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Moo Goo Gai Pan

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         The other day, when I opened a post from Bee at www.rasamalaysia.com, along with Bee’s recipe for Moo Goo Gai Pan came a flood of memories.  It instantly took me back to my childhood in Montreal.  Not that I ever ate Moo Goo Gai Pan. I don’t think Chinese food in any form ever crossed the Mathews’ family doorstep.  However, my parents had one friend in particular whose entire diet seemed to consist of Chinese take-out.  At least that’s the way it looked to me at aged 10. 

Note that Ruby Foo’s served
Chinese and American Dishes.
And also note that there’s not a word
of French on their signage.
         Our house was a convenient dropping off place on Auntie Ann’s way to her lakeshore home.  A very glamorous figure and former fashion model, she’d stop in for a quick visit but somehow one dry martini led to another and all thoughts of cooking dinner went out the window.  Instead, she would call Montreal’s most famous Chinese restaurant, Ruby Foo’s, and order exotic-sounding dishes to be picked up on the final leg of her trip home.  Her waiting husband and child must have had Chinese several times a week. How I wanted to join them!  Who wouldn’t want to taste a dish called Moo Goo Gai Pan? 
The Chinese ladies are joined
with someone vaguely Polynesian
to extoll their umbrella drinks
on Ruby Foo’s menus 
         My parents were nothing if not adventurous eaters but Chinese cooking–in reality Chinese-American cooking—did not interest them in the least. It may have been my mother’s extreme aversion to any form of rice. Whatever the readon,  it wasn’t until I came to New York that Chinese food became a part of my vocabulary.  By that time, however, Hunan and Szechuan restaurants had inundated New York with the fiery hot flavors of those two provinces. Gentler Cantonese dishes like Moo Goo Gai Pan and Egg Foo Yung were relegated to the New York equivalents of Ruby Foo’s. That is vast eateries where the great majority of diners were Jewish and where Chinese food on a Sunday was (and still is) a ritual.  Truth be told, Ruby Foo’s in Montreal was owned and run not by anyone Chinese but by a Jewish family called Shapiro. 
Did Education kill Ruby Foo’s ?
Photo from the Jewish Public Library
Archives, Montreal 
         When the father of the Shapiro family died, he left the running of the restaurant to his twin sons, Harold and Bernard.  The brothers managed the restaurant while pursuing their educations at McGill University.  After both boys graduated, they went on to distinguished academic careers: Harold became first the President of the University of Michigan and later the President of Princeton University. Bernard became the Principle and Vice Chancellor of McGill University and then Canada’s first Ethics Commissioner.  All that education spelled the demise of Ruby Foo’s.  (A hotel by the same name opened a couple of blocks down from Ruby Foo’s original location but its only relation to the Shapiro’s is its name.) 
         Back to Moo Goo Gai Pan.   As exotic as it sounds, Moo Goo means mushroom and Gai Pan means chicken in Chinese.  It’s a delicate dish, the perfect thing to serve young children when you want to introduce them to another culture at its most child-friendly.   No spicy or fiery flavors here, just tender silky chicken with crispy vegetables all tied together with a sweet and sour sauce.  It’s a basic stir-fry that requires a little time marinating the strips of chicken in egg whites.  But other than that, it’s a snap with or without a wok. I made it in my largest sauté pan.  Here’s the recipe:

5 thoughts on “Moo Goo Gai Pan”

  • Hi Lauren, This was really excellent and very easy and economical. So funny that you remember it from a place called Mah Jong because when I was researching Ruby Foos in Montreal and discovered there's a hotel called Ruby Foo's, guess what the name of the restaurant is in the hotel? Mah Jong!

  • OMG this is what my father always ordered with his Beefeater martini from Gam Wah on Old Country Road, Carle Place (the only Chinese restaurant on Long Island in the 60's I believe). But wait, then there was The Golden Fan down the road. I'm smiling and shaking my head. Aw, I'm gonna make it. Thanks Monte!

  • Did you read Lauren Phillips Ready's post above? Did you ever hit Mah Jong's in Syosset? By the way, this would be great for your grandchildren because it's mild and not at all spicy. All best, Monte

  • We made it last night. Easy and cheap but best, delicious and healthy. I only used 2 chicken breasts and still have plenty of leftovers. I think I will double the sauce the next time and store the sauce in a different Tupperware so I can pour some over the leftovers. We added some Sriracha to spice it up.

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