The Origin Of Egg Foo Yung May Surprise You

Have you ever heard of egg foo young? If you're under the age of 60, you may not have — and you'd be missing out. This classic Cantonese-American dish enjoyed decades of popularity in Chinese restaurants across the U.S. from the early 1900's until about the 1970's, when an influx of Chinese immigrants from other regions of the country introduced Hunan, Szechuan, and other Chinese cuisines to Americans ready to embrace bolder and spicer dishes (via Saveur). Egg foo young is an egg omelet stuffed with meat or vegetables and ladled with glossy brown sauce, which has gradually faded from restaurant menus.

Today, it's typically only found in super-old school, buttoned-up Cantonese eateries. But we think it's high time to see an egg foo young revival. When prepared correctly, with high quality ingredients and a flaming hot wok full of fresh cooking oil, egg foo young can be a delicacy rivaling the juiciest dumpling or the most sizzling hot pot. Read on to learn more about this once-trendy dish.

From Canton to American plates

According to Saveur, 19th-century immigrants from the Chinese region formerly known as Canton, were the first to introduce versions of egg foo young. Amidst an immigration boom in the mid-to-late 1800's, these new arrivals established restaurants in newly formed Chinatowns in major cities. There, they served dishes adapted to less adventurous American palates and changed recipes, according to the ingredients they could find (via Time).

While no one can pinpoint the exact origin of egg foo young, some say it was inspired by fu rong, a Cantonese banquet dish of custardy eggs mixed with upscale ingredients such as crab meat (via Saveur). Others point to fu yung egg slices, a Shanghainese dish of fluffy egg whites and chopped ham, per The Spruce Eats. Wherever it came from, by the early-to-mid-1900s', the typical version of egg foo young was an egg omelet shot through with diverse fillings such as bean sprouts, water chestnuts, roast pork, and fresh shrimp, served with a rich brown sauce thickened with cornstarch (via Saveur).

Glory faded, but egg foo yung is still hanging on

While egg foo young — and Cantonese food in the U.S. in general — has seen a decline in popularity (via Phoenix New Times), the dish still has its admirers. Ed Schoenfeld, owner of the New York dim sum restaurant RedFarm, was first captivated by versions of egg foo young he ate as a child in 1960's Brooklyn (via Saveur). He still admires the dish, he told Saveur, noting that a well made egg fu yung should be deep-fried in hot oil, so that it puffs like a soufflé and remains creamy in the center.

Egg foo young can still be found on a handful of Chinese restaurant menus, but the quality of what's served varies widely. Luckily, it's easy enough to make at home — our recipe recommends using a hot pan, lightly beaten eggs, and a yummy filling of green onions, bean sprouts, and fresh shrimp. For the most authentic experience, definitely mix up a quick gravy to ladle over the finished omelet: a simple mix of chicken broth, cooking wine, and dark soy sauce. One home kitchen at a time, we can restore egg foo young to its former glory.