October 3, 2008

The Plight of the American-Born Chinese

A new Panda Express is under construction less than a mile from my apartment. This is the first Panda Express in Fayetteville.

Notice how I don't use any exclamation points at the end of those sentences.

My husband, lover of all things orange chicken, is more excited than a chubby kid at a chocolate factory. I, on the other hand, turn my nose at such things. Panda Express is not Chinese food!

Allow me to explain.

If you haven't noticed, I am Chinese. You know, I'm Asian. (Or Oriental if you're old school like that.) I have black hair and hairless arms and dark-brown eyes of the slanty persuasion. I grew up in a household where "going out to eat" translated into "going to Mom and Dad's favorite Chinese restaurant where the menu is only written in Mandarin characters." On Saturday nights out on the town, my brother and I would gorge ourselves on homemade dumplings, steamed vegetable buns, baby bok choy sauteed with garlic, and thick noodles steamed in a delicious beef broth. Makes your mouth water, doesn't it? That's the kind of Chinese food I grew up with.

The few times I have eaten at Panda Express or P.F. Chang's, the spirits of my grandfathers berate my soul with guilt. "Ai ya!" they say. "I did not flee the Communists to have my granddaughter eat this white man's excuse for food!" And then they make me burn incense in their names and beg Confucius for forgiveness.

But the ghosts of my grandfathers need not haunt me very often. See, I don't even like Panda Express or P.F. Chang's. My taste buds are too accustomed to authentic Chinese fare that I have a hard time eating at such places. (Thanks Grandma.) And so, the new Panda Express may find a new customer in my husband, but I will politely decline.

Now, eating at Sbarro's or Taco Bell on the other hand...


  1. haha ... i love this and i totally understand where you are coming from ... well, not exactly since i am a white girl with no real ethnic identity or ties, but I could imagine if i was i would feel the same way. Oh and I don't like Panda Express, but I do confess to like PF Changs.

    Anyway - thought I would say hello and let you know that i support your thoughts. hehe

  2. I have to be honest and say that all the "authentic" chinese food I've had in my life has been pretty gross (but I love you Caroline!). Panda Express is also gross but I have a soft spot for it in my heart because it was where Jason and I went on our first date (I know, so romantic). I do enjoy the PFChangs but at least I don't pretend that it's real Chinese.

  3. How come you never invited me to your house for good Chinese food?!

    And how come you have hairless arms? I'm Asian and my arms are still hairy. No fair!

  4. You're kidding. You're Chinese. I hadn't noticed. I agree with you about the Panda Express Train and I will not be joining. I do like one thing at PF Changs though which I'm sure isn't authentic and that is the snap peas that you dip into orange sauce...its an appetizer. Don't know the real name, but I love them because they taste like chips.