How Did Chinese Food Come To America?
- Gary Woods
Historically, in 1884, there was a Chinese restaurant located in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The majority of Chinese immigrants entered the United States in search of jobs in the mining and railroad industries. As greater groups of people came, rules were enacted to restrict them from holding land in the new territory.
They lived in close quarters with one another in ghettos that were collectively referred to as “Chinatown.” Here, immigrants established their own little enterprises, such as eateries and laundry services, among other types of industries. By the 19th century, San Francisco’s Chinese population had established a reputation for running upscale and even opulent dining establishments that catered mostly to Chinese customers.
The eateries in the smaller towns, which were owned by Chinese immigrants for the most part, prepared meals for their patrons according to the specific requests they received. This may include everything from pork chop sandwiches and apple pie to beans and eggs.
Many of these proprietors of small-town restaurants were self-taught family cooks who innovated on different cooking ways utilizing whatever resources were available. They used whatever ingredients they had on hand. These more intimate eateries were important for the development of American Chinese cuisine, in which traditional Chinese dishes were adapted to better fit the preferences of American diners.
In the beginning, they catered to those who worked in mines and railroads, and later, they opened new restaurants in areas where Chinese food was unheard of, and they adapted their cuisine to the local ingredients and the preferences of their clients.
- These Chinese restaurants have been cultural ambassadors to Americans, despite the fact that the addition of new flavors and foods meant that they did not fully adhere to the guidelines of traditional Chinese cuisine.
- During the time of the California Gold Rush, which drew between 20,000 and 30,000 immigrants from the Canton province of China to the United States, the first Chinese restaurants in the United States were established.
Who opened the first Chinese restaurant in the United States is up for discussion. Others claim that it was Canton Restaurant, while others point the finger upon Macao and Woosung. Both of the businesses that were not photographed were established in San Francisco in the year 1849.
- In either case, eateries like this and others like them played a significant role in the routine activities of immigrants.
- They offered a connection to home, which was especially helpful for bachelors who did not have the money or the skills to cook for themselves, and there were a lot of people in that situation.
In 1852, the number of male Chinese immigrants outnumbered female Chinese immigrants by a ratio of 18 to 1. The Chinese community utilized these eateries as meeting places and cultural hubs throughout the years. By the year 1850, San Francisco was home to five different Chinese restaurants.
Not long after that, considerable quantities of food began to be imported from China to the west coast of the United States. As more and more railroads were built in the United States, notably in and around New York City, the tendency moved gradually eastward. In 1915, restaurant proprietors became eligible for merchant visas, which was made possible because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which permitted merchants to enter the nation.
Because of this, the opening of Chinese restaurants as a means of immigration became increasingly popular. Pekin Noodle Parlor, which first opened its doors in 1911, holds the title of being the nation’s oldest Chinese restaurant that is still in business.
- As of the year 2015, there were 46,700 Chinese restaurants in the United States.
- Cooks along the way modified foods from southern China, such as chop suey, and produced a form of Chinese cuisine that is not available in China.
- At a time when Chinese people were excluded from most jobs in the wage economy due to either ethnic discrimination or a lack of language fluency, restaurants, along with Chinese laundries, provided an ethnic niche for small businesses to fill.
This was during a time when restaurants were also popular. By the 1920s, this style of cooking, particularly chop suey, had established itself as a favorite among Americans of the middle class. However, following World War II, it started to be disregarded on the grounds that it was not “genuine.” In the latter part of the 20th century, preferences became more open.
At this point in time, it had become very clear that Chinese restaurants did not primarily cater to Chinese consumers any longer. Restaurants owned by Chinese Americans were a significant contributor to the development of the take-out and delivery food industries in the United States. Empire Szechuan Gourmet Franchise was the first company in New York City to offer delivery services in the 1970s.
At the time, they recruited Taiwanese students attending Columbia University to carry out the deliveries. Restaurants serving Chinese and American cuisine were some of the first in the United States to implement pictorial menus. Cantonese immigrants began to be displaced by immigrants from Taiwan as the principal workforce in American Chinese restaurants in the 1950s.
- Taiwanese immigrants are now the predominant labor force.
- These immigrants broadened the scope of American-Chinese food beyond that of Cantonese cuisine to include meals from a variety of other areas of China as well as dishes that were inspired by Japanese cuisine.
- In 1955, when the Communists were getting closer and closer to the Dachen Islands, the Republic of China decided to evacuate them.
Many people who were evacuated to Taiwan ended up moving to the United States later on since Taiwan did not provide them with strong social networks or access to opportunities. American Chinese cuisine was profoundly impacted by the culinary traditions of the Dachen Islands.
The economic upswing and political liberalization that occurred in Taiwan throughout the 1990s put a stop to the mass immigration of Taiwanese people. Immigrants from China once again made up the bulk of the workforce in the kitchens of Chinese restaurants in the United States beginning in the 1990s.
Beginning in the 1980s, there has been a significant component of illegal Chinese immigration, most notably people from Fuzhou, which is located in Fujian Province, and Wenzhou, which is located in Zhejiang Province, both of which are located in Mainland China.
- These individuals were specifically destined to work in Chinese restaurants in New York City.
- The emergence of American Chinese cuisine was a result of the application of Chinese culinary skills to the ingredients and flavors available in the local area.
- Chinatown in Manhattan, which has a significant population of Chinese Americans, is the location where the majority of the menus for Chinese restaurants in the United States are produced.
In the exhibit “Sweet & Sour: A Look at the History of Chinese Food in the United States,” which was held at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in 2011, some of the historical background and cultural artifacts of American Chinese cuisine were displayed.
Why is Chinese food important to its culture?
“Eating is more important in China than fashion in Europe or living in the United States.” This expression is a tribute to the widespread appeal of Chinese cuisine all across the world. The Chinese people place a significant emphasis on the consumption of food in their day-to-day lives.
Not only do Chinese people take pleasure in eating, but they also feel that a healthy diet may help families and relationships become more harmonious and intimate. Going to the supermarket many times a day to stock up on fresh ingredients is required for any Chinese dish. The Chinese, in contrast to the society that revolves on fast food in the United States, purchase live fish, fresh meats, and seasonal fruits and vegetables from the local market to guarantee that their food is fresh.
This entails the presence of crabs with snapping claws, fish that swim, and hens that crow. Even prepared items like dim sum or barbecued duck for takeout orders are expected to shimmer, glitter, and steam in the same manner as if they had just come out of the oven.
The cuisine of China. Image created by omefrans. In general, Chinese culture does not place as much of an emphasis on proper nutrition as Western society does. They are more interested in the appearance, flavor, and scent of the dish than its consistency or flavor. These are the most important aspects of making authentic Chinese food.
The four dietary groups that make up the Chinese diet on a daily basis are grains, vegetables, fruits, and meat. The inability to digest lactose means that Chinese people do not consume a significant amount of dairy products. Tofu and soy milk, both of which are rich sources of protein and calcium, have taken their place in Chinese cuisine in place of animal products.
Freshness is typically associated with meats, vegetables, and fruits. Exceptions to this rule include salted and dried seafood as well as preserved vegetables like snow cabbage and mustard greens. Preserved eggs, sometimes known as “thousand year old eggs,” are another example. Snack foods like beef jerky, cuttlefish jerky, sweet-and-sour preserved plums, or dried mango slices are some examples of products that are not included in this rule.
Rarely are foods that have been canned or frozen consumed. Only on very exceptional occasions, such as birthdays and weddings, can people in the West consume sweets like cookies, cakes, pies, and ice cream. Examples of such events include. Typically, for dessert after dinner, families will eat fruit that is in season.
- On a hot summer’s night, traditional Chinese sweets like red bean soup, sweet white lotus’ seed soup, or steam papaya soup are occasionally presented as a special treat to guests as a cool and refreshing course to their meal.
- Cooking in a deep fryer is not used all that frequently in traditional Chinese cuisine.
Deep-fried meals, such as sweet and sour pork, almond fried chicken, and deep-fried shrimp, may be found on the menus of the majority of Chinese restaurants in the United States. This is done to attract customers and to cater to western culinary preferences.
Why are there so many Chinese restaurants in the US?
The history of how Chinese restaurants came to be present in virtually every community in the United States is both intriguing and extremely illuminating concerning the unforeseen consequences that might arise from the application of United States immigration law.
In the early part of the twentieth century, when anti-Chinese feeling was at an all-time high, the ethnic cuisine sector started to see significant growth and expansion. How did so many of these restaurants manage to get their start when the general population in the United States was so prejudiced against Chinese people and thought they ate the meat of cats, dogs, and rats? I conducted research in archival sources and evaluated historical statistics in order to provide an explanation for Chinese commercial actions made in the United States.
This enabled me to solve the mystery. My findings show the formative consequences of U.S. immigration law, which may at times be humorous, and they illustrate the dynamic interaction between exclusionary legal laws and the adaptive techniques of would-be immigrants.
Both of these points are important. The Role That Anti-Chinese Legislation Played in the Development of Restaurants The great majority of Chinese immigrants arrived in the United States from a very small cluster of counties in southern China. These counties’ economic well-being became inextricably linked to the prospects available in North America after the Gold Rush in California in 1849.
Young men left China to find job in the United States, sent money to their families back home, and traveled back and forth between the two countries on short-term visits. After the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 by the United States Congress, it became significantly more difficult to maintain this pattern of labor and travel.
- This harsh regulation made it impossible for Chinese workers to enter the country, but it did have the unintended consequence of encouraging the growth of Chinese companies by establishing a preferential system for visas.
- It was possible for the owners of certain types of enterprises to get “merchant status,” which granted them permission to enter the United States and sponsor family members.
Entrepreneurial people in the United States and China created restaurants as a method to get around limits in U.S. immigration law after a court ruling in 1915 awarded these unique immigration advantages to Chinese restaurant entrepreneurs. There was a shift in the direction of entrants from China entering the hospitality business.
During the early part of the twentieth century, there was an explosion in the number of Chinese restaurants that could be found in the United States. The number of Chinese restaurants in New York City almost tripled between the years 1910 and 1920, and then more than doubled again over the course of the next ten years after that.
By the year 1920, New York restaurants had generated yearly revenues of $77.9 million, which increased to $154.2 million by the year 1930. Once upon a time, Chinese laundries were the most common employers of Chinese employees. However, by the year 1930, restaurants had become the most probable employers of Chinese workers, and they continued to hold that distinction beyond that point.
Even though it was extremely difficult for Chinese people to achieve merchant status, the restaurant industry had a meteoric rise in both the number of restaurants and the number of jobs available in the restaurant industry. The restrictions placed on restaurants in the United States to qualify as merchants were stringent and arbitrary.
These individuals must also have managed their restaurants full time for at least one calendar year, during which time they must have refrained from performing any menial work such as cashiering, waiting tables, or other similar work. Finally, the Immigration Bureau would only grant this status to the major investor in a “high grade” restaurant.
Because immigration officers worked under the assumption that Chinese applicants were likely to lie, it was bureau policy for them to conduct interviews with two white character witnesses in order to determine whether or not the applicants’ assertions could be believed. There were a few rare cases in which the Immigration Bureau made an exception, but generally speaking, they were only ready to recognize a single merchant per restaurant.
The Chinese adapted by remodeling their eateries so that they adhered to the stringent immigration restrictions of the United States. The term “chop suey palace” refers to upscale Chinese restaurants that were established in the 1910s and 1920s by Chinese entrepreneurs who invested an average of $90,000 to $150,000 in start-up capital at the time.
Chinese individuals pooled their resources and created restaurants as partnerships due to the fact that only a small percentage of Chinese people truly had so much money. The major investors created a continuous line of individuals who were able to meet the requirements for legal merchant status by rotating the managerial responsibilities among themselves once a year or once every year and a half.
In addition, Chinese businesspeople conducted transactions with white merchants who were prepared to testify in favor of immigration petitions. The Chinese were able to increase the number of individuals who were eligible for merchant status as a result of their connection with each individual restaurant by utilizing such strategies.
- The Difficult Working Conditions in Chinese Restaurants The workers’ perspective is that Chinese restaurants are complicated locations of chain migration and the duty to care for family members.
- People who were linked to the principal investors through either kinship or acquaintance worked as waiters and chefs at the typical Chinese restaurant in New York City.
There were five waiters and four cooks. Family ties made interactions between employers and employees more difficult, which resulted in disputes between them that were qualitatively distinct from the kinds of problems that might arise in businesses that are not operated by families.
In order to provide for their families, workers in Chinese restaurants were expected to accept poor salaries, put in long hours of physically taxing labor, and not complain about any of it. As a direct consequence of this, the typical employee at such restaurants earned earnings that were one third lower than the national average for those working in the food service industry.
This was the case despite the fact that Chinese restaurant workers were required to provide financial assistance to family members back in China who relied on them for day-to-day essentials including clothes, food, and educational expenditures. The Chinese were able to endure through these difficulties because to letters that were sent back and forth across the Pacific Ocean.
- People residing in big cities on the coast, such as New York or San Francisco, were the ones to receive bundles of mail from China and were responsible for passing on numerous letters to immigrants living farther interior.
- The Chinese employees who sent letters and money home to their families described their anguish at having “no spare time,” earning too little, and suffering from bad health.
The workers also expressed their dissatisfaction with the conditions in which they worked. The ability of the Chinese to enforce social obligations through the use of letters was particularly useful in situations in which individuals on either side of the Pacific breached commitments made with one another.
- The exchange of letters also preserved cultural traditions, such as the custom of sending New Year’s wishes and gifts of money to mark the Lunar New Year.
- Southern China Likewise Gained as a Result In addition to achieving legal status in the United States at a period in which immigration was restricted, immigrants utilized the earnings made by the growing industry of Chinese restaurants in America to enhance the standard of living for their family in the country they had left behind.
The investors in Chinese restaurants established in the United States received not only a magnificent yearly dividend that ranged from 8% to 10% on average, but also annual compensation that were equivalent to the amount they had invested. Major investors might dramatically enhance the quality of life for their families with the revenue from this investment.
- Households in southern China who had relatives living overseas began to enjoy average monthly salaries that were three times higher than those of families who did not have such relations.
- Additionally, Chinese businesspeople and employees in the United States might do far more than assist individual families in meeting their financial obligations for basic requirements.
Their remittances and patronage also financed bigger endeavors, the most impressive of which were contemporary residences designed in the western style as well as communal initiatives such as schools, trains, and hospitals. As a result, the sector of Chinese restaurants in the United States helped to build fortunes in two very different countries.