The LA Times tells the story of David Chan, a Chinese-American man who discovered a love of Chinese food as an adult, during a wave of Chinese immigration to America in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He and his Hong Kong born officemates set out to sample all the new Chinese restaurants that opened after the 1965 loosening of the strictures on Chinese immigration to the USA, and he's kept meticulous records ever since, documenting the highs and lows of 6,297 Chinese restaurants across the USA and Canada (he's sampled the Chinese in all 50 states). These are now kept in a huge spreadsheet, with graphs and maps.
In New England, he encountered a chow mein sandwich topped with gravy. In St. Paul, Minn., he found a burger with egg foo young for a patty. Throughout the South, he came across a sweet, stir-fry dish called Honey Chicken.
"It doesn't have to be authentic Chinese. If it's Chinese American, it's all the more interesting," Chan said.
Chan rarely discussed his list. His son, Eric Chan, was only vaguely aware of it growing up. "There are a lot of things my dad doesn't talk about," he said.
In their family, a meal often said what words couldn't, Eric Chan said. During the three years he studied law at Stanford, his father visited about 20 times. They'd dine in San Francisco dim sum houses and San Jose noodle shops.
"If you collect enough of something, you can capture its essence," Eric Chan said. "Maybe that's what he's trying to do with food."
Chan rarely eats somewhere twice, but he keeps going back to ABC Seafood, even after the restaurant's ownership changed and, he said, the lemon chicken lost its flavor. Chan says he does it out of respect for history. He's dined at practically every Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles, but few culinary experiences can match that first meal at ABC Seafood.
"For a good portion of when they were open, they were the best Chinese restaurant in the country," Chan said.
6,297 Chinese restaurants and hungry for more [Frank Shyong/LA Times]