HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Jalapenos in my Chinese food...

First of all, Ok I get it, orange beef is not "real" Chinese, it's "american" chinese.
But..I ordered Orange Beef, which had the usual broccoli and orange peels, and what I thought was green bell pepper. I thought.."different, but seems Ok, makes sense,".
As I was eating it. i realized the rounds of pepper were way too small to be bell pepper, and the seed pattern seemed distinctly jalapeno. And it tasted good..and added a bit more heat to a decently spicy dish. Very interesting..but a very weird/unusual addition to me.
Mexican/chinese/american fusion ?
Now, I live in Western NY, where there a lot of undocumented workers (if you get my drift) this time of year. Was this a "shout out " to or an insipration from local migrant visitors ?
Or are there some mexican workers who have been hired by the local chinese cookery and have slipped in their own flavor ?
Anyone ever heard of jalapenos in Chinese cooking ?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Red chilis and chili flakes, yes. Jalapenos- I've never seen in Chinese food- do you suppose it was a substitution- ie couldn't get red chilis?

    1. Broccoli isn't particularly Chinese either. Chinese cooks just adapt to local ingredients to cook food that is similar to what they know.

      1. In Texas I use jalapenos in Pakistani cooking, and in Vietnamese places pho is served with jalapeno slices on the side as one of the garnishes. Also, some of the dim sum places I frequent have jalapenos incorporated into their dim sum like salt and pepper shrimp with finely chopped garlic and jalapenos, jalapenos stuffed with minced shrimp (that is one of my fave dim sum choices!), and so forth. Basically the jalapeno is cheap and widely available in TX so I have seen it used by Chinese, Vietnamese, and anyone else who likes some heat. It does have its own special jalapeno flavor, but I don't think that distorts the taste of any of the cuisines into which it is incorporated. It is just an adaptation of locally available chiles.

        1. Yes. There is a famous Taiwanese appetizer which consists of shredded red and green chili peppers with tiny sardines in oil.

          1. Many of the Northern Chinese restaurants in the Washington DC area use fresh jalapenos in their dishes. One of my favorites is salt and pepper squid with garlic and jalapenos at Joe's Noodle House in Rockville, MD which is slap-your-mammy deeelicious. I don't believe the cooking is any less authentic for the use of locally available ingredients, whether its jalapenos or wall-eye pike or whatever.

            1 Reply
            1. re: flavrmeistr

              One of my favorites is salt and pepper squid ....

              Here in the Northern New Jersey/New York greater area this is a common addition to Salt & Pepper Squid, or any other type of deep fried or spicy dish. The Jalapeno or Long Hots are sliced thin, then deep/shallow fried with thin sliced garlic(chips) also in the dish.

            2. Chinese cuisine does use chilies in certain dishes, especially in Szechuanese cuisine. Where Asian bird's eye chilies are unavailable, jalapeños are often an easy substitute. Like luckyfatima, I've seen them used in plenty of Asian cuisines to which they are not native: from Pakistani to Japanese.

              17 Replies
              1. re: JungMann

                No peppers are native to Asia. Since chile peppers originated in the Americas there's no reason to think that jalapenos of some kind don't exist under another name in Asia, and whether a chile is authentically Asian is really a matter of degree, since at some point in time, no chiles were authentically Asian.

                I've been served many "authentic" Chinese dishes that include jalapenos, including a dish called Tiger Skin Jalapenos, which are chiles that have been grilled, leaving blackened marks like tiger stripes on the skins.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  They now are "authentically" Chinese - like other New World foodstuffs that found their way into China along with peanuts, potatoes, yams, tomatoes etc. in the last 400 years.

                  Edit: China is now the world's #1 potato producer.

                  1. re: scoopG

                    Is there one type of potato that is more 'authentically' Chinese than another? Would someone squawk if I substituted a Yukon Gold for something more common in China? How about tomato types?

                    1. re: paulj

                      Most likely the White or Irish Potato, well documented as being grown in China by the 16th century - along with sweet potatoes, peanuts, maize and tomatoes. China is the world's biggest potato consumer BTW.

                  2. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Chilies might have New World origins, but Old World cuisines have so adopted them as to make them authentic aspects of their culinary personality. Would you see that chili peppers are not a native aspect of Indian cuisine? Strictly speaking chilies are not native to India, but they have been so wholly incorporated into the culture that they are now an inextricable part of the cuisine. Rather than using the word "native," perhaps I should have said I've seen jalapeños used in plenty of Asian cuisines that would use other chilies in the old country.

                    1. re: JungMann

                      That was supposed to be my point. All peppers used in Asia originally came from somewhere else and have been adopted into the cuisine. Therefore, it's silly to suggest -- as the original poster did -- that the use of jalapenos in a Chinese dish must be from the influence of local Mexicans. Technically, all peppers are a sign of New World influence to some degree or another -- that doesn't mean that dish that includes them isn't "authentic" to the culture that has adopted them.

                      This really gets back to an old, ongoing discussion about what "authentic" means when it comes to food. Americans tend to have the culturally imperialistic view that to be considered "authentic" other cultures' cuisines should be fossilized at a point where they are "pure" of taints from globalization (while, of course, "American" cuisine incorporates foods from other cultures on an ongoing basis). This tends to igore the fact that virtually no cuisines are untouched by the explosion of ingredients from the New World 500 years ago that were rapidly and enthusiastically incorporated into cusines world-wide.

                      Cuisines evolve; all cuisines have a right to incorporate new (or newly available) ingredients as they see fit without being labeled "inauthentic."

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        Glad to hear this. I recall an earlier discussion on this subject where you seemed to disdainfully label the use of peanuts in China as fusion cuisine until it was pointed out that would have been Ming Dynasty fusion - 1368-1644!

                        1. re: scoopG

                          Me? I've been making arguments similar to this for at least five years on chowhound.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            Let me dig then. You once claimed that the use of peanuts in Chinese cuisine was a "fusion" concoction with the implication (read not authentic) that they were of recent use/importation. Just like you once claimed that there had to be a large settlement of Chinese people in San Francisco (circa 1849) before there could be any Chinese restaurants in San Francisco - which of course was not the case.

                            1. re: scoopG

                              If you dug up the post, why don't you link it?

                              I have no recollection of making any remarks about peanuts, but it could very well been in the same context of this discussion: for many years I've been calling the 16th century the great era of fusion cuisine, as New World ingredients were incorporated into "Old World" cuisines and using that as a basis for arguing that the idea of "authenticity" when it comes is ingredients is bogus. Therefore, although I might have said something similar to what you're referencing, the meaning you attribute to those statements is incorrect, i.e. I was not using the term "fusion" disdainfully nor was I suggesting that "authenticity" was something to be striven for.

                              Okay, I found it http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/525124 :

                              "If you want to be dogmatic, since peanuts originated in South America, a Chinese dish with peanuts would be "fusion" rather than "Chinese." Of course I consider that a good example why people who insist on foods that are pure and authentic are ... full of it. Cuisines and the foods that embody them are always changing, and there are virtually no cuisines that haven't been and don't continue to be influenced by ingredients that were introduced from other parts of the world."

                              Isn't that exactly what I've been saying? Unless you consider the term "dogmatic" to be a compliment, the idea I'm being scornful of is, as I said, the whole idea that some ingredients make a dish "inauthentic." You misunderstood me the first time, as apparently you continue to do so. Sorry I don't know any simpler words to explain myself to you.

                              As for Chinese restaurants, I believe I may have said something about there needing to be a critical mass of Chinese people for there to be "real" Chinese restaurants as opposed to "Chinese" restaurants serving Americanized versions of Chinese food primarily for Americans. Are you arguing that non-Chinese people in 1849 San Francisco would have eaten in "real" Chinese restaurants? Because restaurants need someone to eat in them.


                              ETA: Lots and lots of digging, but finally found this post from 2002, in which I say basically what I've said in this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/2155...

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Thanks - you are faster than me. I think of the word fusion as a more modern word I guess used to describe a blend of different cuisines. In Macao there is a fusion of sorts between Chinese and Portuguese cuisine to some degree. Since the Chinese 19th Century immigrant experience in California included a wide variety of people - merchants, miners, cowboys, doctors, fisherman etc. I would argue that the three Chinese restaurants that opened in San Francisco in 1849 served both Chinese and locals.

                        2. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Terms like "culturally imperialistic" tend to be useless political memes imo, especially when some of the worst offenders are those who claim to be warriors against cultural imperialism, but I do understand what you are getting at. I take a more benign view of this whole conversation, though. The OP had never encountered jalapeños in Chinese food and given his situation in Western New York, didn't know if peppers were typically used in China or if they were a fusion addition. That doesn't make him a cultural imperialist so much as someone curious about learning more about another culture.

                          1. re: JungMann

                            As an aside... any cuisine is welcome to incorporate any foodstuff they want. With that disclaimer, I kind of wish the tomato - wherever it heralds from - had not been incorporated at any point into S.E. Asian or Chinese cuisine or the American interpretations of either.

                            I find tomatoes to be a real red herring there, whether that's from my own associations of tomatoes with other kinds of cuisines or that maybe it really simply doesn't meld so well with the many, many other flavors used.

                            (Basil's used in both Italian and Thai cooking, for example, but if you're going to pair that with tomato, I want the Italian version of the dish!)

                            1. re: Cinnamon

                              There are certain dishes where tomatoes are just amazing in SE Asian cooking. There is a traditional Viet noodle soup called Bún riêu made from a tomato based broth with egg, shrimp paste, and crab that is one of the best things in the world.

                              Just because both forms of the plant are called basil doesn't mean they taste anything alike, at least to my taste.

                              1. re: KTinNYC

                                Yeah, well, it's also the other ingredients that so far I haven't found to my palate pair well with tomato. But if I ever see that soup on a menu, I'll give it a go and get back to you. :)

                              2. re: Cinnamon

                                When we were growing up, my mom made tomatoes and eggs--it's a Taiwanese thing that she grew up with. Along these lines:


                                She's also add firm tofu and shrimp but I don't know if that was her creation or something she had growing up.

                              3. re: JungMann

                                Tend to be, but apt in this case, I think. I don't think the original poster was being culturally imperialistic -- just not very knowledgable. But I've seen many people on chowhound who want to impose very rigid strictures on what is "authentic" for other cuisines. I once saw a guy claim that because another poster's Mexican grandmother used flour tortillas that her food wasn't "authentically Mexican." That's the kind of attitude that I think of as cultural imperialism. I see other people being disdainful about a lot of the modern Chinese dishes based on Western dishes coming out of Hong Kong and Taiwan as not being "real" Chinese food. Etc.

                      2. I read somewhere that the demand for jalapeno's in the U.S. has grown so much that 50/60 tons come across the border daily.

                        1. I had a Chinese dinner in San Diego Saturday, there were jalapenos garnishing the spicy squid. I have also seen it in LA in similar dishes.

                          1. Sauteed shredded potato with jalapeño pepper is very common at Manhattan Szechuan restaurants.

                            1. Those crafty Chinese! First they steal black pepper ('foreign pepper') from India, then little dry red chiles from Portuguese traders, and now fleshy green ones from Mexico. What's next? Scotch Bonnet Jerk Jook?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: paulj

                                I would eat it
                                ETA - Also in the Caribbean there are large pockets of Asian communities and there is mixing of food cultures. One longstanding restaurant in Queens/Long Island which serves Jamaican Chinese food and has been popular since before I came to America.

                              2. I see jalapenos in banh mi in Calgary all the time.

                                1. All the local Chinese restaurants in my area that offer "salt and pepper" fish, pork chops etc. incorporate jalapenos. And so do the local banh mi shops, so it's in Vietnamese food also. Bacon and jalapeno banh mi - mmmmmmmmm.

                                  And why not? A yummy addition to lots of foods.

                                  1. Hey, when we moved Texas from the Northeast, we were amazed that you needed to tell the local Chinese restaurants whether you wanted jalapenos in your black bean sauce. I am not suspicious of this at all. Rather, it is simply proof that cuisines use local ingredients which are familiar to the cooks. They are fresh and readily available, hence adaptation. As for living in Western New York and your opinion that this is not a likely place to find Mexican and Latin American ingredients, think again. Hispanics are the fastest growing population segment in this country, citizens and immigrants alike. Do you have a local McDonald's that sells breakfast burritos? Their influence has been felt for a long time.

                                    Fresh and pickled jalapenos are widely available nearly everywhere. They are not as hot as the little dried chili peppers you might find in some Chinese food, and they are edible. You won't find yourself choking on a hot, dry piece of pepper. You can actually eat them.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: RGC1982

                                      RG..thanks for your reply/input.
                                      Actually my comment was more about jalapenos (ie mexican ingredients) incorporated into a chinese dish made by chinese cooks.
                                      My surprise was not that western New York was a strange place to find any mexican/hispanic influence. Selling breakfast burritos is no big deal to me or of any unique surprise interest (they have been around for quite some time).
                                      Even though hispanic influence is rising (I knew this) I had never seen it incorporated into chinese cooking. That was the issue for me .Thanks for all the responses. Very interesting to read about all the regional variances on this topic. Cool to see responses from all over North America.

                                    2. Well, out here in California we get plenty of jalapenos along with plenty of other chilies in Asian dishes. I suppose jalapenos were a likely substitute for whatever hot - but not bell - pepper they would've used in China in other dishes that are actually Chinese in origin. Lots of spicy Szechuan dishes (in case anyone on the thread hasn't had wide exposure to them).

                                      1. Orange beef (陈皮牛肉) is completely real chinese.... I have never seen it with broccoli though, that seems like a cheap way to stretch the dish.

                                        1. Chile peppers are fairly recent introductions to Chinese and other Asian cuisines. We're talking about traditions that goes back many centuries. And all members of the capsicum family - dried red peppers, bell peppers, Thai bird chiles, etc. - came from the Americas. So they're relative newcomers.

                                          That said, I've noticed a number of jalapeno applications in Asian places since this thread started. Slices of jalapeno garnishing dim sum dishes (chicken feet in black bean sauce and beef tripe with ginger and carrots), chunks of jalapeno in salt-and-pepper squid, pickled jalapenos with garlic, and jalapenos on the sa lach dia in a Vietnamese place. And that's just this week.

                                          I have no idea how these peppers are regarded in Asia. But given that they are the most readily available hot pepper in most of the US, and given that they have a heat level that's tolerable to most American diners, it's no surprise that they're incorporated into many dishes here.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                            I've never seen them in China or Taiwan. They may be imported for chichi Japanese food stores, I was amazed by the breadth of goods available there. But I doubt commonly used.

                                            1. re: buttertart

                                              No, Jalapenos aren't used in East Asia, but in the US they are just a good cheap sub for whatever chile is used back home by communities that use fresh green chiles in their cooking.

                                            2. re: alanbarnes

                                              Interesting. (Papaya was another New World export that caught on in S.E. Asia.)

                                              I ran across this site with some chile history but it doesn't go into jalapenos. It says in part:
                                              "Chile peppers are native to South and Central America. They were introduced to South Asia in the 1500s and have come to dominate the world spice trade. Few could have imagined the impact of Columbus' discovery of a spice so pungent that it rivaled the better known black pepper native to South Asia. India is now the largest producer of chillies in the world."

                                              And this page has a nice little rundown of some of the more popular peppers used in China.

                                              1. re: Cinnamon

                                                DeWitt's Chile Pepper Encyclopedia has a couple of pages on China. A few salient points:

                                                Sichuan and Hunan depend mostly on chile pastes and oils.

                                                Fresh peppers are more common in Hunan than Sichuan (the use of small, whole dried chiles is typical of Sichuan)

                                                Western (and largely Muslim) Xinjiang uses 'jalapeno-type' chiles in various lamb dishes.

                                                (I recently had Xinjiang style cumin lamb - the cumin gave it an Indian aroma. It was hot, though I did not notice any diced chiles (or whole ones either).)

                                                Note that most chile cultivars around the world are of the 'C annuum' species. This includes all the chinese types, and many in Mexico (including Jalapeno). So at the species level, the difference between chiles common in China, and Jalapeno, is not great.

                                                Habanero is 'C chinense' a species that has nothing to do with China. Other species, such as 'C frutescens', 'C pubesences', 'C baccatum' are little known outside of limited areas of Central and South America.

                                            3. The use of Jalapeno rings (slices) in a cooked dish is not particularly Mexican. At least I can't think of Mexican dishes there that is typical. They may be part of the garnish, or cooked into the sauce.

                                              I have my doubts about Chinese restaurant owners making a adaptation to attract undocumented workers. My guess is that they are more likely to seek out foods that remind them of home; not branching out to Chinese. That's not to say that Mexicans (or other Latinos) don't eat Chinese. I've eaten at a Chinese restaurant in Mexico City, and know that there is a old fusion of Chinese and Peruvian cooking. Have you noticed many Hispanics at these Chinese places?

                                              I also doubt that Mexican cooks have been tweaking with the Chinese recipes (behind the owner's back, so to speak). Tony Bourdain, who speaks highly of the Latino cooks in New York City, does not give the impression that they feel a need to tweak recipes to suit their own tastes.

                                              Is it possible that the restaurant owners had gotten complaints about inedible dried whole chiles, and decided to substitute something equally hot and available?

                                              1. I had two dishes at one of the most chowhound-beloved Chinese restaurants in Boston's Chinatown last Sunday, and both had sliced jalapeños in them. Dry-fried spicy squid, and clams in black bean sauce.

                                                When I was in Taiwan I recall being served dishes that included chilies I thought were essentially identical to serranos in both appearance and heat level. I think the chefs just use the closest substitute they can get locally.

                                                1. As other Asian cuisines have been mentioned, jalapeno slices on yellowtail sashimi is amazing (did Morimoto invent this combination?)