american chinese food
If American Chinese food isn’t authentically Asian then neither am I
Growing up with the privilege of nightly access to fresh, homemade Chinese food, I have always taken its Americanized cousin for granted. At best, American Chinese food was a guilty pleasure. At worst, it was an orange stain on Chinese tradition — a cheap knock-off of the recipes my ancestors passed down for generations, watered down and commercialized for Western palettes.
But I have come to realize that the very notion of authenticity within a cuisine revered for its cacophony of diverse culinary styles is completely outrageous. Sichuan cuisine is famous for its extensive use of the Sichuan peppercorn, which gives its dishes their signature “mala” (numbingly spicy) taste. Meanwhile, the cuisine of the Jiangsu Province is far more cosmopolitan, favoring artistic presentation and more aromatic flavors.
Panda Express chef on the appeal of orange chicken and why American Chinese is its own regional cuisine
- Across 2,200 stores, Panda Express has become a staple of Chinese American fast food, and central to questions about cultural and culinary authenticity.
- A third of the chain’s customers order the staple orange chicken, but new dishes like Sichuan chicken keep the brand busy with innovation.
- Chef Jimmy Wang, director of culinary innovation, spoke to NextShark about the process of creating the next big dish, authenticity in the kitchen and his own Panda Express order.
Chef Jimmy Wang, executive director of culinary innovation at Panda Express, spoke to NextShark about the process of creating the next big dish, authenticity in the kitchen and his own go-to order.
What comes to mind looking at the circular Panda Express logo, featuring a soft, curvy panda with a blank expression popping out against a red background? For many, the zesty taste of orange chicken is synonymous with the brand. Or maybe it’s nostalgic memories of sitting in a mall food court, a scent vaguely reminiscent of Asian cuisine hanging in the air.