Chinese Food: In America And China, How They Differ article, wikimedia photo

One of the tastiest cuisines in the world is the menu of Chinese Food. How many times in all of our lifetimes have we eaten there? A question that often comes up while dining is; what is the difference between Chinese Food served in America verses China?

MIGHTY BEIJING article, wikimedia photo article, wikimedia photo

Do you know the answer to that question? We sure didn’t.

Let’s turn to some experts to help us.

An ideal source of information is found at The writer is Xiaoyu Yan, a Public Relations Specialist at Attract China’s Boston Office.

“The experience of dining in China is far different than eating at restaurants in America. Manners and menus are almost entirely opposite. article, wikimedia photo article, wikimedia photo

Menus in China are usually illustrated hardback books, in which almost every single dish has a picture. That means a menu typically has around 20 pages, lined with beautiful photos.  Chinese people order food according to the picture, not necessarily the written description in menus.

Furthermore, each table is typically only given one menu, and when the menu is placed before them, the waiter stands next to the table ready to write down the order. You do not sit at the table and talk for several minutes before ordering; you order when you sit almost immediately.[adToAppearHere]

In China, people are used to dining in noisy environments, which is considered welcoming and joyful. So, if you need to call a waiter in China, call loudly. Very loudly. Shout “Waiter” and wave your hand. Since there is no tipping in China, every person is your table’s waiter, and it’s appropriate to stop anyone in the restaurant and ask them for something. This is not rude, it is expected!

And cold water? It doesn’t exist at the dinner table in China. Hot water is almost always served, even in the middle of summer and even while eating the spiciest food imaginable. And if you order a beer or a bottle of water, better ask for it cold, as their inclination is to serve at room temperature.

Americanized Chinese cuisine simplifies cooking steps. In fact, it usually takes quite a long time for Chinese people to prepare and cook a traditional Chinese dish because they emphasize the harmony of three features, “color,” ”aroma,” and ”taste.” Chinese chefs also pay much attention to how they cut their ingredients. Take Tofu Noodle Potage, a Chinese vegetarian soup, for example. To prepare this dish, a Chinese chef will skillfully slice a fist-sized piece of tofu into hundreds of hair-thin shreds so that it can contribute a silky texture to the soup.

More notably, Americanized Chinese food is mainly cooked through frying, while Chinese people only fry food occasionally. Methods such as stewing, braising, baking, steaming, boiling, and even fermenting are commonly used in authentic Chinese cuisine, either cold dish or hot dish. Chinese people believe that fried food is very unhealthy, and may increase the risk of cancer. Instead, they spend much time boiling nutrient soup and porridge to balance the body’s Yin and Yang. So, popular Chinese dishes in the U.S., such as Sweet ‘n’ Sour Chicken and Crab Wontons, are actually rarely seen in China.”

Very revealing. How did these changes come about?

A very educational site explains, “America was once the Melting Pot, with populations from Europe, Asia, and other continents all joined together. Most cultural groups brought their customs and their cuisines; both changed and adapted over the years to turn into something much different.

According to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the history of Westernized Chinese food started in San Francisco in the mid-1800s with Chinese immigrants who came to the U.S. looking for work.

According to the Smithsonian, many Chinese workers had trouble finding work; opening a restaurant for the Chinese population was an avenue many took simply to make a living. Eventually, Chinese cuisine made its way into the mainstream and was changed along the way to reflect Western tastes and regional influences.

One main difference between authentic Chinese food and the fare offered in American casual Chinese restaurants is the cooking methods used. The food found in Western Chinese restaurants is mainly cooked through frying. Many dishes are cooked using various frying methods in a wok or a deep fryer.

Traditional Chinese food may be cooked using any of the various frying methods, but it is not the main way such cuisine is cooked. Methods such as stewing, braising, baking, steaming, boiling, and even fermenting are commonly used in authentic Chinese cuisine.[adToAppearHere]

Furthermore, breading and deep-frying items is not really found in authentic Chinese food; such cooking is the equivalent of chicken nuggets, onion rings, and mozzarella sticks.


Another big difference between authentic and Westernized Chinese food is the ingredients used. Westernized Chinese food focuses on dishes with a main meat; ingredients like rice and vegetables are sides or fillers.

With authentic Chinese dishes, the opposite is true. Ingredients like vegetables, rice, noodles, and soybeans are those that are most often used. Some ingredients found in Western Chinese food are not used in authentic Chinese cooking as a general rule; such examples include broccoli, carrots, onion, tomatoes, and dairy product.

Many of the most popular dishes in casual Westernized Chinese restaurants aren’t eaten in China at all. For example, Sweet ‘n’ Sour Chicken or Pork has no equivalent in traditional Chinese cuisine. In an article about Western Chinese food not eaten by the Chinese on, the author, Mary Kong, points out the obvious connection to U.S. Southern cooking in these two dishes where the meat is breaded, deep-fried, and served with a sweet sauce.

Crab Rangoon is another example of Westernized Chinese food. A Wonton shell is filled with imitation crab meat and cream cheese, and then it is deep-fried. Cream cheese is not a commonly used Chinese ingredient.

The dish Beef and Broccoli is yet another example; broccoli isn’t used anywhere in authentic Chinese cuisine. Similarly, fortune cookies are a completely American invention as well.”

There is also a common concern about certain ingredients found in American Chinese Food. The informative site speaks to this. article, wikimedia photo article, wikimedia photo

“Monosodium glutamate is a Japanese creation and Japan is the largest per-capita consumer of MSG in the world, but the Chinese most often get blamed for the use of MSG in food.

The term Chinese Restaurant Syndrome was even coined to describe the general unwell feeling after eating at a Chinese buffet. Ironically, sufferers rarely take into account that they probably overate and mixed many different types of foods that are prepared in heavy oil.

Avoiding MSG when eating authentic Chinese food can be difficult. Even restaurants that claim not to use MSG often use it anyway or prepare dishes with ingredients that contain MSG. Don’t panic! A precursory scan of your pantry may surprise you: MSG (labeled as monosodium glutamate) turns up in many major Western-branded soups, lunch meats, foods, and snacks that you may already be eating regularly.”

I’ve learned a lot here but it won’t change my love for American Chinese Food. I love the fusion that took place back in the 1950’s that evolved into the standard menus that we love today.

So if you truly want authentic Chinese Food, you know where to go. Best wishes on your long flight.

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Sources:, Wikipedia,,, FCI Elite Competitor,, photos thank you Wikimedia Commons.