Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Peking Express, really Chinese

611 East Grand River, East Lansing, 351-0533.

Peking Express used to be a little three-table express; quick, hot and cheap (but always fresh and good). It was the healthy staple of many generations of students, loads better than any of the steam tables and buffets around, but with a limited menu.

Now they've expanded both their space and their menu, and in the process transformed the place into a really good authentic type Chinese restaurant. I say "authentic type" because most Asian places in town have a mix -- some old fashioned egg rolls, egg drop soup and sweet and sour pork for the round-eye westerners, and a few more interesting dishes for the Asian clientele. This one has a full menu for both sides, and a pretty wide variety in between. So don't let the fact that their "Peking Special" menu offers things like Cold Jelly Fish, Pork Intestine and Spicy Salted Shrimp With Head put you off. You'll find plenty else -- new or familiar -- to try. And after trying it, you just might find yourself up for some of that jelly fish.

The only thing I've found generally is that their most Chinese dishes tend to be a little salty for me. (I, however, seldom put salt on anything but french fries, and I have yet to find a brand of salsa that isn't too salty for me, so maybe I'm just sensitive to salt.) Also, the shrimp heads -- they don't always say whether the shrimp are shelled or not, so if that matters to you, you should ask before ordering shrimp dishes (at least when you get above #62 on the menu, and start getting into the more Chinese dishes).

A few things we've tried: if you like melt-in-your-mouth stewed beef, try anything with the beef brisket. My favorite cold day dish is Beef Brisket Noodle Soup (#96). This is the kind of soup that comes in a bowl the size of your head. You can share it, or take the leftovers home for a couple more meals.

You'll see a couple of dishes under Hot Pot that say "Satay Sauce". This isn't the rich peanut sauce we think of in Thai cooking. The satay here is a version of the "sa cha" or "sa tsa" sauce found in some Chinese stewed or braised dishes. It's an unusual flavor -- mainly five spice, dried shrimp and soy. (Ground dried shrimp is one of the major ingredients in the pink salad dressing you'll often get in sushi restaurants.)

The BBQ duck (#115, #131) or BBQ pork (#117, #132) are pure meat dishes, and go well with a vegetable dish to round things out, something like the Chinese Mushroom and Chinese Green (#142).

I haven't tried their more ordinary dishes yet, but I expect they are good. They also deliver anywhere within four miles of their place, free for orders of $15 or more (before tax), or with a one dollar delivery fee if less. They're open until 1am every night of the week.

Their menu says they also offer online ordering at Campus Food .

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