HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Thought experiment - What is chow worthy classic "Chinese American" food?

I don't mean the places in Chinatown with special menus on the wall. I mean the stuff I grew up with in the 70s til today from places with names like Panda Garden, Wok n Roll, Lotus blossom etc...
I live now in a major metro area. Places do exist with borderline white tablecloth service that claim to have this food. But the food isn't that much better then the take out joints. When I start thinking of what the menu would look like, I wonder if the cuisine is not amenable to things like heritage chickens or grass fed beef, or locally sourced produce. I assume these places do exist somewhere. But when looking online I sometimes find restaurants that start going this way but end up adding "cheffy" touches and flourishes, like soy ginger beurre blanc halibut or the Momofuku inspired steamed bun (mantou bread) craze with exotic fillings . Or the need to add sushi or Thai inspired dishes to the menu. So, can this place exist? Does the desire to use well sourced artisinal products cause a drift into a new type of menu to justify price points? Is this a cuisine that cannot be chow'ed up since it came from an artificial birthplace?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. We just had a meal the other night at Trader Vic's (don't ask why) and truly enjoyed their cha shu (char siu). Not overly sweet or sticky, with a nice wood-smokiness to it. Hadn't walked into a Trader Vic's since the early 80s and was surprised to see a huge wood-fired oven of sorts, and that's where the the cha shu was prepared. I don't think there was anything truly special about the preparation other than a little restrain on the sweet/sticky and the use of a wood-fired oven. Does this qualify?

    1 Reply
    1. re: bulavinaka

      I haven't been back there since the original restaurant closed...perhaps out of defiance and sadness.
      I love the char siu. It just seems like nobody can do it the same as Trader Vic's.

      Your post reminds me it's time to get back and give the "Indonesian Lamb Roast" another chance. I think they've called it something different now but it's a dish that ranks up there with my top 10 all time favorites.

    2. I would have thought that any good rendition of General Tso's Chicken (and spelling variants thereof) would qualify, as GTC is an archetypical Chinese-American invention.

      16 Replies
      1. re: huiray

        General Tso's Chicken made with Jidori Chicken, perhaps?

        1. re: ipsedixit

          Would it be significantly different to qualify as something else besides "Chinese-American" cuisine?

          How about with French Bresse chicken?

            1. re: ipsedixit

              What I mean is that GTC is pretty much GTC, whatever the chicken may be, because of how the dish is cooked; or that the quality of the chicken is probably marginal. It's still GTC, and so long as the dish is properly cooked it qualifies as a "Chow-worthy" dish so long as one is cognizant it *is* a Chinese-American dish and so long as it is excellently done.

              1. re: huiray


                And I'm not so sure why "Chinese-American" food -- as is -- can't be chow worthy.

                The OP seems to suggest chow worthy Chinese-American food needs premium ingredients (i.e., "When I start thinking of what the menu would look like, I wonder if the cuisine is not amenable to things like heritage chickens or grass fed beef, or locally sourced produce.").

                I'm not so sure that's a valid premise.

                I, for one, think that Panda Express is -- on a certain level -- quite chow worthy.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Quite so.

                  C-A cuisine in its infancy probably *was* a horrible concoction, but as it has matured and acquired its own status it may not need to be done with premium ingredients to earn CH points. In its (gathering) maturity it may simply need to be "well-done" to be Chow-worthy.

                  Then - there is that whole thing about "CHOW MEIN" -heh. Double "heh", for that matter. It still is "Chow-worthy", even if one's notion of what "chow mein" may be may be subject to interpretation;, because the idea exercises one in a Chow-worthy sense. :-)

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I think premium ingredient places seem hard to find, though that would not be the end all be all for me. I just was wondering if we have essentially reached the heights of what this "cuisine" can be. It has always been my default comfort food. However as I reach my later years and need to be more careful how I spend my calories I just wish I could find a place to satisfy my cravings with minimal regret (I suppose this is a larger then what I eat issue).

                    1. re: coolaugustmoon

                      I agree with everything you're saying.

                      I read, several years ago on Chowhound from a poster, that the old, homestyle, Chinese American comfort food is 'outdated and unsophisticated'...
                      For those of us who remember the egg foo young with pork, chicken or shrimp encased in that dark brown gravy....it's now an old, fond memory.
                      A few years ago we asked a restaurant, that serves "Cantonese" cuisine if they could, please, make us this dish (it was nowhere on the menu) and they looked at us like we were dinosaurs...they tried and what we ended up with was a fried omelet looking dish,,,mostly bean sprouts in a sauce that resembled watered down cornstarch.
                      There was, years ago (decades actually), a restaurant we'd go to twice a week for the best dim sum I've ever tasted and they also served what I long for...the egg foo young with the darkest richest sauce and all the others...
                      Pork fried rice, almond chicken etc. They'd been in business since the first generation came to this country. Eventually, after 50 years in business, the older generation died, leaving it to their children. The children had no desire to keep it going and so they closed it....the recipes died along with the restaurant.
                      We have, ever since, been looking for that type of great food with no success.

                      1. re: latindancer

                        I assume this happens fairly often. The best restaurant of this sort during my childhood was called Tze's. I went to elementary school with Joel Tze (Tse? its been awhile). I have since moved on, however if facebook is any indication Joel did not take over the business and it is long closed.

                        1. re: latindancer

                          Wow, quite some memories. Still, the food you loved wasn't "Chinese food", of course, and restaurants have moved on to get closer to what actual Chinese food should be like. :-) It is also interesting you found the dim sum served at that place "the best dim sum I've ever tasted". Could you say what it was about it that you found so memorable and to your liking? I assume you have tasted dim sum in other places and perhaps also in Chinese restaurants in SF or NYC or the SGV (the latter especially since you appear, from your posting history, to be in the LA area).

                          1. re: huiray

                            Yes, they are quite some memories....
                            Yes, I've eaten in SF and NYC and the SGV...

                            Was the dim sum the best I've ever tasted? Yes. Technically 'the best'? Maybe/maybe not. The dim sum I remember was delicate and steamed beautifully and above all? The family I was sharing these delicacies was worthy of my very very fond memories of eating this wonderful food with. The Chinese take away containers loaded with pork fried rice and egg foo young, eaten with chopsticks @ 2in the morning after a long night of dancing....these are what memories are made of.
                            Is the bbq I ate in the desert with some of the most interesting, worldly friends/colleagues a few years ago, the 'best' there is? No but it was memorable and delicious and definitely something I'll never forget....just like that dim sum I miss.
                            'Chow worthy' food is, what I consider, food that tastes wonderful to me and is worthy of a desire to come back to it again.
                            You appear to be an expert on what the 'right Chinese food' is. I'm not. I only know I don't enjoy the restaurants that have 'moved on to get closer to what actual Chinese food should be like"...as much as what I remember.

                            1. re: latindancer

                              Thanks for the explanations and the great stories. Hope you can find the restaurant to recreate the food and your memories for you one day.

                              1. re: latindancer

                                Thank you latindancer. It's nice to find someone else here who feels that a great meal can be about more than just the food. Most of my memorable meals involve a memorable day or evening where good food was a part. of the memory.

                                But I do favor the C-A restaurants that cook with higher quality vegetables and meats and the ones near us have not gone over to any neo-oriental or fusion.

                                1. re: collardman

                                  Of course great meals are often intimately entwined with the memory of it. Such is one aspect of meals that one cherishes for ever, let alone CH-worthy meals as the present thread asks for. One notes, however, that dwelling on past memories and wishing for the recreation of events in the past are not entirely fruitful and that nostalgic reminiscences are subject to the law of diminishing returns - perhaps with regards to this thread, too. Suppose one looked back on such meals with a wistful backglance but recognized that one can never "return home" or return to that impossibly perfect past moment that one longs for in one's memory?

                                    1. re: huiray

                                      In reality, my memory of the taste of the foods that caused me to start this thread escapes me. Is was an innocent idyllic time in my life. The classic Chinese American food was one of my family's frequent dinners. While I know that when I order it now as an adult it will not be the same experience, I would like to find someone doing this food at a high level. I wonder if some of the original non Cantonese places did not have to face the $4 lunch special places as competition causing a "race to the bottom" price and quality wise.

              2. Another one: egg rolls/spring rolls with peanut butter... http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8034... and surrounding posts...

                8 Replies
                1. re: huiray

                  I've been living in San Francisco for more than half my life, and find myself perpetually craving an east coast thing called "pressed duck" which was boneless duck, steamed I think then coated in corn starch and fried. I've had some versions here but the were mostly some starchy paste with a little bit of duck attached. I'd commit a misdemeanor for the real thing today.

                  1. re: little big al

                    Yes....little big al.....I too have many recollections of that duck dish.Had it many times when still living in New York.I believe it was called "Wor Shu Op"? (sp?)and came w/ a fantastic peanutty dipping sauce on the side.Can't seem to find it here in the Seattle area,which of course makes me crave it even more!!

                    1. re: little big al

                      Irene Kuo's "The Key to Chinese Cooking" gives a recipe for this dish.

                      1. re: Michael Rodriguez

                        Thank you so much MR for that info.I have just placed a hold on that book at my local library.

                      2. re: little big al

                        Wor Shu Opp is actually very easy to make.. The whole duck is slow roasted in the oven. In a commercial Chinese kitchen, the have a dedicated roasting box where they hang the meat and poultry over a pan of water, but you could easily do the same in your home oven on the rack over a pan, or with a rack in a roasting pan. There are probably recipes for slow braised duck as well that could be used as well.

                        Once the duck is fully cooked and cooled down....you simply remove the carcass. Depending on your planned presentation, you can remove the whole carcass, or split the duck in half and remove the meat.. Dust in cornstarch, egg, and cornstarch again.....then deep fry.. The restaurants in Northern New Jersey/New York City used to take the Egg Foo Young Gravy, add sliced mushrooms, soy sauce and oyster sauce to create a brown mushroom gravy...a darker version of the the gravy used for the classic Boneless Chicken with Mushrooms dish.

                        1. re: little big al

                          Back in the day: Almond Pressed Duck was on the Kam's menu in SF and also at a restaurant in Oakland's Chinatown - both are now closed. Please do post if you find it on a menu in the Bay Area. I will drive miles for it.

                          1. re: Cynsa

                            Kam's was a swell place, wasn't it!

                            1. re: Cynsa

                              It's on the menu at Yet Wah in San Rafael -- let me know how it is!

                        2. I would like to revisit the nomination of General Tso's chicken by huiray. I had the pleasure in Milwaukee to have this made to order. Fresh chilis, crispy chicken, and lightly but equally sauced. It hadn't been sitting in a steam tray on the buffet for the last 20 minutes, nor flash fried while semi-frozen and using a generic red sauce with a shot of the cheapest hot sauce.

                          Made to order normally trumps mass produced. The cognescenti will always order a bar's signature drink made to order, rather than take it from the five gallon bucket under the bar. This is especially true in the caribbean. They want to demonstrate their expertise and hopefully get a better tip. And what comes from the well can be a lot better than what goes into the 5 gallon bucket.

                          My thought is, if your entree comes in 15 minutes or less, you are being served from the buffet in the kitchen. Quality chow mein, egg rolls, or anything else can be had, but a real hound should not be dissuaded by false scents. Quality over quantity can be had, but some effort must be made.

                          And the buffet in the kitchen can be found in any type of restaurant.

                          17 Replies
                          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                            I never recalled any Chinese restaurant in the 60s, 70s and early 80s ever having General Tso's on the menu.....

                            1. re: fourunder

                              You are correct about the 60s and up until about 78. Szechuan style foods and spices didn't arrive in the USA until the late 70s with changes in immigration policy. Until then we basically had 'Cantonese' style Chinese-American food.
                              Soon afer 78 we had Szechuan (spicy) followed by Hunan (Black bean).

                              1. re: bagelman01

                                I was fortunate to grow up in an oddly cosmopolitan college town in Western Mass. Not all that far from NYC or Boston, plus a (for the late 70's) large Asian population centered around the 5 colleges nearby. I remember having General tsos by 78 or 79 at the latest. I could be remembering wrong, but we moved twice in a 4 year period so I can usually line up events pretty close to the actual year.

                                1. re: coolaugustmoon

                                  your memory confirms the timetable in my post.
                                  There is a history of this in Arthur Schwartz' "New York City Food" 2005. I am not home where my copy is.

                                    1. re: huiray

                                      wiki article has varying claims between 72 and 77, with first emntion in NY Tomes in 77.

                                      Most CHers would not have encountered this around the country before the late 70s
                                      With most 'new' things NY is 'cutting edge' <VBG>

                                      1. re: bagelman01

                                        You, and others here, may be amused by this subthread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7948... and the posts descending from it.

                                        As has been said elsewhere too, GTC is one of those dishes that have become ICONIC and has been exported back to places [like China][and related regions] from which the dish might have been thought to have come from. :-)

                                2. re: bagelman01

                                  The first Szechuan restaurant in Rhode Island was China Inn in Pawtucket, which opened in 1976 and is still around. Having read my Calvin Trillin, I was very excited about this and dragged my family there as soon as it opened. The whole idea of spicy chinese food was completely novel in our area. We had grown up with "Boston-style" chinese food, AKA polynesian -- pupu platter, subgum chow mein, shrimp in lobster sauce, etc.

                                  1. re: bagelman01

                                    David Keh opened Szechuan Taste on Chatham Square in NYC in 1969 and later that year established Sichuan on 95th and Broadway.

                                    The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was an overhaul of immigration practices that had been in place since 1924 and the result was a shift to a quota system for countries in East Asia. Family re-unification immigration was unlimited. The real sea change occurred in 1972 after Nixon's visit to China when Americans were enthralled by lists of dishes presented at Chinese banquets. Soon after chefs from Taiwan and Hongkong arrived to kick up a storm.

                                    According to Fuchsia Dunlop General Tso's Chicken was invented in NYC in 1971 by Peng Chang-Kuei a Hunanese chef who fled to Taiwan with the Nationalists in 1949 and later moved to NYC.

                                    More background here:

                                3. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                  sorry, but you may want to rethink that 15 min nonsense. one good cook on a 2 burner wok station can crank out a ridiculous quantity of food in 15 mins... all made to order. the chinese-american restaurant i worked in was huge and did a ton of take-out biz. everything was made to order w the exception of chow mein, and there was no "buffet in the kitchen."

                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    I agree. The only reason why chow mein is made in bulk and held, is most prefer to melded concoction to soften the harder crispy noodles that accompany it. Outside of that, only rice, fried rice and soups are held in the bain marie. Just about any take-out Chinese business in New Jersey and New York has an open view kitchen to verify this.

                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                      I agree completely. The key to this speed is spending house to prep the raw ingredients beforehand. The staff will spend hours cleaning the veggies, slicing them, slicing the meat, etc.

                                      Once you get an order for a stir-fried dish, you fire up the wok, throw the ingredients in, and it'll be done in less than five minutes. The wok burners often are rated at 100,000 BTUs or higher. The hottest home ranges usually max out at around 10,000 BTU. Many burners at non-Chinese restaurants are in the 30,000 BTU range.

                                      Braised dishes, soups, and other dishes take longer.

                                      1. re: raytamsgv

                                        For the home, Blue Star ranges can produce up to 22,000 BTU's now. Even older model Viking or Garland ranges are at around 12,000 BTU or higher.

                                      2. re: soupkitten

                                        15 minutes?

                                        You'd be fired in my restaurant ... for lack of speed and dexterity with the wok.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          exactly right. it wasn't uncommon for the main wok cook/chef to do 100 orders/hour... really complex preps might take 2 mins, but he had 2 woks going. he didn't tear off individual tickets from his printer, just let it print out in a stream and snake into a pool of paper on the other side of the pass--so it was possible for the mgrs to just pick up the paper and scroll to 1 hr ago or 30 mins and see instantly how busy the whole establishment was, and just how good that dude was. i remember him making, like 2 mistakes, total, ever.

                                      3. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                        "My thought is, if your entree ones in 15 minutes or less, you are being served from the buffet in the kitchen"

                                        Nonsense....you obviously have never worked/owned/managed a very high volume restaurant...
                                        The kitchen can be a very busy place with a ton of workers doing their job....made to order without a 'buffet' in sight.

                                        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                          As soupkitten and fourunder have noted - there is no such a thing as a buffet inside the Chinese kitchen. Yes, certain items are made ahead of time and placed in a steam table such as hot and sour soup, egg drop soup, red gloppy sweet and sour sauce, egg foo young gravy etc.

                                        2. To me, "chow worthy" means whether I like eating it. The kind of mundane Chinese/American food you are talking about it total comfort food in my world. I love thick meaty eggs rolls, pork fried rice or shrimp egg foo young. It is the food of my childhood (nearly every Sunday night). Nothing fancy, but the flavors and textures resonate for me inside a pleasant emotional past.

                                          By the same token, meat loaf and pot roast, the beloved comfort food of so many of you leaves me cold because it wasn't served much in the house I grew up in. Go figure.

                                          1. Being careful to maintain 'PC' my opinion, based on doing business selling thousands of still living 'rock cod' to a number of Chinese restaurants is the owners are 100% focused on the bottom line. That means the dishes served are made with fresh ingredients which ironically for some to understand is the cheapest way to buy food. Their Chinese customers especially would stand for nothing less. Literally every scrap of food is used, sometimes more than once IUGWIM. The owners know what will sell and what their customers expect every time they go to any Chinese restaurant. That's why most family owned restaurants are VERY reluctant to change anything on the menu. And that's why you can go to any Chinese restaurant in even the smallest town and get the same tasting 'almond chicken' you will get in Dallas. Why fix what's not been broken for decades? Sure there are 'fancy' Chinese restaurants which specialize in 'fancy' dishes but they are few and far between.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: Puffin3

                                              Just curious, what exactly are you selling ("rock cod") to the restaurants? Scientific name of the fish, if possible, please?

                                              1. re: huiray

                                                I'm no longer selling 'rock cod' to restaurants because I sold my boat years ago. Back 'in the day' I was selling live rock cod to a number of Chinese restaurants in Victoria. Sometimes I'd sell three hundred a day. The common names were quill backs and coppers. Every rock cod I caught was using live herrings on a down riggers.

                                                1. re: huiray

                                                  Although the menu might read 'rock cod', some kitchens are substituting swai for cost cuts. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr...

                                                2. re: Puffin3

                                                  Just curious as to how you use every scrap of food more than once. Is there a 5-second rule or do they scrape off leftovers back into the fried rice pot? Or...... do I not want to know?

                                                3. The essential dishes in Midwestern Chinese American food - extending into the South - were Almond Boneless Chicken, Steak Kew and Lemon Chicken. All could be upgraded. The first is breaded, lightly fried chicken breast in a brown sauce with almonds. The second is sliced beef in a dark sauce. The last is breaded chicken breast with a lemony sauce and sliced lemons. You can see these can be made well.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: lergnom

                                                    what I remember is meeting "lobster sauce" which puzzled me greatly: it was mostly ground pork and I still don't understand how it got it's name. But when made right I loved it!

                                                    1. re: teezeetoo

                                                      what I remember is meeting "lobster sauce" which puzzled me greatly: i

                                                      I can't say if this is the true history of lobster sauce...but the sauce you refer to is the classic sauce used for cut up Maine Lobster.....with the addition of egg and scallions as well as ground pork. I feel sorry for those who order it today who have never experienced the ground pork version...... For those who did not care for lobster or if it was unavailable, then shrimp was requested and substituted.....thus, Shrimp in Lobster Sauce...

                                                      Here a thread where Chinese American dishes are discussed.


                                                      1. re: fourunder

                                                        thank you i'm looking forward to exploring the origins of this. the peculiar snobbiness that puts red sauce italian and chinese american food into the dustbin while glorifying "fusion" is, in itself, an interesting phenomenon. some of the creators and purveyors made terrible glop but many were simply inventing things using what they had and the memory of tastes from home and it seems to me it was, in fact, "fusion" food.

                                                    2. re: lergnom

                                                      ah, comfort foods, like Tomato Beef Chow Mein?

                                                    3. I think of most of what you're talking about as 'American Chinese' food, rather than 'Chinese American' food (as I think the audience for it is more Americans than Chinese-Americans).

                                                      19 Replies
                                                      1. re: will47

                                                        Correct. We had all agreed with that point before this thread started. The question is, what could be done in that cuisine to elevate it to the kind of restaurant loved on chowhound boards?

                                                        1. re: coolaugustmoon

                                                          We had? You used the term "Chinese American food" in the title and body of your post, rather than "American Chinese".

                                                          1. re: will47

                                                            Ok, dumb question.

                                                            Is there a qualitative difference between "Chinese American" and "American Chinese" foods?

                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                              I don't think there's any "official" definition. But I would personally consider Chinese American food to be food that's eaten or preferred by Chinese-Americans, or maybe even "fusion" (to use a dirty word) food in the style that the OP refers to.

                                                              While there are probably Chinese-Americans who like Americanized Chinese food, I would say that most Chinese-Americans I know do not prefer it for the most part.

                                                              When people refer to Chinese food with influences from another country, it's usually referred to as XX Chinese rather than the other way around -- Korean Chinese food, Australian Chinese food, Indian Chinese food, and so forth. Honestly, I'm not trying to be overly pedantic, but I do think that the two expressions kind of imply different things.

                                                              1. re: will47

                                                                Can you give me an example of each?

                                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                  Chinese American Food (Chinese take on American food)
                                                                  - The "french style fillet mignon" they serve at Tasty Garden
                                                                  - Corn chowder at many HK-style cafes
                                                                  - Pasta at many HK-style cafes
                                                                  - Egg Waffle

                                                                  American Chinese Food (Americanized Chinese Food)
                                                                  - kung pao chicken
                                                                  - sweet and sour pork
                                                                  - gigantic burrito-style eggrolls
                                                                  - egg foo young

                                                                  1. re: PandanExpress

                                                                    @PandanExpress: Interesting take on "Chinese-American" food. :-) Reminds me of the Russky-derived borscht you get in Hong Kong, or the variation you get in (the former) Manchuria... ;-)

                                                                    Regarding your "American-Chinese" food: some caveats here might be warranted.
                                                                    • Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁) is an actual, genuine, classic dish with some history native to Sichuan. It's just that the "real thing" uses Sichuan peppercorns (花椒) and no green bell peppers etc which are found in the Westernized/USAmericanized version which also does *not* have Sichuan peppercorns in it.
                                                                    • Sweet and Sour Pork is also a classic, real, genuine dish found in Cantonese cuisine. Again, the "authentic" dish is prepared differently from the Westernized/USAmericanized version.
                                                                    • Egg Foo Young is not specifically "Americanized" Chinese food. It is a dish of long-standing found in British/British-colonial/ Chinese-Indonesian cuisines, with very similar dishes in related E/SE Asian cuisines.

                                                                    1. re: huiray

                                                                      Kungpao or Gongbao Chicken (宮保雞丁- Gōng bǎo jī dīng) is thought to have been invented by the famous Qing Dynasty governor of Sichuan, Ding Baozhen – 丁寳楨 (1820-1860).

                                                                      Yes, Cantonese and other Chinese regional cuisines feature Sweet and Sour dishes, but they lean more toward the vinegary side and are not plates of cloyingly sweetened deep-fried red-gloppy messes!

                                                                      Boneless Sweet and Sour Pork was invented by the Cantonese for foreigners!
                                                                      The first appearance in the English language of Sweet and Sour Pork occurred in the 1950’s. The dish, Gulurou (咕嚕肉 - Gū lū ròu) was invented in Guangzhou in the 19th century to suit western appetites. Seems foreigners did not like the bones in the already existing Cantonese dish but the sauce was a sure winner. The locals then invented a new dish and dubbed it Gulurou or “complaining meat” - in it’s more polite rendering!

                                                                      1. re: scoopG

                                                                        "Yes, Cantonese and other Chinese regional cuisines feature Sweet and Sour dishes, but they lean more toward the vinegary side and are not plates of cloyingly sweetened deep-fried red-gloppy messes!"
                                                                        Yes, of course - which is why I said the preparation of the "real thing" differed from the "Americanized" version. :-) Ditto the use of pork ribs versus boneless pork pieces/nuggets. ;-)


                                                                        p.s. to others who may have noticed and wondered:
                                                                        The two Chinese phrases "宫保鸡丁" (in my post) and "宮保雞丁" (in scoopG's post) are the same thing. The character "鸡" is the shortened form of "鷄" with this character and "雞" being alternate forms for "chicken" in practice [with minor differences, if any, in meaning between the two] and with both being pronounced the same way.

                                                                        1. re: Cynsa

                                                                          I'm unfamiliar with "Gourmet Chicken". Is there a Chinese name for it?

                                                                          From what I can find, however, it seems to be a variation of C-A style chicken with a savory sauce with characteristics shared with Kung Pao, General Tso's sauces &etc, minus chili-heat...here's one blogger's attempt to recreate a brand of "Gourmet" sauce apparently used to stir-fry dishes called "Gourmet Chicken": http://jensrecipebox.blogspot.com/200...

                                                                          Perhaps other who more regularly patronize Chinese-American restaurants might chime in here.

                                                                          There's also a place called "Gourmet Chicken" in Chicago but somehow I think it may not be what you are asking about. :-)

                                                                      2. re: PandanExpress

                                                                        Your examples of "Chinese American" food is really just Hong Kong style fast food.

                                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                          > Your examples of "Chinese American" food is really just Hong Kong style fast food.

                                                                          That was my point. It's a Chinese take on an American idea. It's not like the Chinese haven't had fast food for centuries (bao zi, anyone?), but this Chinese take on western dishes is what makes Chinese American food.

                                                                          As for my examples of American Chinese food like kung pao chicken and sweet and sour pork -- yes I realize they do have roots in traditional Chinese food, but are you guys really saying that the gloopy, overly sweet version you get at places like Panda Express is traditional?

                                                                          1. re: PandanExpress

                                                                            Sorry, I just don't see it PandanExpress.

                                                                            Seems to me you are trying to make a distinction without a difference.

                                                                    2. re: will47


                                                                      Yes, please give examples of the two types of cuisines you refer to, if you could – and, if possible, the specific ingredients in each and the specific way each dish was cooked.

                                                                      Still, in my view I think the two terms in general tend to be used interchangeably and that is true on CH as well.

                                                                      I myself have used the term “Chinese-American” food to refer to “Americanized food that is Chinese in origin” and have tried to use it consistently over alternating “American-Chinese” and “Chinese-American”. I do agree that a useful distinction could be made between the two*** but for the purposes of this thread at the least I think the OP intended that the two terms be equivalent, and in fact he has in effect indicated that it is so in his response to you.

                                                                      Even with your implied distinction between the two terms, I’m not so sure I would say that Chinese-American folks prefer Chinese-American food or cuisine. I think they prefer *Chinese* food or cuisine when they eat food of that style. The terms that get bandied around in this sense are “authentic Chinese” or “traditional Chinese” food.

                                                                      The Wikipedia article on the style of food we are talking about here is titled as “American-Chinese Cuisine”; but if you search for either term (“American-Chinese” or “Chinese-American”) you would get very similar sets of answers.

                                                                      I suspect that there would be some confusion if you were to draw a distinction between the two with your intended meanings on this forum (and maybe elsewhere) unless you defined what you meant everytime?

                                                                      ***The terms “Italian-American” and “American-Italian” is also used interchangeably on this forum [just search for them and view the results] as well as elsewhere, although at least one poster draws a distinction between the two: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7183... Even so, what this poster means is different from Italian-Italian, if you will. In this sense what you think of as food that folks of Chinese extraction in the USA prefer to eat (your "Chinese-American" food) I would think of as “Chinese-Chinese” food, or simply “Chinese” food.

                                                                      p.s. Would you consider "Spaghetti and Meatballs" an Italian-American or an American-Italian dish? :-) How about New York Pizza? Or Chicago Deep-dish Pizza?

                                                                      1. re: huiray

                                                                        I too use the words in an interchanging way. For me both denote the Americanized version of Chinese food or the Americanized version of dishes that in origin, once might really have been Chinese. Chop Suey, Moo Goo Gai Pan, Chicken Almond Ding come to mind....

                                                                        1. re: huiray

                                                                          The distinction is subtle. I admit with Italian American food it's a bit hard to describe. I think the difference has to do with the intended audience, or the degree of pandering involved vs. just a blending of cultures. Maybe some developments in Italian-American cuisine came from attempts to cater to an American palate back in the 1800s, but I definitely know more Italian-Americans who will eat a plate of spaghetti and meatballs than I know Chinese-Americans who will eat a plate of General Zuo's Chicken or beef with (Western) broccoli. In other words, Italian-Americans seem to embrace Italian-American cuisine, where, as huiray says, American Chinese cuisine is, well... mostly for (non-Chinese) Americans.

                                                                          Maybe the timing of different waves of immigration, and the fact that Italian food has been part of American culture (and home cooking) for so long has something to do with it too. Most Italian-Americans I knew going up in New Jersey were probably at least 4th generation, and so maybe more assimilated into American culture. But even some Italian (from Italy) folks I've met will eat some pretty dubious stuff (my wife's Italian, like from Italy, co-worker is fond of bringing spaghetti sandwiches to work).

                                                                          Also, while lack of necessary ingredients definitely played a role in the development of American Chinese food, these days, that's obviously much less of a concern. So, new immigrants are maybe a little better able to preserve their culture when so many more of the ingredients from home are available here.

                                                                          That said, I'd personally consider spaghetti and meatballs served at The Olive Garden to be American Italian food, while spaghetti and meatballs served at Uncle Vinny's in Nutley, NJ might be considered Italian American food.

                                                                          I don't know if there's such a thing as Chinese American food, so while examples of American Chinese food are easy to come by, I don't think there's one thing you could point to as an example of Chinese American or Chinese-American (with or without hyphen) food. So, I was trying to say I thought "American Chinese cuisine" implies something different from "Chinese American cuisine", and suggesting some things that the latter could refer to, not to suggest that such a thing exists.

                                                                          And yes, I was alluding to Chinese American food possibly referring (in part) to the type of food eaten by Chinese-Americans, and yes, for the most part, that tends to be, essentially, Chinese food, though this probably depends a lot on where they live, what generation they are, where their family is from, and so forth. I think as more and more ethnic Chinese continue to immigrate, and as the number of second, third, fourth, etc. generation immigrants reaches critical mass, I think maybe we will see more emerge in terms of cuisine created by *or* for Asian immigrants.

                                                                          I think you could also argue that food prepared by Chinese-American chefs with American ingredients and Chinese technique could be considered Chinese American food, but not necessarily that many / most Chinese-Americans like to eat this food.

                                                                          1. re: will47

                                                                            "Chinese American food possibly referring (in part) to the type of food eaten by Chinese-Americans"
                                                                            My youngest daughter is Chinese-American. Born in China, raised in America.

                                                                            The type of food she eats and other upper middle class Chinese-Americans we know (not just children, but Middle aged Yale Professors, doctors), etc. eat is little different than what the rest of our socio-economic groups eats in our community. They dine at the same restaurants and clubs and eat, Italian, French, Greek, Asian, Sushi, steak, Deli, Pizza and so forth.
                                                                            The kids eat fast food and other junk as well. If you ask what they eat at home it is mostly 'western' food and they dine out in the better Chinese restaurants in the area, such as Lao Che Shuan. Some will order off the Chinese menus that are not given to Americans or ask for certain dishes not on the menu.
                                                                            However, because China is such a huge country with so many styles of cooking, what they remember from home may not be available in restaurants, most of which are currently staffed with Funianese (sp?) Chinese immigrants.
                                                                            My daughter is from Guanzho (Canton) and is happiest with plainer (non-spicy) offerings such as Lo Mein and Wor Shu Opp but does not like the hot and spicy Szechuan dishes. My ENT Doctor is from Beijing and and likes Hunan style.
                                                                            The new bunch of post 1997 immigrants from Hong Kong like Honk Kong style food.

                                                                            When you write about Italian American food, you really have been writing about the Red Sauce cuisine. While that might be appealing to those of Napolitano, Roman and Sicilian descent, it isn't the cuisine of Milan or Bologna, which is much more Brown (meat sauce) with heavy German influence.

                                                                            You paint with too broad a brush when you speak of peoples and identify them by modern political (national) boundaries, when for hundreds or thousands of years they ate and had the culture of a particular region.

                                                                2. re: will47

                                                                  In the summer of 2008, I went on a cross-country road trip from Nevada to West Virginia and back.

                                                                  On the way back, one night I stayed in a hotel off I-70 in Greenfield, IN, and there was a Chinese buffet nearby, "Bamboo Garden Buffet".

                                                                  I had dinner there, and the food was VERY good. (From what I can find online, it has since taken a nosedive).

                                                                  The food wasn't any kind of authentic, though. I would have called it "Midwestern Chinese". They had a large variety of familiar dishes, fresh ingredients, and everything was well cooked and seasoned.

                                                                  However, while the people preparing food there might have been competent, I doubt any of them had ever eaten at an authentic Asian restaurant. I doubt any of the seasonings were more authenic than five spice, powdered ginger, and soy sauce.

                                                                  Nevertheless, it was one of the best buffet experiences, and one of the best "Chinese" food experiences, I've had in the past few years.

                                                                3. I am a fan of American style Chinese food. I appreciate this genre when the ingredients are high quality and dishes are well seasoned and well made. Gristly meat, soggy over battered meat, gloppy gooey sauce, sauces that taste of nothing but ketchup, excessively sweet sauces, soggy vegetables, excessive use of canned vegetables, tiny cheap shrimp, shrimp split in half to save money...so many things like this give Americanized Chinese dishes a bad reputation. But when dishes are made with care and attention is given to quality, classic American Chinese food is a wonderful cuisine in its own right. My favorite dishes from this genre are American-Chinese adaptations of kung pao chicken, moo shoo chicken, orange beef, and good old beef and broccoli.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: luckyfatima

                                                                    Would hounds my age or older (born during the Nixon white house) agree that the low end of the quality spectrum of American-Chinese food is much worse now. I don't remember the buffets or $4.99 specials being as pervasive back in the day. The high end may not have changed as much, but the inevitable race to the bottom cost wise has ruined 50% of this kind of food.

                                                                  2. There used to be a walk-up Chinese restaurant in Calgary in the Fifties/sixty on Center Street that served the good old fashioned 'Western Chinese food' full of, I'm sure,good old MSG. sigh. My parents used to take us kids there a few times a year. On time in the fifties we were a group of four hungry adults and six hungry kids. We sat around a huge 'lazy susan and the server kept setting plate after plate of delicious dishes on the 'lazy susan'. We must have sat there for hours. The other family were our parents guests so my farther paid the bill. On the way to the car he showed me the receipt saying something like "yes it cost a lot of money but it was after all a special occasion". The total bill was $21.00. sigh.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Puffin3

                                                                      In the 60s in New Haven, CT. My mother ordered Chinese Take out from Golden Inn (Cantonese Restaurant) every Thursday night for our supper.

                                                                      QT WonTon soup with seaweed and pork strips
                                                                      4 Egg Rolls
                                                                      Qt Roast Pork Egg Foo Yung
                                                                      Large order Spare Ribs
                                                                      Lobster Cantonese (QT or Large?)
                                                                      Cost $8.88

                                                                      Today that same order from a similar quality restaurant (not a take out joint) $57

                                                                      1. re: bagelman01

                                                                        Cheaper in "real" money, since $1 then was worth about $10 now.

                                                                    2. Fascinating topic. Please do read Jennifer 8 Lee's book...