Friday, May 14, 2010

For the love of ‘fresh’ orange chicken

Hispanic employees, Americanized orange chicken, food cooked in a wok and called “Gourmet Chinese Food.” It can’t get more authentic than this. Welcome to Panda Express.

Though authenticity doesn’t seem to be its forte, the freshness of Panda Express’ food and the ability to see the food being cooked seems to be a recipe for this thriving fast-food chain’s success and a common reason that customers keep coming back. In fact, the hype for Panda Express is certainly apparent at the University of Maryland Stamp Student Union. On a Friday afternoon, the line was double that of any other restaurants, with over 20 customers. People of all ethnicities and ages awaited the taste of the trademarked orange chicken on their taste buds. Any student will tell you, its smell is most distinct too.

There is an open kitchen where customers can stand and watch exactly how their food is being cooked, which provides a sense of comfort compared to Chick-fil-A, where all you can see is your food thrown down a metal slide. The food is then set onto electric burners and replaced quite often, which represents the freshness of the food.

What makes Panda Express so different from McDonalds, Saladworks, Sbarro, or Chick-fil-A Express?

Well, taking a look at Chick-fil-A Express and McDonalds, we are rarely aware of what is going on behind the counter when in the food-making process. Also, one may notice that Sbarro’s pizza is always magically there, but rarely does one see the chef twirling the crust above their head. But, at Panda Express, you see chefs in aprons and tall hats, while frying orange chicken in a wok. Knowing that customers can see what is being cooked may make customers more at ease to spend the extra buck for a meal that is made right and “hygienically.”

“The food seems to be fresh because it is consistently being replaced,” said junior Zemen Habtemarian. This is true because the food is seemingly so often bought that the employees replace trays with fresh new food.

Though freshness seems to be its strong point, the restaurant certainly isn’t flawless. One misleading point that appears on the menu is that there are 250 calories per serving of each entrée, but what they don’t tell you is how many servings are in each entrée. Most students know the food is to be healthy, but still seem to come back.

Senior Jonnie Corrado, who eats at Panda Express occasionally, mentioned “it almost always makes me feel sick.” Another student, junior Ethan Rothstein, ordered a side of chow mein with Sweetfire Chicken Breast and Beijing Beef. When asked why he didn’t order the infamous orange chicken, he said that it does not have the redeeming quality of other entrees that combine vegetables to mitigate bad fats. He also admitted that after eating orange chicken, he rarely feels well. Is there a trend here?

After using Panda Express’ nutritional calculator, there were 1,220 calories in my meal. That’s more than half than most people’s daily recommended calorie intake. My meal consisted of Orange Chicken, Black Pepper Chicken and fried rice. The Black Pepper Chicken was a combination of both tender and juicy meat with a spicy aftertaste. The Orange Chicken was also tender and the flavor quite sweet and tangy.

On the menu, entrees include broccoli beef, veggie spring rolls, mushroom chicken, black pepper chicken and much more. Sides include mixed vegetables, chow mein, steamed rice, or fried rice.

Two entrees and one side run at $5.99 whereas three entrees and one side run at $7.99. It seems like a good deal, but if you plan to wash all of that fried food down, be prepared to spend another dollar or two for a drink. In reality, meals actually range from around 7 to 9 bucks.

Though a bit pricey, Americanized and possibly unhealthy for one’s body, everyone can agree that Panda Express’ food tends to seem a bit fresher than any other restaurants with obscure kitchens. Maybe this is why the restaurant is considered to be one of the fastest growing food-chains in the United States, according to the Panda Express Web site.

No comments:

Post a Comment