There is perhaps no culture more historic in its lore for food than the Chinese. Food is such a big part of the culture that people in China even greet one another by asking if he or she has eaten. People from the Canton region claim they live to eat, not the other way around. It is said that even Confucius was an avid connoisseur.
COMING TO AMERICA
All ethnic populations in America are growing, according to the U.S. census in 2000. The Asian-American population is the fastest of these growing ethnic groups.
There are more than 10 million Asians in the U.S., and by 2009, the population is expected to reach 17 million. By the middle of the 21st century, the Asian population will have expanded to 41 million.
Asians have a total purchasing power of $229 billion, and much of that money goes toward the food industry. Asian sales account for 15% of Los Angeles-based Melissa’s/World Variety Produce Inc., says assistant marketing director Robert Schueller.
Chinese Americans make up 23.8% of the national Asian population, comprising the largest Asian subgroup. Most Chinese Americans live on the coasts in the states of California, New York, Hawaii, Texas, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, Washington, Maryland and Florida.
Partly because of this population boom, Chinese cuisine has moved out of ethnic cuisine and into mainstream eating, according to the National Restaurant Association’s May 1999 survey, Ethnic Cuisines II. The association surveyed more than 1,200 U.S. consumers, and it determined that young consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 were the driving forces behind this trend. Generation X and Y customers are far more likely to visit ethnic restaurants, according to the report.
Anna Choi has been in the restaurant business for 20 years, and she is part of the reason for growth of Chinese cuisine in American diets. Choi left Shanghai in 1985 with her husband to work in a restaurant owned by his family in the U.S. Now, years and restaurants later, the Chois have just opened their most recent establishment — the Sidewok Café in Denver.
Choi says differences in item availability influence her menu. Such readily available items as broccoli and asparagus give her more flexibility to create dishes, ones that may not commonly be found on native Chinese dinner tables.
Sandra Chan also came to the U.S. to work in her husband’s family’s restaurant. Yet Wah is a chain of four Chinese restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area owned by the Chan family. Sandra Chan serves as general manager, and she says the menu includes dishes from northern and southern China.
One of the restaurant’s most popular appetizers is the Shanghai Pot Sticker, which features pan fried and steamed Chinese cabbage and pork.
Her family creates appealing dishes featuring such fresh items as snow peas, sprouts, Chinese broccoli and bok choy.
“In California, you have no problem with supply,” Chan says. “In the old time (in China), you would have a lot of canned or dried, but now we can have more fresh.”
But fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t the only produce trend in Chinese fare. Many dishes are moving to be entirely produce-centered.
A 1999 poll conducted by the Baltimore-based Vegetarian Resource Group found that 57% of the U.S. population sometimes, often, or always orders a vegetarian item when eating out. There are 12.4 million self-reported vegetarians in the U.S., according to the Vegetarian Times, based in Palm Coast, Fla.
P. F. Chang’s China Bistro, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., is just one of the establishments that has made menu alterations to accommodate this need.
Muller says the restaurant has always created vegetarian dishes for consumers upon request, but because of what Muller saw as an increase in demand, P.F. Chang’s has changed the menu and the kitchen arrangement to consistently offer vegetarian options.