Audacious ventures of the week: bringing Asian food... to Asia

Until some entrepreneurs got into the act, General Tso's chicken was not available in Shanghai.

Only the most audacious entrepreneurs would undertake ventures such as shipping sand to Saudi Arabia or ice to Alaska. How about setting up an American Chinese food restaurant in China? Or shipping American-caught Asian Carp to China?

As anyone familiar with Chinese cuisine will attest, American-style Chinese food is not quite the same. With that in mind, the owners of Shanghai's Fortune Cookie restaurant are introducing Americanized food to the Chinese mainland. As NPR's Frank Langfitt describes in a recent report, the restaurant's main clientele are mainly resident Americans who miss their particular dishes. However, the volume of Chinese customers is growing -- to about 40 percent of traffic.

Langfitt observes that American Chinese food is not the same as native dishes:
"American expatriates who grew up with popular takeout dishes like General Tso's chicken can't find it in China because it essentially doesn't exist here. Much of the Chinese food we grew up with isn't really Chinese. It's an American version of Chinese food. Chinese immigrants created it over time, adapting recipes with U.S. ingredients to appeal to American palates."
The restaurant's American-born founders, Fung Lam and David Rossi, said they arrived in Shanghai a couple years ago with the idea of starting up a healthy foods restaurant. After they took a look around, they realized they would have plenty of competition, but there was something entirely missing from the market -- American-style Chinese food.

Chinese residents are also taking in ever-increasing numbers to another American culinary export: Asian carp. As The Wall Street Journal's Arian Campo-Flores observes in a recent report, American entrepreneurs have figured out ways to package up and sell Asian carp -- the scourge of the Mississippi watershed -- to Asian consumers. 

For example, Angie Yu, founder and head of Two Rivers Fisheries in Kentucky, packages and sells the carp as wild-caught "Kentucky White Fish." The Americanized Asian carp is meatier and tastier than the farm-bred, bony carp served in China, she says. The idea has legs (or fins):  so far, she has shipped a half million pounds of the carp to China. 

Other Asian carp fisheries are also being launched along the Mississippi, offering a new cuisine for both domestic and foreign markets (even Asia). At the same time, they offer a market-based solution to a growing menace to North American waterways.

Kudos for all these entrepreneurs for out-of-the-box, and downright spunky thinking for returning tried-and-true products to their original audiences, in new forms.

(Thumbnail photo: T. Lawrence, Great Lakes Fisheries Commission.)

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