California Foodways: The Chinese-Mexican Cuisine You’ll Find Only Along the Border
Speaker 1: 00:00 It's no surprise that you might find good Mexican food in the Imperial Valley, East of San Diego. But what about Chinese food? What about Chinese Mexican food in 2015, reporter Lisa Morehouse traveled to both sides of the border to dig up the history behind Baja fusion. Speaker 2: 00:17 The Salsedo family sits in a coveted booth at the fortune garden restaurant in the city of El Centro. Myra Saucedo, her sister, Marta Kramer, their mom and other sister are almost drooling, waiting for their food to arrive. We come all the way from Uma twice a month, just to eat that's Yuma Arizona over an hour away. A huge site order comes light, yellow, deep fried chilies. It's a dish I've never seen. We always ordered the chili and, but my sisters, she eats them all and their next order comes a salt and pepper fish. It's like red fish, sort of like hostile that, that chili peppers and audience definitely by hostile at a Chinese restaurant, it's like a fusion Mexican ingredients with the Chinese. It's very different than if you go to any other Chinese Americanized Chinese restaurant. And there's a reason for this fusion. One that dates back over 130 years, I'll get to the history a little later for now. I leave this Austedo family as they carefully mix Chinese mustard, a little spicy Saracho and catch it into a special, only an Imperial Valley dipping sauce for barbecue, pork. Well, they all that. They don't say barbecue. They say, yeah, my name is Jenessa ciao. Uh, I'm in my husband own the faltering garden. Speaker 2: 01:49 Joe came to the U S from Southern China, her husband, Carlos from Mexicali, where he worked in Chinese restaurants in the fortune garden kitchen, the cooks speak to each other in Cantonese, the waiters speak Spanish and English. You can see every table, they had lemon hustles, Titus, you don't eat lemon, right? Those fried yellow chilies on almost every table. Chilia Sato. They're served in a lemon sauce with lots of salt, kind of a margarita flavor. If you believe the rumors, some chefs marinade pork in tequila, and they serve Bato Sato roast duck with lots of cilantro. Speaker 3: 02:33 The restaurants that you see now are kind of the remnant of the Chinese population that used to fill the U S Mexico borderlands in Mexicali and involve California robbery. Speaker 2: 02:45 Chao Romero is a professor at UCLA. He teaches in both the Chicano studies and Asian-American studies. Speaker 3: 02:51 Chinese started to go to Mexico after the Chinese exclusion act was passed in the United States, Speaker 2: 02:56 1882, the Chinese were the first ethnic groups, specifically singled out and banned from entry into the U S. So tens of thousands went to Cuba, South America, Speaker 3: 03:06 The Mexico, the Chinese invented undocumented immigration from Mexico smuggling with Kubotas guides hired to lead people across the border and smuggling with false papers in boats and in trains. The infrastructure for that was all invented by the Chinese. In fact, Speaker 2: 03:24 Border patrol grew out of the mounted guard of Chinese inspectors. Many Chinese immigrants settled in Mexicali becoming grocers, merchants and restaurant owners. Others managed to smuggle across and make lives in the U S including Imperial County, a block from the border in Calexico, California, George limb pulls up in a big truck like our first city and drives a few minutes Speaker 3: 03:49 Or, uh, the international border crossing into Mexico. Speaker 2: 03:53 He lives in the U S but helps run one of the oldest and most grand Chinese restaurants in Mexicali called El dragon. There, he goes by Jorge Lim. Why not have a restaurant in, Speaker 3: 04:05 Yes. I mean, population here about a million. Speaker 2: 04:09 Your county's population is about 170,000. Speaker 3: 04:11 So just doing the math is, I mean, explain simple that you're going to have a lot more customers in New Mexico. And I hate to say this, but people in Mexico are more sophisticated. They're in the Imperial Valley about Chinese food. Speaker 2: 04:28 That sophistication may come from the decades of people eating Chinese food here with some Mexican flavors. 70 years ago, it was a necessity. Chinese cooks used Mexican ingredients like Chili's Hikma and certain cuts of meat, because that was what was available. Now it's part of a culinary legacy like this new dish on the menu Speaker 3: 04:49 [inaudible], which is the best meat for tacos. Speaker 2: 04:52 We've served with asparagus and black bean sauce. The meat's clearly Mexican Speaker 3: 04:57 Asparagus, uh, could be both Chinese and Mexican, but the sauce, the black bean that's Chinese Speaker 2: 05:04 In a kind of Mexican, Chinese American hybrid. There's an egg roll was shrimp, cilantro and cream cheese. It seems like it shouldn't be good, but it is. And this is the only place I've ever seen avocado in fried rice. That was Lisa Morehouse reporting from the Imperial.