Chinese food in the United States can trace its roots to a time when Chinese immigrants to America were forced to live in Chinatowns. There, they started up a wide range of businesses that happened to include restaurants. The bigger, more well-established restaurants could better emulate the cuisines of the homeland because of their superior resources. In contrast, their smaller counterparts had to improvise to a much greater extent. This can be considered the start of American Chinese cuisine, which is the single most notable part of Chinese food in the United States.
American Chinese cuisine came into existence because of Chinese owned and operated restaurants that were willing to experiment. Sometimes, this meant the restaurants incorporated new ingredients that could be found with ease in the United States but not in China. For example, the carrot is referred to using a term translated as something like “red radish,” and the onion as “foreign scallion.” Other new ingredients have managed to make it into American Chinese cuisine as well, making it very distinctive in this regard.
It’s important to note that American Chinese cuisine has also undergone an evolution in order to make it better suited to the American palate. This makes sense because while it started out as something meant mostly for Chinese immigrants, that started to change when Chinese restaurants started targeting other markets as well. In fact, it isn’t unknown for American Chinese restaurants to have two menus, one for Chinese customers and the other for non-Chinese customers who might be alienated by some of the stranger offerings (by American standards) of Chinese cuisine.
Please note that American Chinese cuisine did not draw from all the cuisines that can be found in China in an even manner. Instead, the roots of the cuisine can be traced to the Chinese province of Guangdong, which makes sense because that’s where most of the earlier Chinese immigrants originated. However, later waves of Chinese immigrants from other regions have brought other influences, with the result that American Chinese cuisine is richer now than ever before.
How Does Chinese Food in America Stand Out?
Here are some examples of how American Chinese cuisine stands out compared to other Chinese cuisines:
Fewer Cooking Methods
American Chinese cuisine is very concentrated on a small number of cooking methods. Primarily, it uses deep-frying, pan-frying, and stir-frying, in addition to steaming. Other Chinese cuisines use these cooking methods, but they aren’t focused on them to the same extent.
The Use of Uncooked Ingredients
Uncooked ingredients have seen use in other Chinese cuisines. For example, there is a very unusual Chinese dish called drunken shrimp that involves either live shrimp or half-cooked shrimp served up in alcohol to make the consumption process that much easier. However, the use of uncooked ingredients tends to be very rare in traditional Chinese cuisine — something that can’t be said for American Chinese cuisine, which has started to offer such menu items because of customer interest.
Sweeter But Less Spicy
This one is something of a generalization. American Chinese cuisine tends to be seen as being both sweeter and heavier in taste than other Chinese cuisines, which is a product of the process that has made them better suited for American palates. It’s less spicy as well, though spiciness isn’t universal among other Chinese cuisines.
What Are Some Examples of Chinese Food in America?
Here are some examples of American Chinese food:
Crab rangoon is very obviously not something that originated in Chinese cuisines. This is because they contain cream cheese, not something Chinese people ate on a regular basis. A very high percentage of Chinese adults are what Americans would consider to be lactose intolerant, which is unsurprising because the historical Chinese population didn’t consume a great deal of dairy products.
General Tso’s Chicken
General Tso’s chicken and its close relative, orange chicken, are American inventions. It’s interesting to note that General Tso was a real figure because the name refers to a Qing-period military leader named Zuo Zongtang. However, there is no real reason to believe that General Tso’s chicken has anything to do with him whatsoever, particularly since it isn’t a product of his home province of Hunan.
Fortune cookies are unusual in that they were invented by a Japanese man but winded up becoming associated with Chinese restaurants. The story is that there were a lot of Japanese-American restaurateurs with Chinese-themed restaurants in the 1930s. However, when Japanese-Americans were interned during the Second World War, Chinese restaurateurs were the ones who took over running the factories that made fortune cookies, similar to how other groups of Americans took over running other Japanese-American-owned properties.
How Can You Make Chinese Food in America?
Interested individuals can find plenty of online recipes for American Chinese cuisine and other kinds of Chinese cuisine. For example, people looking for something fast and simple should check out this chop suey recipe, which is made using pork plus various a mix of vegetables that can be changed based on each individual’s personal preferences. Meanwhile, people who are hungry for some chow mein can use this chicken-based recipe, which is relatively convenient because it can be cooked in a matter of 30 minutes.
Are There Variations on Chinese Food in America?
There is incredible variety that can be found in American Chinese cuisine. Furthermore, the later waves of Chinese immigrants have include numerous trained chefs. Due to this, it’s not difficult to find places in the bigger Chinese-American communities that serve other Chinese cuisines as well.