British Chinese Food Must Be Protected at All Costs

Historically, Americans have been wide of the mark when it comes to properly understanding British culture. Just have a listen to the accent of literally any British character in Frasier outside of Daphne. They also allowed Piers Morgan and James Corden far too much airtime and somehow believe that their version of The Office is better than the original.

But all that pales in comparison to the recent outrage on the other side of the Atlantic regarding the phenomenon of British Chinese food.

Over recent months, American TikTok and Twitter users have been sneering at the standard of ‘British Chinese takeout’ in a painfully ignorant manner, displaying absolutely zero understanding of the cuisine’s history or heritage.

The trend originally began with British users gleefully sharing their Chinese takeaway orders, in one of the more wholesome, innocently enjoyable trends to emerge on social media. Hundreds of delighted faces passionately fawning over their salt and pepper chips, chicken balls, egg fried rice and cascading tidal waves of curry sauce. It is, in short, glorious content.

Glorious because it celebrates a culture that has become vital to communities across Britain. It is an immigrant culture that has united millions of people. Now, is this food ‘authentic’ Chinese food like you might find in Beijing or Shanghai? Probably not, no. But it is food that has been crafted and cooked by Chinese immigrant families for generations, adapted to satisfy the appetites of the communities into which they have assimilated.

Chinese immigrants in Britain are no different to Chinese immigrants in any other part of the world when it comes to altering their traditional dishes. When you find yourselves thousands of miles away from home and without ready access to the ingredients you would usually cook with, what do you do?

You improvise. You put a twist on a classic to make it more serviceable to the masses in your new home. Because doing so could go a long way to keeping a roof over your family’s heads. It will pay the bills – and who knows? Maybe someday it will bring communities together in shared appreciation on social media.

Yet many Americans on social media, with their ‘orange chicken’ – a dish developed by fast food chain Panda Express – don’t feel the need to understand any of this, instead mocking the hard work of so many British-Chinese families. Many of these people have already withstood abundant racial prejudice during their time in the UK. But Americans ruthlessly pile on – and for what? A few likes and shares on Twitter and TikTok.

Reaction videos from some American users have particularly derided the amount of deep-fried content (no, we will not be commenting on Americans making fun of deep-fried food at this moment in time), as well as how almost every meal includes chips and curry sauce. One user asked “Are the British eating out of a dumpster?” This was one of the kinder insults aimed at the meals, each barb more painfully ignorant than the last.

The ingenuity and craft of the British-Chinese community to create so many widely adored new dishes should be a triumph that we never, ever stop celebrating. That Chinatowns in the likes of Manchester, London and Liverpool are constantly thriving with customers is a magical thing. That on any given Friday night you can wander into your local Chinese chippy and chat with the regulars while you order your chicken in kindo sauce, half fried rice, half chips and salt and pepper wings is a miracle we should never take for granted.

Chinese takeaways in Britain are, more often than not, family-owned and run establishments. Many of them have been in place for decades now. The same can be said for Chinese restaurants in America, across Europe and anywhere else in the world. And the recurring theme will always be menus that differ from what you would usually come to expect from Chinese restaurants in your own country.

Besides this universal truth, it’s also a simple fact that anyone who dismisses the majesty of curry sauce, or cares not for salt and pepper dishes – an entire genre of dish that was invented in Liverpool! – is not worth paying attention to. So next time you see British Chinese food slander on your timeline, let it serve as a reminder that you could really go for some crispy chilli beef and sweet-and-sour prawns… with a side of going offline for a little while.