The New American Chinese Food: The Restaurants Redefining a Genre – The New York Times

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 largely limited mainland China’s influence on the cuisine. But it did not stymie the expansion of Chinese restaurants in America, which continued to proliferate in cities and suburbs. Chinese chefs adopted ingredients that had become fashionable in the United States, such as broccoli. The tiki-bar craze of the mid-20th century, which fetishized an imagined South Pacific landscape, trickled into American Chinese restaurants by way of appetizers like crab Rangoon.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 ushered in a new wave of immigrants from China and Taiwan, including trained cooks who introduced American diners to a broader variety of regional cuisines, and expanded the repertoire of Chinese food enjoyed in the United States.

“All the sudden you’re getting what you might call authentic Cantonese food from Hong Kong,” Mr. Chan said. Yet even as they introduced dishes from provinces like Hunan and Sichuan (and opened restaurants bearing those names), catering to local palates often meant adapting them beyond recognition — a kung pao chicken that’s more sweet than spicy, or a deep-fried cashew chicken born out of a Springfield, Mo., restaurateur’s failure to tempt residents with Cantonese seafood dishes.

“Chinese restaurant owners are very resourceful,” said Mr. Chan. “They were able to find their niche quickly and roll with the times.”