New eatery, Little Szechuan, plans to bring more authentic Chinese food to the University area

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Another Asian restaurant is opening near campus soon, and despite their prevalence near the University of Minnesota, international students say they have a hard time finding an authentic meal.

Little Szechuan, which specializes in dishes from China’s Sichuan province, is opening at 304 Oak St. SE in January. It’ll be owner Rong Bai’s third location in the Twin Cities, replacing the Vietnamese and Thai restaurant Jasmine Orchid.

Bai said she wanted to open a location in Stadium Village because many students bus to the Little Szechuan down University Avenue in St. Paul. Bai, a Sichuan native, said she prides herself on authenticity.

“I was born Sichuan and grew up Sichuan,” Bai said. “That’s why I know how to make authentic Sichuan food for customers.”

There are many Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants around campus, but some students said the area is lacking authenticity.

“Nothing is authentic here. It’s terrible, but we have no choice,” said Ray Shi, a statistics graduate student from China.

Shi said a lack of regional ingredients and dated recipes could be the cause. Many Chinese chefs have been in America so long, they are disconnected from contemporary cuisine of the country and are creating dishes from 30 years ago, he said.

While eating lunch at Shuang Cheng Restaurant, statistics graduate student Boxiang Wang said he chooses his Chinese cuisine based on service and price because he’s learned not to expect genuine dishes.

At the end of the day, Wang said, international students will settle for the “Americanized” dishes offered here.

“All of the [Asian] restaurants around here are similar,” he said. “But we don’t have much choice.”

Camdi Restaurant owner Camdi Phan has been in business more than 26 years. She said that tenure is a testament to her home cooking.

“We put into it what we would at home,” Phan said. “I try to cook like that for the students.”

Phan said it’s difficult to stay in business with so many options in the area.

“It’s so competitive here,” she said. “Other kitchens have fancy options, but our cooking is unique.”

Nghi Huynh, publisher and editor of the Asian American Press, located on University Avenue, said there are few options for authentic food near the University.

“I think it is very important because we need food and we have to go find restaurants,” Huynh said.

Communication studies junior Kevin Liu and economics sophomore Vincent Sun, both international students from China, said they just cook their favorite dishes at home.

“Asian supermarkets have everything we need, so if we have time, I will cook myself,” Liu said.

Sun said real Chinese food isn’t popular in America, and if restaurants cooked dishes the way they were supposed to, they wouldn’t be as successful.

“You can’t expect too much,” Sun said. “This is a different country.”