For years, my in-laws owned a restaurant in Castro Valley, California, serving up the Americanized Chinese dishes to customers craving deep-fried wontons, pot stickers, crispy chow mein, sweet-and-sour pork, and egg foo young. Although these Westernized creations aren’t authentically Chinese, they reflected the tastes of Americans in the 1950s and 1960s who were dipping their toes in the “exotic” flavors of Asia for the first time.
Back then, a whopping 90 percent of all Chinese immigrants in the U.S. came from a tiny area the size of Rhode Island in the southern province of Guangdong (Canton), so it’s no surprise that the flavor profiles of this new hybrid cuisine were distinctly Cantonese-American. And that’s what my in-laws offered on their menu.
But over the years, as immigration expanded to other parts of China, Americanized Chinese food began taking on more flavors from other regions of China, from Fujian to Sichuan. Westernized Chinese cuisine began rapidly evolving.
Orange chicken—battered and fried chicken pieces slathered in a thick glaze of sweet orange-chili sauce—is one of the Chinese-American dishes that surged in popularity during this period. Hunan in origin, orange chicken started popping up in Chinese restaurants across America over the past few decades.
Sadly, as this dish made its way to fast food Chinese joints, the recipes got sloppier and sloppier. The gloopy version you’ll find at the mall food court these days is often grosser than gross; it’s coated in soggy clumps of batter and drowning in overly sweet, artificially colored sauce. This incarnation of orange chicken isn’t even remotely close to real-food-friendly.
Wanna try my recipe for Orange Sriracha Chicken instead?