Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thinking about Chinese Food

I've been thinking about Chinese food, so last night went to a Chinese restaurant downtown, Kai Garden. We haven't been there in several years -- I have no idea if it's still the same owners. We particularly enjoyed a dish of fried squid with various spices, and a bowl of noodle soup with shrimp wantons.

In thinking about Chinese food and culture, I'm collecting misconceptions about China. Which is why I wanted Chinese food, in a way.

Summary of what I know so far -- with references. Despite popular misconceptions:
  • You cannot see the Great Wall of China from the moon. Chinese friends tell me that people in China also believe this. However, the astronauts who were actually on the moon definitively say they couldn't see the Great Wall.
  • The word "crisis" in Chinese does not mean danger plus opportunity. For a discussion see the essay by Victor Mair, a linguist specializing in Chinese.
  • Chop suey was not invented in America for the visit of a 19th century Chinese diplomat (though the details may differ in the recipes used in the two places). See the book Chop Suey by Andrew Coe if you want details.
  • Fortune cookies as we know them originated in America, and before that, they were an obscure Japanese tradition. They are unknown in China. See the book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee for the full history.
  • The Chinese aren't the lost 10 tribes of Israel. This seems so far-fetched that I don't feel a specific reference is necessary -- suffice to say, that Rabbi Hillel already said that the 10 tribes would never be found. That's around 1800 years ago.
  • Eating shrimp or pork in a Chinese restaurant doesn't make it kosher. No one truly deep down ever believed that anyway, it's only wishful thinking.
Update: The New Yorker has published a list of 2009's top China myths -- none of them are the same as mine.

My favorite New Yorker myth: "China is a land of no siblings. Fact: In July, the Shanghai government began encouraging eligible parents to have a second child in effort to counter the effects of an aging population. This is a major sign of a more relaxed attitude about the one-child policy in place since the seventies."

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