Nina and Tim Zagat, founders of the Zagat Survey, which reviews and rates restaurants across the US and around the world, have an op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled 'Eating Beyond Sichuan' that calls for a stateside revolution in Chinese cuisine.
With its introduction in the mid-Nineteenth Century, Chinese food was the first kind of Asian cuisine to become widely popular in the United States. In those days it was pretty much impossible for Chinese cooks to get authentic Chinese ingredients and seasonings, which forced resourceful cooks to invent new dishes for their new market. Over time, American Chinese food has generally developed into what the Zagats call "unimaginative dishes served amid dated, pseudo-imperial décor".
Why is one of the world's greatest culinary traditions unavailable in the world's largest economy? After all, today it's possible to get authentic Chinese ingredients on the other side of the Pacific. According to the Zagats, the primary reason that it is next to impossible to open an authentic Chinese restaurant with real Chinese chefs is the American government's post-September 11 visa policy, which has made it even more difficult for Chinese nationals to visit or work in the US.
In their Times editorial, the Zagats make an interesting proposal:
'If Henry Kissinger could practice "Ping-Pong diplomacy," perhaps Condoleezza Rice could try her hand at "dumpling diplomacy"? China and the United States should work together on a culinary visa program that makes it easier for Chinese chefs to come here. With more chefs who are schooled in China's dynamic new restaurant scene, we would see a transformation of the way Chinese food is served in this country.'
While this site would prefer to see an across-the-board relaxation of US visa policies towards Chinese sooner rather than later, a program such as the one proposed by the Zagats could open the door to such a diplomatic détente.
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