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American-Chinese food is real Chinese food?

risaz May 7, 2012 09:14 AM



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  1. raytamsgv RE: risaz May 7, 2012 01:37 PM

    American-Chinese food is just another regional specialization of Chinese food. Many current regional Chinese dishes often have little in common with the dishes from other regions.

    1. A5 KOBE RE: risaz May 7, 2012 02:14 PM

      The author would have more merit had she actually been Chinese and not American.

      I think her big fault in this article is calling orange chicken authentic Chinese cuisine.

      1 Reply
      1. re: A5 KOBE
        paulj RE: A5 KOBE May 7, 2012 06:20 PM


        "It’s frustrating when you’ve undergone the exact same education and upbringing as the kid next door, only to travel to China and have people insist that you’re not American."

      2. s
        sunyiqingzi RE: risaz May 7, 2012 02:26 PM

        The answer is NO. Chinese food has so many branches and styles. American Chinese food is so superficial omg.

        1. chowser RE: risaz May 8, 2012 05:04 PM

          I'm enjoying the comments far more than the article; good, insightful, knowledgeable.

          Her conclusion doesn't follow at all:

          "Woo sums it up best: “It’s just another type of cuisine. Why deny the people their food?'”

          No one has ever said we need to stop serving American Chinese food, so she's concluded with a strawman argument. Yes, it's another type of cuisine; just not the cuisine she claims it is. She's really young, though, and hopefully will look back at some of the things she's written and realize how they've come off.

          1 Reply
          1. re: chowser
            huiray RE: chowser May 9, 2012 08:10 AM

            Totally agree with everything you said.

            The comments were very good, especially the one from 'XY'; and after that, the one from 'Maulinator'. I would go along with the idea that it is not Chinese food - it's Chinese-American or American-Chinese (take your pick; some CHers do make a distinction between the two terms). It *is* "authentic" to its particular milieu, which is C-A/A-C food; perhaps it can be said to be not "traditional" food.

            (Oh, where is thew - anyone know what's happened to him?)

          2. scoopG RE: risaz May 8, 2012 05:27 PM

            Wei is off base for several reasons. Wish she had boned up on her history before spouting off too.

            Chinese brought much with them in 1849 and later - three Chinese restaurants were open in San Francisco by the end of 1849. General Tso's Chicken was invented in New York City in the 20th century. Americans really "discovered" Chinese food after Nixon visited China - not right after WWII as immigration was still very limited.


            7 Replies
            1. re: scoopG
              paulj RE: scoopG May 8, 2012 06:22 PM

              What were some of the (many) traditional Chinese ingredients that were available to 1849 immigrants? What is you explanation for chop suey?

              'But it wasn't until after World War II in 1945 that mainstream Americans began eating and appreciating Chinese food in large numbers." - the 'right after' is your addition. There may have been an uptick in interest in Chinese food after Nixon, but that does not invalidate her statement. It sounds like you are nitpicking, maybe as an excuse to highlight your earlier essay (which is good).

              What phrases would you suggest to demonstrate an uptick in Chinese food interest after 1972 with Ngram?


              1. re: paulj
                scoopG RE: paulj May 9, 2012 06:41 AM

                What is your explanation for chop suey?
                I did not say they brought any traditional Chinese ingredients with them. (That's not to say they didn't bring at least some foodstuffs.) Of course conditions were different and they adapted. They brought ingenuity, practicality and creativity. They also brought their fishing gear (gill nets, trawl lines, small wood sampans and larger junks for offshore fishing) and opened at least 30 fishing camps along the California coast. Monterey became the place where they opened their first fish processing plant. They found a niche growing fresh produce for the miners and California’s growing cities. In the Salinas Valley they discovered the mustard plant growing like weeds - up to then considered a nuisance to the wheat farmers.

                Immigrant Chinese were more than just miners. They became cowboys, gunfighters, restauranteurs, hotel operators, merchants, carpenters, stonemasons, laborers, laundrymen, physicians etc. (In San Francisco in 1852, it was Chinese who built the Parrot Building on the corner of California and Montgomery Street with granite shipped from China.)

                Chop Suey (杂碎 or 雜碎) zá suì in Mandarin or shap sui in Cantonese literally means chopped cooked beef or lamb intestines which really came to mean “odds and ends.” As Andrew Coe notes in “Chop Suey” (Oxford University Press; New York, 2009) it referred to a hodgepodge stew of many ingredients – which became an American favorite. While it is thought that a Cantonese dish of stir fried organ meats and vegetables originated near Toishan, the “American versions of the dish were anything but fixed.”

                Jennifer 8. Lee in “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food ” (Grand Central Publishing; New York, 2009) calls Chop Suey the “ biggest culinary joke played by one culture on another.”

                'But it wasn't until after World War II in 1945 that mainstream Americans began eating and appreciating Chinese food in large numbers." - the 'right after' is your addition. There may have been an uptick in interest in Chinese food after Nixon, but that does not invalidate her statement.
                Her assertions are invalid because they are not supported by the facts. Despite the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, discriminatory national origins provisions were still in place in our immigration policy: only 105 Chinese were allowed to immigrate every year! The repeal did allow Chinese to become naturalized citizens though. Much of the post WWII optimism was derailed though after 1949 when McCarthy and Hoover focused in “who lost China” and the perceived millions of Communists running amuck in America.

                It sounds like you are nitpicking, maybe as an excuse to highlight your earlier essay (which is good).
                Nitpicking is going after minor errors and flaws. There are more than enough holes in Wei’s ill informed writing. Facts are always neutral but the interpretation of them is not!

                What phrases would you suggest to demonstrate an uptick in Chinese food interest after 1972 with Ngram?

                Simple. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Quota systems in place since the 1920’s were abolished and helped launch a large wave of new immigrants from Asia. The Asian-American population went from 878,000 in 1960 to 12 million by 2000 and 17 million in the 2010 census.

              2. re: scoopG
                fourunder RE: scoopG May 8, 2012 10:23 PM

                Americans really "discovered" Chinese food after Nixon visited China - not right after WWII...

                I discovered it watching the Honeymooners.....


                1. re: fourunder
                  scoopG RE: fourunder May 9, 2012 07:55 AM

                  News headlines like "Hog Bites Man" are boring today. They don't engage readers enough. But "Man Bites Hog" features - now that will stir the pot!

                2. re: scoopG
                  chow_fun RE: scoopG May 11, 2012 10:05 AM

                  Maybe my view is different growing up in SF where there's a long established Chinatown, but I see Nixon's visit as generating interesting in the other Chinese cuisines besides Cantonese.

                  There was mainstream interest in Chinese food before Nixon's visit.
                  In fact, I remember seeing that canned fake Chinese cuisine long before the 70's. I think it was Chung King.

                  1. re: chow_fun
                    libgirl2 RE: chow_fun May 13, 2012 02:45 PM

                    Ugh, Chung King!

                    1. re: chow_fun
                      HollyDolly RE: chow_fun May 14, 2012 10:12 AM

                      Before Chung King, there was La Choy,which was started in the 1920s. I used to have a 1920s Sears Grocery Catalog(yes, both they and Montgomery Wards sold groceries) which has la Choy products in it. An interesting take on it is the book Fashionable Foods which as about chinese and other foods in America. This is like the debate on mexican food.Most mexican food is called TexMex.Nothing wrong with it.The Tejanos,or mexican texans who lived in Texas and the southwestern US used what ingredients they could find locally or imported. during the spanish days and later under the Republic of Texas ,etc. Nothing wrong with it or chinese american food.These people used food stuffs that were local and what they might have bought at some store that had been imported from their home land. That goes for italian American,German American,etc.To me it's just splitting hairs.

                  2. w
                    Worldwide Diner RE: risaz May 8, 2012 08:33 PM

                    Stupid article.

                    1. c
                      cacruden RE: risaz May 14, 2012 12:53 PM

                      I only have experience with "Chicago" chinese food, and it is not that great (not based on my opinions but friends that pined for good Chinese cuisine -- of various regions- and found American Chinese to be overly sweet vs balanced). I work in Computer/IT, and when I worked in the US most of the people I worked with were "foreigners" (Chinese, Indian, Canadian or Chinese/Canadian). The Head office was in Chicago and no local restaurants in China-town (Chinese, Chinese-American, American-Chinese) lived up to what my friends wanted. In fact a number of HK chinese would prefer to eat in Toronto. After the exodus from HK during the unstable years, two countries were primary recipients of talented Chinese/HK chefs and those were Canada, Australia. Unfortunately like many cuisines I refer to Chinese cuisine as one, but there of course a so many it would be insane to actually define as one... but as an outsider we often define cuisines by national borders - not historic/cuisine borders. Older Chinese (American) cuisine is designed for a more limited "American" pallet, and is less likely to be as desirable as more diverse cuisines as Americans have been exposed to in the last 10 to 20 years. It does not mean that individual dishes are not deserving of respect, but when freed from restraints of tribalism - we are more likely able to appreciate to fullness of cuisines we might not otherwise be able to appreciate.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: cacruden
                        chow_fun RE: cacruden May 14, 2012 04:30 PM

                        One problem with a "foreigners" view of their native cuisine in the US is that they "spoiled" by the flavors from their home country.

                        I'm currently at a job with people from around the world. Some Italian coworkers hate Italian cuisine in the US. We use too much garlic which overpowers the flavors of a dish. Of course, our American stereotype of Italian cuisine is that all the dishes contain loads of garlic, tomatoes and olive oil.

                        I also work with people from HK and have relatives from HK. One thing I noticed is that the younger people from HK, they tend to hate everything, in a snobby way. Their palates are too refined to eat pedestrian food while their parents aren't as picky. I think they (the parents) remember the hard times when they fled from mainland China.

                        1. re: chow_fun
                          cacruden RE: chow_fun May 14, 2012 08:06 PM

                          Well, of the Chinese, Chinese/Canadians I mentioned.... it was not just HK. Chinese/Canadians were of HK origin, the Chinese were originally from mainland China (former masters students that stayed on to work in the US).

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