Driving South in Search of an Elusive Dish

The ranks of old-school Cantonese Chinese restaurants are dwindling, and some of those that remain haven’t resumed dine-in service since the pandemic put a halt to it. So when I learn of one within a reasonable distance from my suburban Philadelphia home, you can rest assured that it won’t take me long to check it out. 

A couple weeks ago, that meant crossing the Delaware River to try Hunan East in Turnersville, New Jersey. I followed that up Thursday by heading south on I-95 to Aberdeen, Maryland, to meet my friend, Joe, for lunch at Lee’s Hunan, which has been around since 1984. 

I was especially eager to visit Lee’s after seeing online that they serve paper chicken – a.k.a. chicken in foil. What’s more, they include both that and shrimp toast as part of their PuPu Platter. That was common during the later stages of the Cold War, but I can’t remember the last time I saw it. In fact, paper chicken is very difficult to find at all nowadays. I’m only aware of one place in the Philly region that still serves it.

Lee’s sits in a large shopping center. There is nothing particularly interesting about its exterior, but the interior has the look of a late 20th century American Chinese restaurant – and a menu to match. 

Lee’s Hunan in Aberdeen, MD
There was a buffet setup in the next room, but it wasn’t being used while we were there.

As I knew well in advance what I’d be ordering I didn’t pay close attention to the menu. If I had, something that I’ll get to shortly would have jumped out at me.

One thing I did notice was the page of cocktail illustrations that was straight out of my youth. Joe and I abstained, as we both had to drive over an hour to get home – he lives near Washington D.C. 

We bypassed the lunch specials and ordered off the regular menu.

In addition to the PuPu Platter, I ordered sweet and sour shrimp. Joe opted for beef-noodle soup, which was listed on the specials board we passed on our way in.

The PuPu Platter was brought out first and it was impossible for me to not immediately notice a lack of foil on the round serving tray. When I asked about it, I was told they stopped serving paper chicken a few months ago. First the Super Bowl – now this. To make matters worse, it was replaced, both on the menu and as part of the Platter, with that most boring of all Chinese appetizers – fried chicken wings. 

I managed to maintain my composure with some difficulty and proceeded to take photos of the otherwise very attractive tray and the flaming hibachi at its center. 

It was still nice to have the shrimp toast, as well as egg rolls included. Some places have replaced the latter with spring rolls on the PuPu Platter.

As is always the case, I enjoyed heating my beef stick on the little grill.

There was no foil on this tray.
There was cream cheese inside the fried wonton. The egg roll was good, but could have been left in the fryer slightly longer for a crispier crust.

Joe’s bowl of beef-noodle soup turned out to be enough for at least two people. But I had more than I could handle with the rest of our order, so he focused on that in lieu of an entrée while I dug into the sweet and sour shrimp.

I’ve written before about my unhappiness with this dish now being served with the sauce on the side by most Chinese restaurants. So I was delighted when it arrived with the shrimp already covered. There were also pineapple chunks, which is always a welcome sight. 

Beef-Noodle Soup
Sweet & Sour Shrimp presented as it was during the Reagan years.

This is perhaps the ultimate comfort food for me. Sweet and sour pork was part of the earliest Chinese meal I can remember eating, in Philadelphia’s Chinatown during the early 1970s. I’ll never tire of it.

I’ve been putting the sweet and sour sauce over the rice for as long as I can remember.

In spite of the crushing blow that was seeing that PuPu Platter without any paper chicken on it, this was an outstanding old-school Americanized Chinese meal. And as Lee’s is almost exactly halfway between our homes, Joe and I decided this won’t be the last time we’ll meet there for lunch. 

Published by BZ Maestro

I live outside of Philadelphia and have been food-obsessed for as long as I can remember. After toying with the idea of starting a blog for a fairly long time, the extinction of a food-themed message board that I frequented for years prompted me to finally take action. Thank you for taking the time to check out what I've been up to - and eating. If you've enjoyed what you have read and seen, please consider clicking the "like" button and signing up as a follower.

9 thoughts on “Driving South in Search of an Elusive Dish

    1. Thanks. I’ve had my share of such incidents. One that always stands out is a restaurant Louis Hatchett raved about to me for months before I visited him in Henderson, KY, in 2019. When we pulled up for dinner, the parking lot was empty and there was a little note on the door saying they were on the annual vacation and would be open the following week – which did me no good.


  1. I remember that incident all too well. Since that aborted visit, the House of Como in Evansville, Indiana now requires you to make a reservation. We will make that trip again, Barry! But we will come prepared! Their New York Strip is still maybe the best steak I ever put in my mouth.

    Malone’s (on Man-O-War Blvd.) in Lexington, Kentucky is the only steak that might just barely top it in flavor, but the taste of their steaks are almost identical.

    As to “paper chicken,” what do you suppose is the origin of the phrase? And how does something wrapped in “foil” become “paper”? What does the word “paper” refer to?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was always called “chicken in foil” or “foil-wrapped chicken” in the Philly region. But it’s called “paper chicken” in some other areas. I believe they still use foil, so I’m not sure why they call it paper chicken. It’s probably just a regional difference; like soda vs. pop.


  2. I wouldn’t be surprised if chicken wings are cheaper and easier to prepare than paper chicken, so given Americans’ love of wings it’s not hard to see why they were added to the pupu platter. I don’t eat Chinese food very often, but it does seem like wings are showing up on the appetizer menu more frequently.

    How was the shrimp toast?


    1. At some point in my region, chicken wings became almost standard in PuPu Platters. The shrimp toast was pretty good. It’s not one of my favorite appetizers.


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