As you drive north on the 5 through the Central Valley, the interstate is dotted with fast food joints and truck stops and the occasional restaurant advertising “Chinese-American” food. In all the times I’ve done that drive, we have never stopped and I always sort of assumed that they were covering their bases, that Chinese-American food meant they served both chow mein and say, hamburgers.
My first experiences with Chinese-American food were either in a strip mall or in a cramped restaurant with yellowing walls in downtown LA. The order was always the same whether we were unpacking a brown sack of red and white take-out boxes or gathered around a big Lazy Susan for a post-funeral eat your feelings. As an only child you reach an age in life where it seems like there is a lot of Chinese food happening. I sometimes worry that the second round isn’t too many years away.
Last week I posted a one-off with a photo of some char siu chicken legs we had in Kauai. I don’t know what the secret to char siu is aside from the red food coloring, but I’m determined to crack it. I went to Uwajimaya yesterday to check out the jarred and packet marinades and see what was in those, but the plan was to make the marinade myself. So, while some Chowhounders said there’s no way a restaurant uses ketchup and hoisin, an old recipe in the Honolulu Star Bulletin said different.
If you think of Chinese Chicken Salad as something that went mainstream in the 80s because of Wolfgang Puck and his Chinois Chicken Salad, you might be missing a chapter, and Madame Wu’s Garden, the LA restaurant that may have really originated it another 20 years earlier. Now closed, the lore is that that Madame Wu’s salad originated from a conversation with Cary Grant. You have to read this story by Rose Dosti in the LA Times written around the time of the Garden’s closing. In its heyday Madame Wu’s Garden catered to the same celeb clientele as Chasen’s.
I’m just going to say it. I don’t really like gravy. My one exception is biscuits and gravy, but definitely no gravy on mashed potatoes, not on turkey, not on loco moco, and not on egg foo young (or egg foo yong). This is a gravy-free zone. Shoyu (soy sauce) is gravy enough for me on eggs. When I told my husband I was making egg foo young for dinner, he said, “You’re not making gravy, right?” Right. How did he even know it was supposed to have gravy?
Egg foo young is an American-Chinese invention (it’s even in the Merriam-Webster dictionary?!) that somehow made it into our Japanese-American household. It’s pretty much just an omelette without the pressure – no folding and you want it to brown. My grandma made it once in a while when I was growing up — we always had a combo of Japanese and American food going on. It might be sukiyaki one day, spaghetti or chicken and dumplings on another.