American Chinese cuisine is a unique style of cooking served by Chinese restaurants in the United States . This new type of cooking was created for Western tastes, but Westerners exposed only to this variety may not realize that it differs from the cuisine of China .Some restaurants advertise their status by writing "Western food" on their signs in Chinese.It deters those who seek more traditional dishes, while still attracting those who are either unable to read Chinese or are looking for westernized fare. Canadian Chinese cuisine is quite similar to American Chinese cuisine.
In the 19th century, Chinese restaurateurs invented American Chinese cuisine when they modified their food for American tastes. First catering to railroad workers, they opened restaurants in towns where Chinese food was completely unknown.
The influx of immigrants in the late 20th century disdained the Americanized dishes, preferring more traditional Chinese food. Classical Chinese cuisine now dominates major cities like San Francisco and New York .
But American Chinese cuisine remains, especially in places with few Chinese Americans. One finds Americanized cuisine in "mom and pop" restaurants, "tourist trap" diners, and small town restaurants. Panda Express and Manchu WOK are popular franchise restaurants that offer Westernized dishes in shopping malls.
American vs. Traditional menus
American Chinese food treats vegetables as garnish while authentic styles emphasize vegetables. Authentic Chinese cuisine makes frequent use of Asian leafy vegetables like bok choy and gai-lan, and puts a greater emphasis on seafood.
A Chinese buffet restaurant in the U.S.American Chinese food tends to be cooked very quickly with lots of oil and salt. Many dishes are quickly and easily prepared, and require inexpensive ingredients. Stir-frying, pan-frying, and deep-frying tend to be the most common cooking techniques which are all easily done using a wok. The food also has a reputation for high levels of MSG to enhance the flavor; the symptoms of MSG sensitivity have been dubbed "Chinese restaurant syndrome" or "Chinese food syndrome". While there is heated scientific debate over whether or not MSG is harmful, market forces and customer demand have enouraged many restaurants to offer "MSG Free" or "No MSG" menus.
Most American Chinese establishments cater to non-Chinese customers, and their menus are written in English. Those that do have Chinese menus, have ones that are different from the English version. Americanized menus might exclude some foods which the Chinese consider delicacies, like liver, and chicken feet. The menus include:
- chop suey — Connotes "leftovers" in Chinese. It is usually a mix of vegetables and meat in a brown sauce.
- chow mein — literally means 'stir-fried noodles'. Chow mein consists of fried noodles with bits of meat and vegetables.
- fried rice — Fried rice dishes are popular offerings in American Chinese food due to the speed and ease of preparation and their appeal to western tastes. Fried rice is generally prepared with rice cooled overnight, so this allows restaurants to put unserved leftover rice to good use.
- egg foo young also egg foo yung
- batter-fried meat — Meat that has been deep fried in bread or flour, such as sesame chicken, lemon chicken, orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, and General Tso's chicken is often overemphasized in American-style Chinese dishes. Battered meat occasionally appears in Hunanese dishes, but it generally uses lighter sauces with less sugar and corn syrup.The chicken ball uses a large amount of leavening and flour in its preparation and battering process which causes them to be more similar to doughy "hush puppies" than actual batter-fried meat.
- fortune cookie — Invented at the Japanese Tea Garden restaurant in San Francisco , fortune cookies became sweetened and found their way to American Chinese restaurants. Fortune cookies have become so popular in the U.S. , that even some authentic Chinese restaurants serve them at the end of the meal. Some are even produced with Chinese-language translations of the English-language fortunes.
- egg roll — While Chinese spring rolls have a thin crispy skin with mushrooms, bamboo, and other vegetables inside, the New York version uses a thick, fried skin stuffed with cabbage. In other areas, bean sprouts form the basis of most of the filling. Other American versions remain closer in similarity to their spring roll style authentic counterparts.
- lo mein — This is a New York-style Chinese food oddity. "Lo mein" in New York is closer to "chow mein" in the rest of the country. Strictly the term means "mixed noodles", that is one made with eggs, as opposed to most noodles which are made without egg.
- moo shu pork — The Chinese version uses more authentic ingredients (including wood ear fungi and day lily buds) and thin flour pancakes while the American version uses more common vegetables and thicker pancakes.
- rab rangoon — Fried wonton skins stuffed with artificial crab meat and cream cheese, originally served at Trader Vic's restaurant in the 1950s.
- wonton soup — The soup noodle does not exist in American Chinese cuisine, while it is ubiquitous in many authentic styles. The closest popular example would be ramen. The true Cantonese Wonton Soup is a full meal in itself consisting of thin egg noodles and a few wontons in a pork soup broth.
- Chinese Chicken Salad — Salad is not a Chinese dish. This is a 100% western dish. It is served in Chinese restaurants, because it contains crispy noodle (fried wonton skin) and sesame dressing. Some restaurants serve the salad with Mandarin Orange.
Regional Variations on American Chinese cuisine
Since the early 1990s, many American Chinese restaurants influenced by the Cuisine of California have opened in San Francisco and the Bay Area. The trademark dishes of American Chinese cuisine remain on the menu, but there is more emphasis on fresh vegetables, and the selection is vegetarian-friendly.
The new cuisine has exotic ingredients like mangoes and portobello mushrooms. Other cuisines influence the menu: some restaurants substitute grilled flour tortillas for the rice pancakes in mu shu dishes; brown rice is often offered as an optional alternative to white rice.
Chop suey is not widely available in San Francisco , and the city's chow mein is different from Midwestern chow mein.
Authentic restaurants with Chinese-language menus may offer ??? (Yale Cantonese: wòhng mouh gaai [Pinyin huang mao ji], literally yellow-hair chicken), essentially a free-range chicken, as opposed to typical American mass-farmed chicken. Yellow-hair chicken is valued for its flavor, but needs to be cooked properly to be tender due to its lower fat and higher muscle content. This dish usually does not appear on the English-language menu.
Dauh Miu (Pinyin: Dou Meo), literally Bean Grass but actually snow pea vines, is a Chinese vegetable that has become popular since the early 1990s, and now not only appears on English-language menus, usually as "pea shoots", but is often served by upscale non-Asian restaurants as well. Originally it was only available during a few months of the year, but it is now grown in greenhouses and is available year-round.
Owing to the different history of the Chinese in Hawaii , Hawaiian Chinese food developed a bit differently from the continental United States . Owing to the diversity of ethnicities in Hawaii , Chinese cuisine forms a component of the cuisine of Hawaii , which is a fusion of different culinary traditions. Some Chinese dishes are typically served as part of plate lunches in Hawaii . Some names of foods are different like manapua from Hawaiian meaning chewed up pork for the dim sum bao, not just the pork variety. As is typical in Hawaii , Chinese food in Hawaii is also noted for its use of SPAM, much to the puzzlement of outsiders.