I was in high school when I first started to hate Panda Express.
Before then, I didn’t give much thought to Panda Express. After all, it was Chinese food and, at the time, I didn’t like any food that was non-American. Blame it on my teenage rebellious phase, but Chinese, Japanese and other Asian foods were for my parents and therefore uncool.
Thankfully, sanity prevailed and I started embracing all different types of Asian and non-American food. Despite this, I still thumbed my nose down at Panda Express. “It’s not authentic,” I complained to my parents, like I had any authority on what authentic Chinese-ness was supposed to be like. Me, the Chinese-Indonesian American girl who dropped out of Chinese school and got the “banana” insult more times than I could count, deciding what was authentically Chinese? Please.
My parents thought I was ridiculous and told me so as they continued to get Panda Express takeout biweekly. My dad, the guy who liked Chinese food so much that he went to the only Chinese restaurant in Italy for his honeymoon trip, loving Panda Express? Are you kidding me? But a funny thing happened over time. As I started eating Panda Express more and more, I started really enjoying it.
And that brings me to this Buzzfeed video making its way around the internet:
If you look at the YouTube comments, a lot of people are hating on the younger kids who turn their noses up at Panda Express, especially when contrasted with the older generations who seem to enjoy the taste of Panda Express and may even find it authentic.
Nonetheless, I found myself sympathizing with the younger generation who hadn’t had time to let the food grow on them. Maybe, like me, they saw Panda Express as a reminder of their failures to be “fully” Chinese as part of the Chinese American label. Or maybe I’m just projecting.
Panda Express was founded in 1973 by a father-son Chinese American duo from Pasadena who started off with a single restaurant called Panda Inn. When I discovered this, I stopped saying ‘Panda Express is fine if you just pretend it’s American food.’
I finally acknowledged it for what it is: true Chinese American fast food.