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One of my favorite foods is Chicken Fried Steak. That just goes along with being a Texan. A real chicken fried steak, not the frozen imitation. Not a “country fried steak” …that’s another imitator. A restaurant owner in Ohio told me he named his version a “country fried steak” because people confused it with fried chicken. When I tried it, it was not a real chicken fried steak.
People in Texas, New Mexico, and even Oklahoma don’t confuse it. We know what a chicken fried steak is. I like the real thing, the way it’s made in Texas!
A chicken fried steak is steak that is tenderized and seasoned with salt and black pepper, coated in a seasoned flour breading, fried golden brown, and served with mashed potatoes, cream gravy ladled over the steak and the mashed potatoes, toast, and a veggie of your choice.
While traveling in China, I had a lot of Chinese food. Not the Americanized versions we get here, but real Chinese food. I even had a lot of home cooked Chinese food, such as stir fry with thin strips of pig’s ears and hot peppers, oxtail soup with chunks of real ox tails, and other Chinese home cooking. All that was actually good, and don’t get me wrong, I like Chinese food. But it’s not a chicken fried steak.
So, as I traveled through Asian countries, I didn’t expect to find a chicken fried steak, but I would scan the menu for it when I found a restaurant that served American food. I knew the chances were slim but I kept searching and hoping.
I found American food at some places. I frequented Gail’s American Restaurant, and Lucy’s Grill in Guangzhou. I went to Gail’s so often I had a frequent diner’s discount card and I knew the manager and chef. These places were good but never had chicken fried steak on the menu.
And then one day it happened. I was in Sekou, a suburb of Shenzhen, staying at the Nan Hai Hotel. Just outside the entrance to the hotel was a small restaurant named The Red Rooster. The Red Rooster had hamburgers, other American food, and even tacos. It was owned by a Texan and an Australian working in China building off-shore drilling rigs, so they opened it to have a place for American food.
I walked there from the hotel one evening and was seated at a table across from another guy perusing the menu. We nodded at each other and I started looking through the menu. The guy’s phone rang and I heard him speaking with a strong British accent, dropping his “h’s” and using British slang. When he finished I said howdy and he replied “’allo, mate.”
We talked a little while we were looking at the menus, and when the Chinese waitress came to take his order, to my surprise he spoke to her in fluent Mandarin. I knew the waitress did not speak English, either my version or the British guy’s version. After hearing his strong British accent, I didn’t expect such perfect Mandarin.
I kept looking down the menu, and there it was…Chicken Fried Steak.
When the waitress came back for my order, I excitedly asked my British acquaintance to translate for me. “Ask her if the chicken fried steak here is cooked like it is in Texas!”
He stared at me a moment and in his British accent said “Wahl, mate, ‘aving nevah been thah, ‘ahm shure ah counn’t say.”
“Ah, well, thanks anyway” was all I could say.
I pointed to it on the menu to get it ordered and waited anxiously for it, thinking about how good it would be.
When it came out, the breading was still raw white flour. I cut into it and the meat was bloody. Obviously, it was not fried enough to be brown and crispy.
I tried to send it back, trying to get the point across to cook it longer. Have you ever tried to mime “cook it longer?” I acted out taking the steak, putting it in a hot skillet and making sizzling sounds while pretending to cook it longer. I would pretend to cook it a minute, then look closely at it, and then pretend to cook it some more.
The waitress and the British guy stared at me as if I had mental issues.
Finally, she seemed to understand, and took it back, glancing back over her shoulder as she walked away, no doubt wondering what the crazy American making sizzling sounds and pointing to the kitchen might do next. When it came back, it was still raw white flour, bloody meat, and not fried nearly enough. A few more times sending it back and forth and I had to accept the Chinese waitress and chef had no idea a chicken fried steak is supposed to be golden brown and crispy. Not to mention the cream gravy was cold and lumpy. I had no idea how to mime “make the gravy hot.”
After my high expectations were dashed, I gave up and ordered a hamburger. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a chicken fried steak.
I continued to search for a chicken fried steak all through Asia, but never found it. Every time I could get back to Texas, a chicken fried steak was the first thing I wanted to eat.
Texans know where to find a real chicken fried steak locally, and we all have our favorite place. I’m sure you have your favorite place, be it your own home or a restaurant.
The next time you take a trip out of the area, be sure to get on the outside of a chicken fried steak before you go, because odds are you won’t find it if you go too far away, no matter how much you search.