People born in China sometimes don’t recognize Chinese food in the USA. They see similarities, but the dish in question does not exist back home. That’s because much of the Chinese food served in this country has been westernized to appeal to American tastes.
In Asia, I discovered that the same thing also happens in reverse; I was served spaghetti with seaweed and scrambled eggs.
For this story, the word “authentic” connotes Chinese food as served in Hong Kong—not at the mall or by cheap, run-of-the-mill places slinging food for the masses. At those places, seasonings have been toned down and exotic ingredients banished.
They’re the equivalent of wannabes serving Cajun food outside south Louisiana (I was taken aback by a sandwich board outside a café near The Stonewall Inn in NYC promoting “authentic Cajun curry,” but I digress…).
The Cantonese food served at Dian Xin is indeed foreign. If a dish is labeled spicy, or if you request chili oil, expect it to be searing. Garlic dishes will be pungent and aromatic. Exotic ingredients such as snow pea tips, tofu, and seaweed are used.
This type of experience will be celebrated by adventurous eaters. Looking around the full dining room on recent trips, virtually all guests were digging in with chopsticks.
Plain rice is not served with entrees; in fact, it’s not listed on the menu. Our server said you can order it, but they want you to focus on the specialty food—not fill up on rice. This is a gourmet experience with quality and prices to match.
There’s a plethora of dim sum, traditional appetizers including dumplings, to share. You can get a lot of little dishes—many very creative and robust with flavor—but be aware it does add up.
Soup bao have been hard to find in New Orleans. Small dumplings are filled with broth in addition to fillings. You lift them to your mouth and pierce the skin with your teeth to quickly slurp out the broth. Hold a soup spoon under your lips to catch any liquid that drips out.
I had heard at least a dozen favorable reports about them. We opted for the local variation with crabmeat and crawfish. The broth tasted like the sea. Pork bao is also available and is more authentic.
Wonton with Spicy Sauce were ethereal. A small order of pork-filled wonton sat in a pool of reddish-hued sauce. These pack a tremendously flavorful kick—heat, sweet, and umami. The combination of fiery chili sauce, sweetness, and sesame oil is addictive. My buddies dipped several other foods into it, and we wouldn’t let the server clear it away. Order two. [Note: very spicy]
Hot & Sour Soup is honest-to-goodness hot (spicy). The broth was rich and satisfying, perfumed with ginger and studded with strips of tofu. Likewise, the Szechaun Chicken was spicy and rich in a good way. Chicken crowned with chili sauce sits atop a bed of celery and onions. This was another sauce I could eat all day.
Sizzling Garlic Shrimp were fragrant with garlic (heated until mellowed). The shrimp are grilled to a nice crust, yet remarkably tender and juicy. Usually, you only get a hint of garlic. But at Dian Xin they celebrate it just as they do at the Garlic Festival at The Upperline. The flavor is balanced, earthy, and pungent—-with notes of sweetness in the caramelized vegetables underneath.
Chive cakes were crisp with soft interiors. They’re filled with chopped chives, a leafy green shoot with a mild flavor akin to onions and garlic. These are tasty and light, with grassy earthiness. Basil Popcorn Chicken offers bite-size pieces of crisp chicken, salted like potato chips. I found the fried basil intriguing, like the rarely encountered deep-fried parsley. Get a bite of them together for the full effect.
On a cool night, the Seafood Noodle Soup can warm your belly. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of seafood, including calamari. Cold Seaweed & Bean Curd Salad and warm Sautéed Snow Pea Tips with Garlic were delicious (the latter pricey). The garlic in it was tawny brown and mellow.
Dian Xin fills a niche. It’s small, but you can easily join the waitlist via the Yelp app. I look forward to eating my way through the rest of the menu. It’s like a table in Hong Kong right here at home.
Dian Xin, 1218 Decatur St, 11am–3pm, 5–10pm (till 11pm on weekends), all major credit cards, (504) 266-2828, https://www.yelp.com/biz/dian-xin-new-orleans (join the waitlist before you go)
Charles Pizzo is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. If you’re interested in having your dining establishment covered by Ambush Magazine, please contact him.