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How a fusion of at least four cuisines created crab rangoon (atlasobscura.com)
45 points by thomasjudge 60 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 28 comments

I think of it this way: immigrant cultures are their own culture, that should not be confused with their "parent" culture in their homeland.

Thus, Crab Rangoon is an authentic cuisine... of the American Chinese immigrant culture. As in, it was invented by "American Chinese" people—a particular people—and they can claim it as part of their (rather new-ish) cultural heritage.

As long as you make this distinction, the argument over whether something "is" authentic goes away. Everything is authentic. The question becomes: what is this-or-that food an authentic example of?

Alton Brown, in his inaugural episode of "Good Eats: The Return," points out that most of what is known in the U.S. as Italian food has its origins in Little Italy, New York.


This seems like an excellent and diplomatic way to address the issue.

" There’s a fundamental problem with the concept of authenticity in food..."

Yes, the problem being that I have never heard someone accuse a food of being inauthentic without sounding like they are desperately trying to sound cultured or cool or high status.

If I'm an Indian in California craving Indian food "just like home", am I desperately trying to sound cultured?

Maybe I was cultured to begin with! :D

There is a point when food attributed to a culture but not invented by it gains authenticity - when the culture that it is attributed to adopts it. A few examples:

- Tikka Masala (British)

- Burrito (California)

- Siracha Sauce (California)

- Pepperoni (New York?). But, we're still waiting on Italians on this one.

The popular Mission style burrito was invented in 20th century California, but people have been rolling meat or beans or veggies into tortillas for a very long time. And they were called "burritos", in Mexico, as early as 1895.

Quoting the Diccionario de Mexicanismos, which says "burrito" is a term from Guanajuato state:

Tortilla arrollada, con carne u otra cosa dentro, que en Yucatán llaman cozito, y en Cuernavaca y en Méjico, taco

(rolled tortilla, with meat or something else inside; in Yucatán called "cozito", and in Cuernavaca and Méjico "taco")


Yes, but if you go to another part of India you'll also be served a differently prepared dish, it will never be exactly "just like home". It's not just in India, every cuisine has regional variations, say in Italia there's a big difference in specialties between say Campania and Veneto. So how come that is OK, but emigrants have to make the food just like your mom makes or it's called fake?

The problem is that there is no real definition since all food comes from some place at some time. Even ingredients that are used in many Indian dishes today like Chili peppers and tomatoes are from the new world, so could not have been considered "authentic" at some time int he past. Basically "authentic" when it comes to food feels more like a kind of nostalgia.

Saying you want "authentic" vs "just like home" are very different to me. One implies value judgement, the other does not.

In my experience, the best way to make any food "just like home" is to make it yourself.

I find that authentic is the wrong word.

For example, Kogi is not authentic but does an amazing and non snobby approach to fusion of korean and mexican food.

Meanwhile Boba Guys is also not authentic, but they rub many asian americans the wrong way because of their branding. the lack of drink customizations and strong handedness to "we do tea the RIGHT WAY and CLEAN WAY" plus a history of putting down mom and pop boba shops as "dirty" is the wrong approach. but ofc they attract many white people and thus many asian americans that seek validation by mainstream

“but ofc they attract many white people and thus many asian americans that seek validation by mainstream“

This sounds very harsh and it almost sounds like you’re projecting here. I’m speaking as an AA who 1. Loves boba and 2. Cares about the quality of ingredients in their food. I don’t go eat out to “seek validation by mainstream” but I do care about the ingredients in my drinks.

Boba guys uses high quality ingredients and even sources their own boba and tea using their sister companies (unsure of the exact corporate structure), which is why many people enjoy going there despite the lines. This is in comparison to some boba shops that just use various powdered drinks and who knows what for their boba. I don’t go there as a way to white worship, which is what you’re insinuating here.

It's interesting that you recite this talking point by them of

> powdered drinks

What tea shop uses powder? I honestly have not experienced one. Even places that boba guys likes to look down upon like Quickly's (an honest logistical marvel: 2 immigrants that know no english serves 300 menu items) don't use "powder". At the worst they use fructose while boba guys itself uses (they use a mix of brown and white sugar to make their syrups). is that really that much of a difference? especially when boba guys oversteeps there tea and warns people against getting 0-25% sugar?

I'm not insinuating it's "white worship".

1. you are a 16 year old AA not in the SGV and you and your AA friends manage to find a boba place to hang out. 2. it's hard to offer this experience to your non AA friends as they would never go there because it's "dirty" and most importantly unknown. and so your network is smaller, your experience more alien 3. this makes boba guys so easy to go to now and then mention to your white friends, who love it because it's an aesthetic they know and a marketing copy their moms can get behind.

This is not a priori the wrong way to approach this problem. However, when this leads to claiming only your way is right and perpetuating racist stereotypes that if a boba shop does not LOOK clean, it must NOT BE clean.

INSTEAD what boba guys needs to do is be honest (rather than perpetuate untruths about other boba places). do everything to get your nut, but not at the direct expense of others.

These are an aside, but Andrew Chau has a history of making cringy semi-racist statements in addition to lying about their sources of funding and their margins.

White guy occasional boba tea drinker here. Never knew anybody that avoided "dirty" boba shops.

In the South Bay I have never heard of anybody, white or otherwise, judging boba tea places by anything else other than drink quality/taste. The #1 complaint I have heard is places not taking Credit Cards for < $6 orders.

However, I have heard some people question what the boba is made out of, but that never stopped them from enjoying their drink.

Saying that white mom's will trust boba guys over other places just seems silly. Pretty much all these places are equivalent to coffee shops and are pretty tame to allow a teenager to go to. Maybe I live in a bubble, but the racial overtones is completely lost on me.

The South Bay is basically SGV lite though. obviously there are no racial overtones in an area where asians are a plurality

Plenty of tea shops use powder. First of all, most places in SF use non dairy powder. There are exceptions and some places do allow you to pay extra for real milk, although my preference is oat > real milk > non dairy powder.

Then there's the flavoring powder. For instance, most places use powders like "taro" powder, although Plentea is a notable exception for having real taro based drinks. I do agree with you that not a single place use tea-based powder but again, this isn't what people are referring to when they mention this dislike for powder in their boba drinks.

I don't understand why you're associating "dirty" boba shops with racism. AFAIK Boba Guys is confounded by two Asians and has mostly Asian clientele AND is run by a diverse but largely Asian group at every store. It also happens to be clean and shows off the fact that it's clean. Please tell me how this is racist (presumably against Asians)? It looks like you're associating "dirty" shops with immigrants (won't get into how that's wrong of you as I'm already writing an essay).

> this leads to claiming only your way is right and perpetuating racist stereotypes that if a boba shop does not LOOK clean, it must NOT BE clean.

You're putting an undue burden on consumers. If a sushi restaurant smells like rotten fish, I shouldn't have to go in there, order some fish, taste said fish, and THEN determine if it's in fact rotten or not. I can just not go and frequent other restaurants that do not have that smell. Same goes for other establishments like boba shops!

I have no context regarding this Andrew Chau person but I'm assuming he's 1) one of the co-founders of Boba Guys and 2) potentially mislead his investors?

Overall, I think you harbor some resentment over Boba Guys being 1. white friendly and 2. contesting market share from immigrant-run stores which may or may not be dirty. I have no problem with the first point and neither should you. Regarding the latter, isn't the solution for these stores just to clean up their place and improve on marketing? What do you expect? Stores like Boba Guys to turn down the marketing? I just don't understand your rationale here.

"American Chinese" food has to be uniquely American. I temporarily lived in HongKong for about 18 months and I still remember my shock of landing in HK and not finding "General Tso's Chicken" anywhere :). The ignorant American in me then realized that Chinese food in HK (and this is not even mainland china) is so different. Then I learned that there is a specific type of Chinese food called Szechuan that is generally spicy which probably comes close but that is a small part of real chinese food. I could still be wrong in understanding all this but at some point, I stopped worrying and start enjoying the food :)

There's a great comedic documentary called "Searching for general tso" that's a great watch on this topic.

It seems like every country kinda has their own "Chinese food", in the netherlands if you go to a chinese restaurant most dishes will actually be indonesian. Also a bunch of dishes you'll only find in dutch "chinese" restaurants that I haven't found in other countries.

One example of this is "Babi Pangang"

I have found, during business trips to Germany, that there is a "Germanized American Chinese" food there. Not as a chain, either -- just as random restaurants serving something similar, but not the same, as "American Chinese" food.

>What the Heck is Crab Rangoon Anyway?

Delicious, that's what it is.

I was out with a friend a few months a go, who does not like seafood. I ordered some crab rangoon. I offered him one. He said he doesn't like seafood.

I told him to trust me and just try a bite. He ended up eating most of them and now every-time we go out to Chinese, he orders them.

I've discovered as I've gotten older. It is not so much that I don't like foods, as I don't like ways of preparing it. For example I don't like cooked fish, but I love sushi. Seriously I can go to a sushi restaurant and spent $150 by myself. Something about cooking fish gives it a different taste that I don't like.

It might be something about the "cooking fish" that people serve that's different from sushi fish - freshness. I used to hate all fish, then liked only sushi, and only eventually moved into enjoying cooked fish as well. The last only happened when I discovered that fresh fish never smells like fish, even when cooked.

Makes sense - most of the food neophobia that we have as humans is thought to be evolutionary. Basically children hate new foods because the children in previous generations that ate everything didn't survive to a reproducing age. As we get older, anything goes apparently.

That's perfectly correct, dude.

Since the author mentioned Yakamein, it's also worth noting that Bourbon Chicken is named after Bourbon Street in New Orleans and is also another American Chinese dish that is native to the South.

Another interesting tidbit, from watching the General Tso's documentary, is that the Missouri family that invented Cashew Chicken still adamantly claims that McDonald's took their fried chicken chunks recipe to make their now famous McNuggets.

Why should anyone worry about 'authenticity' in food? Perhaps I'm very American in my view here, but my thought is that taste comes before history. Crab Rangoon, which I've interestingly never seen relabeled Crab Yangon, is a call back to the more interesting or enthusiastic past. I wish we had that kind of invention left in today's kitchens.

The best reason that comes to mind is that the American version is its own separate thing from the original. Tex-Mex and authentic Mexican food for example are both great and I wouldn't want to go without either.

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