Most Chinese restaurants in the U.S. serve Americanized Chinese food. Many only serve such food. Even in restaurants with a fully Americanized menu, however, it is common for chefs to be Chinese and know how to cook a wide range of traditional Chinese dishes. It is also common for restaurants to serve both traditional and Americanized food.
Some restaurants even have a "Chinese menu", which may be written only in Chinese, or also in English, which which lists more traditional foods.
When choosing a restaurant, some things to look for:
- Specials written on a board in Chinese - this is a sign that Chinese people frequent the establishment, and is an almost sure sign that the restaurant is capable of cooking authentic cuisine.
- Items on the menu that are not part of Americanized Chinese fare - examples would be meats like frog, rabbit, or sea cucumber, or dishes that expressly specify "chinese broccoli" (not "Chinese vegetables" as this is part of Americanized lingo). Other examples include dim sum items like shu mai or steamed buns, sticky rice, or casseroles, dishes including seaweed, watercress, or anything that looks completely unfamiliar and can't be found on the generic take-out menus all across America.
- Menus with an "Americanized" section - restaurants focusing on authentic or traditional cuisine often relegate Americanized food to a special section of the menu. If you see such a section on the menu, you know you've found an authentic place to dine--and you can conveniently avoid this section of the menu, or order from it consciously, knowing what you're getting.
- A restaurant that advertises a separate Chinese menu - If you don't see a menu listed, you can ask.
Another tip...ask some of your Chinese friends, if you have any.
Keep in mind that even if you're at a generic Chinese take-out place, there may be a few more traditional items on the menu. Learn how to locate and identify these items, and you'll be able to enjoy this type of food just about anywhere.