The New Americana of Chinese Cuisine

by Eric Stein Random Thoughts in Food and Nutrition

The New Americana of Chinese Cuisine

I have been thinking a lot lately about Chinese food. Maybe it’s coming off the holiday season where I generally almost always eat Chinese food on Christmas eve, maybe it’s all the dim sum I have been eating because I now live less than 10 minutes from Chinatown, or maybe it was recently learning about Chef Peng Chang-kuei and wondering if General Tso’s chicken could be fine dining? Really, I was wondering about wonton soup as a consommé, but also what other dishes might have been on the menu during this feast? In any case, Chinese food has definitely been on my mind recently.

You can’t deny its popularity in the United States, but what most people enjoy as Chinese food is admittedly a far cry from the regionally distinct cuisines found in China. While a lot of what we think of as Chinese food is influenced by Cantonese cuisine, many of the dishes we know and love are said to be of origin in the USA; egg rolls, chop suey, crab rangoon, and fried wontons for example.

Egg rolls are one of my go-to foods, by the way. Paired with spicy mustard for dipping, sometimes I will even pick up a single order of egg rolls as a snack! (with a side of wonton soup of course). As a kid, I used to jam chunks of General Tso’s chicken into my egg rolls. Sometimes I still do, but lately it’s with Szechuan chicken, and I definitely still dream of making beef wellington egg rolls one day.

So I am not picking on Americanized Chinese food, I am actually wondering how it will continue to evolve? As Chinese ingredients and dishes like xiao long bao, chili crisp, and char siu continue to become mainstream in the US, there is a new influx of really exciting and flavorful things happening with American-Chinese food on menus across the country. We are experiencing a whole new world of non-traditional takes on soup dumplings, fried rices, and entire concepts dedicated to bao and jian bing.

I found this great website highlighting the 8 cuisines of China that has a ton of recipes, informative maps of the region, and illustrations of some of the most popular dishes from each region.

Thinking about the map of the regional cuisines of China got me wondering, what types of dishes would exist (do exist) if we had regional American-Chinese cuisine? What are the regional differences of egg rolls and who has the best one? When I lived in Illinois, there was a chef who sealed his egg rolls with peanut butter! The first time I had them, I was amazed, yet I have never eaten egg rolls prepared in that fashion anywhere else. Not just egg rolls though, are there regions of the USA with a more diverse assortment of specialty dumplings or noodles, is there a far superior version of Orange Beef just waiting to be explored? How about regionally inspired fusion like Yaka Mein, the New Orleans soul food ode to Chinese beef noodle soup. What other regional American-Chinese dishes exist that we might be missing out on because we just don’t know where to look?

I would love to hear your experiences with “Regional American-Chinese Food” and also shout outs to some restaurants serving some of your favorite dishes, re-imagined.



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