Jennifer 8. Lee's Fortune Cookie Chronicles puts a spotlight on many aspects of Chinese-American cuisine that I never really thought about. For instance, soy sauce packets don't taste very much like soy – and why would they? If you look at the ingredients, they're just brown-colored salt water - nothing at all like genuine, brewed soy sauce.
This book also enlightened me to the fact that P.F. Chang's (the restaurant chain) was not founded by a Chang, as I had assumed, but instead by a man named Paul Fleming. He most likely appended a "Chang" to his initials because it was (and is?) so quintessentially Chinese. My father happens to be a P.F. Chang. In the future, should he ever decide to open a restaurant, naming it after himself would pretty much be out of the question. Kinda sad, huh?
(Pictured: stir-fried cabbage and tofu, made by a real P.F. Chang.)
"Chinese restaurants in America tend to shy away from anything that is recognizably animal. Mainstream Americans don't like to be reminded that the food on their plate once lived, breathed, swam, or walked. That means nothing with eyeballs. No appendages or extremities (no tongues, no feet, no claws, no ears). Secondly, opacity. This means nothing transparent or even semitransparent (this eliminates certain kinds of fungus and all jellyfish). There is also a limit to the textures Americans will allow in their mouths: nothing rubbery or oddly gelatinous (no tripe and, again, no jellyfish or sea cucumber). There is also an acceptable color palate. Nothing organic should be too black (no black seaweed or black mushrooms). Nothing made with flour should be too white (steamed white buns have the undone look of the Pillsbury Doughboy; toasty brown is better)."
--The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, Jennifer 8. Lee