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Feb 9, 2009 11:08 AM

What is "Americanized" Chinese food?

I suspect that I probably have only eaten americanized chinese, but when someone asks for a recommendation for that type of a restaurant, what are they expecting? And if it isn't americanized then what would they be serving? I am confused, as usual!

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  1. There's a big difference between "authentic" Chinese and what most Americans consider Chinese food, which is the "Americanized" type. Americanized is generally the same all over and not really reflective at all of what real Chinese cuisine is like.

    Pick up just about any typical Chinese delivery menu and you'll see all the same players across the country - cashew chicken, beef broccoli, sweet and sour pork, etc. These are not authentic Chinese dishes but are what most americans like and request in "Chinese" food.

    More authentic Chinese can be hard to come by depending on what city you live in. Chinese are great at utilizing the entire animal and consume a lot more parts of an animal than a typical American would, for starters. They also base a lot more dishes on veggies than meat.

    Here's a good overview:

    15 Replies
    1. re: rockandroller1

      Thanks, danhole, for asking and thank r&r for replying. I've wondered this. I always laugh at --- and drive right by --- any place that has a sign for "Chinese American" food. Would you say I'm on pretty solid ground because we are generally the only non-Chinese in the restaurants we frequent? Also that I have a strong aversion to the three dishes, especially sweet and sour anything (blech). Now I knew my suspicions were correct.

      1. re: c oliver

        A room full of Chinese peeps is a great indicator that you've found a good and authentic place, for sure.

        1. re: rockandroller1

          I have friends who grew up in NYC's Chinatown who love the really gringo stuff you get at the type of places that use "wok" in the name in punny ways -- like Wok 'n' Go. And I have gringo friends who know much, much more about Chinese food than I do, though I grew up on the cuisine and have spent some time in Beijing.

          So racial composition of the clientele is not always the best indicator. :)

          1. re: cimui

            Agreed. People will say the same thing about Indian/Pakistani restaurants, "Look and see if a bunch of Indians are eating there." This is patently false. I have found most Indians and Pakistani can't even judge their own foods correctly. Good restaurants will close and people will continue supporting the same old poor quality places. Just like any culture I suppose.

          2. re: rockandroller1

            We have one we frequent where we are generally the only Americans in the room. It is Cantonese and is far different from the Americanized Mandarin joint we love. I think real and Americanized each have their own strong points. I try to appreciate each for what it is and not play the, "Is it authentic or not?" game. If you like it, you like it.

            1. re: sisterfunkhaus

              Er, plenty of Chinese people are Americans. Perhaps you meant caucasian.

              1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                What is "Americanized Mandarin" food? It's been my experience that Americanized Chinese food is based loosely on Cantonese cuisine. Which makes sense - until very recently, the vast majority of Chinese immigrants to America came from the southeast of the country. If you go to any Americanized Chinese restaurant, it's a fairly safe bet the language spoken in the kitchen is Cantonese.

                Americanized Chinese, like any other cuisine, is good when done well. A little monotonous compared to any of the traditional cuisines of China, but tasty nevertheless. But when done poorly, Americanized Chinese food is gloppy, sugary, greasy, and generally downright nasty. The problem is that most places do it poorly.

            2. re: c oliver

              Let me just stick up for "Americanized" Chinese food here. Instead of judging food by whether it is authentic or inauthentic, I prefer to judge food by whether it's delicious or not. There are some "Americanized Chinese" dishes that can be delicious if made with care and decent ingredients, just as there are some American Italian dishes that can be delicious. Conversely, there are some "authentic" Chinese restaurants where the food is just mediocre: sloppily made or made with poor ingredients.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                I'd agree that, if you take Americanized Chinese food as a 'cuisine' by itself, it can be judged on a separate basis and, like anything else, there's great to horrible and everything in between.

                In Los Angeles' Chinatown there's a restaurant called Yang Chow that I first went to on its opening day (in the 80's I think). They do what I consider a first class job of what connoisseurs call 'Americanized' Chinese. To someone who is more used to Panda Express, I'm sure Yang Chow is a world apart and would seem like 'the real thing' in comparison. But Yang Chow IS Americanized and you rarely see Chinese people eating there as you do in the 'authentic' places in the same neighborhood. I really love Yang Chow's food and often see it demeaned on the LA board as not being worth the trip. I also love 'the real thing'. Two essentially different animals though you have to be familiar with both to know the difference.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  I absolutely agree with this, Ruth Lafler...and although I have a very strong penchant for authentic Chinese food, there is nothing wrong with the genre of Americanized Chinese as long as it is well made. Sometimes I even get cravings for some good ole beef and broccoli or kung pao chicken.

                  1. re: luckyfatima

                    shoot, kung pao chicken (kun1 bao3 ji1 ding1) isn't authentic? i'm going to be really mad at my mom if this is true.

                    1. re: cimui

                      AFAIK, Kung Pao Chicken is a real Chinese dish. But its implementation in most Chinese restaurants is not authentic. This is true of other dishes, such as chow mein, soups, stir fry, etc.

                  2. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Extremely well put. It is like many of the blogs on here ... True pizza or true pastrami or reubens, etc. I am not knocking any of the dishes or recipes, just that every recipe has a true origin, but maybe years and years ago. No, each part of the country and every city and state has their own versions what they consider authentic. And it may be for their city or town. To me it is whether it is good or not which is all that matters.

                    Someone wrote about Panda Express ... below. We have one and it is horrible, but others said it is good. China Palace another one I don't like but others do. But there are many in the area which I like. So all personal tastes and likes and dislikes.

                    I visited back home a couple of years ago, Detroit ... I went to the China area and visited a couple of local places. Very similar to what we eat or call Americanized Chinese but unique and done their way. I was not impressed because I am so used to American Chinese. Well done, just not to my liking.

                  3. re: c oliver

                    I always read "Chinese American" signs to signify that it was even more American than your standard Chinese takeout. You could probably get a plate of spagetti or a pork chop there.

                    1. re: thinks too much

                      I think that's what I meant also. Those signs just seem to shout that message, don't they?

                      I live at Lake Tahoe in NoCal after years in SF. We have NO good Chinese restaurants here so when I get to SF I stick with non-Americanized simply because I can't get it except when travelling.

                2. I grew up in the midwest, detesting what I knew as Chinese food. I've always been very sensitive to salt/sodium in my food and I think that was the big turn off for me. Then I managed a mall bookstore and the store next to mine was a Chinese gift store owned by a Cantonese family. We formed a friendship and had a trade-off of dishes. She brought me home made Chinese food and I brought her mid-western fare. I definitely had the better end of the deal. The "real thing" was better than good and I miss it.

                  A couple of times I tried eating in her husbands restaurant, thinking it would be the same food and it was far from it, having been "Americanized" and definitely not what they were eating at home.

                  1. Panda Express, Pei Wei, PF Chang's are good examples of Americanized Chinese food.

                    44 Replies
                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Although I have already stated that I believe I have mostly eaten americanized chinese, I have never eaten at any of the places you mentioned! I really don't like the deep fried stuff that most places serve. In Houston there are many to choose from, and some are pretty ordinary, and then there are those where I have no idea what to order, so I have to go with someone more educated than I am.

                      Rockandroller, thanks for the link. It was very informative.

                      1. re: danhole

                        Isn't there a fairly large Chinese immigrant community in Houston (or its suburbs)? If so you should be able to fine "authentic" Chinese restaurants. If you're interested in descriptions of specific dishes people order, you might want to look at some of the reports of chowdowns at Chinese restaurants on the SF Bay Area board. In particular, you should learn to recognize names of signature regional dishes that might indicate the *real* specialty of the restaurant. Often, there are really two restaurants running side-by-side: one serving Americanized food to its American customers and one serving more authentic dishes (often on a separate menu or written on the walls or white board in Chinese only) to its Chinese customers. I actually wrote a post about finding and ordering the "real" Chinese food hidden inside a "regular" Chinese restaurant.

                        This thread degenerated into various arguments about whether or not these tips were obvious (maybe to some, but not to all), and whether they somehow exaggerated the existence of hidden/secret menus (not in my experience in the Bay Area). But even throughout that argument there are some helpful points.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          The Chinese population in Houston are largely Vietnamese Chinese, not quite the same as Chinese Chinese. I have been to Houston several times and the quality of their Chinese restaurants leaves a lot to be desired. Up to about 3 years ago there wasn't even a dim sum place.

                          1. re: PeterL

                            Oh no, I strongly object to this! Long live Bellaire! I had dim sum on Bellaire over 15 years ago as a kid! There is GREAT Cantonese and other Southern Chinese restaurants, Chinese-Vietnamese Restaurants (Chinese of Vietnam, just like Chinese in other parts of SE Asia, still have a strong Chinese identity and that is reflected in their food!!!), Taiwanese restaurants, even Buddhist food (veg) restaurants. I happen to disagree that the Chinese is lacking there. There are so many Chinese that the street signs are in Chinese on Bellaire and there are several Chinese and Chinese Vietnamese hypermarkets in addition to loads of different types of restaurants. Me and some girlfriends actually drive at least once a year for an eating vacation weekend in Houston and stay near the Galleria. We used to go as teenagers with their parents, too back when one couldn't find Chinese and Vietnamese goods so readily in our hometown about 3 hrs from Houston. The food was a huge highlight and we ate and still eat 3 heavy meals a day on those trips. I am now an adult and well travelled, and Houston Southern Chinese and Chinese Vietnamese is on par with Bay Area, San Francisco, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Vancouver Chinese that I have had! I love it and would highly recommend that any Chinese food lover chowhounder head over there...check CH Houston for recs...Sinh Sinh and Tan Tan are two of my faves (that's right, owned by Chinese from Vietnam!)

                            1. re: luckyfatima

                              Well our tastes differ. But seriously, Houston is no where near SF standards, not to mention Vancouver. We've been to Sinh Sinh several times. That's pretty much our standard when we travel to Houston. After that, not much. We have yet to find a dim sum place in Houston. I heard rumors that there is one, but so far we have no luck in finding it. And Sinh Sinh is at best would be a mid level in SF, and at the lower end in Vancouver. The Chinese supermarkets remind me of the San Gabriel Valley Chinese supermarkets about 20 years ago.

                              Sorry but that's my take. If you live in other parts of Texas sure. But if you live in LA, SF, Toronto or Vancouver, not so much.

                              1. re: PeterL

                                The issue of whether the restaurants exist is independent of their quality. It's clear there is a variety of "authentic" and regional Chinese food in Houston, regardless of whether it's as good as it might be elsewhere.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  After hunting around, like a chowhound should, I found a place in town that is where I need to go. It is Peking Cuisine, off the SW Fwy, where you have to call a couple days ahead to get the Peking duck. It is recommended that you bring someone who can speak and read chinese because they are in chinese and the english translations are full of typos, so pointing doesn't quite work. Some oof the dishes that have been described sound a lot like dishes some of you have mentioned. Now, I just have to make friends with someone fluent in chinese and I'm there!

                              1. re: AndyGanil

                                In Los Angeles Chinatown there is significant Vietnamese population and many of them own Chinese restaurants. There is a Vietnamese influence on the spicy Chinese dishes they prepare.

                                When I lived in Miami there were a number of Chinese restaurants run by Chinese from Cuba. I grew up in New York and there was a difference in the Americanized Chinese I had on Long Island and in NYC Chinatown and the Cuban influenced Chinese American food.

                                1. re: monku

                                  Several of the Cantonese/dim sum places in Seattle's International District f/k/a Chinatown are owned by ethnic Chinese who emigrated from Vietnam.


                                  1. re: monku

                                    There were a number of Chinese restaurants in NYC run by Chinese from the Dominical Republic. One was near the college I went to in downtown Brooklyn. It wasn't unusual to get fried plantains instead of rice.

                                  2. re: AndyGanil

                                    There is a significant Chinese population in all countries in SE Asia. Over 10% of the population of Thailand is of Chinese background according to some surveys.

                                    A large number of Vietnamese of Chinese ethnicity(called Hoa) immigrated out of Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and the Vietnam/China border wars.


                                    My favorite noodle shop ever is a Chiu Chow place run by Vietnamese Chinese immigrants.

                                    1. re: huaqiao

                                      Most Chinese in Thailand are from descendents from Chiu Chow (or Teochew) background. 70% of Singaporeans (mostly from Fujian background), over 30% of Malaysia (mostly from Guang Dong background), about 5% of Indonesia (mostly from Hakka and Fujian) is of Chinese back ground.

                                      1. re: FourSeasons

                                        Yep the Chinese Vietnamese are the same ethnic backgrounds, especially Teo Chew, and also Hokkien, Guang Dong background, Hakka, etc.

                                        I have usually heard them called Tau (nguoi Tau) , I think Hoa is the formal name from "Chung Hoa."

                                        In my experience they call themselves Chinese-Vietnamese or Chinese from Vietnam, not Vietnamese Chinese.

                                2. re: Ruth Lafler


                                  Here in Houston we have more than one Chinatown. There is the old one in downtown Houston, where you see mostly Chinese people eat. I went with a friend to a small hole in the wall place that had a tiny little buffet. This was many years ago. Nothing looked familiar, so she told me what to put on my plate. I have no idea what I ate other than it wasn't anything I had ever had before, or since. This was one of those places you describe with the chalkboard specials written in Chinese.

                                  The newer Chinatown in more in the burbs and it is a broader mix of asian cultures. I haven't ventured out there, just because it is really inconvenient for me. I do think there are a lot of Vietnamese places there.

                                  As far as Chinese restaurants goes there is one in particular that has a large menu that features "classics" such as Sweet & sour, orange beef, sesame chicken, etc., and then has another section that is chef's specialities, which has things I have never heard of but boy they sound really good. The chef has gotten high praise from the chinese community and has a lot of chinese customers.

                                  1. re: danhole

                                    Ah yes. I've seen other restaurants deal with the two-cuisine problem by using a classic/specialities type system. China Village was mentioned in the post I linked. When they combined their formerly separate "authentic" and "Americanized" menus they designated the Americanized dishes as "classic."

                                    It sounds like there's authentic food to be had, you just need to educate yourself a little so you recognize it when you see it.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      The fun part is when you DO find the real thing, and the waiter tries to talk you out of it. Braised pork shoulder is a good sign of non-Americanized cooking. It's basically braised in soy sauce and five spice powder. Once in Edison NJ and once in NY Chinatown, I was told "you won't like this -- too fatty." I insisted, and it was great.

                                      I've also taken to ask if they have gai lan -- Chinese broccoli -- or pea shoots. Gai lan, you mei you? goes a long way.

                                      1. re: sbp

                                        We started eating chicken feet about a year ago (is it pronounced something like xaio fung?) and OMG the Chinese people get so happy when they see us eating it. When we first ask for it, they're dubious that we really want it but once we're chowing down, the whole joint is smiling. And when we leave, they're all nodding and smiling. We've been eating dim sum for decades and, if I'd known the positive reaction, I'd have been getting it years ago. And, yes to danhole, they're really delish :)

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Chicken feet . . . I've heard a lot about those lately. What would you compare them too? I will try anything once. I actually have a feeling I would really like them. Dim sum, too.

                                          1. re: danhole

                                            The best are actually the filipino BBQ sauce finished chicken feet.

                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                              Are they common in filipino restaurants? Sounds great.

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                No, they're a street food best eaten with cold San Miguel beer - and hot balut.

                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                  Oh no, I am SO not going there with ya! SM beer fine. I know one should never say never but I ain't NEVER eating balut!!!!! The Filipino people I know mostly gag when I ask about that. One DID say he'll eat the white but not the "chicky." Noooooooooooo.

                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                    Adidas and San Miguel. Now that is THE late night pick me up, and fresh buko juice with Alka Seltzer in the morning.

                                                    1. re: currymouth

                                                      What is buko? Does it rhyme with puke-o?

                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        Water coconut sold fresh door to door in Manila.

                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                            Great. I grew up in the West Indies and there was nothing quite so refreshing and versatile as coconut juice, My teachers in High school would have us climb the trees so as to have some to mix with their lunchtime Rum and Juice.

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          Buko also refers to young coconuts that are somehow mutated or different in their development. The flesh is made into buko pies - for which Los Banos south of Manila is "famous".

                                                2. re: danhole

                                                  With braised chicken feet, it's all about the flavor absorbed from the braising sauce. There's virtually no meat -- skin, tendon, and bones (think poultry wing tips).

                                                  Bit off a toe through the joint, then work the soft tissues off bone with your tongue and discard the bone. If it's tasty and you like the texture, you'll end up with a small mound of bones on your plate which, hopefully, the wait staff will exchange with a clean one.

                                                  I hope you enjoy them.

                                                  1. re: Stephanie Wong

                                                    Thanks for taking the time to explain. I didn't feel like I was up to it. But I sure do enjoy the flavor --- as well as the hugely positive reaction from all the Chinese who are present :)

                                                3. re: c oliver

                                                  If it's a dim sum dish, the Cantonese pronunciation would be something like "foong jow."

                                                4. re: sbp

                                                  Sounds good. I'll look for that. Thanks for the specifics.

                                                5. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  I just need to jump in, get out of my Kung Pao comfort zone, and order something I have never tried before!

                                                  Now speaking of Kung Pao. I have noticed that some places serve it with little chunks of chicken, some tofu, I think, dried red peppers, few vegetable and a spicy thick brown sauce with peanuts. Other places serve it with large chunks of chicken, lots of vegetables, big hunks of mushrooms, peanuts or not, and a lighter spicy sauce (not so brown.) Which is more authentic? Or neither. In the wiki article R&R posted Kung Pao was considered a native dish that had been americanized, so I am guessing the first one is that version more so. Right?

                                                  1. re: danhole

                                                    Dinner in the Chinese home did not have the knife and fork set on the table like western homes.... as a result, when possible, food preparation with the knife meant cutting the food items into small dice and small chunks to aid in the easy pick of the food items with chopsticks and or a soup spoon. To find the more authentic version, it is the smaller dice cut for vegetables and protein.....the larger chunks at some point may have been deemed to be more attractive for presentation purposes......the sauce by nature of the dish is supposed to be spicy, but not killer spicy....the heat level is a personal preference though and can be adjusted to suit the eater.

                                                    1. re: danhole

                                                      The first version sounds more Americanized. In general, when a dish becomes Americanized the sauces become thicker and sweeter (even the spicy ones have stronger sweet elements).

                                                      In general, Chinese cooking embraces a much wider array of flavors and, especially, textures, than European cuisines. Dishes like beef tendon, chicken feet and jellyfish are really more about the texture than flavor (beef tendon is chewy, chicken feet are braised to be soft and cartilaginous and jellyfish are mild flavored and surprisingly sort of crunchy). These elements that fall outside the norms of Western cuisine are the ones that are likely to get a "you won't like it" response from the waiter.

                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                        Actually beef tendon, chicken feet and jellyfish are only good if they have flavor. Serve me bland tendon, feet or jellyfish and I'll blast the restaurant for incompetency.

                                                        1. re: Ericandblueboy

                                                          But the flavor comes mostly from the saucing/prep method, not from the tendon, chicken foot or jellyfish itself -- they add mostly texture and a vehicle for the saucing.

                                                          Or rather, chicken feet taste chickeny -- the main reason to eat them is because of their unique texture, not because of their unique flavor. Same with jellyfish -- it tastes vaguely oceanic, but the reason it's served instead of (or in addition to) other fishy/oceany foods is again because of the unique texture.

                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                            I see your point. Yes they are quite bland naturally.

                                                        2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                          You've hit the nail on the head, Ruth, more viscous and sweet are the hallmarks of Americanized Chinese food. I really don't think that most Americans would care for authentic Chinese cuisine. Tendon, chicken feet? Not gonna fly with most here.

                                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                                            I agree with you and then I don't. We spent many decades in SF and still visit regularly. We'll eat anything especially if we're with Chinese friends who clue us in. Just got "into" chicken feet and now love them. So I think if one lives somewhere with a good-sized Chinese population and the restaurants, then it's much easier. Let's face it, most of the U.S. doesn't have the choices to even be rejected.

                                                            1. re: c oliver


                                                              I salute you. I eat many "weird" things, but chicken feet are beyond me. These things just don't seem edible to me. Glad I tried them, though.

                                                        3. re: danhole

                                                          I don't think there's any "official version." It's like asking for an authentic hamburger. There are a few things in common (e.g. bun, patty), but there are many variations in patty sizes, bun sizes, bun types, shredded/whole lettuce, etc. Having said that, some versions of Kung Pao chicken may be closer to what you find in China than others. Others have posted more information about this matter.

                                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      Interesting. Here is an analogous account of one Sichuan restaurant's struggle with the two-menu dilemma, peripherally involving myself. BTW, the restaurant is located in Bellevue, WA and is quite good.


                                                6. Used to be chopsuey, egg foo young, and chowmein, with the crunchy noodles rather than soft noodles. All of these had some basis of "real" Chinese food. Nowadays American Chinese has evolved to something like beef with broccali (not Chinese broccali, aka gai lan), walnut shrimp, paper wrapped chicken, very large fried egg rolls, etc.

                                                  10 Replies
                                                  1. re: PeterL

                                                    Except you know, that walnut shrimp is popular with Chinese diners. In fact, I think it orginated in Hong Kong as modern "fusion" dish -- there was a thread about it on this board a while back.

                                                    A good egg foo yung can be great comfort food! I think of chop suey, though, as the quintessential American-Chinese dish, since it supposedly originated by Chinese cooks in early California. Except, maybe not:

                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      In addition to walnut shrimp, paper wrapped chicken is actually a very very old-fashioned Chinese dish. It is authentic Chinese but it is so old fashioned that most modern authentic Chinese restaurants won't even bother to make it anymore.

                                                      1. re: kobetobiko

                                                        I had my first taste of paper wrapped chicken a few months ago at a chinese place that has been around for at least 30+ years. I didn't know what it was, but man was it good. I had never seen it on a menu before. It came on a pu pu platter. The cook/chef was an older chinese man who kept hovering between the kitchen and the dining room. The egg rolls weren't your usual mushy, fried messes, either. They were full of hunks of vegetables and lightly fried, and the crab puffs had crab!

                                                        1. re: kobetobiko

                                                          The "real" dish is indeed paper wrapped chicken. But as it evolved into American Chinese dish, it became foil wrapped chicken. It's now usually served in an appetizer platter.

                                                          1. re: PeterL

                                                            This was actually served in a foil packet, but inside that was a paper packet and then when opened was the chicken and the most delicious juices. It came on the platter or as a separate appetizer. My 2 yr. old granddaughter and I loved it.

                                                            1. re: danhole

                                                              From my recollection, chicken in paper/foil was a popular item back in the 60's and 70'sm served as an appetizer and on Pu Pu platters. It was boneless chicken marinated in a soy sauce and hoisin sauce mixture and sealed in foil. When the foil pouch expanded with the steam from inside, the chicken was read to be served.....and quite tasty

                                                              1. re: fourunder

                                                                I have to correct myself. I went back to this place I like, the China Doll, and got the paper wrapped chicken, and it was just in foil, not in cellophane. I got it as a separate item, but i8t is offered on an appetizer sampler that I said was a Pu Pu platter, but it is a Bo Bo Platter. I also got the Pork Egg Foo Young and it was very good. Not greasy, good amount of meat, and the gravy was just right. There are a lot of dishes on the menu that I don't see on most chinese menus, so I asked what types of chinese food did they serve. The regular older woman was out sick and there was a young man there, so it was hard to get him to understand what I meant, but I finally got it across, and he said it was a combination of many different types. I'll get more info when the "mom" (and I am assuming here) is back.

                                                                1. re: danhole

                                                                  .....I said was a Pu Pu platter, but it is a Bo Bo Platter.


                                                                  (Bo Bo) is the phonetic English translation of Pu Pu in Chinese speak. (Gee Bo) is the phonetic translation of paper wrapped

                                                                  Pu Pu Platter > Bo Bo pawn

                                                                  Paper Wrapped Chicken or Chicken in Foil > Gee Bo Gai

                                                        2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                          Yes! I ate a lot of egg foo yung when I was in college precisely because it was great comfort food. Yum.

                                                        3. re: PeterL

                                                          Walnut shrimp is a Hong Kong invention. In Cantonese, the name is something like "Western-sauce shrimp." Paper-wrapped chicken is an older, classic Cantonese dish, but it is difficult to make in its traditional form that required actual paper. Current versions use aluminum foil because they are much cheaper to buy and faster to use.

                                                        4. One important historical fact to add is that because of prejudice and bigotry, all Chinese immigration was stopped shortly after the Chinese helped to build the intercontinental railroad, and this lasted for nearly a hundred years. From the 1870's until the 1960's, the US let in no Chinese immigrants. That meant that the population that had come over for the gold rush in the 1850's, primarily from Guangdong (Canton) province, were isolated and lived in virtual ghettos, which became China Towns. Their food developed in isolation for 100 years into its own cuisine, with American influences, but with little influence from China.

                                                          It's only been since immigration was opened up that we've gotten the benefits of people and their cuisine from so many other parts of China, from Hunan to Sichuan and beyond. It's as if we found an entirely new bunch of countries with unique cuisines starting in the 1960's and 70's. Of course, this "new" cuisine has become integrated into the established American Chinese menus - so you now see Kung Pao, Yu Hsiang, and Moo Shu everywhere, and more and more places are carrying Ma Po Tofu and Dan Dan Noodles. But it will probably be a while before we see spicy shredded tripe or beef tendon everywhere. The much freer exchange of people and commerce today allows for all kinds of specialty cuisines to become popular here - from Dim Sum to Soup Dumplings, Hot Pots, and all manner of noodle soups.

                                                          China's incredible diversity of food is just becoming known here in the US. As our tastes open up to world cuisines, we're finding out that all the foods that our ancestors brought over and integrated into the melting pot, are being reinvigorated with new discoveries (new to most of us) - but none are more complex and diverse, perhaps, than the foods from the many regions of China, Mexico, and Italy.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: applehome

                                                            Not entirely accurate here, applehome.

                                                            US Chinese immigration ban occurred in 1882 with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act and formally ended in 1943. The Chinese Exclusion Act never prevented Chinese Merchants, Scholars, Students and Officials from immigrating and of course there was always a flow of undocumented aliens. Chinese banded together in urban Chinatowns for self-survival after much anti-Sino violence erupted - mostly in the West. Diversity of Chinese cuisine became much more well known, as well as more available in the US when "China Fever" erupted after Nixon's 1972 China visit and relations with China were normalized.

                                                            For more:


                                                            1. re: scoopG

                                                              Right - thanks for correcting the dates - there have been several discussions of this before, and I was trying to summarize what I had taken away. I think it's important to understand the period of time that the cuisine stood alone in the US, developing mainly with local (American) influences. That length of time makes it a legitimate cuisine of it's own standing, in my view, not just a quick adaptation of a foreign cuisine to available ingredients, as we see in so many foods that are brought over. A prime example of the American influence post wwII is the integration of the then popular Tiki-bar food (e.g.- pu-pu platters) which really have nothing at all to do with any region in China.

                                                              The secondary point is that there was a grand re-awakening starting slowly in the 60's and accelerating ever since, whether credit is due to Nixon or not. That awakening is why the OP and other Americans are just now seeing these wonderful alternatives becoming more widely available.

                                                              These two movements are as important in understanding today's Chinese food in America as the Jewish immigrant experience in the Lower East Side is in understanding deli and Jewish foods in general.

                                                              1. re: applehome

                                                                right, pupu platters may have been adopted by some Chinese restaurants, but the word pupu is really polynesian in origin (Hawaiian), which is why they first showed up (on the US mainland) in "Tiki Bars". Pupu pretty much just means appetizer.


                                                              2. re: scoopG

                                                                Good post
                                                                You are correct on the Exclusion Act