Popular Chinese dishes in the US

What comes to mind when we speak of cultural exports from China to the United States?

Bruce Lee, the giant panda, or kung fu?

Without a doubt, these cultural symbols are successful exports of Chinese culture, but another form of Chinese culture widely known in the US is Chinese cuisine.

Many types of local snacks, all deeply loved in China, are taking over the streets of America. Some were modified to suit to Americans' tastes, while others retain the traditional taste of China.

Here are just some of them.

Pai huang gua (smashed cucumbers)

In a report titled Smashed cucumber salad takes Manhattan, The New York Times praised the method of smashing cucumbers in making salads as a completely new way to eat a cucumber.

As the latest trend in New York this summer, smashed cucumbers and "their craggy edges and rough surfaces absorb flavors and form relationships in seconds," as opposed to sliced cucumbers, which tend to "shrug" off the dressing.

"It's cool how just changing the way you break down an ingredient completely changes the way it feels and tastes," said Danny Bowien, the chef at Mission Chinese Food on the Lower East Side.

The traditional Chinese cucumber salad, or pai huang gua, is dressed with a vinaigrette of soy sauce, rice or black vinegar, chopped garlic, sugar and sesame oil. In North and West China, where spicy foods are preferred, chili oil or Sichuan peppercorns are added for that extra kick.

Smashed cucumbers have long been found in Chinese restaurants in New York, but they have branched into other types of cuisine this summer. At Mr. Bowien's Mexican-influenced restaurant Mission Cantina, they are served with an intensely flavored dressing of lime, cumin and oregano-flavored sesame paste. At the Japanese restaurant Untitled, they are served with buckwheat noodles, baby turnips and tuna tartare.

At Superiority Burgers, the cucumbers are mixed with tangy yogurt and jalapeno honey and sprinkled with crushed sesame breadsticks, a form that the traditional Chinese dish has never taken before.

"There's something about the roughness, and the variety of shapes and sizes, that you get with smashing that is incredibly satisfying," said Julia Goldberg, a sous-chef who created the recipe alongside Brooks Headley, chef and owner of Superiority Burger.

Jian bing (grilled savory crepe)

Jian bing, a form of grilled savory crepe with stuffing, is a popular dish in North China. The mung-bean-and-millet crepe is often made on a well-heated pan. Freshly scrambled egg, pickled vegetables, scallions, cilantro, black bean paste, chili sauce and a crispy fried crackers (the secret that adds a crunch to the crepe) are added on the crepe and rolled up. Often sold by street vendors, Jian bing is a popular choice for breakfast for on-the-go commuters.

Alisa Grandy, the owner of Bing Mi!, fell in love with the snack when she returned to Portland from her trip in China.

"When she got back from China, that's all she would talk about," says her husband Neal. Grandy spent months perfecting the right mix of ingredients to recreate the exact taste she enjoyed in China. Six months later, the couple opened a store. Business is good, as they've already got two crepe-makers on back order.

Bing Mi! sells a piece of jian bing for $6. In fact, it is the only item that they sell. According to Grandy's husband, Chinese customers nostalgic for the taste of home have given their compliments.

Rou jia mo (Chinese hamburger)

Rou jia mo, which translates as "meat placed between bun", has a similar recipe to hamburgers, consisting of chopped meat inside a bun.

The chewy bun baked in a clay oven or fried in a pan and with a mouthwatering meat filling stewed in a variety of spices - is not only popular in China's streets and alleys but also with foodies overseas.

Xie Yunfeng, a Chinese vendor selling rou jia mo in front of Columbia University in New York, became an online sensation in 2013. Xie said he could sell more than 100 rou jia mo a day.

Commenting on the reported comparison between rou jia mo and hamburgers, one Internet user said, "People like eating meat by sandwiching it between buns, whether they are in the East or the West."

General Tao's Chicken

Though name of the dish comes from general Zuo Zongtang (1812-1885), who lived during the Qing dynasty in today's Hunan province, the general himself carries little relation to the dish.

The dish General Tao's Chicken is neither served in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, nor in Xiangyin, the birthplace of the general. The generals' descendants, who still live in Xiangyin, said they have never heard of such a dish.

General Tao's Chicken can be found almost ubiquitously in Chinese restaurants in the US. The chicken chunks, battered and deep fried, are often covered with a thick sweet and sour sauce seasoned with soy sauce, rice wine, rice wine vinegar, sugar, cornstarch and dried red chili peppers.

Egg rolls

The term egg roll often refers to a variation of fried spring rolls in China, only the wrap is thicker, the entire form bigger, and it doesn't have much to do with eggs.

The typical spring rolls in China are made with rice dough, wrapped around fillings which often consists of julienned vegetables and sometimes meat, and then deep fried. The egg roll, however, is made with flour dough, which gives it a thicker texture as opposed to the rice wrap.

Egg rolls are often served as appetizers in the US, just as spring rolls are in China.

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