A Chinese stomach in America

BY: HAIYUN HE

Chinese-Noodles-300x300

When I told my Chinese friends I was coming to America as an exchange student, they told me to bring enough chili sauce and get ready to become a Chinese chef. Yes, this is exactly what some Chinese students are doing in America. They like to cook at home because it's cheaper, healthier and more importantly, it tastes better than dining out.

Chinese students can speak English and learn to be Americanized, but it’s hard for them to change their eating habits. While Americans enjoy cold salad and burgers, Chinese think about hot rice and noodles. Just like one of my friend studying in America told me: “Your stomach will eventually prove that you are Chinese.”

Although they all complained about American food, I still thought I should try real local food here and make my own decision.

In the past, my impression towards American food was fast food. When the first McDonald’s opened in my hometown in China, people waited in extremely long lines that extended out the door and along the street. Although I have forgotten the taste of my first burger, I still remember waiting in line with my family, curious about what Americans eat.

American fast food is not new to China anymore, but I find something new about the fast food culture here. The American way of life is built around speed and efficiency, such that Americans create lots of different kinds of fast food including Mexican food and Chinese food.

Before coming to America, I had never had Mexican food before and I was surprised to find how popular it is in the States. I have found that I enjoy Taco Bell and El Pollo Loco.

However, my experience in Panda Express was a negative one. Panda Express was my first taste of so-called Americanized Chinese cuisine. Its appearance resembled Chinese food, but it was much more salty and oily than traditional Chinese food, and included orange chicken and broccoli and beef, which I had never before heard of in China.

I complained about the experience to my American friends but surprisingly, they said they liked Panda Express. To show them what authentic Chinese food tastes like in comparison to Americanized Chinese food, I brought them to a Chinese restaurant run by Chinese people.

When we ordered the food, they were confused about the menu. They imitated me, trying to use chopsticks, but it was funny to see that they still needed to use their hands to help them get the food, as Chinese seldom use their hands while eating. They said the food was good, but they did not see much difference between the authentic food and Panda Express, which I could not believe.

At the same time, I could not see the difference between In-N-Out and MacDonald’s, and my American friends think Taco Bell sucks, which may be a result of each of us becoming accustomed to our own local cuisine. In America, the localization of global cuisine can make it easier for us to accept new types of food, but sometimes these cuisines are changed to fit the preferences of the people in the host country, for instance, McDonald’s and KFC in China both have rice for Chinese.

Unlike many countries, however, America offers various global cuisines for people to choose from. American foodies can get any food they want because America is comprised of people from all over the world. For example, it would be impossible for me to find the Ethiopian food that I tried here, in China.

While there are many inauthentic versions of Chinese cuisine, I know that whenever my Chinese stomach feels homesick, I will be able to hunt down authentic Chinese food here, because this is America, a paradise of global cuisines.