Being a 3rd generation Chinese American, I am able to notice the distinct differences between Chinese food in the U.S. and authentic Chinese food. Although I was born here, I’ve traveled to China multiple times already, so I have first hand experience. Chinese people tend to set up communities in every major city they immigrate to, which is why there are so many “Chinatowns” across the world. These communities would never settle for westernized Chinese food, so if you were looking to try authentic Chinese cuisine, your best bet is the closest Chinatown to you. After taking a step back and analyzing what and how I eat, I found 3 primary factors as to why one dish would be served different ways.
Americans tend to eat a lot more meat than Chinese, especially red meat. A steak in China is made of chopped meat usually, whereas westerners tend to desire a nice 16 oz. rib eye or prime rib. Not only China, but many other Asian countries, still have a large agrarian society. So the cost of vegetables, fruits, and other farm grown foods are a lot lower. Although we have access to many vegetables here, the cost and access to meat is just as available and so we choose to eat what our palate desires.
– Differences in Consumption
If you’re read or watch the news, you’ve heard at least something about how poor the American diet is. As mentioned before, we follow what our palate desires right? The majority of western cultures have just recently opened their eyes to the “healthy living” mentality. From the huge increase of consumption in bottled water to the new craze of eating only organic foods. The Chinese concept of healthy eating is ingrained in their culture. Many times, I find that Americans don’t like to wait too long for their food, especially in places like NYC. The Chinese restaurants have adapted to the preferences here and adjusted their style of cooking, but they’re sacrificing a healthier dish to get it done.
– Differences in Food Preparation
Let’s take a generic dish like chicken and broccoli for example. If you made it in the U.S., it would take longer to cook because American’s have a different portion size. Also, because western palates usually prefer flavorful foods, they tend to add more salt and MSG when preparing the food here. They also tend to use more oil to help it cook faster and food coloring to make it look better. I have taken plenty of friends from other cultures to eat authentic Chinese food. Without fail, someone always says “what the heck is that” when they see something weird. Chinese chefs try to do their best in terms of presentation, but if it tastes great and is healthy, who cares what it looks like.
In conclusion, it comes down to what the local people want. It’s the same question as why pizza in the U.S. doesn’t look like pizza in Italy. However, as our palates evolve and as our western culture moves to become more health conscious, I’m sure the Chinese chefs here will adapt to our preferences.