Why don’t we have real Chinese food in the United States?

We don’t — just believe me — outside of a few places such as Monterey Park or Flushing, Queens.

Dan Drezner poses the query, and considers immigration restrictions as a factor, though without endorsing that hypothesis.  Immigration can’t be the key reason, since I can learn to cook the stuff (really), there is plenty of excellent Chinese food in Tanzania (really), and most French food in America is cooked by Mexicans (that you already knew), albeit with instructions.  The main problems are simple:

1. Cantonese food requires super fresh ingredients, lots of vegetables, and amazing seafood.  That’s three strikes right there, especially below the gourmet price level.

2. Sichuan and Hunan foods are oily, often very spicy, and most of all use lots of animal fat.  Nor do they hesitate to serve up chicken kidneys, pig’s maw, and the like.  This is essential for these cuisines to taste good but it all goes against the American grain.  To cite one example, Mexican food cooked with fresh lard tastes much better than with vegetable oil, yet most Mexican families, within a generation and a half, make the switch to vegetable oil (que triste!).

3. Even today most Chinese cities are huge gardens with massive swathes of small-plot farmland, right within the city.  Shanghai too.  The short food supply chain makes many things tastier, as they are sold fresh in daily markets.  The cuisine is designed around that system, whereas mass-produced American cuisine meshes with long-distance trucking.  This clash of culinary civilizations penalizes true Chinese styles, though I’ll still predict that real Sichuan will be the next big food trend here in the U.S.  In my household, it already is.

Since there is excellent and reasonably authentic Chinese food in densely populated Chinese-American communities, consumer demand (see #2) is probably the major factor.

For the comments I’ll stipulate no rehashing of the usual immigration debates; you all have enough chances to do that.

p.s. On MR it’s China Day!


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