by Jennifer 8. Lee
Finished October 17, 2009
What a fascinating subject. I was worried, at first, that the book would be an expose about the Chinese restaurant industry and that I'd have to swear off eating Chinese food ever again. Instead, it was just an examination of Chinese food and Chinese restaurants in America - and the world - but mostly America.
Chinese restaurants are, for the most part, independantly owned. Only a few are part of a franchise. But if you go to any town in America you're likely to find the same dishes; the same take out boxes; the same decor and menus; the same fortune cookies. Some variations exist, but the similarities are amazing.
"McDonalds and its golden arches represent an epic achievement of twentieth-century America, the story of highways, homogenization, and a nation in a hurry. The standardization of menus, decor adn experience is regarded as a postwar organizational triumph, coordinated form the company's Oak Brook, Illinois, corporate headquarters. Chinese restaurants - which outnumber McDonalds franchises in the United States by two to one - have achieved largely the same efect, but without a central nervous system."
"If McDonald's is the windows of the dining world (where one company controls the standards), then Chinese restaurants are akin to hte Linux operating system, where a decntralized network of programmers contributes to the underlying source code. The code is available for anyone to use, modify or redistribute freely."
Lee searches for the origins of the Chinese restaurant in America. She looks at the first Chinese delivery and the impact of restaurants on Chinese immigraiton (or vice versa). She travels the world to the find the source of General Tso's Chicken and fortune cookies.
One of the launcing points for this whole journey is the fascinating story of the time that dozens of people across America won the Powerball lottery on the same day because of a set of numbers given on a fortune cookie slip.
This is a food book, a history book and a sociology book all in one. A lot of fun.
One interesting thing... the edition I read was a pre-publication copy. I have never read a pre-pub copy with so many spelling or typographical errors. Maybe the smaller publishing house is the reason. Twelve Books is a company that was established "with the objective of publishing no more than one book per month." You'd think, then, that errors wouldn't get by. But - to be fair - I did read a pre-publication copy.