The Mystery of Almond Boneless Chicken

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in: Cooking w/recipe

Almond boneless chicken. Credit: Tina Caputo

It’s been more than 20 years since I moved from a suburb on the east side of Detroit to San Francisco, and there are a few things I miss about my childhood home. When I say “a few” I mean three: my family, warm summer nights and almond boneless chicken.

If you don’t live in Michigan, you’ve probably never heard of the dish we call ABC — at least not the version served in nearly every Chinese restaurant from Detroit to Petoskey. The dish consists of a battered and deep fried chicken breast cut into thick slices, laid on a bed of iceberg lettuce and topped with mild brown gravy, toasted almonds and a sprinkling of green onions.

My first apartment in San Francisco was a 10-minute walk to Chinatown, but, to my great disappointment, my beloved ABC was nowhere to be found in the neighborhood’s Chinese restaurants and take-out joints.

“Do you have almond boneless chicken?” I asked countless restaurant servers.

“Yes, we have it.” They’d answer.

But when the dish arrived, it was always stir-fried instead of deep-fried. And where was the iceberg lettuce?

After years of disappointment, I finally came to accept that ABC was “a Michigan thing.”

But how did it get there? And why don’t we have it in California?

Tracing a dish’s history

I began searching for clues online and came across a 2010 article on the Detroit Free Press website. They’d asked readers to name the foods that define Detroit, and almond boneless chicken was the dish that came up over and over again.

Marshall Chin, owner of a Chinese fusion restaurant in the Detroit suburbs, theorized that ABC was one of the dishes that originated in the old chop suey houses in big cities where Chinese immigrants settled, including San Francisco.

Another Detroit-area restaurant owner, Raymond Wong, took Chin’s idea a step further. “I know it started in the San Francisco area, but in Detroit it became so popular that all Chinese restaurants had it,” he told the Free Press.

Could it really be true that ABC started out in San Francisco? I had my doubts, so I reached out to Andrew Coe, author of the book “Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States.”

Coe had never heard of ABC, or its alias War Su Gai, but my search for its history piqued his interest.

“Although their origins are in China, specifically around Toishan in Guangdong province, dishes like chop suey and chow mein developed specific regional variations as they spread through the U.S.,” he told me. “There’s a Minneapolis-style chow mein, for example, and a Rhode Island specialty called a chow mein sandwich. I have a feeling the same is true for almond chicken.”

I sent Coe a link to an ABC recipe published on a home cooks’ website, and he did some further digging. He discovered a similar recipe in one of the first Chinese cookbooks published in the United States, “The Chinese Cook Book” by Shiu Wong Chan, released in 1917. The dish was called Hung Yuen Guy Ding, and it was made from boneless chicken, almonds, water chestnuts, onions, mushrooms, celery, oil and stock — the same ingredients in ABC.

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The secret to the ABC batter is a 50-50 mixture of flour and cornstarch. Credit: Tina Caputo

“It’s a typically goopy dish that was a specialty of the early Chinese-American restaurants,” he said. “I think that’s the root of your dish, but some creative Midwestern cooks have taken that inspiration and totally transformed and Americanized it — deep-frying, iceberg lettuce, gravy.”

Similar adaptations happened in New England with chop suey, he said, which morphed into “American chop suey,” made with elbow macaroni mixed with ground beef and tomato sauce.

Now we were getting somewhere. Did Coe think ABC’s predecessor could have started out in San Francisco and then migrated to Michigan, where it was Midwesternized?

“New York was actually much more an epicenter of Chinese-American food influences than San Francisco,” he said. “During the 19th century, Californians were much more anti-Chinese — violently so — than New Yorkers and refused to eat Chinese food. The American taste for Chinese food was actually first picked up in New York’s Chinatown and then spread all over the country, including to San Francisco.”

Aha!

So now I had a good idea of where the dish originated, and how it ended up in Michigan. But I still wanted to know why ABC didn’t migrate beyond the state borders.

Chinese-American food captured in a menu collection

Further web surfing led me to a blog post about the Sweet and Sour Initiative, an ongoing project at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D.C., which aims to tell the stories of Chinese people in America through food and restaurants. The collection includes thousands of menus from Chinese restaurants from across the country, spanning four decades. If anyone knew about the regional span of ABC, I figured, it had to be the folks behind the Sweet and Sour project.

“Although we have made an exhaustive search for regional dishes such as the one you are pursuing,” curator Cedric Yeh told me, “[ABC] hasn’t been one that we have run across. But all is not lost.”

Yeh put me in touch with John Eng-Wong, Visiting Scholar in Ethnic Studies at Brown University, who’s been working with Yeh on the Sweet and Sour Initiative. Eng-Wong was kind enough to do some research on my behalf.

“Almond boneless chicken seems to be well known and appreciated in Michigan, but it seems to have a foothold in many other places from Canada to Florida,” he said.

A search of Chinese menus posted online confirmed that ABC is, in fact, a staple in eastern Canada (just across the Detroit River) as well as Ohio. And yes, it’s even occasionally found in Florida. I guess that disqualifies the dish as being a “Michigan thing.”

But in my mind — and the minds of thousands of Michiganders — almond boneless chicken will always taste like Detroit.

A recipe for ABC

To create a truly authentic recipe for Detroit-style almond boneless chicken, I enlisted the help of my friends Susie Mui-Shonk and Sandra Lee, two Michigan ex-pats who really know their ABC. When they were growing up in the Detroit area, their families owned Chinese restaurants in Detroit and the suburb of Livonia.

Thanks to verbal instructions from their family members and a recipe-development session in Susie’s San Francisco kitchen, we succeeded in cooking up a heaping platter of Michigan-Chinese comfort food.

Almond Boneless Chicken

Serves 8

Ingredients

For the chicken:

6 chicken breast halves, butterflied

Salt and pepper to taste

Corn oil for frying, about 2 quarts

For the batter:

1 egg

1½ cups of water

¼ cup corn oil

¼ cup milk

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 cup corn starch

1 cup flour

For the gravy:

1½ tablespoons corn oil

1 large celery stalk, diced

⅓ cup canned sliced mushrooms, drained

⅓ cup canned bamboo shoots, drained and roughly chopped

⅓ cup canned water chestnuts, drained

3 cups chicken broth

1½ tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

4 tablespoons corn starch, dissolved in 3 tablespoons water

For the garnish:

⅓ cup sliced  or ground almonds, toasted

4 whole green onions, thinly sliced

½ head iceberg lettuce, sliced crosswise

Prepare chicken and batter

1. To butterfly chicken breasts, place each breast on a cutting board smooth side down. Remove tender and save for another use. Turn breast over and with the edge of a knife parallel to the cutting board, slice breast in half widthwise almost to the outer edge. Keep edge intact and open breast along the fold. Breasts should be fairly uniform in thickness to promote even cooking. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together egg, water, oil and milk. Stir in baking soda, baking powder, corn starch and flour until incorporated.

Make gravy

1. Heat oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add celery and stir fry 2-3 minutes.

2. Add mushrooms, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots and stir fry 3-5 minutes.

3. Add chicken broth, soy sauce, oyster sauce, salt and sugar. Bring to a medium boil, cook about 7 minutes and stir in cornstarch-water mixture. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until sauce is thickened to gravy consistency (about 5 minutes).

4. Keep warm over very low heat.

Fry chicken

1. Heat oil in a deep fryer or wok to 350 F.

2. Dip chicken pieces in batter, letting excess batter drip off.

3. Fry breasts, one or two at a time to avoid crowding, until golden brown, 5-7 minutes.

4. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.

5. Using a chef’s knife or cleaver, cut chicken width-wise into slices about ½ inches wide.

Assemble and serve

1. Arrange lettuce on a platter and top with chicken pieces.

2. Spoon gravy on top of chicken.

3. Sprinkle with green onions and almonds.

4. Serve with steamed rice.

Top photo: Almond boneless chicken. Credit: Tina Caputo


Zester Daily contributor Tina Caputo is the editor-in-chief of Vineyard & Winery Management magazine based in Northern California. Her wine and lifestyle stories have also appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Wine Review Online, US Airways magazine and Decanter.

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Comments

Andy
on: 4/2/13
Oh, the sweet magic that is Almond Boneless Chicken! The taste of Detroit indeed, or in my case, Ferndale. Thank you, Caputo, for helping to preserve the traditions of Michigan Chinese food.
Tina Caputo
on: 4/2/13
Just trying to share the love! Now if we could only recreate Bell's beer in California we'd be all set.
Sandra Lee
on: 4/5/13
I still believe ABC has its' origins in Michigan. Though it takes up residence in eastern Canada, Ohio and Florida (where many Michiganders vacation and retire), the local of Detroit is suspiciously in the epicenter.
Don Cuevas
on: 4/11/13
Seems as though ABC is a parallel development to Cashew Chicken, one of the most popular restaurant dishes in Springfield, MO. It's "exotic" but not scarily so. Saludos, Don Cuevas
Aimee Trawick
on: 5/25/13
WOW! What thorough research! I am a Michigan ex-pat (in Tennessee right now) and no matter where I travel, I can never find anything quite like the almond boneless chicken from Michigan Chinese restaurants. Thank you so very much for writing this article! It answered a lot of questions for me and I also very much so appreciate having the recipe. You did amazing work!
Tina Caputo
on: 5/25/13
Thanks so much, Aimee! My Californian husband thought I was obsessed. (:
Mike Parker
on: 5/27/13
Hi Tina! My girlfriend found this article and we were laughing the whole time we read it! She's Chinese and has never heard of this dish. I'm from the Detroit area and lived in California for 10 years. I looked all over for this dish and always found some disappointing stir fried version. I now live in Vancouver, BC and found the first deep fried version I've seen since I left MI. It's still not the same so now we will try to make this recipe at home. Thank's for solving the ABC mystery :)
Tina Caputo
on: 5/27/13
Once you've tasted the deep fried goodness of almond boneless chicken, it's hard to carry on without it! When my friend/fellow Michigan ex-pat, Andy, tasted the results of our recipe session, he declared, "This just took me back to being 9 years old." It's the real deal, I hope you'll give it a try!
vanessa
on: 6/8/13
hi tina, nice piece. i'm familiar and really enjoyed andrew coe's book. i'm also a "restaurant-kid" from the east coast of canada. i grew up in and continue to help on holidays at, most likely, the oldest, single family owned chinese-canadian restaurant. we call it almond soo guy, and it's always been very popular! it's pronounced in english "almond sue guy" and in cantonese it's said like, "sue giy," meaning crispy-flaky (not, just crispy or crispy-crunchy) chicken. our version is simply two large butterflied and battered chicken breasts, served atop a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce (though i've been trying to encourage use of shredded cabbage for less wilting if travel is involved), with a darker gravy (same used on fries), and toasted almonds. everything is made from scratch. we also make "variations" described above, but call them by other names, e.g. diced almond chicken (stir-fried chicken breast chunks with veggies in a light glaze), moo goo guy pan (stir-fried marinated chicken breast strips with veggies in an oyster-sauce based glaze), etc.
Tina Caputo
on: 6/8/13
Vanessa, it's great to hear about Canada's version of ABC, your family's restaurant sounds great, and now I'm hungry for almond chicken again!
Pamela
on: 6/8/13
Kow Kow Inn on Six Mile Road in Detroit had the best ABC. The sauce was a rich brown with garlic, sherry and button mushrooms, topped with powdered, toasted almonds and chopped scallions. No lettuce was involved. A close second was Hoa Kow Inn on Nine Mile Road in Oak Park.
Tina
on: 6/9/13
My family's favorite was Lotus Pond on 11 Mile Rd.
Melody
on: 6/9/13
I am an Ohio ex-pat also living in Tennessee, and War Su Gai is one of the things I most miss about Ohio. I have tried a few other fried versions I've found online, but none of them had this much research behind them. I can't wait to try this for dinner tomorrow night! The only SLIGHT difference is that I'm going to chunk the chicken, then deep fry, so that I don't lose any of that delicious crispy coating while slicing. Thank you so much for posting this!
Tina
on: 6/10/13
The coating is definitely one of ABC's best features. Let us know how it turns out with your modification!
Jeff Haston
on: 6/27/13
This brings back a lot of memories. I was first introduced to Almond Boneless Chicken at the Oceania Restaurant @ the Medowbrook Mall by my girlfriend. I was so impressed with the food that we eventually had our rehearsal dinner there before we got married and yes, on our buffet menu for the evening was ABC. My brother was so enamored by it he kept going back for years. He was such a patron, they knew the sound of his voice before he ever gave his order. He now lives in TN and has yet to find something good enough that he can call Almond Boneless Chicken. I just sent him the link to your blog. Yeah.....Oceania!!!
Tina
on: 6/27/13
Thanks, Jeff. I always have to get my ABC fix when I go back to MI to visit the family. I hope this brings back some tasty memories for your brother, too.
Melody
on: 6/27/13
I made this a couple of nights ago, and it was delicious ... but not quite the ABC that I remember from Ohio. I'm sure there are several different versions, though. The one that we used to get didn't have any of the mushrooms, water chestnuts or bamboo shoots in the sauce - it was just a clear gravy. We are heading up north at some point this summer, so I'm going to have to get to one of our old favorites and see if I can bribe someone for their recipe and do some comparisons, lol. This version is definitely going into our regular rotation, though - and chunking up the chicken before frying was perfect, as none of that crispy goodness was lost cutting into it. Again, thank you so much for sharing this!
Tina
on: 6/27/13
You're very welcome!
Lynn
on: 7/4/13
Thank you! For the last 35 years I thought I had imagined my favorite Chinese dish. I had my first taste of ABC (never knew it was referred to that way) at the Four Seasons Chinese restaurant (no longer there) in Ypsilanti in about 1977. For about three years my friend Kym & I would go there as often as our teenage funds could afford to and enjoy their scrumptious ABC. College & job led me away from MI and so began my pursuit of ABC. Thinking I'd simply forgotten the name of the dish or the regional version, I spent years trying most any dish with the words chicken & almond in its name, never finding anything to compare to that wonderful combo. As time went by, I thought perhaps I'd made it up, embellishing a teenage memory as something better, something from "the good 'ol days." BUT, having yet another Chinese restaurant menu slipped under my door, the thoughts of ABC returned, & this time i finally thought I'd search online for something, anything in the vast world of Chinese cuisine that may be closer to what I feared by now was just my imagination. That's when I found your article. Again, thank you. It truly as been a mystery to me that I'm so delighted has been solved!! I wasn't being forgetful. I wasn't making up a more tasteful past. I just didn't realize it was a MI specialty just like the Vernors I have to order online. Thanks again for all your work & putting it online. I've yet to try the recipe, but I'm sure it will be great.
Justo
on: 7/5/13
I'm from Detroit and have lived in NYC since 1999. I had tried off and on to find this dish in NYC with no luck, various dishes containing chicken and almonds but bearing no resemblance to the delicious meal I wished to consume. I had no idea it was a Michigan thing! The rest of the country doesn't know what its missing.
Justo
on: 7/5/13
By the way anybody out there remember Chung's. http://www.flickr.com/photos/yensky/3157768951/
Tina
on: 7/5/13
Thanks, Lynn. It's been so much fun hearing people's stories and memories of this dish. Funny about the Vernors -- I order Sanders Hot Fudge.
Kari
on: 7/13/13
Hey guys! I grew up in Washington state and breaded almond chicken was all I ever encountered. Love it. Just ordered it on vacation in Utah. Stir fried and very disappointing.
Tina
on: 7/13/13
ABC on the West Coast?? I had no idea! Will look for it next time I'm in WA.
Cheryl
on: 7/15/13
I moved from Michigan to Massachusetts 14 years ago and have been obsessed (really!) in finding my beloved almond chicken. Everyone thinks I am crazy but they have all been on the look-out for me whenever they visit a Chinese restaurant...all to no avail. Your article made me smile because I thought I was the only one. I lost all hope on finding ABC outside of Michigan until a few days ago. We have just moved to NC and a local Chinese restaurant has it on it's menu. Is it the right ABC? I will let you know as I plan on checking it out this week :-) Thanks for the article!!!
Tina
on: 7/15/13
Cheryl, I have a bunch of ex-pat Michigan friends here in California, and we've all been obsessing over almond boneless for years. You're definitely not alone! I'll be interested to know it the dish has made it's way to NC.
Jamie
on: 7/16/13
Thanx for the post ! Having the same problem here in NOLA lots of Chinese restaurants but no one has the same Almond chicken we're use to from Detroit.
Sandi
on: 7/25/13
I was happy to come across this recipe for what we in Washington State call Chinese Almond Fried Chicken. So it is not just the east coast (Michigan) who has/had this form of almond fried chicken. I have always liked it. Tonight I was hunting for just such a recipe, so thanks ever so much for sharing this and your story. But know, it is found across these United States. Maybe by leaps and bounds and it bounded to Washington in a single leap by some Michiganer that craved it as well. I just glad to have found it here. Thanks again.
Tina
on: 7/26/13
It's interesting to learn that ABC did make it to the West Coast after all.
Bil
on: 7/26/13
In Georgia, it's called Almond Fried Chicken. Rarely is it served on a bed of lettuce. And the sauce/gravy is just that, a brown gravy without anything else. The chicken is similar to your fried chicken cutlet or is the same breaded chunks that are used in sweet and sour chicken. Take out/delivery places usually use the chunks (probably to help limit inventory). But good sit down restaurants use the breaded and fried cutlet. The almonds are generally sliced or slivered. And yes, I've never found this anywhere else I've traveled. I've gone through every Chinese menu in NYC and it's nowhere to be found.
Maureen
on: 7/30/13
My first experience with "almond boneless chicken" as Tina described, was approximately 40 years ago - but called War Su Gai. Battered chicken cutlets, fried and covered with brown gravy, with sliced almonds, on a bed of lettuce. In Louisville, Kentucky. So, it's not a dish unique to Michigan. Lately,like Bil who commented above, I've been a quest to find it again-- and have not been successful.
Tina
on: 7/30/13
Interesting to learn about all the places the dish has made it way to. Thanks, Maureen.
Celia Browne
on: 8/13/13
Thanks for the trip down memory lane! When I moved to New Mexico 3 years ago, I was shocked to find out that ABC was a Michigan dish never to be found out here. Every trip back home requires a stop at Kim's in Troy for you-know-what. Growing up in Ferndale, I was practically weaned on Golden Star at Nine and Woodward. I still miss that place!
Tina
on: 8/13/13
Celia, I wonder if Golden Star was the restaurant owned by my friend Susie's family. I'll have to ask her!
Johnnie
on: 8/17/13
We had something similar in NC called "cantonese chicken" or "chicken cantonese". Basically chicken brest sliced length-wise battered and deep fried and served with a brown sauce that contains almonds, water chestnuts, onion, broccoli and bamboo shoots. Stuff is incredible but increasingly harder to find.
Tina
on: 8/18/13
Sure sounds like your dish is in the same tasty family as ABC.
Lynne
on: 8/20/13
Is anyone familiar with the almond chicken once served at Forbidden City on Cassette Ave? Their gravy was yellow and wonderful
Lala
on: 8/25/13
Back in the 1980s. Long ago. We lived on Almond Fried Chicken in Seattle in a suburb called Lake City. There is the iconic restaurant, Ying's Chinese Kitchen. Their AFC as we called it was battered just like yours, boneless breast, deep fried to perfection, served over iceberg lettuce with a darker brown gravy than yours, and I know there is some - or a lot if - chicken bouillon involved there. Served without mushrooms or any veg, over the chicken, with lots of ground almonds and green onions on top. They delivered, too. We miss Ying's, and if you google it you will find pictures of the coolest 1960s/70s Jetsons style little restaurant, still there on Lake City Way, same polaroid snapshots of each dish taped to the walls, same reader board menu, and same red upholstered seating.
Tina
on: 8/27/13
I'm going to seek that place out next time I'm in Seattle.
Evan
on: 9/15/13
Although it's not usually served on lettuce, it's pretty easy to get almond boneless chicken in the Pacific Northwest. When I lived in the the Portland, Or. area I'd see it there a lot. I'm now near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and it's a pretty common dish here also. In fact when I do take out Chinese-American food I often pick that as one of my entrees. I've seen the stir friend almond chicken as well, but it's not as common here.
Melissa
on: 10/15/13
Thank you so much for this article and recipe. We just moved to Virginia from Michigan a few months ago and my 5 year old daughter has been asking for almond chicken. I have been to every Chinese restaurant and not one has this dish!! I cannot wait to make this for my daughter tomorrow, she will be so happy!!! Thank you again!!
Tina
on: 10/15/13
Melissa, I hope your daughter loves it!
Matt
on: 10/19/13
Having it show up in Florida almost confirms it as a Michigan thing. I've always ordered almond chicken, and had never heard it called "boneless" (though it always is). This article, however, explains why I could never find almond chicken in Boston. It is odd how every region has their own Chinese menu. Thanks for writing this up!
Tina
on: 10/19/13
You're welcome, Matt!
Mary Ann
on: 11/3/13
Tina you rock! Everytime I go home to Michigan and order almond chicken I get ABC. When I order almond chicken in St Louis where I live now, I get something like moo goo gai pan with some almond slivers in it. It's got to be a Detroit thing, otherwise...why WOULDN'T the Sweet and Sour initiative have heard something about it? I suspect it's because Detroit is in that "flyover zone" dubbed by East/West coasters :) Thanks for the sleuthing and the recipe!
Tina
on: 11/5/13
You may have something there, Mary Ann. Can't wait to get my ABC fix at Christmas time. What's your favorite restaurant for almond boneless?
Deb
on: 11/6/13
If anyone has a recipe for Detroit Chop Suey I would love to have it. Never been able to replicate it and they don't even know what Chop Suey is in Washington.
Jamie
on: 11/13/13
I'm an ex-pat Oak Parker (from way back), currently living in the South Puget Sound area of Western Washington. I can vouch for the availability of almond fried chicken, especially in some of the older Chinese restaurants here. While it comes closer to ABC than just about anything else that I've experienced around the US, it just doesn't seem to have the same music and majesty of the Detroit "original". Kind of like regional dinner theater compared to Broadway.
Amy
on: 11/15/13
Before reading this article, I would have to tell you that being a Native Pacific Northwesterner (30+ years), you'd be hard pressed NOT to find Almond Fried Chicken on any Chinese-American Restaurant Menu in all of Washington. Maybe in the more authentic places, but none that I have ventured into in the last 30 years. The one thing about the dish remains the same, fried Chicken Breast. The main difference seems to be the "gravy" and presentation. Before I moved out to a more rural part of the state, my favorite take out was Johnny's Wok in Edmonds, WA. They have Sweet & Sour, Almond, or Lemon Fried Chicken. Thankfully they've moved past the 80's lettuce garnish that seems to date some restuarants. Johnny's Wok gravy is more a yellow-orange in color and is sweet, where other restaurants seem to have a more brown gravy that seems to be heavier on the Soy Sauce. It also helps that Edmonds, WA has a large asian population and numerous Asian-American grocery stores to find authetic and more Americanized dishes. Rest assured to those who visit Seattle and surrounding communites, you can find Almond Boneless (Fried) Chicken just about anywhere!
Matt Barker
on: 12/4/13
I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and starting in the early 70s when I was a young boy, my parents took me regularly to Chinese restaurant in the Bexley neighborhood called Wing's. In fact, my parents even ate there when they were children since Wing's has been a family business since the 20s. Ever since my first trip to Wing's over 40 years ago, I have always ordered the Wor Sue Gai. Nice thing about Wing's is that they serve their entrees on large platters set at the center of the table, perfect for sharing. But looking at the photo and recipe above, I don't think Almond Boneless Chicken is the same recipe as Wor Sue Gai. First of all, Wor Sue Gai does not have almonds, but peanuts. Plus there's lots more of the brown sauce. And it's just sauce. Not celery, no water chestnuts, etc. Also, the chicken is thicker, as is the batter, and its more darker brown in color. I no longer live in Columbus, but when I went back last year to visit my parents, I stopped in Wing's. I was sitting at the bar having a cocktail while we were waiting to be seated. Behind the bar was the owner, Ken Yee, who took over for his father, Wing. I stated that I have been to many Chinese restaurants outside of Ohio, but have never found Wor Sue Gai like they have it. And Ken told me that Wor Sue Gai was a dished invited by a family member around 1920. I guess my search for a Wor Sue Gai recipe continues.
Tina
on: 12/4/13
Sounds like they're in the same family, Matt. Good luck in your quest!
Aaron
on: 12/12/13
Amazing story! Love the history behind the dish I've always known as "Almond Chicken". Being from Lake Orion, MI (back when it was still just the village) going to Oceania Inn was a real treat. The kids (I was one at the time, late 80s) would get those drinks in the Polynesian glasses with the paper umbrellas and of course, we always got Almond Chicken. Since moving to Fl, CT, and now in upstate NY I've yet to find anything close. The gravy at Oceania is orange and whenever I gush on about Almond Chicken and people act like it’s just chicken I tell them…it’s the gravy that makes it! Whenever I go home my first and last meal is always Oceania. Now..if I could just find out how they make their egg rolls....never had one like them anywhere else either. I like them with their beansprouts and the duck sauce that's not that packet stuff! So good!
Tina
on: 12/12/13
Thanks for sharing your story, Aaron. The response to this story has been amazing -- little did I realize the impact this dish has had on so many people. Can't wait to get my hands on some ABC when I visit my family for Christmas!
Kat
on: 12/23/13
Thank you for giving me an answer to why I can't find my beloved ABC anywhere in North Carolina! I really enjoyed reading this. I first tried ABC in St Clair Shores and I fell in love right away. I now have an excuse to go back and visit friends and family :) Enjoy your Christmas ABC!
Carol
on: 12/28/13
When I moved from CA to AL this is one thing I've missed! Yes, they have in Yucaipa, CA at a place named Dings! Though they don't serve it on iceburg lettuce...the gravy and nuts on top are just the ticket. Thank you so much for this recipe!!!
Curtis Chin
on: 1/2/14
Thanks for the article. My family owned Chung's Restaurant in the Cass Corridor in Detroit. (It was founded by my great grandfather in 1939.) I'm actually working on a book project right now about my experiences of growing up in a Chinese restaurant. Will definitely be talking about our Almond Boneless Chicken!
Tina
on: 1/3/14
That's great, Curtis! I hope the book is a great success.
John R
on: 1/3/14
Thank you so much for this recipe! I lived in Detroit suburbs all my life, currently in Warren, and grew up on Almond Boneless Chicken. To this day, it is still my mothers favorite dish. I can't wait to make this for her. One thing I'd really like to find or replicate is the egg roll sauce that seems to also be only found in Detroit area Chinese places, the very thin (almost watery consistency) orange sauce, that has very prominent citrus-vinegar taste. It's often in the plastic squeeze bottles on the tables. I'm not sure if I'm looking in the right places online, but Internet searches seem to come up very little info. Another fav of my mothers, she douces her almond boneless chicken with it, as well as the rice!
Jan
on: 1/8/14
I moved to Arizona 10 years ago from Detroit and I have been looking for a recipe for ABC and just came across your web site today. I cannot thank you enough. The Almond Chicken here is the brown meat of the chicken cut in bite size pieces floating in watery brown gravy and it is horrible, so is the won ton soup and the egg rolls. Thank you so much.
DALE ZALAORAS
on: 1/8/14
Growing up and still living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I have been eating my favorite dish, ABC/ warr shu gai for over 42 years. The long gone Sun Sai Gai restaurant had the best version, and most other local Chinese restaurants have it on their menu. All have a yellow "gravy" and are on a bed of Iceberg lettuce. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, I discovered it seems to be unheard of there.
Tina
on: 1/9/14
You're very welcome, Jan. I hope you love the recipe results! Dale, I got a fix over the Christmas holiday at a place near my dad's house in Shelby Township. It was a little disappointing, frankly (the chicken was kind of rubbery, and there was barely any iceberg lettuce). But of course, there are many versions of the dish in the Detroit area, and some are much better than others!
Douglas Gadd
on: 1/14/14
Wow, you have no idea how happy I am to read this! And to find out that I’m not alone! I moved from Ann Arbor, MI to San Diego, CA about 7 years ago and haven't been able to find anything like the precious Almond Boneless Chicken I would easily order 2-3 times per month from this quaint little Chinese spot not far from my old apartment. Eventually, I didn’t even have to say what I was ordering…simply gave my name and they knew I needed a fix of the good stuff Lol I haven’t tried the recipe yet, but hope to real soon. Thanks for posting!!
Tina
on: 1/14/14
Thanks, Douglas. Is your favorite Chinese place in Ann Arbor still open? I may be going there later this year! (:
Diane
on: 1/18/14
I agree with Pamela that Kow Kow Inn on McNichols in Detroit had the best Almond Boneless Chicken but it most definitely was served on a bed of lettuce. I am still in Michigan and cannot find any ABC as good as theirs was. They also had the best egg rolls made with shrimp and pork and bean sprouts. They did not use any cabbage. Does anyone have a recipe for their egg rolls?
Frank
on: 1/23/14
Michigan and Florida have many strong ties, so my guess is fellow ganders helped bring it to the sunshine state.
Tina
on: 1/23/14
I'm sure you're right about that, Frank. The snowbirds were missing their almond chicken...
Glenn
on: 1/24/14
Tina, come to Vancouver, BC, Canada if you want ABC! My family once owned a Cantonese cuisine restaurant (the Ho Ho from 1954-1994) & we (my siblings & I) frequently had Breaded Almond Chicken (called Ha Yan Su Gai). The restaurant is now closed but there are plenty of Chinese restaurants here that serve it! By the way, I spent summers in Windsor, Ontario during the 70's and my Mom's sister had a restaurant there called Chan's & they served ABC too! It was listed on the menu as Chicken Soo Gai. Delish! Unfortunately, Chan's is closed.Tried ABC in Skokie, IL last year, it was yuck! Very soggy & the batter was awful!
Dawm
on: 1/27/14
Wow Tina...you did great work! I am also from Ferndale/Hazel Park and for the past 35 years have lived all over the country. I have never found ABC like in the metro Detroit area. The other Chinese food item that is exclusive to the Detroit area is Egg Rolls. A real egg roll.....not a bunch of cabbage! My favorite Restaurants are The Golden Star on Woodward Ave and The Golden Wheel at 12 Mile Rd and John R. During my Mother's Funeral when we took her back to that area to be buried, we stopped in at he Golden Wheel and it still has the same owner. I brought back a dozen egg rolls for my friends. They LOVED them! Anyway we asked the owner about the difference and he told us that different regions in China cook differently. So, it just depends on what region your Chinese Restaurant owner is from. I make my own Egg Rolls, but they're still not quite the same as the Detroit Egg Rolls :o/ Got any info on the Egg Rolls you can share? Thanks for all the research and for the recipe.....I'm making it tomorrow! Dawn
Robin
on: 1/31/14
There are two places that have some of the best ABC that I've ever had. One is called Dragon Court in Hamburg, MI (north of Ann Arbor) and the other was way up north in Alpena, MI called Jimmy Chen's Hunan Chinese Restaurant. Dragon Court has been a favorite place of mine for the last 20 years or so. I was fortunate to try Jimmy Chen's when I went to visit my brother last summer and I almost hate to admit it, but the gravy actually beat Dragon Court by just a smidge. It was amazing! I highly recommend both places if you are ever in the area.
Tina
on: 2/1/14
Thanks, Robin. Maybe there should be an ABC taste off in Michigan to see whose is the best!
Terri
on: 2/8/14
I'm a Michigander living in North Carolina. I really appreciate your research and shocked to know others were experiencing the same withdrawal I was from ABC. I remember a restaurant on the East side of Detroit on Harper called: "The Golden Buddha" they had the best ABC with their their version of the unique brown gravy. No chestnuts or mushrooms that I can remember in the gravy, but peanuts. The Golden Buddha called their dish War Su Gai as did many others. Thank you for your recipe, I plan to try it this week.
kara
on: 2/8/14
This recipe is PERFECT! I made it this evening and it was exactly like the original Ping On Restaurant at 16 MI/ Garfield in Clinton Twp-better even! I cut up the chicken in bite size pieces because that breading is the best part! I can't believe you got the gravy recipe right. I moved to Charleston, SC for a couple years and one take-out place had an Almond Chicken dish but the gravy was the same brown gravy we eat on mashed potatoes, yeck! If I had come across this recipe while living down there I might not have had to come back home lol. Oh but they didn't have Buddy's Pizza there either. Thank you so much, I really enjoyed this article and recipe.
Tina
on: 2/9/14
I hope you like it, Terri!
Tina
on: 2/9/14
Hi Kara, I'm so glad you liked it! I grew up near Clinton Township, and we often had family dinners at Ping On. Speaking of Buddy's, my next Zester story (for later this month) is about Detroit-style pizza, which is making its way across the country.
Jim Uhrig
on: 2/14/14
I was wondering if you remembered a restaurat in the East Side of Detroit called the Golden Buddah? I remember having War Su Guy there and it was awesome. I can't find it anywhere I look in the Fort Lauderdale area. Probably because it isn't "New York Style" which seems to be the only thing you can find around here. It would be refreshing, to say the least, if we would embrace the fact that there is a whole world of other kinds of food and try making it here. If some chef would try it here, it would probably take off and become a very sought after dish. The could advertise it as "Detroit style".
Tina
on: 2/14/14
Hi Jim, I haven't heard of it, but I think I may have seen it mentioned earlier in this comment thread. On NPR the other morning I heard about a restaurant in Shanghai called Fortune Cookie that serves American-style Chinese food for homesick ex-pats and curious locals. Sadly, the website doesn't include a menu, so I don't know if ABC is included (one of the owners grew up in the Midwest, though not in Michigan).
Jeff
on: 2/16/14
I am making this tonight and set out to find this recipe so thanks for that..... I live in Canada and dated girls from Royal Oak, Birmingham etc. There was a place just off Main St. in downtown Royal Oak that served unbelievable ABC. Even today, some 20 years, later whenever I order Soo Guy locally I recall how it really should be made. I don't miss those girls but the ABC will always be in my heart.
Melanie
on: 2/25/14
Thank you so much for the great article, research, and recipe. ABC sounds remarkably similar to a dish I grew up with in Kentucky called pressed chicken. I now live in Arizona, and crave my favorite Chinese dish on a frequent basis. However, I have yet to find any restaurant that serves my childhood favorite. While the version I remember and love does not include almonds, everything else is extremely similar including the iceberg lettuce. Hopefully, this recipe will at least get me closer to my goal.
Tina
on: 2/25/14
Melanie, I've heard that pressed chicken is similar to ABC. I hope you like the recipe!
Branden
on: 3/5/14
I live in Louisville, Ky. This is my absolute favorite dish here at the Fast food Chinese restaurants but you cant always find it! War Sue Gai # 14 Combo at Happy Buddha! :)
Tina
on: 3/7/14
That's two votes for ABC in Kentucky. Who knew?
Lisa
on: 3/7/14
My family and I first discovered ABC in a Chinese restaurant in Phoenix in the early 80's called Chiam's. They have long since gone out of business and we have been searching for this little platter of heaven ever since. War Shue Guy comes close but is never the same. I came across your post and had to laugh cuz I was born in Michigan, but have been in the Southwest since I was very young...i guess ABC's my birthright lol!! Thanks for your post and recipe, I totally can't wait to try it =)
Lisa
on: 3/15/14
I am from Western Washington, thank you soooo much for the recipe. This is the Almond Chicken from my childhood at Chin's in Everett.
KAYLA
on: 3/19/14
Thank you SOOOO much for sharing this very interesting story & delicious recipe!! When I was young I lived near Union Lake, MI. There is a small little Chinese take out place with the name WING HONG's EXPRESS. It serves the best almond chicken. My family would get it every so often for take out and I LOVED it. My family moved to Northern Michigan when I was around 15 yrs old. I visited every Chinese restaurant in about a 50 mile radius - but there was no Almond Chicken to be found (at least not the 'good' kind). Every time I make a trip down state to visit other family, I always order 2 dinners to bring home with me :-) I can't wait to try the recipe! And Wing Hong's also served the really tasty Bean Sprout Egg rolls. You can't find those anywhere up here either!! So if anyone has a good recipe for those, please share!! Thanks again!!
Tim
on: 3/24/14
I am so happy to have found your post. Thank you! I've found different versions of ABC recipes online before, but none of them were quite right. Your recipe looks decidedly different from the others I've tried. Since you have inside information from your friends, I'm thinking that this is going to be the Holy Grail. Going to try it out later this week! I've been in the Chicago area since coming here for college in the late 80s. The Chinese food here is really good and I've found a couple places with ABC, but they were never quite the same as what I had in Detroit. My favorite place: Kwong Tung Palace on 23 and Van Dyke in Shelby Township. Loved that place!
Tina
on: 3/24/14
I hope you love it, Tim.
Alice
on: 3/25/14
I just want to start out by saying thank you. I had lived in Michigan for 30 some years and moved to tennesse about 5 years ago. A nover thought I would miss ABChigan but I did will that is till I found you. I made it for me and my son and we bouth loved it tasted like home. Thank you so mush for doing all the heard work so that we didn't have to. I will keep making this no mater what.
Alice
on: 3/25/14
Just a thought could you get an egg roll recipe from Michigan here in TN they make them with cab. And there not thata good. Thank you again god bless.
Tim
on: 3/26/14
I made it this evening and it turned out fantastic. I used potato starch instead of corn starch, because that's what I had on hand and it tasted just like I remember. Thank you very much for providing me with a slice of home.
Tina
on: 3/27/14
Alice and Tim: I'm so happy to hear that the recipe worked out and brought you a taste of home. Does anyone else miss Egg Drop Soup? Can't get that in California (at least not where I live) either.
Cara
on: 4/21/14
Tina: How wonderful of you to share your research and recipe in this very interesting article! Back in the 1970s, our favorite Chinese Restaurant was Tung Lee Restaurant, located in Sterling Heights, MI. Their Almond Boneless Chicken was the very best (crispy on the outside, juicy and succulent on the inside, a pale, translucent chicken sauce, all served on a bed of chopped lettuce and garnished with toasted sliced almonds and sliced green onions). Also, their egg rolls were outstanding. In fact, in all of the years since, I've never had an egg roll that I've liked as much as those from Tung Lee. The restaurant is now called Tung Lee Restaurant Carryout and current reviews are very mixed but the restaurant still has its faithful patrons. Thank you, again, and most sincere best wishes to you.
Tina
on: 4/22/14
Thanks, Cara. I grew up in Sterling Heights, and our family used to get take-out from Tung Lee. Good memories!
Jackie
on: 5/6/14
I am from Michigan and now Live in Florida, that is always my first stop when I return home is Chinese food!! I'm so hungry Just thinking about almond boneless chicken. I see that you have said there is places in Florida That have a similar product. Can you tell me where?? PLEASE. THANK YOU JACKIE
Tina
on: 5/6/14
Hi Jackie, I found some Florida examples by Googling menus for Chinese restaurants in Florida. Here's one in Plantation that has ABC: https://foursquare.com/v/lucky-dragon/4f327daf19836c91c7dcf245/menu. I'll bet you could find some more!
kirsten
on: 5/28/14
This is my mom's favorite dish EVER. We would get it in Washington state (Best Wok in Bellevue) and it's called Almond Fried Chicken. Thanks for the recipe!
Tina
on: 5/28/14
I am DEFINITELY going to look for that next time I'm in Washington.
Karolee
on: 5/29/14
I worked at a Chinese restaurant in Northville while going to high school - been hooked on ABC for a long time but have lived the last 30 years in the south. Can't wait to make it this weekend.
Dennis
on: 6/15/14
House Of Lee in Farmington, Mi. We would go there almost every Friday evening when I was a kid (mid 70's - mid 80's) and I would always order Almond Chicken. Now live in Las Vegas and have been searching for years for this dish. Recently found it here in Vegas at Amlee Gourmet Chinese restaurant 3827 E Sunset Road Las Vegas, NV 89120 • 702-898-3358. It was pretty good (tad bit expensive), but not quite as good as I remembered as a kid, though 30 years can play with your memories. Will try this recipe at home. Thanks
Tina
on: 6/15/14
Thanks for the tip, Dennis! Soon you'll also be able to get Detroit-style square pizza along with Coney dogs in Vegas, at the D Hotel.
Courtney
on: 6/28/14
I have been rereading this post over the past year. I came across it in my search for what I know as boneless chicken. I am originally from Columbia, SC, and I have been craving Boneless Chicken for years but can never find it. I don't remember any almonds, however, I cannot forget the gravy - delicious! - or the crunchy, battered boneless skinless chicken thighs (not breast) sliced into "fingers". When my parents ordered take out from various restaurants in our city, the chicken was placed in a foil-lined paper bag (think Chickfila sandwich) and the thick, scrumptious gravy came in a disposable tub. When we dined in, the gravy was served atop the chicken and on a bed of lightly steamed cabbage and carrots. I will try your recipe with boneless skinless chicken thighs to see if it is what I remember. Thanks so much for this!!!
clracine
on: 6/29/14
Yes, we have it in the Seattle area but it had more of a brown gravy instead of the gloppy golden stuff that I remember. Flavor is very similar though
James L. Greenlee
on: 7/21/14
I grew up in Whitehall, Ohio (a suburb of Columbus). War Su Gai was to me, the "gateway drug" of Chinese food! What I mean is, my mother was not an adventurous cook, rarely venturing out of strictly American food. So, I was unfamiliar with anything remotely exotic. My first time at a Chinese restaurant, was told to order War Su Gai when I had no idea what else to order. Loved it! Still miss it, having lived in Las Vegas for 20 years, where no one has heard of it. Since my Columbus days, I've branched out considerably, thankfully.
Sergio
on: 8/6/14
This is amazing coverage of one of my favorite dishes. I grew up in the Detroit area and moved to San Francisco 8 years ago. I'm happily returning to Michigan in a month, not only to return to my family, but to have a regular bi-monthly (probably best) serving of ABC! Wish I would have seen this recipe when I first was searching for it in California. I even moved to L.A. for 10 months, thinking if any place could offer a Detroit-style Chinese meal, it would be there. Nope. They have a Detroit Coney Island, however, and it's about as consistently poor as the real Detroit coney. I wonder if you've tried researching the Michigan egg roll? The one with bean sprouts and little prawns? This is another craving I've never been able to fulfill in Cali. So, here's to Michigan and it's Americanized Chinese food! Thank you, Tina (and Natasha for letting me know) for doing this great research and offering up the secrets. §ergio
Tina
on: 8/11/14
Hi Sergio, A couple of people have mentioned the Michigan egg roll. I never realized that was something unique to our homeland -- I will have to check that out! Another thing I never see in the Bay Area (and miss) is egg drop soup.
Dennis T
on: 8/17/14
I have been eating this great almond soo guy since 1973 in Halifax Nova Scotia Canada.Glad to know its in Michigan where I be visiting this summer and will ii will try it. Thanks !!
Tina
on: 8/17/14
ABC in Nova Scotia too, cool!
Craig
on: 8/19/14
OMG - I love this - I left Toledo over 20 years ago and have been being disappointed looking for it ever since.. I'll be making this tomorrow & I'll keep my fingers crossed. Thanks!!! If you ever stroll through Atlanta diner is on me. :)
Tina
on: 8/20/14
Hi Craig, I hope the recipe brings back dee-licious memories.

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