Opera Memphis used to hold a dinner in June at the old Asian Palace Chinese restaurant on Covington Pike. Shrimp with walnuts was one of the courses. I was hooked the first time I tried it. It's so good, especially if you like sweet and savory food.
Asian Palace moved to a new location on Summer, and I'm happy to report that shrimp with walnuts or "walnut shrimp" as it also is called, still is on the menu. That and the fact we just rang in the Chinese New Year -- the year of the rabbit -- on Feb. 3 are reasons to celebrate.
Walnut shrimp has been on the menu since Asian Palace originally opened in 1988 in the Eastgate Shopping Center, said the restaurant's owner Mike Woo.
The recipe came from longtime chef Borong Cai, who learned how to make it in China. "I learned from someone else and totally changed it," Cai said.
Woo, who is from Canton, China, would say only that the dish consists of a special cream-based salad dressing and pineapple. The rest is secret. The lightly deep-fried shrimp comes with honey roasted walnuts.
Walnut shrimp is sweet, but not cloyingly sweet. There's no sugar in the dressing, Woo said.
Americans and members of the younger Chinese generation in particular are fond of walnut shrimp. A lot of older Chinese people don't like sweet stuff, he said. "That's why Chinese people are so thin."
They prefer something like Asian Palace's shrimp with spicy salt -- lightly deep-fried shrimp in the shells sautéed in salt, he said.
Woo remembers walking past a candy store on his way home from school. He would lose his appetite just by smelling the aroma of the candy coming from the store. "Smells too sweet. I don't feel right. I'm not hungry."
I topped off the walnut shrimp with an Asian Palace mango strawberry frozen yogurt drink (several combinations are available). This wasn't cloyingly sweet, either, and it hit the spot even though the temperature outside was in the lower 30s instead of the lower 90s. This drink also is called "bubble tea" because of the little round pellets of tapioca included in the drink.
Walnut shrimp, which sells for $10.95, is included on Asian Palace's traditional Chinese banquet menu, which runs through Feb. 28. The shrimp comes with a bunch of items, including "Winter Melon Fish Maw Soup."
Sugar may turn off Chinese people, but the word "maw" turns off American people, Woo said. It means "stomach." I'll try that item another time. Maybe.
Asian Palace is at 5266 Summer, No. 65; 766-0831.
Michael Donahue: 529-2797; email@example.com