There is a question has bothered me for a quite long time since I came to the U.S. whenever people ask me how does the real Chinese food differ from the Chinese food in the U.S., it always takes me plenty of time to find an accurate answer. However, at last, I will tell them that the real Chinese food will be less sweet than the one in America, which is still not a very comprehensive explanation because I mention nothing special about the real Chinese food itself.
On Wednesday, I found an interesting article which was titled in Modern Chinese Food is Unconcerned with Authenticity (And That’s Why It’s Great). It has discussed the changing and development of the Chinese food culture in the U.S. I was confused by the title at first. However, after reading it, I felt like that I have found a relatively appropriate answer for the question I mentioned above.
According to a 2015 study by the National Restaurant Association, 42 percent of Americans reported eating Chinese food several times a year. But around two hundred years ago, things were still in an opposite way because of some historical and social reasons.
So how does Chinese food culture gradually blend with the America culture and become one of the most popular food in America? I think localization has made a huge contribution on that, and this is also the reason why the article says modern Chinese food unconcerned with authenticity.
“While Americans love generic, greasy Chinese food, there’ s an increasing desire from diners for more complex flavors,” expressed by the article. Although people like new things, for those who were born and live in a certain area, it’s obviously that an original preference of flavor will exist. This is a part of human culture and can be seen as a symbol of society. So, although Chinese restaurants in America are still maintaining some of the complex flavors when they served western customers, they also carried out a food reform at the same time. Just as described in the article:
“Enterprising Chinese citizens quickly realized that they could open restaurants, amending traditional recipes to fit American palates (making things a touch sweeter and adding more familiar ingredients alongside exotic vegetables).”
And this could also considered as a very basic description for the American-style-Chinese-food, which has a famous succeed representative – the Panda Express. This reformation couldn’t be seen as negative, even though sometimes it may bring misunderstanding. It helps the western world to get familiar with Chinese food (similar cuisines actually exist in China). And the localization somehow is helping give Chinese food more visibility and expanding the definition of what it can be in a more International environment.
So what about the real Chinese food in China? I have to say that Chinese foods are quite complicated. Even myself as a Chinese cannot tell how many different types of dishes and recipes we have in the various regions. “Yet our beloved sweet and savory Chinese food is often extremely generalized and glosses over the many culinary variations of a country boasting 14 international borders and nearly 1.4 billion people,” according to the article. That is the truth. The Chinese food that’s represented here in the U.S., generally, is a very small proportion of what’s going on in China. Each area, province, even family has their own unique menu of cooking.
For those who curious about the real Chinese food, I highly recommend a series of documentaries – A Bite of China, which is mainly focus on the cuisines around Chinese rural areas or famous street foods can rarely be seen in the big restaurants. I have met Changzhen Ren, the executive director of the first season, once in an event. She said that her team had spent nearly two years on collecting information from the residents in different areas around China. Ren also claimed that some of the traditional cuisines were also new stuff to herself. So in order to feel the true meaning contained in the food; and also how did those special recipes relate to nature, individual’s life, and the ancient Chinese culture, she and her team lived with the residents for several months every time when they shot the footage in different areas. Yet this still can not represent the whole Chinese food, but it really gives viewers a deeper understanding on what the real Chinese food could be.