It’s a fact of life that decent chains get discovered in urban areas usually at a single location. The signs of this “first discovery” leave historical marks on opinion sites, in the form of massive voting for the “original” location. One such landmark is the Alpharetta location of Five Guys Burgers and Fries, on North Point Parkway in Alpharetta. It is immensely popular on Urban Spoon, probably because it was one of the first and in a trendy location, in North Point Market Center, across from North Point Mall. Since about 601 people have voted for the Five Guys in Alpharetta, and 37 for the one in Tucker (as of July 28, 2010) that makes the one in Alpharetta 16.243 times a popular as the one in Tucker, and in the eyes of some, 16.243 times better. So in the interests of anecdotal food science, I just had to see what makes this one tick.

It looks the same. Does the food taste the same?

Yes, the same very fine, gray, greasy meat that almost every foodie loves, but can’t stand when they see it on grass fed beef (because the grass fed stuff just isn’t greasy enough). Five Guys does it well, when its trendy and even when it isn’t.

Heading to Five Guys was just a good excuse to revisit a mall I used to eat at daily, a place where I grew up in Atlanta. Things have changed in ten years though. I was eating plenty here from about 1999 to 2004, in spots like Houlihans and Hops, and shopping in places like Media Play. Do you remember Media Play? This is what that old location is now:

Dick’s Sporting Goods, no less. The location of Houlihans has now seen another failure. You can just make out the outline of the Famous Dave’s logo on this wall.

One site that remains from the early 2000s is Superior Wok, which now trends me back into my story. I loved Superior Wok. It served good Chinese food and it did it with wait staff that were a cut above. How authentic was it? I’m hardly the one to judge, walking in hungry, looking for a lunch plate and wanting it fast so I could get back to work fast. The dish I liked best was called Yu Shang shrimp back in the day, so I stepped inside to get a “To Go” menu, and asked the lady if they still served Yu Shang Shrimp. She said they did. But then I got home, and there was no Yu Shang shrimp on the to go menu. What was I to do?

Start digging on the Internet of course. I was expecting something about as real as that day-glo orange sweet ‘n sour pork Americans eat. But the first thing I found out, playing around on a site called Dish A Dish (a search site for dishes in restaurants; dedicated to telling you that chain food is better than mana from heaven) is that Yu Shang is probably an Anglicization of names like Yu Shiang, or Yu Hsiang, or even Yu Xiang. Now that I had more accurate names to search on, why not start there?

A typical response on a “what is it” search will yield something like this, from Chiliworld:

Yu Hsiang translates roughly to Spicy Garlic.

This Spicy Garlic Sauce is specially prepared to make flavoursome Sichuan cooking simple and easy. Just add egg-plant and minced pork, and the deliciously authentic taste of Egg-Plant in Spicy Garlic Sauce is ready in minutes. An excellent sauce for all spicy garlic dishes.

That seems easy enough, but it isn’t the whole story. Dig a little further and you find, from a recipe for Yu Hsiang eggplant, this comment:

This spicy eggplant dish is a little sweet, a tiny bit sour, and highly flavorful. My mom’s version includes ground pork, but the dish tastes just as good if you omit the meat.

So, for some people it’s an heirloom recipe. Okay, let’s keep digging. From the Chef Leu’s House website we get the following translation:

Yu Hsiang literally meaning “Aromatic Fish”, is a common Szechuan way of cooking fish. The trick is to mix sugar and vinegar delicately with garlic and chili sauce to generate a unique, exotic flavor. It is sauteed with water chestnuts and green peppers.

I don’t know about you, but Yu Hsiang can’t mean “Spicy Garlic” and “Aromatic Fish” at the same time, unless China has garlic fish floating around in the local rivers and steams. Can it? Now, at Dartmouth, a recipe was posted for Yu-hsiang pork, which looks really good. Okay, maybe that’s drifting but we’ll get to some interesting details shortly.

The best information I found was on this Chowhound thread. A question was asked if Sichuan eggplant in garlic sauce was the same as yu hsiang eggplant. One good answer, by buttertart, was

Essentially yes they are, although what you get in US Chinese restaurants as eggplant in garlic sauce will probably not be as good as yu xiang qiezi made from say Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe. Yu xiang is often translated as (and written in the characters for) “fish flavor” but Barbara Tropp posited and I agree that the base meaning is from the old names for Sichuan (Yu) and Hunan (Xiang), neighboring provinces with similar cuisines. “Fish flavor”dishes do not taste like fish and do not use ingredients that are invariably used with fish – but they do use an ingredient (doubanjiang, hot bean paste) that is widely used in Sichuan and Hunan food.

which had the equally interesting follow up.

buttertart,

I belive the “yu-xiang” refers to how the Sichuanese prepared fish — i.e., using hot, sour, salty, and sweet flavors all in one dish. When the same prep was used with eggplants, the name sort of stuck and so it became “yu-xian chie-zi” or 鱼香茄子.

So now you know. And with the information provided, I can see on Superior Wok’s take out menu that L20, Spicy Garlic Sauce, which can be made with pork, chicken, beef, or shrimp, is probably my missing Yu Xiang shrimp.

Superior Wok
6480 North Point Parkway
Alpharetta, GA 30022
(770) 343-9698

Superior Wok on Urbanspoon

Five Guys Burgers and Fries
6410 North Point Parkway
Alpharetta, GA 30022
(770) 346-0366

Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

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