American Chinese cuisine
This article is part of
Cuisine of China
|Eight Great Traditions|
|Chinese Buddhist cuisine|
|Chinese Islamic cuisine|
|American Chinese cuisine|
|Historical Chinese cuisine|
American Chinese cuisine (什碎館) is a style of cooking served by many Chinese restaurants in the United States and not considered authentic Chinese cuisine by ethnic Chinese, but geared towards Westerners. Such cuisine is often perceived as 'real' Chinese food. American Chinese cuisine has sometimes been used in derogatory jokes and common stereotypes to label the Chinese and Chinese Americans in general.
Restaurants serving American Chinese cuisine are mainly run by the descendants of early Chinese immigrants (dating back to the 19th century), and cater to the taste of non-Chinese Americans. With more and more new immigrants arriving from China, more diverse selections of authentic Chinese cuisines are available in major cities such as San Francisco and New York, especially in the older and newer Chinatowns. However, so-called 'mom and pop' resturants and diners in tourist areas and smaller towns still offer dishes not found in China. Some dishes are indeed Chinese dishes, but the American versions are quite different and not considered very authentic. The menu typically includes:
- chop suey — in Chinese connotes leftovers, is usually a mix of vegetables and meat in a brown sauce
- chow mein — in the American variant, is fried or boiled cabbage, with bits of fried noodles sprinkled on top
- egg foo young
- Batter-fried meat — meat that has been deep fried in bread or flour, such as sesame chicken or sweet and sour pork, is often overemphasized in American-style Chinese dishes. Battered meat occasionally appears in Hunanese dishes, but it is not widely found in other styles of Chinese cuisine.
- fortune cookie — first used in Japanese tea garden s, fortune cookies became sweetened and found their way to these restaurants. However, fortune cookies are so popular in the US that even authentic Chinese restaurants serve them as end of the meal snacks. Fortune cookies are not real Chinese inventions like gunpowder, but an American idea. On the other hand, most but not all authentic Chinese restaurants tend to serve free oranges, almond cookies, or red bean soup as dessert to Chinese-speaking patrons. Non-Chinese patrons are served either fruit or fortune cookies.
- egg roll — while Chinese spring rolls have a thin crispy skin with mushrooms, bamboo and other vegetables inside, the American version with a thick, fried skin and cabbage inside is an American invention
- lo mein — American versions don't use the same types of noodles or flavorings
- sweet and sour pork or sweet and sour chicken — the Chinese version is a lighter more subtle flavor, while Americanized versions typically use bright red food coloring and use lots of sugar or corn syrup.
- moo shu pork — Chinese version uses more authentic ingredients (mushrooms and other fungus) and thin flour pancakes while American one may use more common vegetables and a thicker pancake
American Chinese food also does not include some foods which many Chinese consider delicacies, such as liver and pig or chicken feet.
American Chinese food tends to use western vegetables such as broccoli and carrots whereas more authentic Chinese cuisine would tend to use asian leafy vegetables like bok choy and Gai-lan . Authenic Chinese cuisine places more emphasis on vegetables in general while American Chinese food treats vegetables almost as garnish.
American Chinese food tends to be cooked very quickly with large amounts of oil and salt, and has a reputation for containing high levels of MSG (monosodium glutamate), which is used as a flavor enhancer. Because of this, the symptoms of MSG sensitivity have been dubbed "Chinese restaurant syndrome" or "Chinese food syndrome". While there is no conclusive evidence that MSG is harmful, many restaurants have taken the initiative for "MSG Free" or "No MSG" menus.
In addition to full-service restaurants, American Chinese food is also available in mom-and-pop Chinese buffets. Fast food joints (usually located in shopping or strip malls) such as Panda Express and Manchu WOK are also quite popular. They are often found in areas with a lower or even non-existent population of Asian-Americans. In areas of the southwestern United States, it is common for the cooks within American Chinese restaurants to be from Mexico.
As most American Chinese cuisine establishments cater to non-Chinese customers, menus are usually in English only and some may be in Chinese. Such establishments are often patronized by way of take-out or delivery.
American Chinese fast food chains
- Ho-Lee-Chow — Locations in the Toronto area of Ontario, Canada.
- Leeann Chin — Locations in Minnesota.
- Manchu WOK — Nationwide in Canada and some in the USA.
- Mark Pi's Express — Located in Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, and Ohio.
- Mr. Chau's Chinese Fast Food — Locations in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley.
- Panda Express — Nationwide in the USA.
- Pei Wei — Southwest USA — From the creators of P.F. Chang's.
- Pick Up Stix — Located throughout California, Arizona, Illinois, and Nevada.
- Tasty Goody — Locations in Southern California.
- Museum of Chinese in the Americas — "Have You Eaten Yet?: The Chinese Restaurant in America" running from Sept 2004 to June 2005