Panda Express: A Chinese Cuisine From the West

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO – Greg Vieira, my American friend who is godfather to my eldest son had introduced the spicy “Kung Pao Chicken” to me when we both worked in the editorial desk of the daily newspaper Saudi Gazette.

It amazed me that Greg developed a taste for the Chinese dish and learned to prepare it himself while in Los Angeles, California. In the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where I splurged in the spicy Al-Baik Chicken in wild abandon, Greg’s own take of the “Kung Pao Chicken” that he learned in LA is a welcome relief.

It had been 23 years since I last set foot in the desert kingdom, and back home in Pampanga province, I came across the menu of the newly-opened Panda Express Chinese Kitchen at SM Pampanga, and voila, they had Greg’s “Kung Pao Chicken.”

Upon the prodding of SM Pampanga PR Manager Rain Cervantes, we ended at Panda Express for a quick look and we decided to order the Original Orange Chicken, Broccoli Beef and what else — Kung Pao Chicken.

For new visitors to Panda Express, clients have the option to choose among the three type of meals – Bowl (P299) which is good for one person; Plate (P399) which is good for two persons; and Bigger Plate (P499) which is good for three persons. A Family Feast which is good for 4-5 persons is P1,670.

On a Wednesday morning still overcast by grey clouds and a morning sun that was slowly creeping in the horizon and bringing hope to the victims of flooding brought about by the monsoons – Panda Express’ Chinese Kitchen with a tinge of Americanness had allowed us to wallow anew in my friend’s storied “Kung Pao Chicken.” Well, Panda Express is now offering this dish to food-loving Filipinos meticulously adhering to the preparation of Kung Pao Chicken of the late Master Chef Ming Tsai Cherng, father of Panda Express founder Andrew Cherng.

From an obscure area in Pasadena, California, Panda Express which opened its first store in 1973 emerged as one of the successful restaurants in the continental United States and had branched out to Canada, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, Japan, Mexico, El Salvador, Philippines, South Korea, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia.

The verdict: Panda Express’ “Kung Pao Chicken” tasted very much like Greg’s and the version in Beijing, China, that I had the chance to eat with Filipino travelers some years back.

The Orange Chicken, which is popular among the Filipinos, particularly children, will always be a constant among the clients of Panda Express.

Back in California, I used to open a “Fortune Cookie” just before every meal in a Chinese restaurant. Since, I immediately splurged on the palatable American Chinese dishes on the table, I forgot all about the cookie.

Nonchalantly, I pulled out the piece of note inside the “Fortune Cookie,” it said: “You will find help from an unexpected source.” I just needed this message – some words of reassurance amid the daily grind of life.

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