Real Chinese Food: Some Cultural Distinctions

With its influx of Asian immigrants since the 1970s, Flushing has transformed into a venue for Asian cuisines. Most New Yorkers are well aware of Chinese food – the delicious (occasionally MSG-filled) takeout that serves when one has no inclination to cook. However, they’re are not aware of the difference between American and “authentic” Chinese food.

The Chinese food that most New Yorkers are familiar comes from fast food joints that serve the famous General Tso’s Chicken or Beef with Broccoli. Other familiar orders are the usual lunch special that comes with choice of fried rice or white rice, alongside with either wonton soup, hot & sour soup, or soda. These can be found anywhere in New York and even the whole country: Flushing, Chinatown, Harlem, and Kansas. Jeffrey Ye, an American-born Chinese we interviewed, complained about the bland styles of these restaurants and how “they all look the same.” Connie, a Fujianese immigrants, who along with her husbands owns their own Chinese fast food restaurants remarks about the simplicity of the job. “Business is good as long as they’re customers, everybody eats Chinese food.” During our interview, she had to pause for a second to take a phone order. On the phone, I couldn’t believe my eyes when she started to speak Spanish. When I inquired about about how she also spoke Spanish, with a hint of pride, she replied, “It’s something you learn as you go along. I call it food-Spanish.” Without doubt, American Chinese food has adapted to integrate to the versatile setting of New York City.

On the other hand, “authentic” Chinese food differs from American Chinese food in that it boasts a variety of dishes that are not geared towards American appetite  but rather towards the Chinese population who long for the comfort of that tastes from their native lands. Unlike the Korean, since the Chinese are not as intertwined as a community, Chinese immigrants from different regions of China have brought over indigenous dishes that have spiced up the repertoire of dishes.  Those who consistently order sesame chicken and other soy sauce flavored dishes might initially be alarmed at consuming squid, chicken feet, lotus root, and bitter melon.  However, visit our “Local Restaurants” page and discover how and where these exotic ingredients become a delicious norm.


Recommended Books, for edification and for clarification on Chinese food:

  • Fuschia Dunlop’s “Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China” – a helpful and entertaining guide to different regional foods of China.
  • Jennifer Lee’s “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles” – a history of the food that most of America knows as “Chinese” – General Tso’s chicken and egg rolls and all the rest.



1 Response to Real Chinese Food: Some Cultural Distinctions

  1. Impressed says:

    How impressive!

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