Don’t worry. When I first heard the name, I thought it was gross too.
Slippery Shrimp. Just let the sound of it trickle through your ears. It only sounds like a seafood dish at best. At worst it sounds like slang for a sexually transmitted infection, something the government might have made film strips about, to keep our boys overseas from getting too friendly with the Vichy prostitutes. At your most absolute generous, you might assume slippery shrimp is something to eat, and even then it’s only something for the truly adventurous: Legs and eyestalks and feelers all sliding around each other in a desperate struggle to escape an oily fate.
You’d be wrong, of course; Slippery shrimp is comfort food at its most basic. To wit:
Yes, you’re looking at a plate of deep-fried shrimp in a sweet-and-sour garlic sauce. It’s unbelievable. And when you go to Yang Chow in Chinatown, there’s quite literally a plate of it on every table. That’s what you do when you go to Yang Chow. You order one plate of slippery shrimp, and one plate of something else TBD. And there’s always a minor tussle over that last piece of shrimp.
There’s really no reliable way to describe slippery shrimp; it’s never exactly the same dish twice. It’s sweet but sometimes very spicy, sometimes only mildly. It’s crunchy, but sometimes much more garlicky than others. Sometimes it’s ridiculously hot, and you have to lay individual pieces of it on your plate, not touching each other, so they cool as quickly as possible and you can shove it into your mouth with such vampiric enthusiasm that you risk biting off the tips of your chopsticks.
Yang Chow has a menu full of winners. The string beans with minced pork is unreal. The moo shoo pork is unmatched. Even the broccoli with mushrooms, whose name is also its entire list of ingredients, is wonderful to behold. But going to Yang Chow and not getting the slippery shrimp would be like going to Disneyland and not riding Space Mountain, or visiting a public restroom and not availing yourself of the handicapped stall: An exercise in pointlessness.
A final note to the curious: There are three Yang Chow restaurants; one in Chinatown, one in Pasadena, and one in Canoga Park. I’ve only been to the one in Chinatown, so your slipperiness may vary if you live in the Valley or the northeast. If you’ve been to one of those, let me know how it is.