Today, my friends and I went to an Asian fusion restaurant. It serves curries, pad thai, chow fun, lo mien, Singapore noodles, sushi, hibachi and Chinese American food as well, like the “General Tso’s chicken” and “Sesame Chicken”. These types of restaurants are quite normal in America and the food is usually fine, but the food is usually not very authentic. It’s just not what you would get at home.
As a Chinese American, growing up I would get so offended when they said that Chinese-American restaurant food was Chinese food. I would say “nooooo, it’s American.” Now, I don’t get offended but I still correct them and say something like “that’s not what you would eat in China; it’s Chinese-American food, developed in America.” You would be surprised how many people don’t know that fact. This cuisine was developed by Chinese immigrants around the 19th century. Small restaurants would serve food based on what their customers wanted. So it developed based on the American/immigrant taste.
So the question is: is this food “authentic”? If you’re comparing it to what it is, sure! Chinese-American food can be authentic Chinese-American. Traditions are constantly changing and people are forever experimenting with food, pulling inspirations from foreign flavors to create new combinations. So who knows, what’s “not authentic” today might become tradition in 100 years. But trust me, pineapple fried rice is not authentic. I like my orange chicken and broccoli stir-fries (things like American broccoli and carrots were incorporated into Chinese-American stir-fries and are considered untraditional since they are simply not ingredients you would have found in China at that time). The problem arises when you expect to eat that kind of food when you’re actually in China. The same thing came up with my friend when discussing sushi. The “California roll” does not exist in Japan. People, it’s named after a US state for a reason.
That said, don’t stop experimenting! Cooking is all about throwing things you have lying around the kitchen. Food doesn’t have to be authentic to be tasty, I just don’t think you should expect the pad thai you eat in a Thai-American restaurant to be the same as the dish from a grandmother somewhere in Thailand. That’s all!