Imagine living in China and missing Chinese food. For Americans visiting or living in China, it happens. That’s because much of what Americans call Chinese food is foreign to people living over there. However, now General Tso’s chicken, beef with broccoli and fortune cookies are available at least one place in China.
The Chinese food Americans are accustomed to is an Americanized version using products and produce found in the U.S. Over time, Chinese immigrants adapted their recipes to appeal to American palates or take advantage of plentiful, inexpensive ingredients that could readily be found in the U.S.
Now, though, Westerners and others in Shanghai can dine on American-style Chinatown cuisine at new restaurant with the appropriately American Chinese food name, “Fortune Cookie.” (Fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco) Fortune Cookie’s typical patrons are expats who miss things like sweet-and-sour chicken covered in sauce and pineapples, a totally American dish.
Two American entrepreneurs launched the restaurant last year to cater to expatriates and introduce “Chinese food” to the local Chinese. Co-founder Fung Lam, 31, is a third-generation Chinese-American restaurateur. His grandfather left Hong Kong for the U.S. and opened a restaurant in Brooklyn during the 1960s. As a teenager, Lam worked in another restaurant the family opened in New Jersey.
The food at Fortune Cookie has an authentic American Chinese food taste because the restaurant gets a lot of special ingredients — Skippy peanut butter, Philadelphia cream cheese and Mott’s applesauce — from here. The Mott’s is used in the duck sauce and the chili sauce for dipping spring rolls. Skippy is used to make fried noodles and fried rice. Crab Rangoon, a deep-fried dumpling appetizer, uses a cream cheese filling. They even used Heinz ketchup in sauces.
When Lam came to Shanghai in 2012, he and his business partner, David Rossi, who grew up in California and met him in a master’s program at Cornell University, planned a quick-service healthy food restaurant. However, they found the area filled with pizzerias, burger places and other cuisines from the U.S. So, the pair considered what they could offer that would be different for Shanghai’s 24 million residents. When Lam went looking for the Chinese food his family made back home, he couldn’t find it and inspiration struck.
Differences Between Chinese Food and Food in China
American Chinese food has entrées that feature a meat choice along with rice and vegetables as sides or fillers, a type of entrée foreign in China. “Authentic” Chinese dishes use vegetables, rice, noodles, and soybeans as the main ingredients. Things used in American Chinese food but not commonly used in China include broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, onion, and dairy products.
Then there are the differences in meats. In the U.S., dishes typically use beef, shrimp, pork, chicken or tofu. Chinese cuisine in China uses a wider variety of protein sources like pig ears, snake, duck blood, chicken feet, ox tail and jellyfish.
Authentic Chinese food also uses different spices, especially more fragrant ones, while American Chinese food relies heavily on salt and sugar.
Two key items the Americans needed for their “Chinese” food restaurant are true novelties in Shanghai and foreign elsewhere in China: fortune cookies and cardboard takeout boxes with wire handles. The American entrepreneurs had to source the restaurant namesake since fortune cookies are unheard of there. The white takeout cartons were not a complete mystery to the locals. They see the takeout pails in Hollywood movies but had never seen them in person before the restaurant opened.
By Dyanne Weiss