Eating up Chinese culture and heritage

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May Lee with Clarissa Wei and Yong ChenMay Lee talks with food blogger Clarissa Wei and history professor Yong Chen about the American fascination with Chinese cuisine.

The Chinese first arrived in America in the 19th century to work in the gold mines and help build the Transcontinental Railroad.

Since then, they’ve made countless contributions to American society and have captivated western palates with their cuisine. Virtually every community in the States has Chinese restaurants. Recent estimates reveal there are about 40,000 Chinese restaurants, nationwide. So, it’s official: The most popular cuisine in America is Chinese.

Joining May Lee in our Los Angeles studio to discuss this phenomenon is Yong Chen, the author of Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America. He is also a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine and he’s chronicled the evolution of Chinese food, watching dim sum change from a Chinatown-only delicacy to a mainstream menu item.

“The one thing that everyone has in common is food. So, we love food. That’s how we are Chinese,” explained Yong Chen.

Connect with Yong Chen on Google+

Eating up Chinese culture and heritage

Food writer Clarissa Wei and history professor Yong Chen discuss celebrating Chinese culture through food.

Also joining May Lee, via satellite from Shanghai, is Clarissa Wei, a Los Angeles-based food writer, blogger and entrepreneur. She recently embarked on a two-year backpacking journey across China.

“People will invite me into their houses, complete strangers, just because I tell them I’m here to research food,” said Wei. “I think food is a really easy way to get into people’s houses and learn about their day-to-day lives.”

As a second generation Chinese-American, she’s connecting with her roots through food, traveling to all the provinces to learn local recipes and, the stories behind them.

Dr. Chen and Wei joined May Lee in a discussion about celebrating culture and history through food.