The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food
If you think McDonald's is the most ubiquitous restaurant experience in America, consider that there are more Chinese restaurants in America than McDonalds, Burger Kings, and Wendys combined. New York Times reporter and Chinese-American (or American-born Chinese). In her search, Jennifer 8 Lee traces the history of Chinese-American experience through the lens of the food. In a compelling blend of sociology and history, Jenny Lee exposes the indentured servitude Chinese restaurants expect from illegal immigrant chefs, investigates the relationship between Jews and Chinese food, and weaves a personal narrative about her own relationship with Chinese food. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles speaks to the immigrant experience as a whole, and the way it has shaped our country.
parts of her body. “They don’t do that with pigs, do they?” she challenged. “It’s very American. It’s all-American: very big pieces of chicken, fried and sweet.” For generations, Chinese immigrants and students have been warned not to be shocked by the Chinese food in American Chinese restaurants. Among those dishes most likely to confuse them is General Tso’s chicken. Wei remembered her first impression of the dish when she encountered it in a restaurant in Syracuse: “Is it edible?” Watch
the so-called barbecue sauce on his shirt, the detectives cajoled. Troy’s friend insisted he had no idea what had happened to the Chinese deliveryman. The test came back from the lab. It was barbecue sauce. Troy’s friend told me, after his release, “Every black man who orders Chinese food is under suspicion.” Not only is there DWB, there’s also OWB—Ordering While Black. Within the dreariness of the Chinese restaurant worker’s life, there is one day that is different from all the others.
phone and coo. His clients like the consistency of his presence, he confided. For these customers, Davé is the same. His food is the same. The cloisonné table lamps, white plates, and silverware are the same as when he first opened in 1982. For his customers, there is something reassuring about a restaurant that stays constant. “They don’t want change,” he said. “I don’t know. I think sometimes society is moving so fast. Maybe it’s good to have something not change.” Davé is like the
The alligator looked like cooked chicken but tasted surprisingly springy and tender. “I call it bayou veal,” said Tommy Wong, the fourth of the five brothers, in a Texas twang. “Some people are squeamish about trying alligator, especially people from out of town,” he said. Of course, he eventually does tell the people who dine on “bayou veal” the truth—“After they’ve eaten it.” Tommy showed me a plate of raw chicken side by side with raw alligator. I would not have been able to distinguish them
down.” Truth be told, while New York has its share of authentic Chinese dives, there are really no standout fine Chinese restaurants in New York anymore. As Zagat pointed out in its 2005 list of top American restaurants, “Fine Chinese dining, once the leading Asian cuisine in the U.S., seems to have stalled, with not even one Chinese restaurant reaching the Top Food Rankings.” There seemed to be hope when Ian Schrager decided he needed a Chinese response to London’s Hakkasan in his upscale