Chinese cuisine, American style

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It’s often a joke that what Americans think of as Chinese food is totally our own making, and cooks and diners in China would find them completely foreign (like chop suey – what the hell is that? is that?). But somewhere along the line, Chinese food has been adapted from our Asian immigrants, Americanized, and has become very popular, not only for take-out, but also buffet and table-top. Many dishes are served with white, brown or plain fried rice. Let’s review our most popular:

Low sum: bite-sized dumplings stuffed with vegetables or meat, a predominantly Cantonese preparation not always available in many restaurants; can also be presented in the form of small tasting dishes, according to the menu and the desire of the cook;

Sweet and sour soup: a deliciously “sour” soup with a spicy broth, it contains red peppers or white pepper and vinegar; another favorite soup is a light broth with won ton (meatballs filled with meat);

Quick Noodles: a staple food in all Chinese households and present on most Chinese restaurant menus, it comes in several versions, often called lo mein and can be plain or contain vegetables;

Szechwan Chili Chicken: a fiery Sichuan delicacy loaded with hot spices like ginger, green and red peppers and brown pepper; be careful if you are not a fan of hot peppers;

Spring Rolls: often a lighter version of traditional egg rolls, which are grated meat and vegetables wrapped in a paper-thin dough, rolled up and fried; a favorite to be sure;

Young Foo Egg: an egg pancake with vegetables, often too bland for Chinese gourmets, served with a brown sauce;

Shitake Fried Rice with water chestnuts: mushrooms and water chestnuts are frequently used in Chinese cuisine, and this is just another version of traditional fried rice; some things never go out of style;

Moo Shu: sautéed vegetables and meats, chicken, shrimp or tofu, wrapped in thin pancakes topped with plum sauce (this author’s favorite dish);

Kung pao chicken: savory chicken pieces cooked in a wok with vegetables and flavored with peanuts and spices; from the time of the Qing dynasty (circa 1876);

General Tso Chicken: a dish of fried chicken in a hot sauce, an all-time favorite; it may have been named after a military leader in the Qing dynasty, but that’s really to be guessed;

Orange chicken: another popular fried chicken dish, topped with an orange sauce after cooking (not for a low fat diet, of course);

Peking duck : don’t expect this specialty to be readily available in many Chinese restaurants, Peking Duck dates back to Imperial times (221 BC) and is characterized by its thin and crispy skin; often must be ordered in advance but fit for an emperor;

Like many other cuisines, Chinese cuisine uses sauces and seasonings native to their regions, which can include:

soya sauce

oyster sauce

Sesame oil

rice vinegar

sake

Soybean paste

star anise

five spice powder

chili sauce (or paste)

chili powder

sichuan pepper

black bean sauce

Many of these are available in the Asian aisle of your local grocery store or in a plethora of Asian grocery stores in major cities and can be a lot of fun to try in your own kitchen. So look for the nearest Chinese buffet or restaurant, whet your appetite, and get ready to sample some of America’s favorite food. As the old saying goes, you might get hungry an hour later, but it’s worth it.

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