In Defense of Panda Express

Yes, I get that Panda Express is not genuine “Chinese food”.  Even though the roots of this chain would count as genuine “Chinese food”.  And it tastes pretty good.   It fills a niche, along with Starbucks (coffee) and McDonald’s (hamburgers and breakfast) for making Chinese-American food available all over the US, cooked to a standard and satisfying the craving for chow mein with soy sauce and Orange Chicken (which is a very guilty pleasure).  Let’s face it, getting different kinds of Chinese food is easier in the big cities than it is, say in Omaha or Des Moines.  But those cities have Panda Expresses there so it satisfies the craving, at least temporarily.

And for each meal at Panda Express (usually at malls and airports), I have a renewed appreciation for Chinese food done properly.  Beef chow fun and wontonmein at Hing Lung (San Bruno), Xiaolongbao at almost any Din Tai Fung.  Yum Cha at Dragon Beaux.  Mabo tofu and Kung Pao Chicken at a good Hunan place.  Despite the food snobs saying otherwise, Panda Express does serve a purpose in the greater cause of Chinese food.  And for the food snobs, you can always order the Wagyu truffle Hor Fun at Lokkee.

The term “Chinese food” itself is misleading.  It can refer to Cantonese, Shanghainese, Hunan, Szechwan, dim sum, wontonmein, cha chaan teng and lots more styles I’ve probably missed.  It’s all good stuff.  I think we should put Panda Express in that same category.

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