Friday, June 15, 2007

Why my wife turns up her nose at American Chinese restaurants

There is a historic explanation for the abysmal state of Chinese cuisine in the United States. Without access to key ingredients from their homeland, Chinese immigrants working on the Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860s improvised dishes like chow mein and chop suey that nobody back in their native land would have recognized. To please the na├»ve palates of 19th-century Americans, immigrant chefs used sweet, rich sauces to coat the food — a radical departure from the spicy, chili-based dishes served back home.

But today, getting ingredients is no longer an issue. Instead, the principal obstacle to improving Chinese fare here is the difficulty of getting visas for skilled workers since 9/11. Michael Tong, head of the Shun Lee restaurant group in New York, has said that opening a major Chinese restaurant in America is next to impossible because it can take years to get a team of chefs from China. Chinese restaurateur Alan Yau planned to open his first New York City restaurant last year but was derailed because he was unable to get visas for his chefs...

Imagine, if you will, what it would be like to discover for the first time Memphis-style barbecue, New York deli food, soul food and Creole, Tex-Mex, Southwestern, California and Hawaiian cuisines all at once. Eating food prepared by an influx of Chinese chefs would be like opening up a culinary time capsule.

When authentic Chinese cuisines reach our shores, we can expect a revolution in ingredients and styles that will change the way we prepare food for years to come.
--Tim and Nina Zagat, NYT, dissing General Tso's Chicken

1 comment:

Sophist said...

I can't wait for some actual Chinese food to hit the states. I have trouble eating Chinese food from all but the top Chinese restaurants in the States just because they all suck compared to my Mom's cookin'!! (not to mention just about any restaurant in Taiwan...)

Although in recent years, and since moving to the Bay Area, my hardline stance on Chinese restaurants has softened a bit. Two reasons: 1) there are substantial numbers of Chinese Restaurants for Chinese People here in the Bay Area, and 2) it has been so long since I got to eat Mom's cooking regularly that now any substitution will do.