What you didn’t know about Chinese Food in America…

American or Chinese?

For years I’ve been attempting to explain (and cook) the differences between real Chinese food and American Chinese food. At first, it surprised American friends to discover that the Chinese have never heard of dishes like Crab Rangoon, General Tso’s Chicken, Egg Rolls, Egg Foo Young, and Chop Suey. All were created in America for American taste buds.

Crab Rangoon was actually an American creation that has been served in San Francisco since the 1950s.

Egg Foo Young was an adaptation on a real Chinese dish and made its American debut in the 1930s.

General Tso’s Chicken [pronounced ‘TSAO’] was coined after a famous Chinese general but the people of his modern-day hometown in Xiangyin, Hunan province have never tried it before! (See Jennifer’s talk below)

Egg Rolls in China are actually just egg-based wafers that are enjoyed as a dessert.
Spring rolls are a little bit similar to the 春卷 you might find around Asia, in my opinion.

Chop Suey literally translates as “leftovers” and is simply a mix of various unfinished dishes. It’s origins are debated, although I’m sure every culture has their method of dealing with uneaten portions.
(How would you describe ‘leftovers’ in your home?)

Fortune Cookies are to this day still a Japanese creation which American Chinese restaurants started serving when we put Japanese Americans in internment camps in 1942.

The classic Chinese Takeout Box has never seen the light of day in China and probably never will. It’s 100% American!
(Disposable chopsticks are used all over Asia though.)


Jennifer 8. Lee gave a hilarious talk at TED in 2008 and gets into more detail not only about American Chinese food but French, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, and Korean versions of Chinese food. All have their own unique twist but are still called Chinese!

Enjoy! 请慢用!

  • guest

    the thing though about “american chinese food” is that it is opened by a bunch of chinese immigrants from the poorest parts of the country. They come to America not because they are iron chefs or franchises trying to expand their business, they come for better standards of living. So you really can’t expect these people to cook good food :p it’s like if you took someone living out of a trailer park and ask them to open American restaurants. These labels might seem harsh but it is the reality of things. My family comes from a big city in China, and in a way look down on these Chinese immigrants b/c the Chinese food they make here are simply trash. and I can’t believe it’s so hard for some Americans to grasp the simple logic of why american style chinese food is different. Sure it’s somewhat catered to American taste, but some of the one’s i’ve tried are disgusting( too much msg/ gutter oil) left me feeling nauseous… much more dangerous than the chinese food in china. well enough of the rant. cheers