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April 17, 2008 7:38 AM   Subscribe

"As American as Apple Pie" is an oft-repeated remark on the innate "Americaness" of the dish - but when was the last time you actually had apple pie? When was the last time you had General Tso's Chicken?

Jennifer 8. Lee gives an interesting talk on the cultural phenomenon of Chinese Food.
posted by plexi (91 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I refuse to listen to anything Jennifer 8. Lee has to say until she tells me what the 8 stands for.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:41 AM on April 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


Q) Why is General Tso chicken?

A) Because Jennifer 8. Lee!



Mmmmmm.... General Tso's chicken....

posted by Dr-Baa at 7:43 AM on April 17, 2008 [21 favorites]


There is a blog.
posted by caddis at 7:45 AM on April 17, 2008


Previous MeFi thread on Jennifer 8. Lee and her recently published book 'The Fortune Cookie Chronicles'.
posted by ericb at 7:47 AM on April 17, 2008


How about:

Q) Why did General Tso win the civil war?

A) Because Jennifer 8. Lee!
posted by pardonyou? at 7:48 AM on April 17, 2008 [10 favorites]


'The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.'
posted by ericb at 7:49 AM on April 17, 2008


I refuse to listen to anything Jennifer 8. Lee has to say until she tells me what the 8 stands for.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:41 AM on April 17 [+] [!]


"Her middle “number,” by the way, connotes prosperity to the Chinese."^
posted by caddis at 7:49 AM on April 17, 2008


when was the last time you actually had apple pie?

I made some last fall. With apples from my own tree.

When was the last time you had General Tso's Chicken?

Several years ago.
posted by DU at 7:50 AM on April 17, 2008


Didn't General Tso' chicken get it's name by ripping off Col. Sanders of KFC?
posted by Pastabagel at 7:51 AM on April 17, 2008


8 is a lucky number to many Chinese.

As American as Chinese Food.

As German as Döner Kebab.

As English as Chicken Tikka Masala.

It is said you are what you eat.
posted by three blind mice at 7:51 AM on April 17, 2008


General Tso's chicken is Chinese food?
posted by The Straightener at 7:54 AM on April 17, 2008


A couple thoughts on Jennifer 8. First as expected, Zen isn't even the best Chinese restaurant on that street, never mind in the world. Sun Sui Wah, Jade and Northern Dynasty are all better. Second, the 8 is the worst most superstitious middle name ever. 8 has a special meaning in Chinese culture, kinda the opposite of 13 in the west. Calling yourself 8 would be cute if she actually was 8, but as an adult it seems kinda desperate. Calling your kid 8 would be the same as naming them Keith "Yale Harvard MIT become a doctor make millions get a Nobel prize for working with Medicien sans Frontiers in Darfur and win the lotto married to a supermodel" Talent.
posted by Keith Talent at 7:55 AM on April 17, 2008 [7 favorites]


The only Wild Turkey capital I'm interested in is Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:55 AM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


A beautiful name for a boy... or a girl.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:56 AM on April 17, 2008


Calling your kid 8 would be the same as naming them Keith "Yale Harvard MIT become a doctor make millions get a Nobel prize for working with Medicien sans Frontiers in Darfur and win the lotto married to a supermodel" Talent.

That would be a totally ridiculous middle name. I mean, his last name is already "Talent". (Then again, his first name is "Keith".)
posted by DU at 7:57 AM on April 17, 2008


"Luck is something her family thought about when giving her the middle initial '8' as a teenager. After too many identity confusions with her popular name, she and her parents, who immigrated to New York from Taiwan in the 1970s, added the digit — the most auspicious numeral in China. It’s spelled out 'Eight' on her New York driver’s license, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles, meaning her middle initial could be less dramatically rendered 'E.'

As an intern at the Boston Globe 7 1/2 years ago, Ms.Lee penned a story on the front page of the living section entitled “Yes, 8 is My Middle Name.” [August 8, 1996]*
posted by ericb at 7:59 AM on April 17, 2008


Calling yourself 8 would be cute if she actually was 8, but as an adult it seems kinda desperate.

May I just sidetrack for one moment. This -- what shall I call it -- middle name of yours...

Ah yes.

"8". How did you come by it?

Well, I don't use it myself, but some of my friends call me "8".

And are you in fact an 8?

No, I'm actually a 4. I've been for some time, but a few years ago I said I was thinking of shedding a few pounds and since then some people have called me "8".

In spite of the fact that you are only a 4.

Yes.

And are you still intending to loose this weight?

No!

To bring you in line with your epithet?

No.

I see, I see. Well to return to your presentation
posted by three blind mice at 8:07 AM on April 17, 2008


(Also I love General Whozit's chicken. As she says, fried, sweet, what's not to like? Incedentally, we had General Wong's chicken in the dining halls in college, and it was retchid. Mostly celery.)
posted by uncleozzy at 8:10 AM on April 17, 2008


"I refuse to listen to anything Jennifer 8. Lee has to say until she tells me what the 8 stands for."

It's 8., and it stands for 8.0 with exactly one significant figure.
posted by Eideteker at 8:11 AM on April 17, 2008


"but when was the last time you actually had apple pie?"

Never. I find pie to be disgusting. Warm apples? You must be the same crazy idiots who thought it would be a good idea to heat a cool, refreshing beverage. I don't eat warm fruit, and I don't drink hot liquids. Anything else is nuts.
posted by Eideteker at 8:13 AM on April 17, 2008


Gah, that uptalk thing she does at the end of every 4th sentence or so makes her hard to listen to.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:20 AM on April 17, 2008


(Allso I can't spel.)
posted by uncleozzy at 8:20 AM on April 17, 2008


Apple pie not too long ago. Delicious.


Eideteker, thank you for leaving me more baked/cooked/fried apples.
posted by Atreides at 8:22 AM on April 17, 2008


I used to know a Chinese family who named their kid Primus "so he will be first in everything".

Someone else make the band joke, please?
posted by casarkos at 8:29 AM on April 17, 2008


Of course, the Romans (and not Americans) invented apple pie....
posted by zeugitai_guy at 8:30 AM on April 17, 2008


See also. (pdf; Jewy)
posted by ericbop at 8:37 AM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Someone else make the band joke, please?

Is his family in the restaurant biz?

He knew the game of fillthecups.

Laundry biz?

He knew the game of starchethecuffs.
posted by fleetmouse at 8:37 AM on April 17, 2008


There are a lot of middle-aged people running around China with names like "Struggle for the Glorious Revolution." 8 is not so bad.

Anyone know what the difference is between General Tso's chicken and General Gau's?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:38 AM on April 17, 2008


Some Reasons for Chinese Exclusion: Meat Vs. Rice, American Manhood Against Asiatic Cooleism, Which Shall Survive? (1902). 30-pages (Google Books).
pg.27
You can not work a man who must have beef and bread, and would prefer beef, alongside of a man who can live on rice. In all such conflicts, and in all such struggles, the result is not to bring up the man who lives on rice to the heef-and-bread standard, but it is to bring down the beef-and-bread man to the rice standard.
posted by stbalbach at 8:40 AM on April 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


Eideteker- It is good to know who to listen to, so thank you for exposing the fact that I should never take your advice about food or drink.
posted by MNDZ at 8:51 AM on April 17, 2008


Her presentation wasn't humorous, like she promised.

Also, she's an Ivy Leaguer who travels around eating take-out. America is bizarre.
posted by Pecinpah at 8:52 AM on April 17, 2008


she's an Ivy Leaguer who travels around eating take-out.

As I always say to Muffy, being things is ratha better than doing things.
posted by stbalbach at 8:57 AM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I had an apple rhubarb pie for Easter desert and General Tso's the next week. Thanks for asking!
posted by Hugonaut at 9:03 AM on April 17, 2008


I last had apple pie in the fall, when apples are good.

Also, I knew someone named 9 when I was in college. Not Nine, but 9. She had a brother named 7.
posted by rtha at 9:07 AM on April 17, 2008


Primus sucks.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:19 AM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fun Fact: I am Chinese and my maternal grandmother named two of my male cousins and my brother: Harvard, Princeton and Stanford. My brother won. Incidentally, he went to Oxford.
posted by spec80 at 9:19 AM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, she's an Ivy Leaguer who travels around eating take-out. America is bizarre.

Chinese take-out is fucking DELICIOUS, though.

And yeah, I have General Tso's maybe once a month. Apple pie, maybe once every couple of years. Melting pot, FUCK YEAH
posted by Greg Nog at 9:22 AM on April 17, 2008


I have apple pie quite frequently. Put a scoop of ice cream on it (or a slice of cheese, if you're really New Englandy) and by gum you've got yourself a treat.

As far as General Wossname's Chicken goes, I remember a wonderful illustration in a parody of David Macaulay's "The Way Things Work" answering the ages-old question of why General Wossname's Chicken tastes the same no matter where you are and which restaurant you visit.

The explanation was that the little nuggets of spicy chicken are actually mined from one vast set of underground reserves and then sent via pipeline to all the various Chinese restaurants around the country.

I fully believe in this now.
posted by Spatch at 9:25 AM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Should my union ever be blessed with issue, I would consider naming the child "42".

We have also seriously considered "Dracula", and this is another reason we that our union should never be cursed with issue.
posted by everichon at 9:32 AM on April 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


If I recall correctly, the detestable J8L's actual legal name is "Jennifer Eight Lee." She abbreviates it as "Jennifer 8. Lee."
posted by 1 at 9:34 AM on April 17, 2008


Should my union ever be blessed with issue, I would consider naming the child "42".

So you're a big Jackie Robinson fan?
posted by rocket88 at 9:40 AM on April 17, 2008


"And I was like, so I actually went to China."

How is it that people who say "like" and "actually" as much as she does, like, actually get to be a staff writer at The New York Times?
posted by monospace at 9:42 AM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, the last couple of threads on this topic sure went better. Must be spring fever. Anyway, once I got past the annoying uptick (which I think was literally on every single sentence for a while—I remember wanting to cheer when she actually finished a sentence with sentence-final intonation), it was indeed an interesting talk. Much of it is available in her NY Times article on the history of the fortune cookie, and here's what bothers me: she spends most of the article quoting Yasuko Nakamachi, the researcher who actually dug up the history involved. If she even mentioned Ms Nakamachi in the talk, I missed it; it was all "I went here, I went there, I talked to this guy and discovered..." Kind of bothered me.

If anyone doesn't make it through the question session at the end, the best anecdote was about an Italian woman who couldn't believe fried gelato wasn't a Chinese dish—she'd had it at every single Chinese restaurant she'd ever been to (in Italy, needless to say).

Oh, and also, Manitowoc (Wisconsin) is pronounced MAN-i-to-WOK, not however she said it.
posted by languagehat at 9:54 AM on April 17, 2008


Whenever I'm at a restaurant, ant the waiter asks if we'd like to see a dessert menu, my friends all roll their eyes, because they know there's a 62% cahnce I'm going to go into my "all restaurants should have apple pie a la mode for dessert regardless of the ethnicity of the cuisine" tirade.

But I think it bears repeating.


Because I really like Apple Pie.
posted by billyfleetwood at 10:02 AM on April 17, 2008


Well, the Chinese desert menu is often a joke, so I understand that position. Scoops of ice cream or cookies. Woo!
posted by smackfu at 10:05 AM on April 17, 2008


I'm with eideteker: Apple Pie is pretty vile. Crispness is, like, 90% of what is worthwhile about apples, and getting rid of that for a mediocre pastry just isn't going to do it for me.

Eideteker also says he won't drink hot liquids, though, which is just disturbed.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:07 AM on April 17, 2008


Anyone know what the difference is between General Tso's chicken and General Gau's?

There is no difference. All your answers are here
posted by grubi at 10:07 AM on April 17, 2008


Why does everyone dislike this writer so much? (I'm asking seriously, because I heard her on NPR and immediately disliked her)
posted by bluejayk at 10:29 AM on April 17, 2008


Why does everyone dislike this writer so much?

I haven't like, actually read her, but basically, her vocal tics are like, sort of too annoying to listen to.
posted by BoatMeme at 10:35 AM on April 17, 2008


Let me clarify my thoughts regarding the 8. My problem isn't with the digit, but with the period that follows it in the full name "Jennifer 8. Lee." If her middle name is 8, then there shouldn't be a period, as a period denotes an abbreviation. If her middle name is, in fact, Eight, then her middle initial is E. 8 is not an abbreviation for Eight. If, however, I were to learn that her middle name is a string of characters beginning with an 8, then I would accept the "8." as the proper abbreviation.

(To all of you apple-dessert naysayers: Visit Brassierie Tatin in Baltimore, and order the Tarte Tatin. This dish, I swear to you, is what apples want to be when they grow up.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:42 AM on April 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Normal people don't use their middle initial everywhere.
posted by smackfu at 10:58 AM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Most Chinese people I've known consider General Tso's to be American-Chinese food, along with sesame chicken and any other battered/fried dishes. General Tso is apparently not so popular on the mainland.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:18 AM on April 17, 2008


With a name like Jennifer Lee- i.e. her name is more common than dirt on the planet- I'd feel like throwing in an 8 too. Or ANYTHING that made me different from every other damn Jenny Lee.

(God, I'm glad my last name isn't as generic as my first.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:26 AM on April 17, 2008


Normal people don't use their middle initial everywhere.

Yeah, but if your name was "Jennifer Lee" you might want to for disambiguation purposes. Also, the name "[anything] E. Lee" is a little too Dixieland, if you ask me. I can't really blame her for using the digit, even though it really bothers me for some reason.

Well, the Chinese desert menu is often a joke, so I understand that position. Scoops of ice cream or cookies. Woo!

The desert menu at the last Chinese restaurant I went to consisted of "Fortune Cookies" and "Pineapple Tibits[sic]". Interestingly, we got both items gratis at the conclusion of our meal, so that's a plus.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:29 AM on April 17, 2008


everichon: We have also seriously considered "Dracula", and this is another reason we that our union should never be cursed with issue.

Potential childrens' names I have vetoed in our house:

1. Galactus
2. Modok
3. Shaft. ("No, really. Why not Shaft? OH COME ON. You're no fun!")
4. Cruella. "But only if it's a girl."

Potential childrens' names my boyfriend has vetoed in our house:

1. Otto
2. Matilda
3. Grant Morrison
4. Sieglinde

But never Eight, curiously enough.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:07 PM on April 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


Isn't General Tso's American-Chinese food? Don't they say 'slop for hogs' when describing the stuff they make for us? It's like spaghetti and meatballs, entirely American, no?
posted by fixedgear at 12:36 PM on April 17, 2008


Normal people don't use their middle initial everywhere.

try telling that to Alfred E. Neuman.
posted by dubold at 12:39 PM on April 17, 2008


All the poison directed toward this person who choses to bisect her given name with something fun like "8." are funneled by people who have names like "three blind mice"and "languagehat." You can hate on "8.", I guess, but what the fuck is a "Faint of Butt?"

So many lonely mumbling mavens on this site. Maybe you are distressed because you are old, going bald, and haven't published a best selling book lately? I think she is funny and interesting.

As for the casual speaking style, if you are under 30, this is how you talk to your peers.
posted by plexi at 12:52 PM on April 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


All the poison directed toward this person who choses to bisect her given name with something fun like "8." are funneled by people who have names like "three blind mice"and "languagehat."

I must be getting old, because I can't find where I made fun of her name. Can you point me to it? Thanks.
posted by languagehat at 12:56 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


if you are under 30, this is how you talk to your peers.

Uh, no.
posted by Rangeboy at 12:57 PM on April 17, 2008


Maybe you are distressed because you are old, going bald, and haven't published a best selling book lately?

Old, bald and never here. And I didn't make fun of her name, either, though now that you mention it...
posted by fixedgear at 1:09 PM on April 17, 2008


People who don't like apple pie have just never had good apple pie. Crappy apple pie has overly sugared mushy apples that taste of cornstarch and cinnamon. A good apple pie uses good apples (I'm partial to Macintoshes and Cameo's myself) with just a touch of sugar/nutmeg/lemon juice in a good crisp, flakey, pie crust that has way too much butter in it, and is the second best desert ever. (The best desert is cherry pie made with real pie cherries and no cornstarch.)

General Tso's chicken, on the other hand, is cheap fried chicken in gloop, and best avoided at all costs. Come to think of it, I guess that does make it quintessential american food.
posted by aspo at 1:22 PM on April 17, 2008


Only one '8'?
Pffft!
posted by rocket88 at 1:24 PM on April 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm half tempted to ask Mrs. Bondcliff to make one of her most awesome apple pies so I can bring it to the Cambridge meetup for Mr. Eideteker to sample.
posted by bondcliff at 1:26 PM on April 17, 2008


I guess this would be a bad time to admit my middle name is Thirtyseven.
posted by wendell at 1:30 PM on April 17, 2008


I thought it was short for Jenny 867-5309
posted by psmealey at 1:34 PM on April 17, 2008 [10 favorites]


Isn't she the moron who tried to make "man-date" a trend?
posted by klangklangston at 1:35 PM on April 17, 2008


klangklangston on the nose: Man-Date, by Jennifer 8!!

Ain't that gr8? I just can't w8!!
posted by psmealey at 1:38 PM on April 17, 2008


I curse my parents' generation for their unimaginative use of saints and dead relatives for naming their children. It's as if they had absolutely no regard for our future success.
posted by tommasz at 1:43 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


If, however, I were to learn that her middle name is a string of characters beginning with an 8, then I would accept the "8."

Her middle name is a string of characters beginning with an 8. and ending there as well.

Fully pronounced it's "Eight period" but most people observe the abbreviation "8." when printing it and "Eight" when pronouncing it.
posted by carsonb at 1:57 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


As for the casual speaking style, if you are under 30, this is how you talk to your peers.

Second vote for "uh, no." Seriously? You don't think talking like that takes away from what you're saying?
posted by inigo2 at 2:03 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I am reminded at this point of a fellow I used to know who's name was Henry, only to give you an idea of what an individualist he was he spelt it Hen3ry. The 3 was silent, you see."

-Tom Lehrer
posted by The Bellman at 2:04 PM on April 17, 2008


As for the casual speaking style, if you are under 30, this is how you talk to your peers.

In my day, we called it ""Valley Girl. The practice (defect? tick?) is broadly known as uptalking. I could have sworn this topic has come up several times over the years here, but this was the only one tagged as such. I was somewhat sure it's regional, as I noticed in the Western US and Canada much more than elsewhere, but I do hear it in the NYC area once in a while. It's somewhat unusual to hear in business or among very driven or highly educated people. It just doesn't sound assertive. Having said that, Terri Gross is famous uptalker, and it has not hurt her career one bit.
posted by psmealey at 2:24 PM on April 17, 2008


Based on anecdotal evidence from my former career as a bar doorman in New Haven, CT, uptalking is pandemic among Yale students and thus I assume among the Ivy culture as a whole.
posted by jtron at 2:55 PM on April 17, 2008


What's wrong with Galactus?

Also, Johnny Rocket's has good apple pie a la mode. Not affiliated, just a satisfied customer.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 2:58 PM on April 17, 2008


I think a good reason for her to think about maybe not making the 8 so prominent is that discussions of her work tend to center around the fucking 8. Or maybe that's the most interesting thing she has to offer? Would her work stand on its own if she didn't have the attention-grabbing middle name?
posted by marble at 3:55 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why does everyone dislike this writer so much? (I'm asking seriously, because I heard her on NPR and immediately disliked her)

I like her. She used to have great parties in DC. It was kind of a shame when she left.
posted by Slap Factory at 4:29 PM on April 17, 2008


I'll be damned if I'm going to listen to a presentation by a graduate of Stuyvesant High School who wasted her excellent public education by going to an Ivy League school.

There should be a law at every hospital in the Union: if a family of recent Asian immigrants wants to name their daughter Jennifer, someone must inform them, in a language they can understand well, that their daughter will never, ever be findable on Facebook.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:46 PM on April 17, 2008 [4 favorites]


When I was in high school in 1980 I dated a valley girl. She was a new transplant to the Northwest . She was the first person I ever knew that uptalked. I found it hypnotic and arousing at the time.

When I introduced her to my mom for the first time I could see my mother getting so confused. As they talked she answered every question my mom asked her with another question. Finally my mother smiled and said:

"Young lady, are you looking for me to confirm who you are? Maybe you should sit down and rest for a moment. You seem to be suffering from amnesia."
posted by tkchrist at 5:14 PM on April 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


I love your mom, tkchrist - in a totally platonic and respectful way.
posted by thedaniel at 5:39 PM on April 17, 2008


or a slice of cheese, if you're really New Englandy

Real New Englanders eat mince pie. That sounds Midwesterny to me.
posted by mubba at 5:54 PM on April 17, 2008


I'm under 30, and if I spoke to my peers like that they'd laugh in my face. Also, once you're, like, making videos for public consumption? That's not talking to your peers.
posted by jacalata at 6:27 PM on April 17, 2008


Also, Jennifer 8 Lee is 32.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:04 PM on April 17, 2008


when was the last time you actually had apple pie?

what? Last week.

When was the last time you had General Tso's Chicken?

About 12 years ago.
posted by bradth27 at 7:19 PM on April 17, 2008


As for the casual speaking style, if you are under 30, this is how you talk to your peers

Um, no.

Shit. I keep forgetting I'm over thirty but still--no.
posted by sourwookie at 1:24 AM on April 18, 2008


Jennifer 8 Lee?

Look at her. She sure did!
posted by sourwookie at 1:27 AM on April 18, 2008


Why does everyone dislike this writer so much?

There's a certain cohort of people who, if you write for the Style Section of the New York Times, will think you are a shallow, supercilious twit almost automatically. Couple that with a vaguely exotic and or contrived/pomo seeming middle name, and you've pretty much sealed your fate.

Not saying it's fair, just sayin'.
posted by psmealey at 4:07 AM on April 18, 2008


As for the casual speaking style, if you are under 30, this is how you talk to your peers

I have to say, the uptalking didn't really bother me that much? I guess it's just such a common affect that it hardly even reflects on the user anymore? I just expect that some people will have a little ambivalence projected into every statement they make? It's just an accent, really, and I think it is indeed much more common and generationally acceptable by Gen X/Y? However, as a blanket statement about people under 30, no way? It seems primarily to be an indicator of how closely knit your group of friends was in high school, as uptalking within a small group of girls can be ferociously self-perpetuating? You know? But maybe I'm just talking out of my ass?
posted by ulotrichous at 6:28 AM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


As for the casual speaking style, if you are under 30, this is how you talk to your peers

I'm under 30, and if I were to speak like that I hope and pray that someone would just knock me out. Annoying in the extreme.
posted by splice at 7:13 AM on April 18, 2008


I took a CAD course with an instructor who consistently uptalked.

It was ... difficult.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:01 AM on April 18, 2008


Using "8" for an American middle name is rather odd. The number itself isn't lucky, it's the fact that when pronounced in Mandarin/Cantonese, it sounds like the word for fortune/prosperity in Chinese (the fat in gung hay fat choy said during Chinese New Year). In English, the pronunciation of "8" is, of course, completely different. It makes sense as part of her Chinese name but inserted into "Jennifer Lee" it loses all meaning.

But hey, whatever makes a name sound cool right?
posted by junesix at 4:14 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


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