COOKING IN THE CAVE: Oh, the horror of American Chinese food!

It’s greasy…

It’s pasty…

It’s full of MSG…

Its sanitation is questionable…

It’s… it’s…American Chinese food.

For years now, I’ve silently abstained from eating the abomination that has besmirched authentic Chinese cuisine.

I’ve seen too many dirty restaurant kitchens. I’ve found too many hairs in my potstickers. So several years ago, I unofficially stopped eating most American Chinese food.

But after this weekend, I can’t be silent any longer. At an independent Chinese restaurant, two friends received food poisoning from the American favorite: orange chicken.

This dish, comprised of tiny chicken bits overly battered and fried, is smothered in a syrup-esque citrus sauce that is vaguely Asian—with perhaps a hint of ginger and soy.

One threw up eight times while trying to sleep at night. I told them we shouldn’t have eaten Chinese…

And I know food poisoning happens everywhere. But this is the last straw because of the generally poor conditions I’ve seen in so many Chinese restaurants.

Most of the Fortune Gardens, Lucky Dragons and Jade Palaces I’ve been to have been of the same ilk as far as food quality goes. And although it’s a chain, Panda Express isn’t much better. (P.F. Chang’s and Fat’s are usually very clean, but they are also very Americanized, so I’m not including them in this rant.)

Sanitation aside, orange chicken and its derivatives (i.e. general’s chicken and sesame chicken) irk me in particular because the amount of batter is usually greater than the amount of chicken, making for a bite of pasty mush.

And what frustrates me most is the difference between authentic Chinese and standard American Chinese.

Like every other foreign cuisine that America botches, Chinese food is better in China. But in this case, the difference is enormous.

While accompanying my dad on a business trip to China, I learned that potstickers aren’t actually thick and heavy; they’re light and clean. And orange chicken isn’t a staple.

In fact, my favorite lunch ever was in Suzhou. The dumplings were so flavorful but used minimal dough. And there were no fried and sauced meats.

There were a lot of organ meats, but I’d prefer those over American Chinese any day.

Needless to say, I don’t eat Chinese food in the U.S. very often, so I’m no authority on the few restaurants that defy my generalizations.

But Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco (2234 Mission St.) was recommended on two separate occasions by GQ and is the second-highest rated SF Chinese restaurant on Yelp.

Their tea-smoked eel, cod fried rice, and beef brisket are supposedly amazing.

I’ve been dying to go, but every time I suggest this restaurant when in SF, my family and friends overrule me.

It’s probably because they’re expecting grease, paste, MSG, and questionable sanitation.

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