Intercultural Communication

Course Website for Tunghai FLLD Seminar

Chinese-[insert ethnicity here] food

Posted by thuicc on September 29, 2005

An interesting article was published in the New York Times recently: “Craving Hyphenated Chinese” by Julia Moskin discusses the different varieties of Chinese food that are available in New York City. By “different varieties” I don’t mean just Cantonese or Sichuanese… I mean (and Moskin writes about) Chinese-Peruvian food, Chinese-Mexican food, and even Chinese-Norwegian food!

For example, Moskin describes a Chinese hot dog invented by Kevin Cohnen, the owner of a kosher Chinese restaurant. The Chinese hot dog consists of “a kosher beef frank encased in an eggroll wrapper and deep-fried. The result is crusty, incredibly juicy and excellent with hot mustard, either New York deli or Chinese style.” (There’s an image of that Chinese hot dog here.) Another example of a hybrid Chinese-[] food is a Chinese-Peruvian dish called Lomo saltado, which Moskin describes as “a savory stir-fry of beef, onions and tomatoes, seasoned with soy sauce” that “is sometimes served over French fries”.

As Moskin writes,

The roots of these hybrid Chinese cuisines around the world are the same as those of Chinese food in America. Millions of Chinese men, most of them from the province Guangdong (formerly known in English as Canton), left China in the late 19th and early 20th century. Only men were allowed to leave the country, often by becoming indentured workers to companies in need of cheap labor in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and South America.Professional cooks were usually not among the emigrants, so the earliest Chinese restaurants outside China were started by men with little knowledge of cooking and a desperate need to improvise with local ingredients. The dishes they came up with, like chop suey, have long since been dismissed as “not Chinese” by scholars of the culture.

But Chinese food has never been quite what outsiders think it is.

“The term Chinese food represents an area four times larger than Western Europe and the eating habits of more than a billion people,” Mr. Kwan said. “You could say that there is really no such thing as Chinese food.”

Eugene Anderson, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Riverside, and author of “The Food of China,” disagrees. “Chinese food is defined by a flavor principle of soy sauce, ginger, garlic and green onions” and methods including stir-frying and steaming, he said. “Once you get too far away from those rules, it is no longer Chinese.”

What do you think about the arguments of Anderson and Kwan? Is there such a thing as “pure’ Chinese food?

And (since we’re studying intercultural communication) how might this discussion of Chinese cuisine relate to how we might understand our own identities? Is it possible to identify Chinese people (or American people, or…) and Chinese (or American) communication by some sort of principle similar to Anderson’s “flavor principle”?

(article found via Mixed Media Watch, an interesting blog that discusses how the media represents mixed people)


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