A quest. With eggrolls.
Debut author Lee, a New York Times metro reporter, has been fascinated by the culturally mixed nature of Chinese restaurants ever since she discovered from reading The Joy Luck Club in middle school that fortune cookies are not Chinese. “It was like learning I was adopted while being told there was no Santa Claus,” writes this ABC (American-born Chinese), who never thought to wonder why the food in those white takeout cartons tasted nothing like Mom’s home cooking. But she didn’t become really obsessed until March 30, 2005, when a surprisingly large batch of lottery-ticket buyers across the country scored some big money in a Powerball drawing with numbers they got from fortune cookies. Lee drew up a list of the restaurants that had served the Powerball winners and used that as a jumping-off point for a trip that covered 42 states and included stops at eateries ranging from no-frills chow mein joints to upscale dim sum parlors. As she explored this vast sector of the food-service world—there are more Chinese restaurants in the United States than McDonald’s, Burger Kings and KFCs combined—she learned about the science of soy sauce, the manufacture of takeout containers and the connection between Jewish culture and Chinese food. Lee’s charming book combines the attitude and tone of two successful food industry–themed titles from 2007. Like Trevor Corson (The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket), she embeds her subject’s history in an entertaining personal narrative, eschewing cookie-cutter interviews and dry lists of facts and figures. Like Phoebe Damrosch (Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter), she has a breezy, likable literary demeanor that makes the first-person material engaging. Thanks to Lee’s journalistic chops, the text moves along energetically even in its more expository sections.
Tasty morsels delivered quickly and reliably.