I could spend an awful lot of time blogging on the subject of Chinese food. Since the heyday of chop suey in America, successive waves of immigrants have introduced myriad variations on the theme: Mandarin food, Szechwan food, and so on and so on. Nearly all of it has been adopted and assimilated to a greater or lesser extent, carrying on the grand tradition of the great American melting pot (in its edible form).
Today virtually everyone in America eats Chinese food at least occasionally. As of last year there were over 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the States. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of them serve what one might call a “classic” American-Chinese menu…egg rolls, wontons, General Tsao’s Chicken, you know the drill. You might have trouble turning up a chow mein or chop suey nowadays, but the go-to repertoire of dishes that Americans have put their stamp of approval on is everywhere. Indeed it’s estimated that a mere 20% of Chinese restaurants in America serve dishes that are considered in the least “authentic” (whatever that means).
This is as it should be. As Stanley Tucci’s character Segundo observed in the classic foodie film, The Big Night, restaurants aren’t schools, they’re businesses. As such they must and do sell the foods their customers want to eat. So in that sense nothing’s really changed since the first Chinese restauranteurs started serving up hash on the muddy streets of proto-San Francisco. And I love that.
I also love the fact that even now, some 150 years later, the whitey-menu/Chinese-menu food delivery system still holds. Head out to your average Chinese-owned sit-down restaurant and you’ll probably notice a stack of menus on the counter printed in Chinese, for folks who want something that tastes a little more like home. It’s that way at our favorite family Chinese restaurant here in Kentucky where, should one decide that lemon chicken is just a little too safe tonight, the kitchen staff will be only too happy to show a lo fan what a . And oh my brothers and sisters, do they ever.