The following dishes, labeled Chinese food, are very popular in some western Chinese restaurants, but ask anyone in China and you’ll get a blank look, unless they’ve studied or worked outside the country.
Beef and broccoli
Chinese eat beef, Chinese eat broccoli, but they never eat beef and broccoli together. On the other hand, we love fried broccoli — just the flowering green vegetable fried in soybean oil, sometimes with an added hit of chili. As for beef, we Chinese would prefer it stewed with potatoes or tomatoes.
General Tso’s chicken
Whenever non-Chinese try to discuss Chinese cuisine, they can’t avoid this dish. General Tso’s chicken is beloved by many of our western friends, but it really has nothing to do with Chinese food. By “Chinese food” here, I mean the food popular at least in one part of China. After all, it’s often difficult for a food to be loved across China thanks to its vast land and food variety.
The sweet chicken dish’s origins have been frequently discussed online and I won’t bother to detail it here. What I can assure you is that natives in Hunan, General Tso’s hometown, have never heard of and will never be interested in this so-called Hunan dish.
I think the first non-Chinese who served this dish may have been fooled by his or her chef. The chef in the Chinese restaurant may just scramble to put the leftover bits and pieces in kitchen together when someone had ordered a dish the chef knew nothing about.
Or maybe we can say, the chef really knew something. We Chinese do have our kind of mixture cooking — people in northeastern China often stew pork, potato, eggplant and corn together. The point about the dish is to stew them. Besides, we never put eggs into it.
We have our version of crab wontons, which are completely different from your deep-fried dumplings filled with crabmeat and cream cheese. Ours are not fried, but steamed. Our fillings include pork and crab. And most importantly, without cheese in it, but a rich savory broth that oozes out at the first bite. It’s a Shanghai food I would recommend.
Egg rolls are thick, deep-fried rolls of dough filled with meat and vegetables. Even for our Chinese people, they are too greasy. Similarly, we have spring rolls, and just as its name implies, they should be eaten now, in the spring time. Spring vegetables like bean sprouts and Chinese chives can be put in thin dough rolls (not fried ones). Sliced carrots and chopped omelets can also be added as fillings.
Chinese surely have a faith in something fortuitous, like the number eight, which sounds like “wealthy” in Chinese. But nothing like fortune cookies. In fact, we often have fruits for dessert, such as slices of watermelons and oranges, cherry tomatoes, among others.