Before you complain about the Americanized Chinese food you get from your local Chinese restaurant, keep in mind that it is Chinese immigrants themselves who invented it.
The first major influx of Chinese immigrants into the U.S. occurred during the 1850’s, when large numbers of Chinese immigrants came to San Franciso, mostly due to the discovery of gold in California, but also as contract laborers for the railroads and the mining industry.
These immigrants were pretty much all men. And, they needed to eat. So, Chinese eateries sprung up to serve these men. These places became known as ‘chow chows.’ Chow later became a word associated with food throughout the West and it even found its way into military parlance. The chow chows served traditional Chinese food and were operated in traditional Chinese fashion.
After some time, non-Chinese began to come into to the chow chows, wanting to try this exotic food. The cooks who had established these eateries soon realized they had a real business on their hands. This lead to the first Chinese restaurants. These restaurants couldn’t, of course, rely on the few adventurous eaters who would wander in now and again. They had to alter their food to suit American tastes. This lead to the kinds of dishes we see in American Chinese restaurants today. Famous and in demand dishes of the time, like Chop Suey (a bunch of leftovers), were purely American foods.
In China’s street stalls, you will find food you do not recognize. You will NOT find anything resembling the Chinese food you are used to. And, many Chinese will likely tell you that this Americanized food is nasty! The widely held assumption, however, that all Chinese loathe such food is mistaken. They may not find it authentic, and they may not think it tastes as good as the real thing, but they do not necessarily find it inedible. For example, watch this Chinese girl try American Chinese food, below.
The egg drop soup, she said, seemed more like Vietnamese food, but she gave it a five on taste. After tasting the beef in a beef and broccoli dish, she actually said, ‘Mmmmm.’ She thinks the beef is actually good quality, better than most random restaurants in China. The taste, though, is just ok. The stewy and sticky sauces typical of American Chinese food, as you may have guessed, is not typical to authentic Chinese cooking.
When given a plate of Chow Mein, she didn’t recognize it at all, and wondered, “where’s the noodles?” Yes, Chow Mein is a noodle dish, not whatever that vegetarian stir-fry gleck they serve n America (which I personally abhor). If you want something akin to Chow Mein, you have to order Lo Mein. She compared this “just vegetable” dish with some “slop that my mom cooked.” I agree on the slop part of the comment.
The rest of the video is similar, but as you can see, it is not a foregone conclusion that a real Chinese person will just hate, hate, hate American Chinese food. And, according to this video by CBS This Morning, a restaurant in China serving Americanized Chinese food is a real business with a real market.