All Aboard: Osaka Sushi Train’s delicious secret

Chris DiMeo

Psst! Do you want to know a secret? Okay, come closer. Your favorite local restaurants may not be what they seem.

That’s right, some popular Bowling Green restaurants offer a “secret Chinese menu,” an alternate menu written entirely in Mandarin, off which you can find an array of authentic dishes from “soda chicken” to a whole, foot-long steamed fish, complete with bones and eyeballs intact.

But if you don’t speak Mandarin, no need to worry. Your friendly neighborhood restaurant reviewer joined with the Chinese Club and launched a massive, deep-cover infiltration of the Osaka Sushi Train on Scottsville Road to bring you a firsthand account of this inside scoop.

Part of why the secret Chinese menu at Sushi Train has stayed so secret is that you have to know it exists in order to even access it, hence the secret. Ordinarily, customers are given a formal menu, written in English, or they may take sushi plates off of the refrigerated conveyor belt that lends the restaurant its name.

However, if you’re like Huiqiang Zheng, assistant professor of Chinese and a native Mandarin speaker, you can ask for a menu written in Mandarin and the waitress will pull out a plain, single sheet of printer paper in a wrinkled plastic envelope from behind the hostess station for you.

The Chinese menu offers a number of dishes not commonly found in the U.S., and certainly not on the English menu, which is made up of Americanized Japanese foods. Largely, the Chinese menu consists of variations on chicken, beef, pork and fish, such as spicy beef, pepper beef and sweet beef, or spicy chicken, pepper chicken and sweet chicken.

Zheng said she has ordered off of the Chinese menu at Sushi Train before, and her favorite item is the whole steamed sole fish, so I had to try it out. The fish costs about $15, which seems excessive until the plate comes out. Like the rest of the dishes on the menu, it’s meant to be shared among a party of about four to ten, so this sexy slab of salted and ginger-loaded marine cuisine comes in one piece on a foot-long plate placed, still steaming, in the middle of the table.

Most Americans might be disconcerted by the thought of picking out hair-thin bones or oozing eyeballs from their fish, but Zheng thoroughly enjoys the experience and said she even likes eating the eyeballs. While it does take longer to be prepared than most items on the English menu, the fish is cooked to an ideal texture and has a light, salty taste, with a little kick of flavor from the ginger and other spices. Not to mention, half the fun is taking up a pair of chopsticks and sharing a single dish with your friends.

On the other hand, the secret menu has items that are not widely eaten in China, such as a variety of flavors of “soda chicken,” or chicken wings cooked in soft drinks like Coca-Cola or Sprite to give the meat a uniquely sweet tang. Zheng said she’s never seen these outside of Sushi Train.

Unfortunately, because of their informal nature, it is impossible to do concrete research on the number of restaurants that offer secret Chinese menus. Zheng  also  said she does not know how many exist in Bowling Green, though she suspects Beijing-Tokyo on Scottsville Road is another.

So, it seems there’s only one way to know for sure. Learn some Chinese and start asking for Chinese menus whenever you visit restaurants! You can broaden your horizons, delve deeper into the culture of your city and, of course, eat some delicious food. (Eyeballs included).

Taste: 5/5

Price: 4/5

Atmosphere: 5/5