American Chinese cuisine (什碎館) is a style of cooking served by many Chinese restaurants in the United States and not considered authentic Chinese cuisine by ethnic Chinese, but geared towards Westerners. Such cuisine is often perceived as 'real' Chinese food. American Chinese cuisine has sometimes been used in derogatory jokes and common stereotypes to label the Chinese and Chinese Americans in general.

Restaurants serving American Chinese cuisine are mainly run by the descendants of early Chinese immigrants (dating back to the 19th century), and cater to the taste of non-Chinese Americans. With more and more new immigrants arriving from China and Hong Kong, more diverse selections of authentic Chinese cuisines are available in major cities such as San Francisco and New York, especially in the older and newer Chinatowns. However, so-called 'mom and pop' restaurants and diners in tourist areas and smaller towns still offer dishes not found in China. The menu typically includes:

  • chop suey - in Chinese connotes leftovers, is usually a mix of vegetables and meat in a brown sauce
  • chow mein - in the American variant, is fried or boiled cabbage, with bits of fried noodles sprinkled on top
  • egg foo young
  • fortune cookie - first used in Japanese tea gardens, fortune cookies became sweetened and found their way to these restaurants. However, fortune cookies are so popular in the US that even authentic Chinese restaurants serve them as end of the meal snacks. On the other hand, most but not all authentic Chinese restaurants tend to serve free oranges or red bean soup as dessert to Chinese-speaking patrons. Non-Chinese patrons are served either fruit or fortune cookies.

Some dishes are indeed Chinese dishes, but the American versions are quite different and not considered very authentic.

  • egg roll - while Chinese spring rolls have a thin crispy skin with mushrooms, bamboo and other vegetables inside, the American version with a thick, fried skin and cabbage inside is an American invention
  • lo mein - American versions don't use the same types of noodles or flavorings
  • sweet and sour pork or sweet and sour chicken - the Chinese version is a lighter more subtle flavor, while Americanized versions typically use bright red food coloring and use lots of sugar or corn syrup.
  • moo shu pork - Chinese version uses more authentic ingredients (mushrooms and other fungus) and thin flour pancakes while American one may use more common vegetables and a thicker pancake

American Chinese food also does not include some foods which many Chinese consider delicacies, such as liver and pig or chicken feet.

American Chinese food tends to be cooked very quickly with large amounts of oil and salt, and has a reputation for containing high levels of MSG (monosodium glutamate), which is used for flavoring. Because of this, the symptoms of MSG sensitivity have been dubbed "Chinese restaurant syndrome" or "Chinese food syndrome". While there is no conclusive evidence that MSG is harmful, many restaurants have taken the initiative for "MSG Free" or "No MSG" menus.

In addition to full-service restaurants, American Chinese food is also available in mom-and-pop Chinese buffets. Fast food joints (usually located in shopping or strip malls) such as Panda Express and Manchu WOK are also quite popular. They are often found in areas with a lower or even non-existent population of Asian-Americans. In areas of the southwestern United States, it is common for the cooks within American Chinese restaurants to be from Mexico.

As most American Chinese cuisine establishments cater to non-Chinese customers, menus are usually in English only and some may be in Chinese. Such establishments are often patronized by way of take-out or delivery.

See also: Chinese cuisine

American Chinese Fast Food Chains