Cheap Chinese takeout restaurants can be found in every American neighborhood, offering the familiar Americanized Chinese food that many love. But their cookie cutter recipe is hugely disrespectful and unrepresentative of the flavors of the wide range of cuisines that the Chinese and Chinese-American community have. I began my search for authentic Chinese food (or as close as I could get in Ithaca), and it culminated at the bottom of a dark, cold staircase at the wonderful restaurant that is De Tasty Hotpot.
My friend Helena heard my goal and offered to take me to De Tasty. It’s located in Collegetown under the Indian restaurant, Sangam. That’s right, you read that correctly. De Tasty is situated underground. Helena led me to a sketchy little staircase in front of Sangam. There’s only a small, dimly lit sign that advertises De Tasty. As I walked down this tiny staircase, I imagined a small, grimy shop that hopefully had good food. But De Tasty was anything but grimy. Underneath the streets of Collegetown is an incredibly spacious Chinese restaurant with sleek décor. The ceilings are painted black and the wood of the tables matches the floor, giving the whole restaurant a pleasing look. It was a big room but still felt cozy.
Helena told me that hotpot is a lot more exciting with at least four people since you can try a greater variety of food, so we decided to order something unusual this time. I knew right away that I was getting the real deal when I realized the menu was written in Mandarin with English translations next to it. I ordered the Sliced Braised Pork with Fresh Hot Peppers while Helena ordered the Sauteed Spinach with Fresh Garlic.
Helena’s food came out first, and she offered me some of her dish. I’m not the biggest fan of spinach, but I was willing to give it a try. I’m glad I did, because I was simply blown away by the amount of flavor in this dish. Cooking spinach often imparts a slimy texture, but this spinach was juicy and overflowing with flavor. The roasted garlic gave it a nutty, mellow taste that contrasted beautifully with the spiciness of the cooking sauce. After trying Helena’s dish, I couldn’t wait to eat my own.
Less than five minutes later, my food came out and I dug right in. This dish was phenomenal, and by the far the tastiest thing I’ve had to eat in Ithaca. The pork was succulent, each bite releasing some of the decadent, spicy sauce. The peppers were crisp and provided a snap to each bite. I could tell this was the closest I could get to traditional Szechuan food in Ithaca, and I was very satisfied. An often overlooked but important aspect of these kinds of traditional dishes is the quality of the rice. De Tasty gives you a bowl of high-quality rice with every entrée, and it makes a huge difference. The rice provides a perfect base for the meat, absorbing the flavor of the sauce and providing a good contrast in terms of texture. Good rice is often underappreciated, but it made a huge difference in setting De Tasty’s food above normal Chinese takeout.
De Tasty is definitely a little pricier than other restaurants in the area, and I ended up spending about $16 on just myself. But I would recommend it to anyone, and I can’t wait to visit again to try the hotpot. If you’re looking to leave behind boring Americanized Chinese food and have a small taste of something more authentic, then De Tasty is the place to go.