At the California – Mexican border, straddling Mexicali and Imperial County, the most notable regional cuisine isn’t Mexican food. It’s Chinese food. There are about 200 Chinese restaurants in Mexicali alone. Some of the dishes in this region can’t be found in other places.
The emergence of this cuisine has its historical roots in racial prejudice: the Chinese Exclusion Act. UCLA professor Robert Chao Romero says, “The Chinese invented undocumented immigration from Mexico.” And today’s Border Patrol evolved from a “Mounted Guard of Chinese Inspectors.”
While the discriminatory legislation has disappeared, a fusion of food cultures has persisted and evolved.
Lisa Morehouse reports for NPR’s The Salt:
“You can see, every table, they have lemon and hot sauce,” [Jenissa] Zhou says. “In Chinese food, we don’t eat lemon.”
Those fried yellow chilis on almost every table, chiles asados, are served in a lemon sauce with lots of salt — kind of a margarita flavor. If you believe the rumors, some chefs marinate pork in tequila.
It’s not just on the plate where cultures combine. In the Fortune Garden kitchen, the cooks speak to each other in Cantonese. The waiters speak Spanish and English.
This story first ran on KQED’s The California Report. Vickie Ly helped with reporting and translation.