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Going from traditional Chinese food to a hybrid cuisine

I was raised in Quincy in the late ’80s and ’90s on both Chinese-American food and more traditional Cantonese food. I had plenty of my mother’s cooking on weeknights, supplemented by dim sum on weekends, and the occasional holiday banquet in Chinatown. With friends, I would sometimes get Chinese takeout after school or take weekend trips to Kowloon in Saugus, enjoying the sugar-laden sauces and deep-fried foods I never ate at home.

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My father worked at a Weymouth restaurant that served Chinese-American food, then opened his own bakery in Quincy, before settling at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, where he prepared Asian-inflected dishes for fine dining. While this hybrid cooking was not his preference, he didn’t mind it every so often. A few months before he passed away in 2011, he called me to discuss a General Tso’s chicken recipe I had posted on my blog (Appetite
forchina.com
). “It looks great and I’m getting hungry just looking at it,” he said. “But here’s a tip: Toast the sesame seeds. It makes the dish much more aromatic.”

Chinese food in this country is a result of adapting cooking to local tastes. Like all cross-cultural dishes, General Tso’s chicken or beef with broccoli can be very good if prepared correctly. When I go around to talk about my book, “The Chinese Takeout Cookbook,” I am often asked to distinguish between food that is “authentic” and food that isn’t. The word “authentic’’ is itself a vague term. Food has always been reconfigured to the tastes, ingredients, and needs of a region. The changes in Chinese restaurants in Boston is a perfect reflection of this adaptability.

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