Jack Fallow recently sent me a link to a TED session by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, the FLOW social psychologist [psychosociologist?] at the University of Chicago who also did the amazing The Meaning of Things research. (Thanks, Jack!) W
hich of course led me to something else entirely.
Jennifer B. Lee of the New York Times has been chasing down the origin of American Chinese food. It’s not recognizable to the Chinese, and is an almost entirely American invention, made by Chinese-Americans who wanted to appeal to Anglo-American tastes.
There are more Chinese restaurants in the U.S. than all McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s (another hamburger shop) and KFC restaurants combined. That’s an amazing number. My own city, white as can be, supports five, one less than our combined total for those four fast-food shops.
This amazing revolution in American food tastes has no known creator. It just happened.
There wasn’t any grand plan, no great creator to point to. There’s not Great Man who is Responsible. Just a bunch of people trying to earn money who jointly exploited successful things.
Chinese food: As American as Pizza. Which, if you’ve ever had an American pizza, you know is quite different from what it is everywhere else. (Uno’s Pizzaria in Chicago is credited with starting the Pizza Craze in America, creating a food product to appeal to American tastes loosely based on the pizzas they had in Italy.)
You can say the same thing about “Indian food” in the U.K., where Chicken Tikka Masala (I think I have that right) replaced fish & chips as the most popular eat-out meal years ago. The dish has nothing to do with India, created by “Indian” restaurant owners to appeal to the English tastebuds, poor as they are.
Many models of wild success are not singular. Maybe you can’t make money like Ray Croc at McDonald’s. Maybe you can’t make money by locking up your IP. Perhaps the way to go is to free it, and let the open market run with it in a new way, letting you benefit from the broader change. You’re not going to be a billionaire but you can be well-off and do what you like doing.
Related to this, in an odd way, is the fact that the publishing industry is dying because of the used book market on the web.
Jennifer 8. Lee’s TED talk on “Who was General Tso? and other mysteries of American Chinese food”
Image Credit: Onyx meeting room at the Fairmont Heliopolis hotel
Yes, I watched that lecture too. Excellent stuff. Also the string theory lecture by Brian Greene.
The english-indian food invention is Chicken Massala; rather than marsala, which is a fortified wine from Sicily.
Updated with the correct name. The beeb notes that it is:
‘SYNONYMOUS WITH: breakdown in traditional British values and rise of multi-cultural Britain (CTM is most popular dish in UK according to Food Service Intelligence). In an attack on alleged Tory xenophobia, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has hailed chicken tikka masala “Britain’s true national dish”. ‘
Even funnier is the rumor that it was invented by a Bangladeshi owner of an Indian restaurant. Reminds me of my roommate (now a semi-famous corporate lawyer), whose Greek father came to American, married a Mexican immigrant, and opened up an Italian restaurant with a Spanish name.
I’m sure that someone in America made ridiculous comments when picante sauce (a commercial form of salsa roja) outpaced red ketchup as the nation’s condiment of choice. Rumor has it that David Pace, Trinity graduate and founder of Pace Foods, coined the term “picante sauce” for his salsa roja in San Antonio, Texas. I’ll check with my best man to see if this is true: he used to be Mr. Pace’s software guy around the time of the Campbell Soup deal.