profiles and in many respects, invented a new type of cuisine that was received better by the shy American palate.
But times have changed. The Internet and food centered entertainment have made the world much smaller and the American palette has become curious of new things. Knowing this and wanting something a little closer to his heart, Michael brought chefs from Asia and opened Everyday Noodles in Squirrel Hill, specializing in authentic Northern and Southern Chinese regional cuisine and street food.
Street food is much loved in China and doesn’t carry the stigma of the dirty water hotdog or the implication that food obtained on the street is somehow subpar. Rather it is seen as a vibrant contribution to the country’s culinary identity and a staple of the population, regardless of social standing.
The menu Michael designed is a broad sweep though the country and features traditional items such as noodles, various types of dim sum and rice dishes. The noodles are all handmade in house and thanks to a clever design of the space itself, diners are able to watch the process while they eat. The rhythmic slapping of fresh noodles being stretched and shaped right before your eyes goes a long way to stress the authenticity of the restaurant.
One thing that the typical western customer will notice right away is the appetizer menu. Wood Ears ($5), actually a type of fungus, share a plate with tofu skins. Jelly Fish Salad ($8) and Drunken Chicken ($8), named for the spirits it is marinated in during the preparation process. While these are not the typical American fare, be adventurous and your bravery will be rewarded. You might just find a new favorite.
Dim sum has Cantonese origins, traditionally accompanied by tea and consisting of small plates of various foods eaten more as a snack than a meal. Dim Sum literally means “Touch the Heart” and implies that it is to be eaten as a way to recharge the spirit with friends and a nice cup of tea, rather than a meal taken for sustenance. The classification is broad and encompasses things such as pot stickers, stuffed wontons and the Chinese pancake. All present at Everyday Noodles and the Taiwanese Style Pork Belly Slider ($6) is a must.
While most of us on this side of the world are only familiar with the meat and dough half-moon shaped fried dumpling, their soup dumplings ($9-$12) are a revelation. Steamed rather than fried and stuffed with an amazingly seasoned seafood, vegetable or meat mixture that when cooked, melts into pure gold and fills the dumpling with savory broth. Seriously, one could visit the restaurant for these alone. Such care and respect is given to the soup dumpling in China that 18 folds of the dough was determined to be the optimal format to best hold the nectar inside.
Care and respect would be the two words that encompass what Michael Chen has achieved with Everyday Noodles. Offering painstakingly chosen ingredients and dishes, a well oiled front of the house and an atmosphere that really takes you somewhere special. Rather than just a restaurant that serves the typical “Chinese Food” he has brought us a piece of everyday Chinese life.
5875 Forbes Ave. Pittsburgh PA 15217
Mon – Thu: 11:30 am – 2:30 pm
4:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Fri – Sat: 11:30 am – 2:30 pm
4:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Sun: 11:30 am – 9:00 pm