While working weekends in an Americanized Chinese food restaurant I realized while many ingredients are used, no dishes contain cheese.

This seems to be the case for every chinese dish I have ever seen in America, where as almost any other type of restaurants at least features some items with cheese on their menus.

Why is this?

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    I'll just leave this here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crab_Rangoon Sep 25, 2015 at 2:07
  • 2
    Because it would be gross... I love cheese... I think it's magic... but I don't see anything about Chinese food that would work with cheese.
    – Catija
    Sep 25, 2015 at 3:09
  • @Catija I've often put parmesan (or parmigiano-reggiano) on my Chinese food leftovers and I enjoyed it at least. But most people that know that I've done this find it gross. Sep 25, 2015 at 15:29
  • Maybe it's a midwest thing, but I've gotten cheese on mussel appetizers at several Americanized Chinese restaurants.
    – Chuu
    Sep 25, 2015 at 16:23
  • My local chinese buffet has (I assume fake) crab legs, celery, some other stuff (maybe shrimp?), and some white sauce - topped with cheese. I forget what they've called the dish, and their online menu is... well, not a menu. But it's super-delicious. I like it more than the salmon, or the straight up shrimp.
    – user39626
    Sep 27, 2015 at 16:54

5 Answers 5


It's simple; Americanized Chinese food rarely contains cheese because Chinese food rarely contains cheese.

As many as 90% of Chinese people are, to some degree, lactose intolerant. Dairy is simply not a large part of Chinese food culture. Dairy is growing as a business in China. However, since dairy makes most Chinese sick, I imagine the dairy industry will be primarily an industry of exportation.

EDIT As I promised in comments, I did look for citations for that 90% figure. The figure is ubiquitous. It may in fact have more to do with societal evolution than anything innate in the genetics of the Chinese people, but the fact remains. Most Chinese people react poorly to dairy.

Neato Chart

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    Do you have a citation for the lactose intolerance figure? I see this but it's not conclusive. Lots of cheese is (nearly) lactose free; e.g., cheese from certain animals or aged cheeses. I have seen 6 months or 18 months cited as the time after which the critters have consumed most of the lactose, and the cheese is essentially lactose free.
    – hoc_age
    Sep 25, 2015 at 2:39
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    Yes, I will post citations, but how much lactose is in cheese really isn't the point. The point is that the ancient customs that are the cuisines of China evolved without much dairy.
    – Jolenealaska
    Sep 25, 2015 at 2:44
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    No, you didn't miss my point, it's just that I don't consider "why" to be all that important. The fact is that Chinese and South-East Asian food cultures don't contain much dairy. I accept lactose intolerance as a probable contributing factor without feeling the need to carefully research. Certainly, more information is better than less, so I would welcome input.
    – Jolenealaska
    Sep 25, 2015 at 3:04
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    milk.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000661 This study worked out the lactose intolerance numbers. Also: apparently, there are high rates for lactose intolerance because they did not drink milk, not the other way around -> Europeans most likely got lactose-tolerant because milk was added to the diet during a time when having this extra-option for nutrition increased the likelihood of survival enough to make a difference for survival and breeding!
    – Layna
    Sep 25, 2015 at 6:17
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    @hoc_age Lactose-free cheeses are a recent thing. There's no particular reason that a non-cheese-eating culture would suddenly decide to start including it in a lot of dishes: that would take a long time, assuming it happened at all. There's no particular desire in Chinese cuisine for what is, essentially, a cheese-substitute because there's no particular desire for cheese. Sep 25, 2015 at 10:23

Jolenealaska is right, that a large majority of Far Eastern people are lactose intolerant.

I think the answer to the question about cheese is that historically the peoples of the Far East did not keep milk-yielding cattle herds, which is why so many of them are lactose-intolerant, and why we never see cheese in Far Eastern dishes.

If someone wants to have a go incorporating dairy in fusion Chinese-Western cooking I would suggest that they go to something like Xueo, a Tibetan yoghurt-like dish made from fermented yak milk. That might match traditional food a little better than cheese!

  • There is also kumis, made for fermeted mare's milk.
    – cup
    Sep 28, 2015 at 11:55

I think cheese doesn't appear in American style chinese food more because of the way that american style chinese food has evolved (or hasn't evolved) as a cuisine, rather than because milk and cheese aren't traditional chinese ingredients.

I am a Chinese american but also lived in Hong Kong and Taiwan and traveled in China and Singapore, so I'm familiar with americanized Chinese food as well as Chinese food in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. Food in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong has evolved and changed in really complicated ways as they modernized and got access to new ingredients and exposure to western cultures like Britain and other asian cultures like Japan.

People in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan definitely consume dairy products in spite of whatever lactose intolerance they might have. Milk and yogurt are commonly consumed in China today. Milk appears in certain traditional Chinese desserts (almond tofu jelly and steamed milk). Parmesan and even mozzarella cheese is used as a topping for 'baked rice' in Hong Kong, which are traditional casserole dishes that probably developed with some British influence. Fluffy baked cheese cake is a popular dessert in Hong Kong and Taiwan bakeries (probably result of Japanese bakery influence). Milk is very popular in beverages like milk tea, yin-yeung (mixture of coffee and tea), bubble tea, and coffee.

While food in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan has evolved to incorporate nontraditional ingredients such as milk and cheese gradually, it is curious that this hasn't happened with american style chinese food despite the availability of milk and cheese products.


"Americanized" Chinese is not an invented cuisine, but rather an adaptation by Chinese immigrants to the US to adjust for local palates. That subset of cuisine as a whole still stays largely true to traditional methods and ingredients. While you may see the incorporation of more localized produce, it would be very unlikely to see such a foreign ingredient as cheese introduced. Probably the closest you'll ever see is the cream cheese in Crab Rangoon.


Restaurants are businesses first and foremost. In areas where Hispanics live Chinese restaurants serve cheese and meat enchiladas, pizza, baked fish with cheese topping besides all traditional chinese foods. Maybe this is Mexicanized chinese food.

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