Chinese Restaurants in America

Chef's Ma Paul Tofu
Chef’s Ma Paul Tofu (Wu Liang Ye Restaurant, NYC)

What most Americans know as Chinese food would be more properly termed American Chinese food, a category that includes chop suey and lemon chicken, dishes born in the U.S. Given, as Lee points out, that there are about 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S., “more than the number of McDonald’s, Burger Kings, and KFCs combined,” Chinese food might be our national cuisine. “Our benchmark for Americanness is apple pie,” she writes. “But ask yourself. How often do you eat apple pie? How often do you eat Chinese food?”

Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous, usually taking the form of urban carryout shops and suburban buffets. But how did these restaurants flourish across the American landscape? For the most part they are independently run, so how is it they seem to share similar characteristics, such as gigantic menus filled with egg rolls, garish red sweet and sour sauce, and General Tso’s chicken?

Each chapter answers these questions and more, examining soy sauce, the distinctive shape of takeout boxes favored by Chinese restaurants, and fortune cookies, which Lee discovers are Japanese in origin.

West eats East: A fact-filled look at Chinese food, which just might be America’s national cuisine,” by Bich Minh Nguyen,, March 1, 2008


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