Cornell Pair Introduce American-Chinese Food To Shanghai

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Many Americans have grown up with favorite Chinese takeout dishes: General Tso's chicken or chop suey.

But if you try to order them in a restaurant in China, prepare for blank stares. That's because those dishes aren't really Chinese food, but an American version of Chinese food.

Now, Americans in Shanghai who are missing their beloved Chinatown cuisine can find it at a new restaurant called Fortune Cookie.

At lunchtime, Fung Lam relays orders to his local chefs. It's just like his family's restaurant back in North Jersey, where he filled takeout orders as a teenager, down to some of the very un-Chinese ingredients that have helped make this hybrid cuisine so palatable to Americans.

"We're American-style Chinese food, so a lot of the ingredients — like Skippy peanut butter, Motts applesauce — things that we use were never made in China, so we had to find the product here," Lam says.

The applesauce flavors the sweet chili sauce for spring rolls and the duck sauce. The Skippy goes into fried noodles and fried rice.

The secret behind that Chinatown standard, sweet-and-sour sauce?

"About one third of it is Heinz ketchup, and that's what gives it that bright, red-orangey color," he says.

David Rossi, from South Pasadena, Calif., is Lam's business partner. They met studying for their master's degree in hospitality management at Cornell University.

The pair came to Shanghai in 2012 to open a restaurant that focused on healthy food. When that ran into trouble, they decided to offer the only kind of cuisine they couldn't find in Shanghai: American-Chinese.

They say food bloggers ridiculed the idea, with lines like, "You're going to try to sell ice to Eskimos." A lot of people called them crazy and thought they would close within six months. But eight months later, Fortune Cookie is still open.

Lam believes there is a market among expatriates here who are nostalgic for their hometown takeout. People like Megan Emery Moore, who teaches art at Shanghai American School.

Emery Moore grew up in Missouri, where she waitressed at a Chinese restaurant.

"They had amazing sweet-and-sour chicken," she says, "so ever since then, I was always like, I've got to get some more that's just like that."

And that's what Emory Moore is eating right now.

"It's kind of embarrassing that you're in China eating American-Chinese food, but it was spot on," she says. And kind of comforting: "I feel calm, relaxed. I feel like I'm at home."

Chinese people make up about 40 percent of the lunch crowd at Fortune Cookie.

George Zhao, a management consultant, likes the beef and broccoli he ordered. But he says in general, westernized Chinese food lacks the subtly of the original cuisine.

"The sweet-and-sour pork — the pork is too sweet," he says. "In China, we don't eat food this sweet."

A few booths away sits Jack Zhang, who works in advertising. A Chinese colleague brought him here to taste a new kind of food. As Zhang tries his first fortune cookie, he frowns.

"This is like glutinous rice," he says. "It also tastes like a street-side pancake. I've never been to America, so I'm not quite clear about this thing."

That's because fortune cookies are also unknown here. As are those little white takeout boxes with the wire handles.

In fact, the restaurant's Chinese staff found both so intriguing, they took them home to show their families during the recent Lunar New Year.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit

Source: NPR [,1004,1007,1013,1014,1017,1019,1128]

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