This article was written by Samuel Phineas Upham
Asian food has a long and storied history in America. It arrived with Chinese immigrants in California during the 1800s. It was like an attempt at reconnecting with their roots, and Asian populations were booming throughout that era. As a result, the food caught on.
Small American twists, like a greater emphasis on meat, were added to suit the American pallet and the food was very well received. In the early days of Chinese food, most dishes for Americans consisted of noodles and fried steak, with just a touch of vegetables like peppers. Better cooks in San Francisco helped to diversify the content of the meals, and bring more popularity to Chinese food in general.
During the 1920s, young bohemians considered Chinese food exotic, which leant even more popularity to the already tasty dishes.
Obviously, much of this food isn’t really Chinese food. The fortune cookie, for instance, is a distinctly American invention designed to add just a hint of sweetness to the dish. Sugar was the main ingredient in many dishes, and could often be found in large doses. MSG also became associated with Chinese food over the years. The running gag was that sugar, MSG and a cheap soy sauce basically created the sauce to all Chinese food. And it wasn’t entirely untrue.
Today’s Chinese food is a bit more health conscious, but America is still a long way off from serving traditional Chinese cuisine. Still, the cuisine is so passable that Asian-Americans might be forgiven for mistaking it with traditional fare.