According to a Chinese food survey(1), three out of five people say that Chinese is their favorite food, easily beating out traditional roasts and Italian cuisine. However, the same survey also found that most Americans cannot distinguish authentic dishes from the creations made to suit Western tastes.
“One of my favorite findings from that same survey is that 64 percent of Americans believe that chop suey is Chinese in origin,” says Allen Wong, general manger of Kung Fu Plaza, an authentic family-owned Chinese and Thai restaurant in Las Vegas. “Chop suey is a Chinese-American creation that came about some time in the mid or late 19th century.”
Wong said there is nothing wrong with thinking chop suey has native origins, but he does wish more Americans would experience the authentic flavors of Chinese and Thai cuisine. That is one of the primary reasons his family’s menu, offered at their first generation Las Vegas Chinese food and Las Vegas Thai food restaurant, features almost 800 specialties.
“We try to strike a balance between what Americans think is Chinese or Thai and what Chinese and Thai people know is authentic,” said Wong. “My family has done this since they first immigrated to the United States from Thailand in the 1960s.”
Originally, Kung Fu Plaza opened in 1973 as a Thai restaurant before Americans learned that Thai food was different from Chinese cuisine. According to Wong, that was the reason he decided to call the restaurant Kung Fu, which everybody knew from the hit television show starring David Carradine, in order to distinguish it from other Las Vegas Chinese restaurants.
“At the time, we couldn’t tell people that we weren’t a Chinese restaurant because people believed all food cooked in a wok was Chinese,” Wong smiled. “We added more Chinese dishes over the years, but only because patrons would come in and ask for their favorite ‘Chinese’ dishes over and over again.”
Today, Kung Fu Plaza balances a huge menu to cater to both tastes. According to Wong, it allows for Americans to order their favorite meals, but remains authentic enough to be among the top referred restaurants for Asian hotel guests looking for authentic Chinese and Thai food.
“Our servers work very hard to help meet people’s expectations. If they ask for our most popular dish, we recommend Mongolian beef,” says Wong. “If they ask for authentic Chinese or Thai food because they are adventurous, we recommend dishes they may have never heard of before.”