Never had Chinese food - so what should I order?

Not sure if this should be here or in IMHO, if I’m wrong I apologize.

Okay, not quite NEVER - but I’ve only tried egg rolls, pork fried rice, and wonton soup.
I’m going to a Chinese restaurant with friends, and I don’t have any idea what to order. What’s a good basic choice?

I like pork, chicken and shrimp, but not wild about beef.
I don’t like broccoli.
I don’t like things that are really spicy, which is one of the reasons I’ve tried to avoid Mexican and Asian restaurants - I’m worried about ordering something and then find out I don’t like it, and waste a meal. A lot of Chinese food looks like a big mix of slimy stuff to me, so I’m afraid of it.

I know I could ask my friends what stuff is, but I don’t want to make it obvious that I am a grown woman who has avoided Chinese food all her life. And I want to like what I eat. What do you suggest? Are there certain words to watch for that equal “spicy” and I should avoid?

I’ll throw in a vote for General Tso’s Chicken though it might come with broccoli.

Also Sweet and Sour pork is always a crowd pleaser.

And do order the wonton soup since that’s what we usually use to quickly gauge the restaurant’s quality. If it’s has a run of the mill, out-of-the-can taste then so will the rest of the food. If it has a fresher taste with greater attention to detail, other dishes normally follow suit.

For better or worse, the slime aspect mostly comes from using a cornstarch base for (far too many of the) sauces.

Where is the restaurant, and how “Chinese” is it? If it’s in a suburban strip mall, my advice is different than if it’s in a fairly legit Chinatown.

I loved Sweet & Sour Pork (or Chicken) when I was a kid. Nowadays I can take it or leave it. It always seems to be too greasy and too sweet.

My personal fave is the salt-and-pepper shrimp (if it’s a good place). Eat the whole thing without peeling, with a slice of pepper. Yes, I like hot peppers. I prefer to eat the heads first, since I like the tails better.

Another favourite is the whole fried fish. It generally comes with a hot sauce and a salty one.

I like kung-pao chicken, but it might be too hot for you.

The best thing to do is make sure it’s ‘family-style’. That way everyone gets to try what everybody else is having. Maybe have someone order for you. Be sure to try everything.

Strip mall Chinese place, nothing fancy, I"m guessing it will have the standard fare.

Forgive me for asking you all, but what is Sweet & Sour Pork made up of? Just pork with sauce on it? Over rice? Is there other stuff mixed in?

And someone said “General Tso’s chicken”. What’s in that? How do you pronounce “Tso”?

What is kung pao chicken made of? Is it just a little spicy, or very spicy?

Do they leave the heads on the shrimp in all the dishes? (urk)

I really don’t know anything at all about Chinese food. Except I know you add “in bed” to the end of the fortune…!

Start with the easy stuff and then work your way around the menu from there.

Mu-shu Chicken
Chicken/pork with snow peas (something like that will be on the menu)
Shrimp chow mein

Try those and see what you like. Start with maybe some pot stickers and won ton soup. Fried won tons are good, too.

Try to find a Cantonese style restaurant-- you won’t find many spicy items on the menu.

One of my most embarrassing moments ever was my first Chinese restaurant experience. There were five or six of us. Everyone ordered one item. My order came first and I sat there with this huge plate of beef chow fun in front of me, not realizing that I was expected to share. Lucky for me, I knew enough not to start eating until everyone else’s order came, so when they started passing plates around, I was okay.

Lo mein (noodles with meat and veggies) is a safe choice, and sesame chicken (or any sesame dish).

Or lemon chicken.

Again, forgive my ignorance; but what is in Mu-Shu Chicken? Is it boneless chicken? Is it sweet? Sour? Spicy?

What is chow mein?

I ask these questions because I don’t want to be confronted with something unexpected. For instance, I love onions but I HATE mushrooms. I don’t want to order something and then find it’s a big pile of mushrooms, and then be pushing them aside. I feel a little like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, when she goes out to dinner and doesn’t know what anything is, gets served snails, etc.

Chinese broccoli or bok choy is usually pretty good/hard to ruin.

Sliced pork with garlic sauce is a bit spicy but generally a good staple.

If the restaurant has a webpage and you can post it, we could probably infer a lot about the likely range and quality of the menu options. For instance, I’m with Johnny L.A. in principle on liking the fried fish, but I’d consider that a bit too ambitious for Lucky Panda in a Kalamazoo strip mall to pull off (and, I’d be worried about the low turnover for such a dish, hence freshness).

Sweet & Sour Anything is basically lightly battered and fried pieces of Anything, with a sweetish red sauce. It’s a pretty safe bet for picky eaters, and was the first thing I learned to eat at Chinese buffets.

Bland enough to be a good entree as it were.

Oh, Peking Duck is generally pretty good – roasted duck with a crispy caramelized skin, served with pancakes and an oyester-based sauce.

If we’re sticking to the bunny slopes this time around, I’d skip the duck. It’s generally pretty expensive, too.

Very spicy. Chicken, celery, small hot hot peppers, and peanuts.

Okay, if it’s a strip mall, my personal suggestion is to stay away from fish or from anything seeming over-elaborate. Lay down a base of eggrolls (very hard to ruin), if they have shiu mai (little steamed pork or shrimp dumplings), get those too.

Shrimp will generally be headless/tailless. Despite my warning about fish, shrimp should be fine as they freeze/thaw well. The menu will very likely have a little pepper symbol (perhaps multiple peppers) next to the spicy dishes. If there’s no pepper, it won’t be hot/spicy at all.

Some [me] find it disgusting. It’s really, really, really, sweet and sticky, and usually some godawful nuclear red fake color.

It’s not very spicy if you don’t eat the peppers. But if you don’t like spicy and you bite into a pepper accidentally… :eek:

My experience is that most people seem to enjoy cashew chicken. In fact, every time I go to my favorite Chinese place, they are running out.

My favorite is anything that is “crystal.” (I think it is a coconut glaze.) OR mandarin.

The wikipedia entry on American Chinese Food has a good collection of links to stereotypical dishes:

Generally, Chinese food is not spicy and the spicy things will be explicitly marked. Scan through a couple of entries and find one that sounds appealing.

you might want to order the “doo doo”* plate. You’ll probably love it.

*The doo-doo plate is kind of faux Chinese food made for tourists, and not really something that the Chinese themselves usually eat. Egg roll, sweet and sour pork, fried won tons, etc. Most people like it even though it’s about as Chinese as Dominos is authentic Italian pizza. Eg, sorta, kinda, not really but can be tasty anyway.

I vote for Mu Shu anything. Mu Shu is generally thin strips of meat, shredded cabbage, egg, bean sprouts, and lotus root (don’t worry about the lotus, it doesn’t really taste like anything). You then pile this stuff into a tortilla-like wrapper and pour hoisin (mild barbecue) sauce over it.