Chinese Food, American Style


It’s often a running joke that what Americans consider to be Chinese food is entirely of our own making, and cooks and diners in China would find it completely foreign (like chop suey, what the heck is that?). But at some point, Chinese food was adapted from our Asian immigrants, Americanized, and became very popular, not only as take-out, but also as buffets and sit-downs. Many dishes are accompanied by white, brown or fried rice. Let’s review our most popular:

Sol Sum: bite-sized dumplings stuffed with vegetables or meat, essentially a Cantonese preparation not always offered in many restaurants; they can also be presented as small tasting plates, depending on the menu and the cook’s whim;

Hot and sour soup: a deliciously “sour” soup with a spicy broth, contains red peppers or white pepper and vinegar; another favorite soup is a light broth with wontons (meat-filled dumplings);

quick noodles: a staple in every Chinese household and found on most Chinese restaurant menus, it comes in various versions, often called lo mein and can be plain or have vegetables;

Szechwan Chili Chicken: a fiery Sichuan delight loaded with hot spices like ginger, green and red chilies, and brown pepper; be careful if you’re not a fan of hot peppers;

Spring rolls: often a lighter version of traditional egg rolls, which are shredded meat and vegetables wrapped in a paper-thin dough, rolled up, and fried; a favorite to be sure;

young foo egg: an egg pancake with vegetables, often too bland for Chinese foodies, served with a brown sauce;

Shiitake Fried Rice with water chestnuts: mushrooms and water chestnuts are frequently used in Chinese cooking, and this is just another take on traditional fried rice; some things never go out of style;

Mu Shu: sautéed vegetables and meat, chicken, shrimp or tofu, rolled into thin pancakes spread with plum sauce (this author’s favorite dish);

Kung Pao Chicken: tasty pieces of chicken cooked in a wok with vegetables and flavored with peanuts and spices; from the time of the Qing dynasty (about 1876);

General Tso’s Chicken: fried chicken dish in hot sauce, an all-time favorite; it may have been named after a Qing dynasty military leader, but it’s really an unknown quantity;

orange chicken: another popular fried chicken dish, topped with an orange sauce after cooking (not for a low-fat diet, certainly);

Peking Duck: Don’t expect this specialty to be readily available in many Chinese restaurants, Peking duck dates back to the Imperial Era (221 BC) and is characterized by its thin, crispy skin; often must be ordered in advance but is suitable for an emperor;

Like many other cuisines, Chinese cuisine uses sauces and condiments native to its regions, which may include:

soy sauce
Oyster sauce
Sesame oil
rice vinegar
rice wine
soybean paste
star anise
five spice powder
chili sauce (or paste)
chilli powder
sichuan peppercorns
black bean sauce

Many of these are available in the Asian aisle of your local supermarket or in a multitude of Asian stores in larger cities and can be a lot of fun to try in your own kitchen. So find the nearest buffet or Chinese restaurant, bring your appetite, and get ready to sample some of America’s favorite foods. As the old saying goes, you may be hungry an hour later, but it’s worth it.

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