Saturday, February 2, 2013

Real Chinese Food and American Dishes

So, the fallout from last week's cold blast continued at our house with frozen pipes that burst when the weather broke. I can't cook under these kinds of circumstances, so I picked up the only delivery menu in the house, Island Garden Chinese Food. I don't know why I always go through the process of reading the whole menu, all two hundred options, but as I re-circled my go-to items (chicken and broccoli, lo mein and chicken wings with french fries),  I got to thinking: Why Chinese? After pizza, it is the quintessential American choice for delivery. There are more Chinese restaurants in the US than McDonald's and Burger King's combined. How did it become such a big part of our food culture? What's the back story here?

I dug a little deeper as I waited for my delivery and I found the first known ad for Chinese delivery in the US, circa 1929. Pretty ballsy, considering that at this time in America, the Chinese were ostracized and avoided. The restaurants back then served accessible dishes like chop suey and sweet and sour pork, as well as "French fried potatoes", appealing to our palates with just enough familiarity to put us at ease. The cuisine became progressively popular after the World Wars and by the 1960s, there was  an explosion of acceptance in the United States. Chinese restaurants were in vogue, exotic and hangouts for the suburban middle class and the urban hipster.

Today, Chinese delivery is the saving grace of over-extended moms like me, college kids on limited budgets and single city dwellers. When times are tough or you are stretched too thin or you just don't feel like picking up a pot, those hot white boxes of steaming rice and simmering sauces on the other side of your door, twenty minutes after you put in a call, are the ultimate fast food.  

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