Have you ever craved a particular flavor where you could almost taste it by just imagining it? Well, that is me on a daily basis. I close my eyes and think, “What do my taste buds crave today?” Then my mouth starts watering for that flavor and nothing else will do. Last week, I was craving Chinese food — something sweet, spicy and just a little bit sour.

Great Wall Mandarin and Szechwan Cuisine was the perfect choice. Mandarin style is a delight to the eye as well as the palate. In this type of cooking, presentation is key. Whether making a delicious Peking duck or simply a bit of mu shu, it has to be done with style. 

This area of Chinese cuisine, style and flavor are intricately linked. Szechwan cuisine is famous for its many flavors and almost every dish has a unique taste. It is typically a very spicy type of Chinese food, as many of the dishes incorporate a lot of garlic and chili peppers. In Szechwan food, a single flavor is rarely used and compound flavors are most common. By blending different seasonings, dozens of different sauces can be made, each with its own flavor, including creamy, salty, sweet and sour, spicy and hot — well, you get the gist.

I invited two of my friends to join me for lunch, as I was planning on doing a food review and needed help eating all the food. Dining at a Chinese restaurant usually requires more than one because sharing everything is part of the experience. You order a few different items and dine family style.  

Most Chinese restaurants serve complimentary crispy wonton strips with sweet and sour sauce, plus a dollop of hot mustard while you are waiting for your meal and Great Wall was no exception. Just remember, it is called hot mustard for a reason, so be mindful of your taste buds and use it gingerly, as your sinuses will thank you later. Of course, Sunil didn’t get that memo, which gave us all a laugh.

We ordered mu shu shrimp, shredded pork Szechwan, honey walnut shrimp and vegetable lo mein. The selection was sweet, spicy and a little bit sour — all my taste bud cravings met.

Mu shu is a typical stir fried dish made of shrimp, green onions, mushrooms and scrambled eggs rolled into tortillas and served with hoisin sauce (dark and thick consistency with a very strong, salty and slightly sweet flavor similar to BBQ sauce). I would call this love at first bite. The flavor combination was perfect and the sauce made it over-the-top delicious. The shredded pork lunch combination was served with a fried wonton, egg roll, wonton soup and steamed rice. We each took a spoonful or two, or three, of the dish, which was, indeed, spicy— like sriracha meets BBQ sauce. This is a signature dish of Szechwan cuisine and delivers a sophisticated and addictive taste — tangy, spicy, sweet and sour. It was an excellent choice. The rice had the perfect consistency, the soup was delicious and savory and the egg roll was very yummy (crispy, full of fresh vegetables and meat).

One of my friends is a vegetarian, which is why I ordered the vegetable lo mein. The main difference between chow mein and lo mein is that different methods are used to make these noodles. Chow mein noodles are stir fried to crispness, while lo mein noodles are boiled to softness. It was lots of flavorful noodles wrapped around deliciously seasoned strips of cabbage, bok choy and carrots. It had great texture, was fresh, delicious and healthy.

I saved the best — honey walnut shrimp — for last because I wanted to go into greater detail about this amazing and satisfying entree.  It’s amazingly flavored tempura-battered large prawns, fried to a golden brown, smothered in the most fabulous glazed honey walnut sauce and topped with caramelized walnuts. It’s just divine, beautifully presented, creamy and nutty  and combined with crispy fresh-tasting shrimp.  It’s a very tasty classic dish — sweet, savory, easy on the palate and packed with flavor. The sweet sauce mixed in perfectly to create a pleasing flavor and I think we all agreed, the honey walnut shrimp was a wonderful experience. 

Great Wall Chinese Restaurant features traditional, authentic, fresh, made-to-order, healthy Chinese food using no MSG. They feature a nice-sized banquet room that seats up to 40 people. Dine-in or they have fast, efficient take-out. Daily lunch specials are served from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., early bird dinner is served from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., there are family dinners, plus a very nice drink menu ranging from fancy cocktails to beer and wine, plus an assortment of boba milk tea, Thai iced tea, smoothies with wonderful flavors like honeydew, mango, vanilla latte and red velvet. For those who haven’t experimented, boba milk is a kind of beaded tapioca texture within the drink and it is quite delicious. 

If you enjoy traditional Chinese cuisine expertly prepared and served in a nice, clean restaurant, decorated in a traditional Chinese theme and has been voted AV’s Best Chinese restaurant year after year for over 20 years, plan on dining at the Great Wall Restaurant located at 2001 W. Ave. J in Lancaster, 661-942-3048. They’re open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; and until 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Check the full menu online at www.greatwalllancaster.com

Bon appetit!

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