The Tea House

From 2013-2014 I taught English in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan Province in China, through an organization called WorldTeach. Hunan has a rich culinary tradition and, as with the rest of China, food is an extremely important part of daily social life. Everything is eaten family style, which is great for trying a huge amount of different dishes. Ironically, during my time, you know what I couldn’t find to eat? Anything you’d order off a menu in an American Chinese restaurant.

When we moved to the Twin Cities I did some searches for Chinese restaurants, hoping that being in a large city would provide more diversity in the types of Chinese dishes. I was encouraged that several seem to have a focus on cuisine from Sichuan province, which is next to Hunan. The foods are different (I’ll save the nerd rant about dry heat vs. wet heat and Sichuan peppers vs chilies for another day), but I was definitely heading in the right direction.

I had a lot of amazing food in China, but one dish that always stood out to me was sweet and sour fish. I only had it once and it was the only time I saw Sweet and Sour outside of Beijing, but it was the style more than anything that impressed me. To celebrate getting through orientation, our volunteer class was treated to a nice dinner at a restaurant called the Northern. The show stopper of this meal was a whole fish that had been cut into cubes with the meat still on the bone, then breaded, deep fried, and covered in sweet and sour sauce. I’d never had sweet and sour fish, and it was delicious, but I never got over how slick the preparation and presentation was. I always thought this would just be one of those experiences I would remember fondly and never find outside of China, but then I came across the menu for the Tea House online.

Walleye Squirrel Fish

I didn’t learn many names for dishes in China because, well, I neither read nor speak Chinese, so a lot of things like that went straight over my head; but at the Tea House they call this Sweet and Sour Fish “Squirrel Fish” and it is one of several items on their menu that I haven’t seen since coming home to the United States. I’ve been wanting to go since before moving to the Twin Cities, but it took until now for us to finally get over there. Britt let me order a few dishes to eat family style, so we got the Squirrel Fish (of course), Shredded Pork with Smoked Tofu, and a steamer of baozi (steamed buns).

Everything we had was great and really filled me with nostalgia. The Squirrel Fish was made with walleye, which is an amazing way of giving a Minnesota flare to the dish. Britt and I agreed that it would be way too much sweet and sour to eat for one person (maybe even too much for two people) so it’s definitely best ordered family style (as it’s intended). {Britt here: I am generally unnerved by food that literally still has a face. It’s true, the fish was delicious, but be warned, its judging eyes will watch while you eat.}

The Shredded Pork with Smoked Tofu is an excellent, simple dish. The steamed buns were fresh and tasty. Honestly, it’s just refreshing to go to a Chinese restaurant that had a large variety of dishes that weren’t just meat in some kind of semi-distinct sauce. Don’t get me wrong… I love American Chinese food, but this is an experience I highly recommend for anyone who’s interested in what an actual meal in China might look like.


Disclaimer: All opinions are entirely our own, and exactly that – opinions. We are not sponsored and have not been compensated in any way for a favorable review.

One thought on “The Tea House

  1. There’s quite the theme of eating and drinking on this Blog so far, but I really enjoyed your description of some of your China Year experiences. I have felt similarly of my many, varied food experiences in nearly every state in Mexico! Sometimes there isn’t a chili in sight. Thankfully I return to my home in Albuquerque where many kinds of chilis can be found. The photos in the article perfectly enhanced the narrative. Great job, Logan!


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