Mon, Sep. 22nd, 2008, 12:27 am || Lee, Jennifer 8. - The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food

add to memories

Lee begins the book by telling the story of an unprecedented number of winners for a lottery, all of whom had gotten their winning numbers off of fortune cookies. She goes on to examine Chinese food, although despite what the title says, it's more American Chinese food, with occasional forays into other diasporan Chinese foods. Hopefully no one here is surprised to learn that American Chinese food classics such as fortunes cookies, chop suey, and General Tso's chicken aren't very Chinese at all, in that they were born in the USA. On the other hand, Lee argues that you can't define them as un-Chinese. (Although fortune cookies were actually invented by some Japanese Americans, which I hadn't known.)

Since I am a snob, I still refuse to think of most Chinese food in the US as actual Chinese food, despite Lee's arguments. And she does note that Chinese food in the US is sweeter, saltier, and deep fried more often than Chinese food from Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan, along with noting that it's somewhat sanitized for USian taste—no bones, no gristle, no dark meat, no strange body parts.

I have to admit, the breezy tone ended up being off-putting for me, along with the lack of depth, although the book may be more interesting to someone who doesn't know about the differences between American Chinese food and Chinese/Hong Kong-ese/Taiwanese Chinese food (Lee distinguishes between food from China/HK/Taiwan and food from anywhere else). I also had a hard time reading some of the history because the breezy tone often goes along with history, and that history mostly consists of Japanese internment (or why Chinese Americans ended up marketing the fortune cookie instead of its Japanese-American inventors), the Chinese Exclusion Act, illegal immigration, and other fun things. On the other hand, I did not know that Chinese delivery men are frequently robbed, beaten, and/or killed on the job, so I did learn that.

Lee seems to be more apolitical than anything, though of course "apolitical" is still a political choice. Still, because of that, I wanted a different kind of examination of Chinese food in the US, one that doesn't necessarily conclude that the changes it went through were good, but I also have a great deal of vested interest, thanks to being made fun of for what I eat.