I grew up in a meat and potatoes household, a virtual stranger to ethnic foods of all kinds. We moved to Texas when I was eighth grade and, as far as I can remember, my first taste of Mexican food was nachos my mom made with boxed chips and squares of Velveeta Cheese. Bless her heart, she was eager to experience some cultural cuisine. We’ve come a long way, baby.
Chinese food, on the other hand, never made it to our table. My introduction to Asian cuisine came in college, at a small storefront restaurant where I could get sweet and sour chicken, fried rice, an egg roll and a large diet coke for $3.83. Heaven. Of course, now I much prefer lo mein or Mongolian Beef to sweet and sour chicken, and sweet tea to diet coke but, still, heaven.
I love Chinese food so I was intrigued by Jennifer 8. Lee’s book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. Did you know, for instance, that there are more Chinese restaurants in the US than McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC combined? In fact, Lee argues that
Our benchmark for Americanness is apple pie. But ask yourself: How often do you eat apple pie? How often do eat Chinese food?
Point well taken.
Lee’s interest in Chinese food stems from her own background as a Chinese American yet grew to something of an obsession upon reading an article featuring the inordinate number of lottery winners who’d picked their winning numbers from Chinese fortune cookies. Lee trekked across the country visiting the restaurants where the cookies were purchased and as she did so, her research led her deeper into the cultural metamorphosis of American Chinese food.
More interesting facts: Did you know that fortune cookies aren’t Chinese after all? That chop suey is an American invention? That no one knows for sure who General Tso was and how his namesake dish came to be his namesake dish?
Lest you think Lee writes only of various menu items and their history, one of the most interesting and eye opening chapters in her book describes the process (and expense, not to mention, sacrifice) that Chinese restaurant workers undergo in order to come to the US.
Lee is an exceptional writer and The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is an interesting, intriguing, and compelling look at the American cultural icon: Chinese food. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and highly recommend it.
Wife and mother, Bible teacher and blogger, Lisa loves Jesus, coffee, dark chocolate and, of course, books. Read more of her reflections at Lisa writes….