The recent discussion around the scandal ad of Dolce & Gabbana made me to start thinking about the meaning of Chinese food in the Western society. Comedian Ronny Chieng made it to the point: “D&G sold 800$ T-shirts made by Chinese children in economic slavery for years. Nobody said anything. The moment they made fun of chopsticks, we’re like ‘Fuck you, motherfucker! We are boycotting that shit! Treat us with respect.’”
When I arrived in Austria in 1991 I was surprised about the food served in the Chinese restaurants. I had never heard about Chop Suey and Fried Pork in Sweet Sour Sauce, never saw a fortune cookie before in my life. One thing was obvious: Austrians love these dishes! I started to question: where does this way of cooking coming from? Why so much soy sprouts? This is not Chinese food at all!
Just a few years ago I discovered the documentary of Ian Cheney – “The Search for General Tso”. (You can watch the full documentary on www.youtube.com/watch?v=FF26VZSS4yg ) In the search for the origin of the most popular Chinese-American dish, the General Tso Chicken, Ian Cheney discovered a sad story of the Chinese migrants in the USA.
The first Chinese migration wave was in the 1850s from Guangdong (Southern China) to California. The Americans saw Chinese as a competition and wanted them go and set up Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. This law made Chinese hardly to find a job – so they are forced to stay in their community and doing laundry and restaurants. To make the “Chinese food” more appealing to a white audience they rather use well known vegetables which don’t have a strong taste like broccoli and soy sprouts. “Chop Suey” means nothing but “chopped veggies”. Dishes are invented to please the American taste: fried meat with a sauce – this made to General Tso Chicken or Fried Pork/Fish/Chicken Sweet Sour. Although the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in the mid of the 1940s – the way to prepare food to sell to a white audience as a survival guide was able to spread across US and Europe.
Today, the era of Sweet Sour Pork seems to be over. “Chinese food all over the world is changing because China is changing.” Prof. Krishnendu Ray explained in the Quartz News interview: If the economic power of the migrants in a country is lifting the way of their food served will be changed in a more authentic way as well. The authenticity is defined through the food itself and the way to serve, meaning the design of the restaurants. We can observe the same with Italian and Japanese food. As evidence, for sure, today, Chinese people don’t like to be treated as uneducated and foolish to the Western culture as illustrated in the D&G ads.
In Vienna, there are around 5000 Chinese, Austrians with Chinese migration background like me are not counted. Even though the Chinese community isn’t as big as like in London or Paris, I am happy to get really good, authentic Chinese food in Vienna. Also, a new, hip Chinese generation is emerging outside of China. The restaurant owners of ON, Ramien, Yong Streetfood, Shu, Hao and Mama Liu & Sons in Vienna is reflecting the innovation power and creativity of China today.
A list of authentic Chinese restaurant in alphabetic order:
Aming – Dimsum Profi
Feine Sichuan Küche
Tofu und Chilli