Chinese food around the world
September 22, 2005 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Chinese food around the world. Ethnic Chinese immigrants worldwide took their cuisine with them. New Yorkers are familiar with Cuban-Chinese restaurants, owned by ethnic Chinese from Cuba who served steam tables of ropa vieja and chuletas right next to the pork fried rice and wonton soup. In Jamaica & Trinidad, Chinese immigrants pioneered jerk chicken lo mein and bok choy & callaloo stirfries.

Or how in Peru, Chinese Peruvians developed their country's restaurant industry and created a national dish, lomo saltado along the way.

But then there's the Indian-Chinese food popularized by the descendants of ethnic Hakkas who moved to Mumbai in the 18th century. Personally, I'm partial to some lollipop chicken or gobi manchurian with a nice, cold Kingfisher.
posted by huskerdont (57 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There's a superb hakka (which is a misnomer, but what the proprietors call their food) in the redneck community of Surrey, BC.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:53 AM on September 22, 2005

While in the mountains of El Salvador I visited a Chinese restaurant. Hilariously all they had to serve the lot of 6 of use was Chef-Boy-Ardee Spaghetti-O's.
posted by tidecat at 11:55 AM on September 22, 2005

Oops, itchy submit finger.

Anyway it's called Green Lettuce, and is a revelation the first time you eat there.

I've also been for Chinese in the asian hotbed of Mexacali, Mexico, which is surreal, but when you think about it, the two cuisines aren't that different, using many similar raw ingredients, yet end up with completely different flavour profiles.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:55 AM on September 22, 2005

Whoops. six of us.
posted by tidecat at 11:55 AM on September 22, 2005

Has anyone else in Southern California noticed the inordinate number of Chinese food/doughnut shops? What is that all about? 1 egg roll and 1 bear claw please.
posted by well_balanced at 12:00 PM on September 22, 2005

"Chinese food" in Argentina ain't all that either {blech}.
posted by Witty at 12:13 PM on September 22, 2005

Damn, now I'm hungry.
posted by Artw at 12:21 PM on September 22, 2005

The lollipop chicken at Tangra Masala is out of this world. I need to eat there again soon, its only a few blocks from my apartment.
posted by clubfoote at 12:29 PM on September 22, 2005

For those asking themselves wtf the Chinese were doing in these places, I can't speak for all of them, but in Cuba the Chinese came in the mid eighteen hundreds - around 100,000 Chinese arrived between 1840 and 1900. Much as they came to California to work on the railroads, they came to Cuba to work on plantations (coffee, sugar, tobacco, etc.). Many of them never earned the amount necessary to return to China, and settled in Cuba. There is still a Chinese community in some of the major cities, and Havana even has its own Chinatown. El Barrio Chino, as it's known, is very different from the Chinatowns familiar to the US, though - less Chinese spoken on the streets, fewer distinctly Chinese looking people. The Cubans attribute it to the very international roots of the country, and how Chinese men (around 80% of those who came in the 1800s from China were men) stayed behind and intermarried with the Spanish and African populations in Cuba. Some of the old Chinese societies (mostly regional, occupational, or last name-based) still exist, and there has been a resurgence of interest in learning Chinese and maintaining contact with the ethnic past.

The food itself is interesting in Barrio Chino, too. Some of the things considered essential for Chinese food in other places are unavailable in Cuba or just less palatable. Substitions of local produce give a distinct taste to Cuban Chinese (in Cuba) that just isn't found anywhere else, even in the Chinese/Cuban restaurants of New York. (My favorite of those has to be Cocina China, I think it's called, next to the Krispy Kreme on 3rd.)
posted by whatzit at 12:30 PM on September 22, 2005 [2 favorites]

There's a Peruvian restaurant in my neighborhood, and I was intrigued by the Asian influences. Lomo saltado (basically, beef stir-fry topped with french fries, with South American flavor accents- vinegar, tomato- instead of Chinese soy and sesame) is yummy.
posted by mkultra at 12:39 PM on September 22, 2005

great post, by the way.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:40 PM on September 22, 2005

Neat stuff - when I see "Chinese/Mexican", I tend to think it's just a crappy attempt to draw in two markets, and probably a bad example of both. This has me reconsidering, and also thinking of the history of chinese restaurants. I've been reading about their role in early california and throughout the west, and I think it's a fascinating part of history - especially of the New World.
posted by freebird at 12:42 PM on September 22, 2005

good post!
posted by cusack at 12:44 PM on September 22, 2005

My absolutel favorite indian-chinese food has to be chilli paneer. spicy and tangy and salty and sweet, all in one.
posted by darsh at 12:50 PM on September 22, 2005

My absolute favorite indian-chinese food has to be chilli paneer. spicy and tangy and salty and sweet, all in one.
posted by darsh at 12:50 PM on September 22, 2005

One more thing I've always been intrigued by: The Chinese-run Mexican takeout places in NYC.

For those not familiar with them, Manhattan & the outer boroughs are saturated with takeout restaurants (always named some variant of Fresco Tortilla, Fresh Tortilla, Yummy Taco or Delicious Taco) run by Chinese immigrants, serving regular, fast-foody Mexican stuff like tacos and burritos.

I remember back when they first started coming around in the mid-'90s, they were run by ethnic Chinese from Mexico who would always speak Spanish around the kitchen. Now it seems like most of them are run by regular, plain ol' Chinese (for lack of a better term).

Any NY MeFiers know the back story behind them?
posted by huskerdont at 12:50 PM on September 22, 2005

huskerdont - I don't know the *real* backstory, but I suspect it has something to do with immigration; it's easier to get landed immigrant status (at least in Canada, I'd imagine there's something similar) if the potential immigrant invests in a business and employs a number of local people. It makes sense (and I've seen it in Vancouver) for Chinese immigrants to buy a business from older Chinese immigrants (who may or may not be originally from China) who are already citizens and/or are about retirement age).
posted by PurplePorpoise at 1:05 PM on September 22, 2005

How I loved Indian-Chinese in Chennai! Chicken 65 is one of my favorite and most missed dishes. Village Voice article on the very subject here.
posted by VulcanMike at 1:31 PM on September 22, 2005

If someone comes to my restaurant and asks for Gobi freakin' Manchurian, they get kicked out.

(hasn't happened yet, thankfully. :)
posted by madman at 1:39 PM on September 22, 2005

Diasporas make for great fusion food. Tthe best chinese food I've ever had was in Prague, of all places. It was cheap, amazing, and the spring rolls were orgasmic. mmmm...
posted by stratastar at 1:45 PM on September 22, 2005

I've had Chinese food in America and I've had Chinese food in China. It's better in America.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:49 PM on September 22, 2005

Indian-Chinese sounds heavenly, but I've yet to find a plain old Indian restaurant I like. I got spoiled living in India...
posted by Specklet at 1:52 PM on September 22, 2005

That reminds me of the little taqueria in the bus station near my office. It used to be owned by a Chinese couple who came to the US via Mexico. Their food was outstanding and the wife taught me how to make ginger tea. I think of her every time cold & flu season comes around.

The worst Chinese food I've ever had was in Rome.
posted by annaramma at 1:52 PM on September 22, 2005

madman : "If someone comes to my restaurant and asks for Gobi freakin' Manchurian, they get kicked out."

Well, you're a madman. But I prefer Chicken Manchurian myself. The General Tso of Indian-Chinese. But not as bad.
posted by Gyan at 1:57 PM on September 22, 2005

In the Indian-Chinese vein, there's a fantastic cheap restaurant in the hinterlands of the Outer Sunset in San Francisco called Old Mandarin Islamic. They serve a dish called "cumin lamb" that is the perfect hybrid: stir-fried lamb, onions, and chili peppers perfumed with a ton of whole cumin and coriander seeds. They also make a dish that you have to insist on, because the waiter will tell you it takes too long, called "potatoes with chili," which is grated, barely cooked potato -- which transforms the familiar vegetable into something like fresh water-chestnut -- tossed with lots of hot pepper. Their meat pies are also fabulous, if nearly fatally greasy, and a dish made of bok choy seasoned with dried shrimp is like the most delicious Klingon food evar.

Not a fancy place at all -- the clientele consists of local teenagers and old Chinese Muslims -- but I've never tasted anything like it.
posted by digaman at 2:05 PM on September 22, 2005

Ah, to live in a place with such varied gastronomical possibilities.

"landed immigrant status"

I don't think there's an analog in the US system. As discussed much here right after the US election, it's a lot easier for a Canadian to become a non-citizen permanent resident in the US than it is the other way around. At least, in terms of a marriage deal, which was the case with me (US) and my ex (Canadian). I liked the US a lot more at the time than I do now, but even then I strongly considered going there, especially since she was living in Vancouver at the time, which I love. But it would have been very difficult. Her coming here was a piece of cake.

Now, I wish I was there, honestly, and, weirdly, she's become a US citizen. But in Seattle, which almost doesn't count.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:17 PM on September 22, 2005

Mmmmm now I want some ginger beef.....
posted by watsondog at 2:27 PM on September 22, 2005

Here's a documentary that, well, documents Chinese migration and its effect on Chinese cuisine. I also wish I'd seen this exhibit earlier this year. Just to see the words 'Matzoh Foo Young' on a menu would've made my day.
posted by horsewithnoname at 2:53 PM on September 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

Ohhh Cuban-Chinese .... God I love NYC.
posted by R. Mutt at 2:53 PM on September 22, 2005

For those asking themselves wtf the Chinese were doing in these places --

For anyone looking for a history of the overseas Chinese, I'd recommend Lynn Pan's Sons of the Yellow Emperor.
posted by russilwvong at 3:19 PM on September 22, 2005

Mmm...when I was in Kaunas, Lithuania about five years ago, we went to the city's lone Chinese restaurant. It was pretty damn good. I recommend the rabbit stirfry.
posted by RakDaddy at 3:26 PM on September 22, 2005

Chilean chinese food or Chaufa as I think they called it is not so good either. In fact Chilean food generally is not so great. Although I do rather like the coffee bars where you are served by waitresses in bikinis.
posted by rhymer at 3:52 PM on September 22, 2005

I'm surprised no one's mentioned Chinese-Soul Food -- pork fried rice with chicken livers and tabasco, french fries and crab rangoon from the same grease, wings cut-up... that's the nyc secret.
posted by eddydamascene at 3:54 PM on September 22, 2005

Sounds like I have a new quest to hunt down near my small town.

Wonder if I can find anything before my drool overcomes me.

(thanks for the post!)
posted by artifarce at 4:17 PM on September 22, 2005

Was anyone else disappointed that there are no lollipops served with the lollipop chicken? I was just imagining a whole chicken served on a bed of lollipops and it sounded really good.
posted by Alison at 5:23 PM on September 22, 2005

I saw the director and cinematographer give a presentation after screening three of the episodes. The couple running the restaurant in Norway (I believe) is classic.
posted by juiceCake at 5:42 PM on September 22, 2005


Your profile says you're in MA, so I feel I should point out that my favorite Indian place, Kabab & Tandoor in Waltham, serves Chicken 65. I have no idea how it compares to the version served in India, though. The K&T version tasted to me like someone cooked chicken in a boiled-down can of Progresso chicken noodle soup. Eerily so. In a sort of good way.
posted by rxrfrx at 5:42 PM on September 22, 2005

I ate at chinese run mexican place in Manhattan almost everyday, until I saw a roach on the wall.
posted by mrkredo at 7:04 PM on September 22, 2005

ZenMasterThis , my wife agrees with you; she's from Beijing. However, we try to avoid those "Chinese-Polynesian" places.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:26 PM on September 22, 2005

A little off the rail here, but a few more oddities:
There's my favorite food, Hainanese Chicken Rice, which has nothing to do with Hainan and comes from Singapore. There are also roti canai and mamak rojak - food done by Indians in Malaysia that don't exist at all in India. Granted, these are not as surprising as, say, Chinese-Cuban, but they're still hybrids (and damn tasty).

Incidentally, eddydamascene: I have never seen crab rangoon on an nyc chinese menu.
posted by ginbiafra at 7:39 PM on September 22, 2005

The best Chinese meal I ever had was in Kosice, Slovakia. Incredible.
posted by moonbird at 7:45 PM on September 22, 2005

Misigisaq Chinese Restaurant, Sisimut, Greenland
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:57 PM on September 22, 2005

Incidentally, eddydamascene: I have never seen crab rangoon on an nyc chinese menu.

Strange. If you're ever near the Brooklyn Museum, try Hood Hing.
posted by eddydamascene at 7:58 PM on September 22, 2005

Chinese restaurants in Holland serve Indonesian food. Indonesia used to be a Dutch colony, so the Dutch must have already known that cuisine when Chinese immigrants settled there, and I can just imagine everyone going: "Oh, you're from Asia! You MUST know how to prepare this typical Asian food! Add more spices! More spices!"
posted by easternblot at 8:03 PM on September 22, 2005

Great post.

It's so cool how global mass transit and migration have changed food.

Indian food in Britain has had masses of changes added to it, Chinese food all around the world obviously have. Pizza seems to have been improved outside of Italy.

How long will it be before the pro-globalization writers (Friedman et al) use this as a good example of what can be done when cultures combine and change each other.
posted by sien at 8:04 PM on September 22, 2005

Well, homogenization is bad but fusion is good and it's not at all clear to me that globalization necessarily means homogenization.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:44 PM on September 22, 2005

I sent a link to this thread to a friend who did her BA in Chinese Migration (UBC offers Interdisciplinary degrees) and she offered a couple answers to questions:

her words:
"why are there so many chinese-run donut shops in LA?" "because, little grasshopper, they are run by Chinese Cambodians, with that long colonial history of French occupation....mmmmm, beignets!"

and did you know that Peruvian fried chicken originated in the Chinese restaurants in Peru?
posted by heeeraldo at 9:09 PM on September 22, 2005

I really enjoyed this post from the summer about Chinese restaurants and their signs.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:32 PM on September 22, 2005

Ever been to a Chinese German restaurnt?

They're really great. But an hour later you're hungry for power.

Danke, 谢谢. I'm here all etcetc
posted by mono blanco at 11:25 PM on September 22, 2005

Chinese-American Couple Mixes Chinese Food with Mississippi Delta Delicacies

But my favorite Chinese food fusion is definitely Gung Haggis Fat Choy.
posted by stuart_s at 12:48 AM on September 23, 2005

huskerdont - The backstory is this:
Preparing Chinese (fast) food require the uses of many more ingredients and specialized equipment than preparing Mexican (fast) food. For new immigrants, it is much cheaper to set up a Fresco Tortilla, than to set up a Golden Wok.
That was the explanation given by the guy that started up the tortilla places. He just did some basic research into what would be the most cost-effective kind of place to start up.
posted by bashos_frog at 8:12 AM on September 23, 2005

Damn. I've gotta say though, my favorite is the "Fresh Taco" in Bensonhurst that also sells Chinese food, sushi, subs and donuts...

It's the closest thing to a one-stop Homer Simpson gorging experience I've seen yet.
posted by huskerdont at 8:46 AM on September 23, 2005

ginfabria, don't make me homesick for yong tau foo, kuay teow and satay, lah

what about nyonya food? hybrid mix of chinese and malay cuisine going back to the 16th century malaccas
posted by infini at 9:14 PM on September 23, 2005

Nyonya food, hybrid chinese
posted by infini at 9:16 PM on September 23, 2005

As a little bit of a follow up to the comments from heeeraldo's friend - Donuts Anyone? Cambodian Americans own some 90 percent of California’s donut shops. There's at least one case study of the phenomenon (Gen Leigh Lee, "Chinese Cambodian Donut Makers in Orange County: Case Studies of Family Labor and Socioeconomic Adaptations). Though, in my limited personal donut-buying experience, I haven't really noticed any places that sell both Chinese food & donuts in the way that well_balanced describes.

My favorite quote from the NYT article might be: "Chinese food and Jamaican food are tight-tight," said Monica Lambert, a customer who was eating the dish. "This food is both. You know, like Naomi Campbell," she said, referring to the supermodel whose father is Chinese-Jamaican.
posted by PY at 10:57 PM on September 23, 2005

I've yet to find a decent Chinese restaurant in Austria, although I have found excellent Indian, Sri Lankan, Thai and Japanese food. Unfortunately, the Chinese restaurants I've visited in Vienna serve bland dishes that all seem to have originated in the same boring kitchen.
posted by syzygy at 8:38 AM on September 24, 2005

Ah, Malaysian food. I've had Chinese food from all over the world (including China) and Malaysian Chinese food wins over them all.
posted by divabat at 5:29 PM on September 24, 2005

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