The Unconventional Side That Sets Chinese Food In Massachusetts Apart

Here in the U.S., we tend to put our own spin on foods from other countries. Take Italian food, for instance — while Italian American establishments often serve dinner rolls with olive oil, that's something you shouldn't expect at restaurants in Italy. And while we may enjoy antipasti salads or mixed greens doused in Italian dressing, the way restaurants in Italy usually serve salads is completely different. 

Chinese food is no exception to this pattern, with General Tso's chicken being a prime example. While the dish is, in fact, based on a real general, he never actually ate his eponymous chicken, and getting a plate in China will prove challenging (via Vox). The same is true of other dishes as well;  according to Insider, one of the most popular Chinese American dishes of the 20th century, chop suey, was invented in New York City in 1896, not China. As Chinese American cuisine has evolved over the years, various new dishes have popped up, some exclusive to specific American cities or regions. 

If you try Chinese food in Massachusetts, for example, there is an unusual side that you'll typically receive with your dinner.

Bread rolls are a Bostonian Chinese tradition

While you won't find dinner rolls served with your authentic meal in Italy, it turns out you will find them alongside your Chinese dinner in Massachusetts. According to The Takeout, bread and butter are a staple in these Chinese establishments, served either in a takeout bag or a basket on the table. While rolls sound like they'd pair well with various Chinese dishes, particularly as a vehicle for soaking up extra sauce, they're not a food you would usually find in this cuisine elsewhere.

And it's not just bread rolls — Massachusetts Chinese food includes dishes like chow mein sandwiches and lobster sauce, according to NPR, as a result of heavy Italian and Irish influence. This blend of cultures dates back to the 1870s, when Chinese immigrants moved from San Francisco to Boston, and Chinese restaurants began adapting to the Italian and Irish tastes of their customers in a new city.

A key player in the popularization of Boston Chinese cuisine is Joyce Chen, a chef and restaurant owner who invented Peking ravioli, (aka potstickers, aka dumplings with a ground pork filling), according to Open Vault. According to her son, Chen witnessed the popularity of bread as a takeout food, so she started to serve it in her restaurant in 1958 (via The Takeout). Flash forward to today, and dinner rolls are a staple in Bostonian Chinese cuisine.