One day in last March, when I was shopping in New York City Street, I was surprised to see a shop of Jianbing in the street. Jianbing is the food what we call it Chinese Savior Crepe in another way.
Low East Side, it was a marginal neighborhood in the lower right corner of Manhattan island, surrounded by little Italy, Chinatown and the east village. But in the last ten years, many trendy shops appear there.
In New York, you know, it’s not surprising to see anything here. But I was surprised by this Savior Crepe shop, and I decided to find out what’s really inside.
A foreigner was making pancakes in the shop. I went up to talk to him and knew that he is the owner of this shop. His English name is Brian Goldberg but he named himself a Chinese Name Jin Boliang. That’s how the name of this shop “老金煎饼” came from.
Brian told me about his story. He graduated from Columbia University with a master’s degree in east Asia and worked at an Investment Bank in Hong Kong. Many years ago, he came across the Pancake in the streets of Beijing and had been preoccupied with it. Then he quit his job of the Investment Bank to open his first pancake shop in Hong Kong. And then he went back to New York and opened his pancake shop in New York.
Compared to the Chinese pancake, the price of Brian’s pancake is much more expensive, you know, cheapest traditional taste one is 8 dollars, and the more expensive one will cost you 14 dollars. You can buy 20 pancakes in Beijing with this price. The price is expensive even considering the New York’s price level, since the average price of a sandwich is only about eight dollars , and it is rarely more than 10 dollars.
I thought is was very interesting at that time. But then I found it was very normal when I talked it to my friends. In the past two years, several Chinese Crepe shops have appeared in New York already.
The Jianbing Company, was also founded by an American who has lived in China for many years and speaks fluent Chinese.
Flying Pig, which was founded by two Chinese people, they sells Jianbing on the streets of New York every day, and it is said that they are able to sell 150 pancakes a day.
The New York Times has written several articles about Chinese Jianbing, and they have compared them to the Chinese versions of French crepes.
Not just in New York. In other American cities, such as San Francisco, Seattle, and even in Europe, there are Chinese Crepe Shops.
And it’s not just pancakes. People living in New York may have such an obvious feeling.
In recent years, more and more Chinese snack and Chinese food began to appear in New York. Those food are not well known by Americans,such as Chinese Hamburger(肉夹馍)，Lanzhou Beef Noodles, Chongqing Street Noodles, Lamb Skewer… and their business seem to be good.
One of the most famous is called “西安名吃” （Xi’an famous food), run by an immigrant from Xi’an. Years ago, The New York Time wrote an food article about this shop. You know, it is somehow a lifetime dream for many restaurants to be published on New York Times.
New York people love to pursue new things like the Internet celebrity food. You must remember the Cronut. And because it is too hot, the writers of “Broken Sisters” even wrote it in the episode.
We should admit the true, that the pancake and 肉夹馍 have not come to the point where every people pursue it.
However, I think that more and more new Chinese Food and Chinese Cuisine are appearing is more meaningful than a snack to become hot.
From a small point of view, they subvert the perception of Americans on traditional Chinese Food, which could herald a change in the entire Chinese food industry in the United States.
One shameful thing is that while we Chinese are proud of Chinese food, but Chinese restaurants have long been a low-end image in the United States and other countries.
Traditional American Chinese Food and Chinese Food In Local China are quite different. Chinese food in the United States is mainly sour and sweet, and it is very strange of the cooking skills. All kinds of dishes are basically not seen or eaten in Local China.
In other words, it’s not the real Chinese food, but a new kind of cuisine, we call it American Chinese Food.
You can see this strange thing not just in the United States, but anywhere else all over the world. Sometimes the Chinese food even mixes with their local cuisine, the taste becomes even more strange.
For example there is Caribbean Chinese Food in the Caribbean Area. I have been to a Cuba Chinese Restaurant in New York. The staple food is both rice and the beans that Caribbean people used to eat. They both put in the same one plate.
There are about 40, 000 Chinese restaurants across the country of the United States, the number is three time of that of McDonald’s restaurants. You can find Chinese restaurant almost everywhere.
If you drive on the road, even in the most desolate remote corner, you can see Chinese restaurants stubbornly stands on the road looked like a lighthouse. Most of these Chinese restaurant are immigrant family restaurants, small size, the grade are not high too.
I searched on the Google Map with the keyword Chinese Restaurants, and the results were dense.
But all of these small restaurants are American-style Chinese Food. The Chinese takeout we often see in American TV series are also American-style Chinese food.
The most classic American Chinese food is General Tso’s Chicken. The dish is coated with flour on a large piece of peeled chicken, Fried and served with a thick sweet and sour sauce that tastes sour and sweet.
The most common side dish in American Chinese food is broccoli, and the meat are usually chicken and beef. Then we have another two famous dishes. Beef with Broccoli and Chicken with Broccoli.
Perhaps every Chinese who comes to the United States, have the feeling of “What the xx is this” when they first time eating the American Chinese food. But at the end they have to accept it.
In other words, hundreds of millions of Americans have eaten fake Chinese Food for decades.
So why is American Chinese Food so strange?
I think the main reason is that most of the early immigrants to the United States are from the bottom of the society, and the former China is poor and weak, no international status.
As a result, they had no cultural confidence at all, and the Chinese Restaurants tried to cater to American tastes.
But in the last decade or so, things have become very different. On the one hand, China’s influence is rising. On the other hand, the social class of Chinese immigrants has also changed significantly.
In this context, Chinese food began to have the courage to test American taste with authentic Chinese taste.
One American writer, Calvin Trillin, he once wrote an ragged verses about the culture shock of New York’s new Chinese Cuisine.
The name of this poem is: Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?
Have they run out of provinces yet?
If they haven’t, we’ve reason to fret.
Long ago, there was just Cantonese.
(Long ago, we were easy to please.)
But then food from Szechuan came our way,
Making Cantonese strictly passé.
Szechuanese was the song that we sung,
Though the ma po could burn through your tongue.
Then when Shanghainese got in the loop
We slurped dumplings whose insides were soup.
Then Hunan, the birth province of Mao,
Came along with its own style of chow.
So we thought we were finished, and then
A new province arrived: Fukien.
Then respect was a fraction of meagre
For those eaters who’d not eaten Uighur.
And then Xi’an from Shaanxi gained fame,
Plus some others—too many to name.
Before we often assume that American people don’t like Chinese food, so if you want to open a restaurant in the United States, it need to be improved, localization, and only in this way can you sell your food out.
But that’s not the case.
One example is Sushi. Americans are very receptive to Japanese culture, with sushi everywhere in supermarkets and grocery stores. Sushi, literally, has entered the American diet.
But has sushi been Americanized in the United States? No! American sushi, and even the world’s sushi, are not so much different in their taste and taste, and still retain their original flavor.
What is cultural confidence? What is cultural soft power? It is to bring out a bowl of steamed mutton, or to take out a Chinese Crepe, you don’t need to do any localization transformation, just keep it original flavor.
To be honest, Chinese Food is nothing less than Western Food, whether on the food selection or production process. We don’t need to be self-defeating.
But for a long time, the status of Chinese Food in the United States and in other countries is not very high. It has not been matched with the profound cultural connotation of Chinese Food. I think it’s very unfair.
The reason, presumably, is that people in other countries have been eating fake Chinese Food and haven’t tasted the real authentic Chinese Food.
But now, the launching of Chinese Crepe and Steamed Mutton means things are starting to change. It is quite possible that this is the beginning of a new era of overseas Chinese Food.