Here’s one you don’t see too often in the big city.
At its core, egg foo yung is a mixture of vegetables and beaten eggs that are pan-fried in a volume of oil, then served with a thick, soy-based sauce. Proteins can be added to the mixture before frying, too. From there, the details break down a bit.
Some, like the one pictured, are the size of plates; others have a circumference more suited to softballs than basketballs. Some are thin like a pancake, and others puff like a pillow. Some are even taken out of the oil before turning a golden brown, at which point, I’m not entirely positive what distinguishes them from omelettes.
Egg foo yung was particularly popular between around 1930 and 1980, but is hard to find anymore in restaurants except for those in the middle of the country, where time stands still for most restaurants. If you live in a city where you can find a chicken-fried steak on the menu and breakfast costs under five dollars, I bet you can find egg foo yung, too.
Section of menu from Ruby Foo’s in New York City, dated July 1938. From NYPL collection.
Egg foo yung is considered a staple of American Chinese cuisine, but to be fair, its provenance is more nuanced and complex than what we saw with chop suey, egg rolls, or even lobster Cantonese. The two former dishes were domestic adaptations of authentic dishes, while the third was a combination of authentic ingredients in a new way.
What makes egg foo yung stand out is that the dish on which is based, fu yong dan, was actually served in restaurants stateside before morphing into egg foo yung (and even after, on the coasts). The original is halfway between scrambled eggs and an omelette, with vegetables stir-fried before seasoned beaten egg is tossed in without any additional sauce. Either way, the name translates to something like “hibiscus flower eggs,” which the finished dish is said to resemble.
But the only flower the typically brown and crisp egg foo yung might resemble is a prom corsage about twenty years after the prom is over. Still, in my experience, it’s better than you imagine it is; I’m not sure if it’s the oil or the degree of cooking, but something mellows the sometimes sulfurous tendencies of darker-cooked eggs and the result is more delicate and refined than you’d think, when done properly.
From a box sold in Martinez, California.
Egg Foo Young
Eggs–beat well. Add salt, sugar and seasoning.
- Shrimp or crab
And mix well.
Having frying pan heated with oil. Put egg mixture and cook until golden brown.
Serve with hot sauce:
- 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
- 3 Tbsp. sugar
- Soy sauce
Mix and cook until thick. Pour over egg.