Despite the fact that many consider American Chinese cuisine to be part of Chinese, it is a separate kitchen with its curious history, with its cult and popular dishes, many of which were not even heard of in China.
The origins of American Chinese cuisine began with the California Gold Rush. Before its start, only about 14 thousand people lived in California, and less than a thousand in San Francisco, and it was a small undeveloped settlement without any infrastructure.
In the 1848-1850s, a huge stream of Chinese immigrants arrived in California during the Gold Rush. After gold deposits were found in California, over 2 years a huge number of prospectors poured into it - more than 200,000 people from around the world, hoping to get rich, because the first ingots found were rumored to be lying right underfoot on the river bank (Russian River in Northern California). More than 30,000 settlers, hunters of quick wealth, arrived in California from the Chinese province of Guangdong through the Pacific Ocean. The Gold Rush period lasted 7 years. In view of the huge influx of migrants who needed to somehow ensure their existence, and the almost complete absence of infrastructure for life, it was obvious to the most smart and enterprising that it was possible to get rich not only in gold, but also on goods for prospectors. Chinese immigrants were no exception. In the very first year of their stay in San Francisco, they opened several restaurants with their own cuisine in it. At that time, the active construction of the railway began, and thanks to this, the supply of food products from China, as well as the relocation of the Chinese to other cities became possible. Those who did not find the fabulous riches they hoped for so much, the Chinese were forced to undertake cheap hard physical labor, which allowed them to somehow feed themselves - they participated in the construction of railways and mines in America, and their first restaurants were opened with the aim of feeding the workers. Then the number of small (and usually family) restaurants with Chinese cuisine began to grow and spread across America with the expansion of the railway network. This led to the emergence of Chinatowns (Chinatowns) in many American cities. The Chinese have always not assimilated very well in foreign countries; they preferred to unite in communities. In 1882, the Act on the Exclusion of the Chinese entered into force in America. This document created such restrictions that they almost completely impeded the Chinese immigration to the country. This was due to the emergence of a large wave of unemployment and, at the same time, interethnic friction and oppression of Asians by “white” Americans. But during the Second World War, when China and America became allies, the restrictions were lifted thanks to the Warren Magnuson Act in 1943. In 1965, laws in the United States became even more loyal (quotas were lifted for people of other nationalities), and this triggered a new wave of immigration. Currently, the Chinese diaspora makes up almost a quarter of the total Asian population of America. Officially, there are about 4 million people in the United States. And in San Francisco, 1/5 of the city’s inhabitants are Chinese.
Initially, dishes served in Chinese restaurants in America were prepared by the Chinese for the Chinese as well. Only in a foreign country to establish the necessary quantities of supplies of all the necessary traditional ingredients for your kitchen, and even in extremely difficult living conditions, was, to put it mildly, not easy (and fresh - so generally unrealistic). For example, pak choy cabbage, daikon radish, jusai onion and a large number of other vegetables from Chinese cuisine, which were not available in America then, had to be replaced with local seasonal vegetables. So in the dishes appeared tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and other available fresh products. In addition, in those days, cheap canned berries and fruits in sweet syrups were very common in the United States - the canning industry flourished. Since most of the Chinese immigrants were from Guangdong, they cooked mostly Cantonese dishes in their restaurants.
There are quite a few sweet and sour dishes in Cantonese cuisine, and Chinese cooks in America willingly added affordable and cheap canned fruits (especially pineapples) to their dishes, increasing the number of dishes with sweet flavors on their menu.
At first, Chinese migrant workers dined mainly in Chinese restaurants. Americans, amid contempt for Asians and prejudice that the Chinese allegedly eat mostly cats and dogs, have not shown interest in their cuisine for a long time. At the end of the 1940s, it became fashionable among representatives of creative professions to be hip hip (which means roughly “to be in the subject”) and to avoid any shortcuts. The penchant for avant-garde and the search for exoticism pushed a certain layer of Americans to break stereotypes and try Chinese food, which was also cheap, which in those days was an undeniable advantage of the new fashion. Impressions of Chinese cuisine quickly changed from the stage of “Oh, there is something in it!” until mass approval of new culinary experiences. In Chinese restaurants, the main menu, for the Chinese, was supplemented with a second menu - for the Americans, and as the demand for Chinese food among Americans grew, the second menu became much more popular among the total number of visitors. Given this and striving to develop their business, the Chinese began to focus on the menu for Americans, and those, in turn, influenced their final preferences on the tastes of dishes. Many dishes at that time were invented by Chinese cooks specifically for Americans.
The recipe for the traditional Cantonese sweet and sour sauce that China is so proud of has undergone changes in America. The sauce has become glossy, sticky, thicker and more sweet. Sweet and sour sauce is the hallmark of Chinese cuisine around the world, but its Guangdong version is meant, adapted for Americans and Europeans. The Chinese themselves in the Middle Kingdom do not favor dishes in such a modified sauce and are very skeptical of most American Chinese dishes because of their adaptation to local culinary preferences, considering this a “fake” Chinese food, “simplified to the point of absurdity”. However, the Chinese, who live in America and are professionally engaged in cooking, fundamentally disagree with the opinion of the inhabitants of the Middle Kingdom and regard this point of view as snobbery. They consider their chefs to be talented professionals who are sensitive to new trends and open to innovations, and American Chinese cuisine as a separate high-level cuisine, as evidenced by its long-term ongoing popularity, which has only grown over the years. In America, more than 45,000 Chinese restaurants are about 2 times more than the number of all KFC and McDonalds outlets combined.
The three most popular and beloved dishes in Chinese restaurants in America are General Tso’s chicken, chicken in orange sauce (literally “orange chicken”) and Kung Pao chicken. Sour-sweet sauces (pork, fish, shrimp, etc.) are in great demand, as well as the famous American dish called Chop Suey, about which few people have heard about in China - perhaps it has There are Chinese roots, but it is believed that it was invented already in the United States, for the American menu. In the States, Chop Suey is considered one of the symbols of Chinese cuisine. It is a meat straw (there are versions with fish and shrimp), fried with vegetables in a thick spicy and sweet sauce with a slight sourness. The dish is served with rice. And although Chinese restaurants try to stick to the most popular combinations of ingredients in its preparation, there is no strict recipe for Chop Suey - his philosophy is to use any meat and any vegetables that are at hand.
The most commonly used cooking methods in American Chinese cuisine involve the use of wok - this is deep-frying, stir-frying (quick frying with constant stirring) and frying in oil. In the United States, Chinese favorite foods from offal, cartilage, tails, chicken legs, brain bones, etc., did not take root, and meat on the bones was fond of only in the form of chicken wings or pork ribs. Therefore, in American Chinese cuisine, in terms of meat dishes, you can often find recipes from slices of pork, beef and chicken fillet, as well as ribs and wings.
Americans are very fond of sliced chicken fillets in batter and sweet sauce, sprinkled with sesame seeds (sesame chicken), cashew chicken in sweet-salty sauce, boiled chicken fillet salads with leafy vegetables and noodles in sesame dressing, deep-fried wontons, and especially stuffed with surimi crab (imitation of crab meat) and cream cheese (this appetizer is called Crab Rangoon), beef steak with vegetables in a sauce with dominant notes of soy sauce and sugar, “Mongolian” beef and “Mongolian” chicken, spring rolls, fried rice with evozmozhnymi combinations of meat and vegetable additives, beef stir frying with ginger and green vegetables in sauce, spicy soup hulatan, Mu Shu Pork, variety of ribs and wings in different sauces, soups Wonton. These are the most common and demanded dishes of American Chinese cuisine in the States, but it is not limited to them; the menu in American Chinese restaurants is very rich, extensive and varied.
Chinese restaurants were among the first in America to offer visitors to take their remaining food with them, as well as sell freshly prepared take-away food. Convenient cardboard boxes were adapted for these purposes, in which, at the beginning of the 20th century, oysters that were affordable and inexpensive at that time were sold. Now cardboard boxes, which in the United States are still traditionally called oyster pails (translated from English “oyster buckets”), in America and Europe are associated precisely with Chinese cuisine. It is convenient to transport ready-made dishes in them, they keep heat, they can be heated in the microwave if necessary, and you can also enjoy food directly from them. In China itself, such boxes are almost never found.
Another symbol of Chinese restaurants in America that is alien to the inhabitants of the Middle Kingdom is the Fortune cookie (translated from the English. “Fortune cookies”) - fortune cookies. They are served to guests of American Chinese restaurants as a dessert. There is no such tradition in China. Such cookies were popularized by the Chinese in America in the early twentieth century, their idea was taken from Japanese immigrants. In Japan, these cookies can be found on sale and now, they are slightly larger than the US-Chinese version, the dough is darker, they contain miso-paste and sesame, and there is no vanilla and butter. In the USA, in Chinese restaurants such cookies are made from flour, sugar, sesame oil and vanilla. A strip of paper with a Chinese dictum or aphorism, which acts as a prediction, is placed in the cookie. Some fortune cookie manufacturers print numbers on paper with predictions that can be “happy” and give their customers a win. More than 3 billion of these cookies are produced worldwide annually, the vast majority for the US market.
The chefs of Chinese restaurants in America have always been sensitive to the tastes and preferences of their customers. Watching the emergence of new Asian restaurants in the States (Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, etc.), they realized that the dishes of new cuisines could seriously compete with those that their customers have been accustomed to ordering over the past several decades. So the menu of American Chinese restaurants began to expand, focusing on fusion cuisine, combining elements of different Asian cuisines. In addition, the chefs began to gradually introduce traditional, traditionally Chinese dishes into their kitchen, with little adaptation for American tastes, thus trying to make the guests of their restaurants more interested in the Celestial cuisine, since it is extremely diverse and rich in various culinary styles. Since in our time the trade communication between China and the USA is developed at a high level, incomparable with the beginning of the twentieth century, this provides all the opportunities for the delivery to America of the national ingredients of Chinese cuisine, which were previously replaced by available American products. The presence of authentic Chinese national products, coupled with national products from other countries of Southeast Asia, significantly enriches the development of American Chinese cuisine. Chinese restaurants in America always remain true to their philosophy to meet the growing desire of customers to try new, exotic dishes in search of a fresh gastronomic experience.