With over 1,500 restaurants located in 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Canada, Mexico, Korea and the United Arab Emirates, Panda Express is easily one of the most recognizable casual Chinese chain restaurants around. Impressive as this is, ABCs (American born Chinese) like myself often hide our love of “unauthentic” food as a guilty pleasure in fear of criticism from our family and friends.
That being said, what even is “authentic”? Besides my mother’s cooking, I’ve never even tasted something produced and cooked in the mainland. So to judge how well Master Chef Ming Tsai Cherng’s multi-million franchise matches up to the real deal, we decided to invite some of UMD’s finest Chinese international students to dine at College Park’s Panda Express. This is what they had to say.
“I always get this when I come here, the Kung Pao Chicken with brown rice. If you ask me what’s different between this and what I’ve had in China, I can’t really describe it. It just looks different. In China they dice the chicken into cubes, but I guess ambiguous shapes work too. In all honestly, 10/10 would buy again. It’s affordable and it may not be authentic but it’s still good chicken…actually I can’t tell what part of the chicken this is from. For all I know they’ve managed to make mystery meat taste good.”
After doing some research (aka asking the employees) it can be confirmed that Kacy was in fact consuming chicken
“Wait you want us to actually eat Panda express? Ok well I’m just going to order whatever Kacy gets cause personally I’m just not fond of Panda. Sorry.”
“I got the Kung Pao Chicken with fried rice. I guess it tastes ok but the sauce is definitely different. It’s a bit sweeter? Also the authentic Kung Pao Chicken includes bamboo shoots, sprouts and peanuts. From what I can tell this only has peppers and cucumbers. I would still eat this over the diner’s sad excuse for stir fry and Asian food, but the calories do make me feel a little sad.”
“I got the Sweet Fire Chicken. It tastes very similar to orange chicken but instead of orange you have pineapples. Wait, actually in terms of taste, I can’t tell the difference between this and the authentic dish. It’s like a mutant dish. A hodgepodge of different Chinese chicken recipes all combined into one. I would definitely order this again, compared to this the diner is robbing us”
“I got the Orange Chicken and Broccoli and Beef. I would say the biggest difference is in the sauce. In China, most sauces use vinegar, soy sauce or other spices and are added while the dish is still cooking. In comparison, this is obviously pre-made. Also, no offense, but the vegetable selection is sort of lame. In America, it seems vegetables usually translates to corn, broccoli or carrots. Where are the snow peas, the sprouts, or bok choy? Anyways, that aside I would buy it again. I actually eat here quite a lot.”
While Panda Express may not be authentic, when you’re a million of miles away from home it seems Panda is your best bet for Chinese food at Stamp. The girls ended up giving Panda an average of 6 out of 10 in terms of authenticity and three out of the four girls would eat Panda again. So good job Chef Ming, you’ve created a cultural phenomenon creating a recognizable brand that introduces Chinese food to people from all races and backgrounds. Whether native or not, we love your food, so keep doing you.