(American) Chinese food

american chinese food

I’m not Chinese, but I’m an American. So naturally I eat Chinese food. But maybe not the way Chinese people eat Chinese food.



Pretty much my first exposure to Chinese food was in Spokane in the mid-1970s, while I was in college. It was a revelation. Big platters of food! Family style! Egg rolls!



Well, it was middle-of-the road American Chinese food, naturally. Some of the dishes had Chinese names – “moo goo gai pan,” naturally – but most of them were perfectly Americanized.



But it was good. No: it was delicious.



Then I came to Providence, and learned about all kinds of exotic specialties, like Ants in a Tree, and Happy Family.



Then I visited my mother in rural Washington state, and she was very excited to take me to the new Chinese place in her little town.



Oh my god. Everything had brown gravy on it. The fried rice was dripping with grease. The menu was beyond stereotypical: egg foo young, chop suey, chow mein. It was edible but revolting. I was rude enough to let my mother know that this was swill, and she was furious that I didn’t like her beloved (and, to her, delicious) “Chinese food.”



Well, I am much older now. She was right, of course. What’s authentic, really? American-style Chinese food is certainly not what they eat in China. It’s interesting, and it can be very good, but it’s not really Chinese food.



There are all kinds of local (meaning: American) variants. Here in southern New England, someone invented the chow mein sandwich (which is just what it sounds like, with lots of gravy, so the bread gets good and soaked). Also, in a lot of old-fashioned New England Chinese restaurants, you get bread and butter before your meal.



Partner and I were in his home town, a suburb of Boston, a while back. We visited a Chinese restaurant there – China Moon – which had been around since Partner’s childhood. It’s traditional American-Chinese. They still have subgum on the menu! And everything else!



The first time I had their food, I didn’t like it at all. It wasn’t what I expected. The sweet and sour had candied fruit in it!



But I’ve come around. It’s just one more American version of Chinese food.



And their hot-and-sour soup is superb.


About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

2 Responses to (American) Chinese food

  1. starproms says:

    Interesting post Loren. Recently I went to visit my son who lives in the SW of England. We had a take-away while I was there and I was very surprised to find it had chips with it! (That’s fries to you). I don’t mean French fries, I mean medium sized chips. Oh, this is getting confusing, LOL

    Anyway, here is how the evening went: ‘What shall we have to eat tonight? How about a Chinese. Roars of applause all round! We studied the menu and decided on a dish each (3) plus 1 = 4 all together. One of the dishes we chose was Special Singapore Rice. My son said the meal would come with chips and two portions at that! OMG 2 portions of chips between 3 people – no – far too many.

    So he was going to ask if we could skip the chips and have an extra portion of Special Singapore Rice, making 2 portions in all between the 3 of us. Are you still with me?

    He went to order the meal and asked about the rice, but was told we would have to have the chips. Why? Search me. I can’t think of a good reason at all. So we ended up with 1 portion of Singapore special fried rice, sweet and sour pork balls, curry chicken and a tomatoe chop suey plus 2 portions of chips. OMG We shared the chips with the seagulls! Apart from the chips, it was delicious…

    • It’s the same here. You get all kinds of things in odd proportions, and there are NO SUBSTITUTIONS. We often order Chinese food sent in to the house, and the bag is always full of odds and ends we didn’t order, but that came along for the ride. Sometimes I think they throw some extras in because they like us.

      And New England Chinese restaurants often still have chips / French fries on the menu. Too funny. Not very Chinese, but leftovers are always welcome.

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