Christian Long

Jennifer 8. Lee: Hunts for General Tso

In TED Talks on April 11, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Reflection by RIVU D.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Jennifer 8. Lee:  Hunts for General Tso

The origins of the food we all eat is not something the average person tends to think about, but if presented correctly, as it is in this video, it can be extremely interesting nonetheless.

The facts that present themselves in the video are staggering in and of themselves. If popular mainstream American franchises such as McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, and Wendy’s combined can’t outweigh the number of Chinese restaurants in America, then the term “melting pot” can definitely be applied to our country. But, as illustrated in the talk, that take out Chinese you’re eating, isn’t even Chinese.

Mrs. Lee does a fantastic job of presenting how most “Chinese” foods that we believe to be authentic in some sense are actually not in any way related to China. As an example, Mrs. Lee uses a fortune cookie. The video illustrates numerous Chinese citizens gazing upon a simple fortune cookie as some sort of foreign object, as if it were completely alien to them. Well, that may be because fortune cookies are in fact Japanese, not Chinese. But if that’s the case, then why does every Chinese meal in America come with a delicious cookie telling us what will become of our future? Well the answer lies in immigration and World War II. When Japanese immigrants moved to the United States, they brought along with them they’re traditional fortune cookies, and fortune cookies were associated with the Japanese until World War II, when the Japanese were isolated away from everybody due to wartime events and the Chinese essentially stole the market and made it their own. So, if you think about it, if the events of World War II had transpired a tad differently, you would be associating fortune cookies with the much less popular Japanese food, rather then the megahit Chinese food. Mrs. Lee goes on to say that the same is true for numerous other foods, such as General Tso’s chicken. The chef who was credited with the invention of the dish didn’t even recognize the American version of his creation, and was actually appalled by the American version. But, America isn’t the only culprit in the falsifying of Chinese cuisine.

Mrs. Lee goes on to point out that other countries, such as Mexico, Brazil, Italy, and India have made their own versions of Chinese food. For example, Mexico’s Chinese food inevitably ends up looking like Mexican dishes, such as fajitas, and India’s Chinese food adds India’s notorious spices and flavors, such as its Chili Chicken. And the fun part of the ordeal is, almost all of these foods have no Chinese origin whatsoever. Perhaps they were influenced by China’s creations, but they are not authentic Chinese food.

This makes one inevitably wonder, what exactly is authentic Chinese food?

Well, actually it varies. In a country as populated and diverse as China, the food is served up by local area and not by large region. Every specific area has its own specific foods and other edibles. These foods may be similar to other areas, after all there only so many things you can do to chicken, but they aren’t quite exactly the same.

But in the end, the most interesting point that’s made is never brought up in the video at all. If America and other countries make up their own versions of Chinese food, do other countries have their own versions of American food?


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