Wednesday, March 09, 2016

How did Chinese food get hip in America? Culinary Diplomacy

"Fish: What was the culinary impact of Nixon’s 1972 visit to China?

Coe: One of the big things that happened was that the Chinese did a live broadcast of President Nixon having a feast in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People and sitting next to the paramount Chinese leaders having Peking duck. People just went crazy. At the time, the Chinese food that people knew about was chop suey, chow mein, egg rolls and the like, but it was no longer considered hip food. It was sort of boring and bland and nobody cared about it anymore. But suddenly, after seeing Nixon eating his Peking duck, people decided that they wanted “authentic Chinese food” like Nixon was eating in Beijing and like restaurants catering to Chinese populations were serving. So people went exploring in Chinatowns. There were restaurants opening in New York and the West Coast serving Hunan and Sichuan food, and this was at a time when there was a kind of counter-culture where it was cool to like hot, spicy food—anything with chili peppers. That’s how a whole new range of dishes got introduced to the United States, like kung pao shrimp and General Tso’s chicken. Of course, over the years those dishes then became Americanized and bland."

How Chinese food became hip in America: Peking Culinary Diplomacy with Generalissimo Nixon.