Stop inventing exotic names for American cuisine

The opinions expressed in the opinion columns are those of the author.

What is Shanghai Beef?

Ever since I first saw this item on the North Campus Diner menu last fall, this question has plagued my moments of waiting for Zoom class to begin. At first I thought maybe it was a Maryland specific type of food. Or maybe it was some kind of Chinese American food I had never heard of before. Maybe it was just Chinese?

But none of my friends had heard of Shanghai beef outside of the University of Maryland dining halls either. And a quick Google search showed that the closest thing to a Chinese-American restaurant was Panda Express’ Peking Beef.

It was pretty clear to me that this dish had nothing to do with the city of Shanghai. On the surface, this appetizer was clearly only very thinly sliced ​​meat (according to the school’s nutritional facts, “Beef Philly Steak”) dipped in a sweet brown sauce (apparently Worcestershire sauce). Shanghainese chefs probably wouldn’t claim something with ingredients from Philadelphia and Worcester as Shanghainese.

But on a deeper level, my question remained. Maybe Shanghai beef isn’t a full-fledged dish except at this university. Maybe it’s just something Dining Services invented for the Asian barbecue section.

So what did Shanghai Beef say about the dining halls and the name we give to our dishes? Maybe he says “We are trying to copy Panda Express.” Or, maybe that says a lot about the importance of names in the way we think about people.

America has a culture of misattribution that cannot take credit for its own work. There are so many American foods that we gladly claim to be from another culture, like General Tso’s Chicken, which has been invented by a Taiwanese-American chef who presented his dish in New York. Yet the name of the dish conjures up images of a Chinese version of Colonel Sanders, not a New Yorker. It’s as American as fried chicken and pizza, so why do we still consider it a staple in Chinese cuisine?

When we exoticize food, we deny the uniqueness of American cuisine. Our food is more of a melting pot than our communities. While it’s certainly helpful to remember what and where a food originally evolved from, new holds and combinations are what make American food special.

fries and burgers are perfect examples. The fries refer to where American soldiers first discovered the food in French-speaking Belgium, while the burgers came from German immigrants (and you know, Hamburg, Germany). Even though the names of these foods are pretty clear about their sources, they are also ubiquitous in America.

When we don’t exalt food – when we don’t think of fries as Belgian (or French) and burgers as German, but rather fully claim their Americanity – we allow food to enrich our culture. However, when we exoticize our creations, for example by thinking of General Tso’s chicken as Chinese or chimichangas as Mexicans we remove them from our perception of what America is.

In turn, the lack of representation of certain foods when thinking of American cuisine contributes to an unrepresentative perception of Americans. And this is a big problem for our multicultural society. How can we learn from each other and reap the benefits of diversity when our cultural intricacies are not seen as truly American?

Beyond that, Dining Services has an additional incentive to be careful not to exoticize its menu. Each section of the dining halls has its own kind of food culture, which I guess is meant to be educational and reflect a multicultural campus. However, the exoticism of their Philly cheese steak meat dipped in Worcestershire sauce goes directly against the whole idea of ​​teaching students about each other, especially when it comes to making decisions. incorrect cultures.

Foodservices at the University of Maryland should be wary of this escalating issue. I hope they take credit for their work and change the name to Shanghai Beef. Maybe the name of the chef who invented the recipe, someone’s dog or even invent a word. It’s okay to try to be fun and give the food creative names, but they need to be careful that this doesn’t implicitly tell students who should and shouldn’t be considered a normal American.

Jessica Ye is a first year mechanical engineering and double major in government and politics student. She can be contacted at [email protected]

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this column stated that the creator of General Tso’s Chicken, Peng Chang-kuei, was Taiwanese. He was American Taiwanese. This column has been updated.

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