Sunday, January 25, 2009

There IS American Cuisine

Bill Brown ... Xiamen University
Adapted from "Magic Xiamen--Guide to Xiamen"

°We don't like American food!" Chinese often say, but I just reply, °That's because you've never had it!"

Likening American fast food to authentic
American home cooking is like comparing instant noodles with Anxi Hutou's famous rice noodles. Every time I visit Hutou, I return with a 50 pound sack of rice noodles, but I'd sure never drive 4 hours for instant Ramen!

I can sing the praises of the award-winning Hakka dish, He Tian chicken, because I first had it in a real Hakka kitchen in Longyan City's Hetian Village. But my second serving, only 3 hours away in Sanming, was more foul than fowl. Fortunately I know what real Hetian chicken is supposed to taste like.

Some people complain that American food is just a mix of other countries cuisines, but that is its strength! America is as much a melting pot of menus as of
men, and in many ways reminds me of a much younger version of the centuries-old culinary traditions of West Fujia's famous little Shaxian Town.

About 1,000 years ago, people from all over China moved to remote Shaxian and brought with them their own unique cooking styles. Over the centuries, extremities of tastes mellowed to maximize their appeal to a cosmopolitan population, and today Shaxian's over 100 dishes are popular all over China (those many so-called Shaxian shops are less than genuine).

As Shaxian has adapted from cuisines all over China, so Americans have adopted and adapted foods from all over the world to create. Those who think all Americans subsist on meat, potatoes and bread need only browse Susan Marie's few dozen cookbooks and their thousands of recipes for genuine American food.

And America, like China, has rich regional specialties. Kentucky Fried Chicken originated in the South, where fried foods are popular. Texans enjoy Tex-Mex, a unique Americanization of Mexican food. (Nothing beats a breakfast burritos!). The French influenced Louisiana's Cajun cooking.

Americans adapted Italian cooking to create a distinctively American style of pizza (fair enough, since Italians stole spaghetti from the Chinese). Even the so-called American staple, potatoes, came from abroad. The Spanish introduced potatoes from Peru to Europe in the 16th century, and they eventually made it back to America, largely via Ireland. Turkey and corn are genuine American foods (from Native Americans).

Americans also have inventive salads, like the Waldorf and Caesar, and endless desserts like chocolate brownies and pumpkin pie. And those who turn up their noses at the very idea of a cheeseburger might change their tune if those noses got a whiff of a real burger: a thick, juicy, hand-shaped (not machine-stamped) beef patty bedded between fresh buns and blanketed with real cheeses, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, grilled onions, and slathered in a rich sauce or dressing.

Epicureans eschew American cuisine as Old Money shuns New, and it may well be our tastes are immature, untamed¡ªbut just give us a few centuries.

Sample Tex-Mex (one of my favorite cuisines) at Xiamen's Coyote Cafe!

Address: Yuan Dang Lu Gan Long Hua Yuan 58-2

Telephone: 504 - 6623

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