I love Chinese food… I mean Americanized Chinese food. I have not really given the Chinese food that I have consumed in the past much thought before. Its quick, delicious, sinfully sweet, and my future can be predicted at the end of a meal. I always knew that what I was eating was not traditional, but had no idea of its historical importance nor the political connections.
As it turns out, a majority of the Chinese food in the US does not even come close to representing Chinese food in China. Should I be ashamed of eating the delectably sweet dishes and referencing that it anyhow related to China by calling it Chinese along with the rest of the population? Maybe. Jennifer 8. Lee, American journalist and Ted Talk speaker, describes the main appeal, its “Fried, Sweet, has chicken, and is delicious”
I remember watching this Ted talk below on the origins of classic Chinese dishes awhile ago and decided to re-watch it. The speaker-Jennifer 8. Lee is fantastic and brings up several great historical comparisons in this 2008 Ted Talk. As with many other Ted talks, Lee is captivating and I learned so much about a food industry I knew nothing about. Highly recommend-Watch it!!
Great right? One of my favorite quotes is how Lee states that “Chinese food is more American than apple pie”. If I think about it, I eat Chinese food regularly and even have my favorite restaurants , while my consumption of apple pie falls strictly to one day-Thanksgiving. Mind blown.
As it turns out, Lee continued her search for the origin of General Tso’s chicken and was the producer of 2014 Tribecca Film Festival Documentary “The Search for General Tso”(Trailer Here). Hopefully I can watch this sometime soon.
Americans love Chinese food so much that they are often disappointed when visiting China and seeing frog legs on a menu instead of sweet and sour pork or Lo Mein. So much so that two entrepreneurs opened an Americanized Chinese food restaurant called Fortune Cookie in Shanghai just over a year ago. (Link) Fortune Cookie restaurant highlights classic sweet dishes, red and white to-go boxes, and of course fortune cookies. This NPR article by Frank Langfitt analyzes Fortune Cookie’s success, their primary customer base, and why it really wasn’t that absurd of an idea.
Should I be embarrassed that sesame chicken or lo mein are delicious and bring me joy? Probably. However, this is just the continuing evolution and transcendence of food and its many quirks.