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Xiaohui Liu

Xiaohui Liu
Xiaohui Liu

Foodscapes of Chinese America


Foodscapes of

Foodscapes of Chinese America


This book explores the transformation of cultural change. A particular geographic

Chinese America
Chinese food in the U.S. after 1965 from a focus of this book is California.
cultural perspective. The author asks how
Chinese food reflects the racial relation
between the Chinese community and
the mainstream white society and inves- The Author
tigates the symbolic meanings as well as Xiaohui Liu studied at Fudan University The Transformation
the cultural functions of Chinese food in
America. She argues that food is not only
(China) and Ludwig Maximilian Univer-
sity of Munich (Germany). Her main fields
of Chinese Culinary Culture
a symbol that mirrors social relations,
but also an agent which causes social and
of research are Immigration Studies and
Food Studies.
in the U.S. since 1965

ISBN 978-3-631-67100-9

267100_Liu_ak_A5HCk PLE edition new.indd 1 16.11.15 KW 47 15:03


Xiaohui Liu
Xiaohui Liu
Xiaohui Liu

Foodscapes of Chinese America


Foodscapes of

Foodscapes of Chinese America


This book explores the transformation of cultural change. A particular geographic

Chinese America
Chinese food in the U.S. after 1965 from a focus of this book is California.
cultural perspective. The author asks how
Chinese food reflects the racial relation
between the Chinese community and
the mainstream white society and inves- The Author
tigates the symbolic meanings as well as Xiaohui Liu studied at Fudan University The Transformation
the cultural functions of Chinese food in
America. She argues that food is not only
(China) and Ludwig Maximilian Univer-
sity of Munich (Germany). Her main fields
of Chinese Culinary Culture
a symbol that mirrors social relations,
but also an agent which causes social and
of research are Immigration Studies and
Food Studies.
in the U.S. since 1965

267100_Liu_ak_A5HCk PLE edition new.indd 1 16.11.15 KW 47 15:03


Foodscapes of Chinese America
Xiaohui Liu

Foodscapes of Chinese America


The Transformation of Chinese Culinary Culture
in the U.S. since 1965
Bibliographic Information published by the Deutsche
Nationalbibliothek
The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in
the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic
data is available in the internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de.

Zugl.: Mnchen, Univ., Diss., 2015

D 19
ISBN 978-3-631-67100-9 (Print)
E-ISBN 978-3-653-06377-6 (E-Book)
DOI 10.3726/978-3-653-06377-6
Peter Lang GmbH
Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften
Frankfurt am Main 2016
All rights reserved.
Peter Lang Edition is an Imprint of Peter Lang GmbH.
Peter Lang Frankfurt am Main Bern Bruxelles New York
Oxford Warszawa Wien
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This publication has been peer reviewed.
www.peterlang.com
For Feng,
For his endless love and support
Table of Contents

Acknowledgements9

Abstract13

Chapter 1. Introduction15

Chapter 2.The Era of Chop Suey the Early Evolution


of Chinese American Food33

Chapter 3.The Transformation of Chinese


American Foodscapes55
3.1 Culinary Diversification The Chinese
Restaurant Revolution55
3.1.1 The Coming of the Culinary Diasporas Change of
Restaurant Operators/Chefs67
3.1.2 How New Cuisines were Introduced Menus and
Other Translation Strategies79
3.1.3 There was More Than One Cuisine From
Standardized Cantonese American Fare to
Diversified Regional Cuisines93
a. The Charms of Hong Kong Cuisine and Its
Cultural Identity 94
b. The Awakening of the American Palate Americas
Love Affair with Spicy Szechuan and Hunan Cuisine 104
3.2 Americanized Panda The Rise of Chinese
Fast Food Chains114
3.3 Chinese Food and Chineseness in the New Era142

Chapter 4.Culinary Culture in Metropolitan California157


4.1 Serving Outsiders: Restaurants for Non-Chinese160
4.1.1 Chinese Cuisine and Californian Taste Cultural
Adaptations and Negotiations161

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4.1.2 Representing and Reconstructing a New Ethnicity
through Restaurant Dcor172
4.2 Serving Insiders: Restaurants for the
Chinese Community182
4.2.1 Features and Cultural Functions182
4.2.2 Non-Chinese Customers Authenticity and
Foodie Culture193
4.3 Cross-over Consumption The Birth of a
Transethnic Cuisine and Cosmopolitan Identity203

Conclusion211

Bibliography221

8
Acknowledgements

The process of writing a dissertation is like a spiritual odyssey, full of diffi-


culties and pains. It is a painstaking and challenging journey. And once you
get through it, you are much stronger and more mature than before. But the
biggest difference is that in finishing a dissertation there are so many people
who selflessly provide you with help and facilitate the advancement of your
work, which makes us doctoral students much luckier than poor Odysseus.
I am deeply indebted to many people in turning an abstract idea into this
finished work. I would like to first of all thank my primary supervisor Pro-
fessor Christof Mauch for his expert guidance, consistent support and kind
encouragement. During the three and a half years of my doctoral studies,
Professor Mauch endured my numerous questions and gave me countless
useful and practical feedback. He offered me great assistance in developing
the framework of my dissertation and guided me through the conceptualiz-
ing, researching and writing processes. He also encouraged me to participate
in academic activities and provided me with many precious opportunities
for academic exchanges. In spite of the fact that he is an extremely busy
scholar and always dashing around the world, I have the feeling that he is
always available to help out whenever I need him. Without his step-by-step
guidance and supervision, my doctoral studies in Germany could have never
been this fruitful and smooth.
I feel very grateful to my secondary supervisor Professor Berndt Ostendorf.
Professor Ostendorf, an extremely knowledgeable and respected scholar,
played such an important and irreplaceable role in keeping me on the right
track while writing and provided me great motivation to move forward. His
insightful suggestions as well as the valuable documents on food studies he
gave me meant so much to my research. His kindness and generosity was
far beyond my expectations.
I would like also to thank Prof. Christof Decker, who served on my defense
committee. He kindly spared his precious time for my defense and raised a
number of inspiring and wonderful questions, which are quite conducive to
my future research.

9
I sincerely thank my colleagues and friends at the LMU. I thank my friend
Sasha Gora for exchanging ideas on food studies and also for taking time
from her busy life to improve my manuscript draft. The members of Profes-
sor Mauchs Oberseminars gave many useful suggestions and feedback on
my research project during different phases of the research. Their questions
and suggestions pushed me to reexamine my ideas and better structure
my thesis. In this respect, I am especially indebted to Charlotte Lerg and
Angelika Mller. Many colleagues and friends kindly offered assistance
and made my studies in Germany much easier. Among so many, Angelika
Mller, Agnes Kneitz, Antonia Mehnert and Arielle Helmick deserve special
mention for their generosity and patience. Sabine Buchczyk, a dear friend of
mine, also gave me lots of encouragement during my studies at the LMU. I
would like also to thank the members of ProAmHist. It was such a pleasure
to be a part of such a friendly and nice team.
I thank the kind librarians and archivists at Los Angeles Public Library,
San Francisco Public Library, the Ethnic Studies Library at the University
of California, Berkeley, and the Hoover Institution Library & Archives at
Stanford University for their assistance. I also thank the staff at the Chinese
Historical Society of America and the Chinese American Museum for show-
ing me a rich abundance of research sources, which I never knew of before.
Special thanks go to Eugene Moy for taking me to an interesting exhibition on
Chinese restaurants and for giving me a guided tour around downtown L.A. I
am also grateful to the many restaurant operators, chefs and employees who
offered me the chance to interview them. Among others, I thank Bingcheng
Zhang, owner of Fu-shing restaurant, who kindly took me into his kitchen
while he was preparing food for customers and shared his personal stories
about the restaurant business. I thank Mark Ting, a retired master chef and
owner of Plum Three Inn, for giving me the chance to get to know him and
his view on Chinese cooking and American Chinese restaurants. David Chan,
a Chinese food lover and food writer, who has eaten at over 6,000 different
Chinese restaurants, shared with me the spreadsheet he made of Chinese
restaurants over the past 30 years and took the time to meet me in his office.
His observations on Chinese restaurants are a great source for my research.
I am truly thankful to my sponsor the China Scholarship Council for the
financial support during my doctoral studies in Germany. The grant I received
from CSC enabled me to study overseas and acquire new perspectives. I thank

10
the Alumni Association of the Amerika-Institut Munich for offering me the
stipend, which allowed me to travel to the U.S. for research.
I am most grateful to my mom and my grandma, whom I miss so much
each day. My mom attached great importance to my education since I was
young and always encouraged me to pursue further education and engage
in intellectual endeavors. My grandma, an amiable lady with lots of love,
showed me the importance of food in human lives with her actions, and the
relationship between food and love. It might probably be one of the reasons
that I developed such a strong interest in food and chose it as the research
topic for my doctoral studies.
Last but not least, there is one person whom I want to extend my heart-
felt gratitude to: my husband Feng Yang. It was him who accompanied me
through the most joyous and difficult parts of writing my thesis and offered
the most selfless support and love. He tried everything to convince me that
I can successfully finish and calmed me down whenever I felt frustrated and
desperate. In spite of his busy work schedule, he flew all the way from China
to Germany to support me at my defense. I can never pay him back for all
his efforts and love. Both the English and Chinese languages fail to express
my appreciation enough for him. This dissertation is for him.

11
Abstract

This book focuses on the transformation of Chinese American foodscapes after


1965. The basic questions I ask are how Chinese food culture has changed in Amer-
ica over time and what eating Chinese food has meant to Americans. I explore the
symbolic meanings and cultural functions of Chinese food both within the Chinese
community and in society at large. I argue that food is not only a symbol that reflects
social relations, but also an agent, which causes social and cultural change. Chinese
food facilitated the upward social mobility of Chinese immigrants and challenged
the power relations between the Chinese community and white American society.
California, which is not only standing in the forefront of recent culinary changes in
America but is also the birthplace of Chinese American food, serves as the perfect
location to examine the changes of Chinese American culinary culture. Owing to
the large Chinese population in California, the Chinese foodscape here is the most
complex. Based on the ubiquitous presence of Chinese restaurants and the great
popularity of Chinese food in America, it seems necessary to figure out why Ameri-
cans eat Chinese food, its social and cultural implications and the mutual influence
between Chinese ethnic cuisine and the local culinary culture in the U.S.

Key words: food, Chinese American, ethnic cuisine, California, immigration, res-
taurant

13
Chapter 1. Introduction

Taking a tour through Chinese restaurants in metropolitan California is quite


an experience. If you are a newcomer, you will definitely be impressed by the
ubiquitous presence of Chinese restaurants and the great variety of Chinese
food. Driving with my host family in central L.A., we passed no less than ten
Chinese restaurants in less-than-an-hour-long journey. Chinese restaurants
are everywhere here in L.A., said Caroline, a local Californian and the
younger sister in my host family, who seemed to take this for granted. While
I conducted interviews with chefs and restaurateurs in Chinese restaurants,
I was amazed to see the artistic and elegant presentation of an entire roast
suckling pig and the extraordinary delicateness of various kinds of dim sum.
Standing in line waiting to order at a Panda Express, the biggest Chinese
fast food chain in the U.S., a surreal feeling hit me when I heard the word
kung pao chicken from the mouths of many non-Chinese customers. In an
instant, I felt disoriented in geographical location and was not sure if I was
still in the States or back in my home country. All of these experiences made
me wonder if the omnipresence of Chinese restaurants and food affect the
eating habits and everyday lives of common people in California. A talk with
a local Caucasian friend confirmed my assumption. She told me eating in
Chinese restaurants was a precious part of her childhood memories because
when she was young her father often took her out to eat in the Chinatown of
L.A. She said Chinese food evoked the fun time they spent together. As it is
represented by American mass media, especially soap operas, dining in Chi-
nese restaurants is an event of high frequency among Californians. Thanks
to the long history and continuous popularity of Chinese food in California,
eating Chinese food has already filtered into the daily lives of the local people.
The second half of the twentieth century witnessed a revolution in Ameri-
can eating and the most conspicuous facet of the revolution was the prosper-
ity of ethnic cuisines. American eating had changed from a white-dominated
culinary sameness to a cornucopian diversity that is full of different ethnic
flavors. The food revolution turned the United States into a gourmet nation.
American foodways have always been a blend of different ethnic and regional
culinary practices since the colonial age. British, French, German, Dutch,

15
Irish, and African as well as Native American food habits all had left a deep
imprint on the way people ate in America.1 However, over time, because of
WASP cultural domination and the influence of the Industrial Revolution,
immigrant and regional foodways were gradually Americanized, homog-
enized and thus lost their individual distinctions. First generation immigrants
were encouraged to forgo their traditional eating habits in order to become
more assimilated in American society. Consequently, the food preferences
of non-white immigrants and ethnics gradually became white. Even in
ethnic restaurants the food was standardized, homogenized and quite dif-
ferent from the real thing back in the home country. The food habits of
European Americans, Anglo-Americans in particular,2 dominated American
eating until the mid-20th century. As the new immigration wave following
the passage of the Hart-Cellar Act in 1965 brought a large inflow of non-
European immigrants to America, more non-European cuisines made their
presence felt - various Asian cuisines like Japanese, Korean, Indian, Thai,
Vietnamese, as well as Middle Eastern and South American, just to name a
few. The arrival of new cuisines enormously expanded the eating choices of
Americans and broadened their culinary horizons. Foods like hummus, sushi,
Tandoori chicken, Szechuan beef, salsa, kebab and pho no longer sounded
strange to ordinary Americans. Thanks to the new political, social, cultural
and culinary environment, new ethnic cuisines adapted to the American com-
mercial market in a different way than before. The great enrichment of ethnic
foods and their new ways of adapting to American culture resulted in a huge
change of the American culinary landscape. After 1965, Americans began to
eat a much wider range of food and their attitudes towards non-European
ethnic cuisines underwent substantial transformation.
According to Chinese Restaurant News, in 2007, there were about 43,139
Chinese restaurants in the U.S., more than the total number of all McDon-
alds, Wendys and Burger King domestic outlets combined. The annual sales
generated by Chinese restaurants accounted for about one fourth of overall

1 Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Green-
wood Press, 2005).
2 Harvey Levenstein claimed that the American table remained the product of a
fragment of British culture. See Revolution at the Table: The Transformation
of the American Diet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 3.

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annual sales generated by ethnic restaurants in the U.S.3 With its conspicu-
ous presence in America, Chinese food provides a perfect case study to bet-
ter understand the American culinary revolution in this period. Before the
1960s, the most familiar Chinese food to Americans were dishes like chop
suey, chow mein and egg foo young which were highly Americanized ver-
sions of Cantonese food. After the passage of the 1965 Immigration Reform
Act, the large influx of new immigrants who came from different regions of
China brought different kinds of regional cuisines such as Mandarin, Shang-
hai, Szechuan and Hunan food. The introduction of new regional cuisines
challenged the dominance of Americanized Cantonese cooking in Chinese
restaurants. Since then, chop suey lost its historical attraction and Chinese
cooking in the U.S. has been under the influence of a global Chinese culinary
culture instead of a regional one. Among the new immigrant restaurateurs
and chefs, a considerable number were from middle or even upper-class back-
grounds. It was these characters that initiated a series of reforms in Chinese
American restaurants from the menu and restaurant dcor to the cuisine
itself. Chinese American foodscapes were thus revitalized and diversified.
The period between the mid-1960s and the late 1980s witnessed the estab-
lishment of a large number of new Chinese restaurants and the emergence
of many new Chinese dishes that resembled their original versions in China.
Since the discriminating middle and upper-class Chinese customers created
a demand for food of high quality, a gentrification of Chinese food and
restaurants took place during this time period. Many delicate and exquisite
Chinese dishes appeared on menus and quite a number of Chinese fine dining
restaurants opened. However, in the culinary world, diversification coexisted
with homogenization. Riding on the prosperity of the American fast food
industry, Chinese fast food developed. Chinese fast food chain restaurants
could be found everywhere in California since the 1980s, which further
promoted the popularity of Chinese food. As a result, Chinese food became
one of the most popular ethnic cuisines in America, and tasting new Chinese
regional cuisines became the new culinary fashion in the 1970s and 1980s.

3 Yinghua Liu and SooCheong Jang, Perceptions of Chinese Restaurants in the


U.S.: What Affects Customer Satisfaction and Behavioral Intentions?, Inter-
national Journal of Hospitality Management 28 (2009): 338.

17
The transformation of Chinese American foodscapes contributed enormously
to the diversification and democratization of ethnic foodscapes in America.
The American perception of Chinese food and Chineseness has also changed
over time. In California, as one of the earliest ethnic cuisines, Chinese food
played a particularly important role in transforming the larger foodscapes.
Because of the long-time presence of a Chinese population in California and
the regional distinctiveness of the state in terms of food culture, the Chinese
foodscape is more complex in the Golden State than elsewhere. The Chinese
food revolution in the U.S. in general and California in particular, since the
1960s, served as a precedent of the ensuing ethnic foods and also as an indi-
cator of the rapid evolvement and development of the American palate. The
way Chinese food was produced, consumed, comprehended and accepted
influenced and inspired how other ethnic groups prepared their foods and
presented them to American consumers in commercial market and also af-
fected how Americans understood other ethnic cuisines and incorporated
them into their culinary repertoires. The change of American taste can be
revealed through their eating of new types of Chinese food brought by new
immigrants. An investigation of the metamorphosis of Chinese food will not
only add another case study to the existing scholarship on ethnic food in the
U.S., but also shed light on the acceptance of other ethnic cuisines in America
in the latter half of the twentieth century. It will also help people understand
why American foodways and the American palate became the way they are
today. At the same time, the racial and cultural encounter between Chinese
immigrants and American society can be manifested by the experience of
Chinese food in the American commercial market.
My research addresses the change of Chinese cuisine and Chinese culi-
nary culture in the United States after 1965. I situate this change in the larger
context of American politics, society, culture, and cuisine. I chronicle the
evolution and development of Chinese food in America and examine the
role Chinese food has played in reflecting immigrants experiences, revealing
racial relations and causing cultural and even social change in the host coun-
try. A case study is conducted on the Chinese foodscape in California. The
following questions are discussed: What adaptations did Chinese food make
to fit into the American commercial market? How did the adaptations differ
over time? How have the Chinese American foodscapes transformed since
the 1960s and why? How did the food change relate to the larger political,

18
social, and cultural environment in the U.S.? What specific strategies did
Chinese chefs and restaurateurs adopt to introduce new dishes? How did the
popularity of new Chinese regional cuisines reveal changes of the American
palate? How did Americans perceive Chinese food and understand Chinese
culinary culture in different time periods? Did the acceptance of Chinese
food by the American public suggest the acceptance of Chinese people? See-
ing through the development of Chinese food in America, how did the ethnic
relation between the Chinese ethnic group and white Americans change in
the new era? How did Chinese food develop its uniqueness in California
and how did Chinese ethnic food and California local eating influence each
other? How did the frequent eating of Chinese as well as other ethnic foods
influence the cultural lives and identities of local Californians?
Besides restaurants, there are several other arenas that can be looked at
when examining Chinese food in the U.S., such as the private home kitchens
of Chinese ethnics, supermarkets and grocery stores that sell Chinese ingredi-
ents and also the kitchens of Americans who are enthusiastic about cooking
Chinese. However, since my particular interest is in the cultural negotiations,
contestations and interactions between American people and Chinese food,
I focus on restaurants where contact between American diners and Chinese
food is most direct and perceptible. No other establishments are more visible
and accessible and no other institutions can better represent the presence of
Chinese people and Chinese culture in the U.S. than Chinese restaurants.
For the majority of Americans, it is in American Chinese restaurants where
they had their first taste of Chinese food and thus culture. It was Chinese
restaurants rather than supermarkets, grocery stores or delis that nurtured the
American taste for Chinese food. It was also Chinese restaurants that made
the greatest contribution to the gentrification and diversification of Chinese
food in America. Mass production might have also helped boost the popular-
ity of Chinese food, but it was Chinese restaurants, mainly sit-down restau-
rants, that exerted cultural influence on American eaters and provided them
access to learn about Chinese cuisine, culinary practices and food culture.
In this sense, restaurants are not only commercial sites but also important
cultural institutions. The latest Chinese food trends were always first initiated
in sit-down restaurants and then spread to other arenas like fast food chains,
supermarkets, grocery stores and American home kitchens. The conspicuous
Chinese restaurant boom during the 1970s and 1980s also helped draw my

19
attention to this particular setting. In addition, I see restaurants not only as
institutions that preserve and represent Chinese ethnic foodways, but also as
spaces that give birth to Chinese American food a cultural product which
possesses a new cultural identity.
Most of the earlier studies on food are based in anthropology. However,
there has been a growing body of literature on food since the 1980s, not
only in the field of anthropology but also in history and sociology. Among
them, there is a substantial amount of writing on ethnic food, both schol-
arly and non-academic. Since the United States is a country of immigrants
and is abundant in a wide range of ethnic foods, a large number of studies
are rooted in this country. Some focus on ethnic food and foodways within
ethnic communities and investigate how food helps (re)construct ethnic
identity. These works discuss how ethnic groups strengthened their group
solidarity by preserving their original food practices in the host country.
Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States: the Performance of
Group Identity (1984) edited by Linda Keller Brown and Kay Mussell in-
vestigates several different foodways in the United States and explores, in
particular, the relationship between food and ethnicity. Many articles in this
book examine the food behaviors of a certain ethnic or regional group,
including their food festivals, modes of food preparation and consumption,
meal circles, etc. and reveal the role that food plays in bonding amongst the
members of an ethnic or regional group and excluding outsiders. The over-
arching idea of the book is that food is used as a medium to articulate and
perform group identity. Hasia R. Diners Hungering for America: Italian,
Irish and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration (2003) examines the
food experience of three immigrant groups - Italians, Irish and Jews - who
migrated to the United States between 1880 and 1920. The book explores
the changes of their food practices after their arrival in the new country
and the significant role of food in cementing their ethnic identities. Other
studies place emphasis on the encounter and interactions between ethnic
food and American society. They discuss the interplay between social condi-
tions and ethnic eating. These studies not only investigate how the political,
social and cultural context influences the development of ethnic food, but
also examine how the consumption of ethnic food contributes to changes
in American eating. One example is Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of
Eating in Modern America (1993) by Harvey Levenstein. It traces the social

20
history of food and eating in America and discusses how the change of the
American diet in the twentieth century related to political, social, econom-
ic and cultural factors. Levenstein particularly hones in on how ethnic food
and mainstream American eating influenced each other. Although ethnicity
is not the focus of his book, Levenstein nevertheless explores how American
attitudes towards ethnic food have changed and how American commercial
and professional interest groups incorporated ethnic foods into the Ameri-
can national diet. Donna R. Gabaccias We are What We Eat: Ethnic Food
and the Making of Americans (1998) addresses the experience of ethnic food
in the American market and discusses how the consumption of ethnic food
contributed to the change of American eating habits and the construction
of American identity. In her book, she explores many issues revolving
around ethnic food, such as ethnic entrepreneurs endeavors in the food
industry, the impact of mass production and large corporations on food,
cross-ethnic eating and culinary experimentalism in the U.S. The World on
a Plate: A Tour through the History of Americas Ethnic Cuisine (2003)
focuses on the interactions between immigrant food and the American com-
mercial market. In this book, Joel Denker traces the histories of an array of
ethnic cuisines such as Italian, Arabian, Chinese, etc. in the U.S. by telling
individual food stories. He investigates how these ethnic foods each made
their way into American life and how they influenced the way Americans
ate. Denker places emphasis on the contributions made by immigrant en-
trepreneurs in getting their ethnic cuisines accepted by American consumers.
There are also studies that use food as a metaphor to unravel immigrants
experiences and examine the racial or ethnic relation between the minority
group and mainstream American society. Food in Migrant Experience
(2002) edited by Anne J. Kershen examines the social and cultural experi-
ences of immigrants through the lens of food. It investigates the role food
played in the lives of immigrants, especially how the immigrants endeavors
in the food industry facilitated their upward social mobility and improved
their social lives. Although it focuses on the situation in the U.K. rather than
the U.S., it brings a new perspective to studies of ethnic food. A few works
focus on food itself such as Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads
(2005) written by Sylvia Lovegren. It describes food trends in America dec-
ade by decade from the 1920s to the 1990s and also selects a number of
faddish recipes from each decade to give readers a better understanding of

21
each trend. Lovegren incorporates several important ethnic food fads in her
book. She particularly mentions the revolution of Chinese cooking in the
U.S. after the 1960s and argues that the American taste for Chinese food
became more sophisticated over time. It is more descriptive than analytical.
Laresh Krishna Jayasankers dissertation Sameness in Diversity: Food Cul-
ture and Globalization in San Francisco Bay Area and America, 19652005
(2008) mainly focuses on the transformation of American ethnic foodscapes
after 1965. Jayasanker explores how the coming of new ethnic cuisines
influenced the food consumption of the people living in the Bay Area and
situates the changes in food in the larger context of globalization. Compared
to the rich abundance of studies on the history of eating in America and
how ethnic food has been influential in developing this, fewer works trace
the history of a single type of ethnic food. Even the three most popular
ethnic cuisines in America - Italian, Mexican and Chinese - have been insuf-
ficiently explored. Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America
(2012) by Gustavo Arellano traces the journey of Mexican food in the U.S.
and discusses how, when and why Mexican food gained popularity. Em-
phasis is placed on how Mexican food entered the American market, popu-
lar culture and everyday life. Simone Cinottos Italian American Table: Food,
Family, and Community in New York City (2013) studies the foodways of
Italian immigrants in East Harlem during the 1920s and 1930s and focuses
on food within the Italian community. It examines the role of food in the
lives of immigrants - how food contributed to the development of an enclave
economy and helped create a cultural identity for Italian Americans. Ci-
notto argues that Italian immigrants and ethnics formed a distinctive food
culture in the U.S. through their eating practices. Only a small number of
studies have been done on Chinese food, which is surprising in some ways,
particularly taking into consideration the long history of Chinese food in
the U.S. and its significant impact on American eating. Although there are
quite a number of scholarly papers and articles, few authors devote a full
volume to Chinese food in the U.S. A number of important articles and
papers that helped shape my thinking are worth mentioning. Most of the
historians are interested in Chinese food in the earlier period. Renqiu Yus
Chop Suey: From Chinese food to Chinese American food (1987) explores
the origin and evolution of chop suey by telling interesting anecdotes. Lisa
L. Hsias Eating the Exotic: The Growing Acceptability of Chinese Cuisine

22
in San Francisco, 18481915 (2003) chronicles the early development of
the Chinese restaurant business in San Francisco and discusses the encoun-
ter between mainstream white customers and Chinese restaurants. It ex-
plores how Chinese food was gradually accepted by American society in the
earlier period and the social and cultural implications of its acceptance.
Haiming Lius Chop Suey as Imagined Authentic Chinese Food: The Cu-
linary Identity of Chinese Restaurants in the United States (2009) and
Samantha Barbas Ill take chop suey: Restaurants as agents of culinary
and cultural change (2003) both capture the significant role chop suey
played in stimulating a strong interest in Chinese food among Americans
and representing Chinese culinary culture before the 1960s. They see Chi-
nese restaurants as a venue for cultural exchanges and negotiations between
the two cultures. Both articles examine how Chinese restaurateurs adapted
their food to the preferences of white Americans and how the American
attitude towards Chinese food changed. Food, Culinary Identity, and
Transnational Culture: Chinese Restaurant Business in Southern California
(2009) coauthored by Haiming Liu and Lianlian Lin is one of the few at-
tempts that addresses the change of American Chinese restaurants since
1965. Liu and Lin attach importance to the role of the post-1965 Chinese
immigrants in transplanting Chinese food culture. The article shows how
the new immigrants brought change to and invigorated Chinese American
foodscapes and how they maintained their ethnic identity by means of food.
It also discusses the transnational trend of Chinese culinary culture and the
change of the local landscape with the emergence of numerous Chinese
businesses in suburban areas in southern California. However, it doesnt
describe the change of cuisine in details, like changes in ingredients, flavors
and cooking techniques. In addition, it focuses on restaurants serving the
Chinese community and doesnt discuss the adaptations Chinese food made
in the restaurants targeting non-Chinese customers. Scholars from other
disciplines, such as social scientists and folklorists, have also made contribu-
tions to the studies of Chinese American food. The Presentation of Ethnic
Authenticity: Chinese Food as a Social Accomplishment (1995) authored
by Shun Lu and Gary Alan Fine is a sociological work and investigates the
presentation of Chinese food in four Chinese restaurants in Athens, Georgia.
It explores the specific adaptations Chinese food made in restaurants main-
ly targeting American customers and talks about the strategies used by

23
restaurateurs to present authenticity to their customers. Netta Davis To
Serve the Other: Chinese-American Immigrants in the Restaurant Business
(2002) examines the experiences of recent Chinese immigrants in the res-
taurant business through studying their commercially and culturally altered
food. Based on the interviews conducted with three Chinese restaurateurs,
the article constructs their experiences and unveils their different attitudes
towards how Chinese cuisine should adapt itself to suit the American palate.
Cultural and Intercultural Functions of Chinese Restaurants in the Moun-
tain West: An Insiders Perspective (2002) authored by Li Li is a work of
folklore. It describes the characteristics of Chinese food in its homeland and
the modifications and alterations it made in the American cultural environ-
ment. It argues that Chinese restaurants serve the functions of representing
Chinese culture, maintaining Chinese traditions and facilitating cultural
communications between the Chinese ethnic group and non-Chinese people.
However, only a very small number of book-length studies on this topic
have come out up to now. A few dissertations have been written on
American Chinese restaurants. Tonia Chaos Communicating through Ar-
chitecture: San Francisco Chinese Restaurants as Cultural Intersections,
18491984 (1985) looks at the change of architecture in Chinese restau-
rants in the city of San Francisco. It chronicles the evolution of Chinese
restaurant forms and images over 135 years and gives an overview of the
development of the Chinese restaurant business. Chao argues that through
restaurant architecture, Chinese immigrants presented and created cultural
images of China in the U.S. and enhanced cross-cultural understanding. He
maintains that Chinese restaurants served as cultural intersections in which
the two cultures met each other. In Transplanting Identity: A Study of
Chinese Immigrants and the Chinese Restaurant Business (1999) by Jie
Zhang, Chinese restaurants are the subject of his study. He sees Chinese
restaurants more as social rather than cultural institutions and focuses on
exploring the socioeconomic world of Chinese immigrants. The emphasis
of the work is on the experiences of Chinese restaurant operators and work-
ers instead of food. It discusses the role of the Chinese restaurant business
in transforming the identity of Chinese immigrants. There are also several
important books about the cultural history of Chinese food in a transna-
tional context. J. A. G. Roberts China to Chinatown: Chinese Food in the
West (2002) deals with the globalization of Chinese food and inquiries into

24
the changing attitudes of Western people towards Chinese food. It tells the
history of Chinese food in several Western countries the United States,
Canada and Great Britain and discusses the introduction and reception of
Chinese food in arenas such as restaurants, food shops, supermarkets and
home kitchens. It not only shows how Chinese food was adapted to Western
tastes, but also talks about how Western people responded to it. The Glo-
balization of Chinese Food (2002) edited by David Y. H. Wu and Sidney
Cheung also addresses the global existence of Chinese food. It attends to
the localization and indigenization of Chinese food in different parts of the
world as well as the influence of Chinese food on local food habits. This
collection attempts to explore the cultural meanings of Chinese food in dif-
ferent cultural contexts. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the
World of Chinese Food (2008) by Jennifer Lee explores a few cultural phe-
nomena and tells several anecdotes relating to Chinese American food. For
instance, she traces the origin of fortune cookie and General Tsos chicken
and explores the interesting historical connections between Jewish American
consumers and Chinese food. Andrew Coes Chop Suey: A Cultural His-
tory of Chinese Food in the United States (2009) chronicles the evolution
of Chinese food in the U.S. and focuses on the contacts between Chinese
food and American people. Coes emphasis is more on the early development
of Chinese American food than new Chinese food trends. Yong Chens Chop
Suey, USA: the Story of Chinese Food in America (2014) documents the rise
of Chinese food in the U.S. and focuses on the earlier period. This book
provides interpretations for the popularity of Chinese food in America. It
explores how Chinese food democratized the American gastronomic land-
scape and the role Chinese food played in changing American lifestyles.
Chens concern is immigrants experiences and examines how immigrants
created a lifeline by selling their ethnic food. However, he is less interested
in the gentrification of Chinese restaurants and the refinement of Chinese
food after 1965. As a matter of fact, none of the previous works discuss the
situation of Chinese American foodscapes after 1965 in a full volume. Even
though some scholars have touched upon the recent change of Chinese food
in their studies, systematic and detailed investigations have been scant. I
would like to write a cultural history on Chinese American food with a
focus on its change after 1965. In order to better unravel the change, a case
study is conducted on California. I take the regional dynamics of California

25
into consideration and see how Chinese ethnic cuisine and local eating in-
fluenced each other.
It is impossible to investigate the history of Chinese food in the U.S.
without talking about the history of Chinese immigration to the United
States. In documenting the transformation of Chinese food after 1965, I
attach great importance to the post-1965 wave of Chinese immigration
and explore the role of new immigrant restaurateurs and chefs in triggering
changes to Chinese foodscapes and revitalizing Chinese American culinary
culture. I look at the specific changes of restaurant menus, dcor, architec-
ture and cuisine. As an important device for interpreting new dishes, menus
in Chinese restaurants are examined to show how the post-1965 immigrants
introduced new Chinese regional cuisines to American customers. Restau-
rant dcor and architecture are also part of culinary culture. I look at the
architecture of Chinese fast food restaurants and see how McDonalds and
American fast food culture influenced Chinese establishments. I also discuss
the change of the dcor in sit-down restaurants and explore how Chinese
restaurant operators commodified their ethnicity through constructing a
sense of otherness in the decor. In order to attract non-Chinese customers
who were seeking exoticism, Chinese restaurateurs staged authenticity
by creating restaurant dcor with distinctive ethnic flourishes. The change
of cuisine is explored in details. The modifications, alternations and im-
provisations of Chinese food are given special significance, which not only
reflects the interactions between Chinese cuisine and local eating habits,
but also reveals larger American culinary trends.
My emphasis is on the cultural dimension of Chinese food with an inten-
tion to explore the wider cultural significance of food. However, writing
a cultural history of food cannot avoid bringing in some aspects of social
and political history, such as exploring the social makeup of Chinese res-
taurant operators and clientele in different time periods, and issues such
as why quite a number of the new Chinese immigrants from middle and
upper-class backgrounds still engaged in the restaurant business and how
the larger political and social environment influenced the production and
reception of Chinese food. But the social and political history should not
overshadow the cultural history. Through examining the cultural history of
Chinese American food, I would like to argue that ethnic food is not only
a metaphor and symbol which reflects social relations between people of

26
different racial, social and cultural backgrounds, but also an active agent
that causes social and cultural change.
The book is arranged chronologically and divided into five main sec-
tions. Chapter Two begins with the so-called era of chop suey, of the
late 19th and early 20th centuries. It briefly looks at the birth and early
development of Chinese food in restaurants in the United States. In this
era, food and dcor in Chinese restaurants were highly adapted to the pref-
erences of white Americans, who were the main customers. Due to the
strong force of cultural assimilation and Anglo-conformity, the Chinese
community presented a highly Americanized version of Chinese food. In
this vein, sophisticated Chinese cuisine, which is known for its variety and
subtlety, was relegated to cheap and simple dishes like chop suey and chow
mein. Chapter Three explores the transformation of Chinese foodscapes
after the 1960s and discusses the agents, manifestations the change and its
significance. The introduction and reception of new types of Chinese food
differed from the previous era. In order to better understand why Chinese
food underwent changes in the U.S. in this time period, I situate my study
in the larger American political, social, cultural and culinary context and
give an overview of the change of American eating in the mid-20th century.
The role of new immigrants in causing the metamorphosis of Chinese food
is discussed. Since restaurant menus were one of the most important devices
used by Chinese restaurateurs to interpret new dishes, the changes in menus
are examined. Two case studies are conducted to explore the introduction
and reception of new regional cuisines. The great popularity of Hong Kong
food in America aroused my special interest. I discuss how its popularity
is related to the special cultural and culinary identity of Hong Kong and
how Americans received Hong Kong food. I also examine why mainstream
American diners, who had always been known for their bland taste buds,
suddenly had a strong zest for spicy food. I hope a study of the American
love affair with Szechuan and Hunan food will help explain why spicy
food suddenly became trendy in the U.S. and how it reflected the change
of the American palate. Although the great enrichment and diversification
of Chinese cuisine after the 1960s signified culinary democratization and
cultural tolerance in American society, the emergence and rapid develop-
ment of the Chinese fast food industry tells another story. It showed that
the homogenizing forces of American society were still strong. I look at the

27
success of Panda Express, the largest Chinese fast food chain in the country,
and argue that the force of Americanization coexisted with democratization.
Both forces have shaped and are still shaping American ethnic foodscapes.
I also attempt to analyze the symbolic meanings of eating the Other and
the relation between eating Chinese food and perceiving Chineseness among
American customers. Id like to argue that food can not only reflect but also
change the American perceptions of Chinese culture. The change of the ra-
cial relation between American white society and the Chinese ethnic group
can be observed through food. Chapter Four takes a regional perspective
and zooms in on the state of California. Los Angeles and San Francisco are
chosen for case studies. Because of the existence of a large Chinese popula-
tion and the trend of market segmentation, Chinese restaurants in L.A. and
San Francisco were divided into two groups, one targeting non-Chinese
customers and the other anticipating predominantly Chinese. Regarding
restaurants targeting non-Chinese, I investigate the adaptations of food and
restaurant dcor, which reflect the cultural negotiations between restaurant
operators and local customers. New Chinese dishes not only accommo-
dated the palates of white American customers, but also were tailored to
the different tastes of eaters from various ethnic backgrounds. I address the
dcor of these restaurants and examine how Chinese ethnicity is commodi-
fied, represented and reproduced through external manifestations such as
decor in the commercial setting. I discuss how Chinese ethnic cuisine and
Californian local eating habits and culinary culture have influenced each
other. Regarding restaurants for insiders, the common features of these
restaurants and their cultural functions are discussed. I also study the non-
Chinese who patronized these restaurants and talk about foodie culture
and the issue of authenticity. I argue that the consumption of ethnic food
caused a change in the cultural life of Californians. Through cross-over food
consumption between different ethnic groups, people in California construct
a cosmopolitan identity. Finally, in Chapter Five, I talk about the functions
of food, especially its role of revealing complicated social processes. It is
food that makes abstract concepts like transnationalism, globalization and
multiculturalism more tangible and concrete. Food connects things that are
not supposed to go together. In my study, migration, consumption, trans-
nationalism, globalization, multiculturalism, suburbanization and ethnic
relations are all linked together by food.

28
Various kinds of primary sources are drawn on in this research including
restaurant guides, newspapers, food magazines, menus, cookbooks, pho-
tos of restaurants, pamphlets on Chinese American food, Chinese business
directories and other archival material alongside a considerable amount of
secondary sources. It is these sources that altogether reveal the metamorpho-
sis of Chinese American foodscapes. Through conducting interviews with
restaurant owners, managers, chefs and food writers and seeing exhibitions
on American Chinese restaurants in museums during my research trip in
California, I got to know the local experiences of Chinese food. Restaurant
reviews also constitute an important part of my sources. I not only talk
about how American eaters and consumers understood Chinese food, but
also incorporate the perspective of Chinese food producers and purveyors.
Although the emphasis is placed on the consumption side how American
eaters responded to, perceived and accepted Chinese food the production
side is not neglected as I also bring the perspective of Chinese restaurant
operators to readers. Benefiting from my native tongue, I make full use of
Chinese sources - nearly half of my primary sources are in Chinese. Most
of the previous studies on Chinese American food rely solely on American
sources and Chinese sources are rarely used nor given enough credit. For this
reason the previous works normally center on the American perspective
they usually discuss American customers reception of Chinese food. In my
research, I bring in the viewpoint of the Chinese community - both Chinese
restaurant operators and Chinese consumers to make the story complete.
The term foodscape that appears many times in this book derives from
the word landscape. Arjun Appadurai gave explanations to the several
words with the suffix scape by saying these are the building blocks of
what (extending Benedict Anderson) I would like to call imagined worlds,
that is, the multiple worlds which are constituted by the historically situ-
ated imaginations of persons and groups spread around the globe.4 The
word foodscape has the implication that the foods and foodways of a
culture form a landscape of their own.5 When referring to ethnic food,

4 Arjun Appadurai, Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,


Public Culture 2, no. 2, Spring (1990): 124.
5 Julia Brauch, Anna Lipphardt and Alexandra Nocke, eds., Jewish Topographies:
Visions of Space, Traditions of Place (Hampshire and Burlington, VT: 2008), 294.

29
this notion highlights the trajectories of specific ethnic food items across
the globe.6 Ethnic groups create new culinary landscapes in bringing their
food and food practices to new countries.7 The term Chinese American
foodscapes in this book refers to the Chinese culinary landscapes and
gastronomic scene in the United States. In other words, it is the profile
of Chinese cuisine and culinary culture among so many ethnic cuisines in
America. Through transplantation, adaptation and innovation in a new
cultural environment, Chinese food and food practices manifested new
characteristics in a foreign place. Observation of a foodscape involves are-
nas such as restaurants, deli shops, supermarkets, grocery stores and home
kitchens. Mass media, which records the evolution and development of
food, including cookbooks, newspapers and television programs, is also
looked at. Ethnic foodscapes in the U.S. cannot avoid being shaped by the
force of Americanization. Americanization refers to a powerful uni-
directional process that tends to overwhelm competing processes as well
as the strength of local forces that might resist, modify, and/or transform
American models into hybrid forms.8 It is a manifestation of cultural
hegemony. Within American borders, Americanization takes the form of
homogenizing forces that shapes ethnic cultures and entities and makes
them assimilate to the American model. When used in the culinary sense,
Americanization refers to the process of making foreign food agreeable to
American preferences and tastes in terms of ingredients, flavors, modes
of serving, etc. The term cosmopolitan is also of great importance in
this book. It derives from the Greek word kosmopolits, which means
citizen of the world. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines
it as a person who has lived in and knows about many different parts of

6 Sylvia Ferrero, Comida Sin Par. Consumption of Mexican Food in Los Angeles:
Foodscapes in a Transnational Consumer Society, in Food Nations: Selling
Taste in Consumer Societies, ed. Warren Belasco and Philip Scranton (New York
and London: Routledge, 2002), 197.
7 Julia Brauch, eds., Jewish Topographies, 294.
8 George Ritzer and Todd Stillman, Assessing McDonaldization, Americaniza-
tion and Globalization, in Global America? The Cultural Consequences of
Globalization, ed. Ulrich Beck, Natan Sznaider, and Rainer Winter (Liverpool:
Liverpool University Press, 2003), 34.

30
the world. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides in-depth inter-
pretation of the term,
The nebulous core shared by all cosmopolitan views is the idea that all human be-
ings, regardless of their political affiliation, are (or can and should be) citizens in a
single community. Different versions of cosmopolitanism envision this community
in different ways, some focusing on political institutions, others on moral norms
or relationships, and still others focusing on shared markets or forms of cultural
expression.9

In this book, I adopt the cultural meaning of cosmopolitan. Cultural cos-


mopolitanism disapproves of the exclusive commitment to a single culture;
instead, it advocates cultural diversity and appreciates cultures of other social
groups. In this sense, a cosmopolitan figure is often understood as a per-
son who possesses the characteristics of great tolerance, sophistication and
readiness for embracing different cultures and a wide range of knowledge. A
cosmopolitan identity can only be constructed with the existence of different
cultural resources.
The main research method I use is historical analysis based on archival
research. Inspired also by anthropological and sociological studies of food,
I take an interdisciplinary approach, drawing upon methodologies from
the disciplines of history, anthropology and sociology to better understand
the evolution of Chinese food and the growth of the Chinese restaurant
industry in the United States. Theories from ethnic studies are used in ex-
ploring the experiences of Chinese immigrants, their social compositions
and culture values. Theories of food studies are also applied in analyzing
the sociality, particularly the ethnicity, of food, which support my argument
that food can be a manifestation of power relations as well as a marker of
ethnic identity. A combination of ethnic studies and food studies proves to
be fruitful in exploring the symbolic meanings of Chinese food within the
Chinese community and in society at large. A few cultural theories are also
discussed. Pierre Bourdieus ideas on cultural capital are of special relevance
in explaining the upward social mobility of Chinese immigrants in the res-
taurant business. New immigrant restaurateurs and chefs reasserted their
authority on Chinese food and Chinese culinary culture. Their expertise

9 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmo-


politanism/.

31
and knowledge on food empowered them and helped them acquire upward
social mobility. In this way, they converted their cultural capital into social
power as Bourdieu asserts. Ivan Lights theory on the distinction between
ethnic sources and class sources is tested in my analysis of the new Chinese
immigrant restauranteurs and chefs. According to Light, immigrants who
possess class sources besides ethnic sources are in a better position to achieve
economic success in the market and also able to exert a larger cultural influ-
ence in the host society compared to ones who only have ethnic sources. The
experiences of the post-1965 Chinese immigrants prove Lights theory. Since
there was a transnational trend in American Chinese restaurants since the
late 1980s - large food companies from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland
China began to establish chain restaurants in the U.S. and brought what was
in fashion in China to the U.S., - theories of cultural transnationalism are
also debated to analyze the implications of the transnational culinary trend.

32
Chapter 2.The Era of Chop Suey the
Early Evolution of
Chinese American Food

Although Chinese food has existed on American soil for more than a century
and a half, the acceptance of Chinese food by American society has been a
long process. In the establishment of Chinese ethnic food in America, res-
taurants have played an important role in leading food trends and exerting
cultural influence on American eaters. It was Chinese restaurants that made
the greatest contribution to the change of Chinese foodscapes. The evolution
of American Chinese restaurants can be roughly divided into three histori-
cal periods. The first period is from the mid to the late nineteenth century,
during which Chinese restaurants served mainly Chinese customers, mostly
male Chinese workers. Only a very small number of lower-class white work-
ers and culinary adventurers were attracted to these restaurants for the cheap
prices and exotic atmosphere. The second phase begins at the end of the
nineteenth century and continues until the late 1960s, during which Chinese
restaurants flourished and were patronized by large numbers of middle-class
white Americans. Chinese American food such as chop suey, chow mein,
egg foo young were gradually accepted by mainstream Americans and the
so-called chop suey craze10 emerged in this period. The third period is
from the late 1960s up until the present. This period witnessed the trans-
formation of Chinese food in the U.S. A great variety of Chinese regional
cuisines were introduced in restaurants with the arrival of new immigrants
who revitalized and diversified Chinese American foodscapes. The number
of Chinese restaurants increased drastically and a wider range of Chinese
food gained acceptance from mainstream Americans. This chapter mainly
focuses on the second period and examines the early evolution of Chinese
American food.

10 Samantha Barbas, Ill Take Chop Suey: Restaurants as Agents of Culinary


and Cultural Change, Journal of Popular Culture 36, no. 4 (2003): 675.

33
The first Chinese restaurants were found in San Franciscos Chinatown
in the mid-nineteenth century.11 These restaurants were established to serve
the needs of local Chinese customers. The bulk of the earlier Chinese immi-
grants were either workers or peasants from rural areas of southern coastal
provinces of China, mainly Kwangtung province. They came to the U.S. as
coolies and usually worked in gold mines and later on railroads. They
stayed in the U.S. without their wives and children and often saw themselves
as sojourners, hoping to go back home once they made a fortune. Until the
end of the Second World War, the Chinese community remained a bach-
elor society.12 Having neither the time nor the culinary skills to cook for
themselves, these Chinese male workers constituted the majority of custom-
ers in the earliest Chinese restaurants. Targeting lower-class Chinese labor
workers, most of the restaurants were decorated simply. Sometimes called
chow-chows, they were unostentatious eating places. Hanging triangular
yellow silk flags with Chinese characters in their storefronts, these places
were the Chinese equivalent of American cafes and diners. A small kitchen,
a few tables and tall stools were all such establishments had. The furniture
was usually crude and austere. Without tablecloths and napkins, the din-
ing environment was neither tasteful nor at all desirable. The service was
no good either - the waiters were not attentive to the needs of the guests.
The food choices were also limited, because the restaurant cooks were not
trained chefs and they could only provide what they already knew how to
cook. Bowls of noodles and rice porridge were usually served alongside the

11 Although it was said that Chinese eateries probably could be found earlier in
Hawaii, owing to the fact that Hawaii was not yet a part of the United States
back then, it is generally believed that the earliest American Chinese restau-
rants opened in San Francisco. As a matter of fact, years before San Franciscos
Chinatown took shape, a number of Chinese eating houses were established
in the mining regions of California. These eating establishments were liked
by both Chinese and Western hungry gold miners for their cheap prices and
well-cooked food. But I consider these eating houses the embryonic form of the
earliest Chinese restaurants. See Jie Zhang, Transplanting Identity: A Study of
Chinese Immigrants and the Chinese Restaurant Business (PhD diss., Southern
Illinois University at Carbondale, 1999), 3666.
12 Roger Daniels, Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States Since
1850 (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1988), 68.

34
typical dishes of roast pork, salted eggs, dry sausages, etc.13 All those food
items were familiar to Cantonese immigrants who had come from villages.
This food was served to relieve their hunger for home cooking. The food
served in chow-chows bore a close resemblance (if not exactly the same)
to Cantonese country-style home cooking.
Due to racial prejudice, cultural difference as well as the many social
problems that existed in the Chinese ethnic enclave, the majority of Ameri-
cans saw Chinatown as an immoral, mysterious and dangerous place full
of evil activities like gambling and prostitution.14 Because of the different
eating habits between the two cultures, most Americans held a negative atti-
tude toward Chinese food. They believed that Chinese people ate everything
from mice and rats to dogs and cats. They thought what Chinese people ate
was strange, disgusting and barbaric.15 This conforms to the two-process
formula on food and groups of people raised by Susan Kalcik, in which
the first process appears to be strange people equals strange food: the
dominant social group denigrates the strangeness of intruders by assault-
ing their odd foodways.16 In the case of Chinese food, besides race, the
issue of class also exerted an influence on its acceptance in America. Since
most of the restaurants were run and patronized by lower-class Cantonese
immigrants of peasant backgrounds, both the dining environment and the
food were by no means refined and elegant. The humble setting and simple
fare in the earliest restaurants had a great impact on the way Americans
perceived Chinese food and Chinese culture at the very beginning. Few of
the nineteenth-century Chinese immigrants who introduced Chinese food
to the United States were professional cooks. Furthermore, they were only
familiar with the food practices of their home regions in rural areas of

13 John Jung, Sweet and Sour: Life in Chinese Family Restaurants (Yin and Yang
Press, 2010), 1823.
14 Shih-shan Henry Tsai, The Chinese Experience in America (Bloomington and
Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1986), 3742.
15 J. A. G. Roberts, China to Chinatown: Chinese Food in the West (London:
Reaktion Books Ltd, 2002), 13637.
16 Susan Kalcik, Ethnic Foodways in America: Symbol and Performance of Iden-
tity, in Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States: The Performance
of Group Identity, ed. Linda Keller Brown and Kay Mussell (Knoxville: The
University of Tennessee Press, 1984), 37.

35
Kwangtung Province.17 The peasant background of these cooks restrained
them from bringing a sophisticated and refined Chinese cooking to the U.S.
These earliest restaurants left Americans with the impression that Chinese
food was rustic and Chinese restaurants were filthy. John Hubert Greusel
betrayed disdainful feelings when writing about a meal in Manhattans
Chinatown in 1893:
Through a narrow hall and up a dirty stairs, brings one to the Chinese Delmonico
restaurant every few moments you will see a Chinese pick up a bone or a bit
of refuse food and deliberately send it flying under the table to the dirty floor! A
greedy cat munches away under one of the tables. Were it not for the red banners
on the walls, the eating-house would be as bare as a barn; and, assuredly, it is as
uninviting as a pig-sty.18

Such inelegant restaurants reinforced the inferior image of Chinese food and
Chinese people in the eyes of Americans. In the latter half of the nineteenth
century, due to the increasingly competitive labor market, the tension be-
tween white immigrant workers and Chinese workers intensified. The initial
tolerance towards Chinese people diminished and anti-Chinese sentiments
prevailed among the white workers in the American West. When the eco-
nomic recession took place in California, the situation became more serious.
White workers began to attack Chinese by the way they ate. In a pamphlet
entitled Some Reasons for Chinese Exclusion: Meat vs. Rice: American
Manhood against Asiatic Coolieism. Which Shall Survive?, labor leader
Samuel Gompers despised and degraded Chinese laborers for their eating
habits.19
At that time, only a small number of white customers patronized Chinese
restaurants. Attracted by cheap price and filling food, poor non-Chinese
labor workers frequented these establishments. According to an 1898 guide-
book, Chinese restaurants in San Francisco found their regular non-Chinese

17 Jennifer Jensen Wallach, How America Eats: A Social History of U.S. Food and
Culture (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2013), 176.
18 Jung, Sweet and Sour, 3536, quoted in Grace M. Mayer, Once upon a City:
New York from 1890 to 1910 (New York: Macmillan, 1958), 41718.
19 Lisa L. Hsia, Eating the Exotic: The Growing Acceptability of Chinese Cuisine
in San Francisco, 18481915, accessed February 17, 2014, http://www.lisabug.
net/EatingTheExotic.pdf.

36
customers among the laboring classes and outlaws.20 The exotic atmos-
phere in the segregated Chinatown also drew adventure seekers and tourists,
usually known as slummers. Ordinarily escorted by white guides, some of
them expected to see a vice district with opium dens, gambling houses and
street fights which concurred with the stereotypes. Others came to experi-
ence Oriental culture in the picturesque little China.21 After a long tour in
Chinatown, it was natural for the adventure seekers to appease their hunger
in Chinese restaurants, which made their visit complete. Although it was
usually tea and snacks instead of a full meal that they ordered on account of
hesitation to try real Chinese food, the culinary boundary was nevertheless
crossed by the middle and upper-class European Americans.22 Among these
adventurers, a group of young cultural rebels known as Bohemians were
worthy of special attention. New York Chinatown became a destination for
Bohemians after its emergence in the 1870s.23 These young free-spirited artists
and writers frequented Chinese restaurants to show their rebellious attitude
towards mainstream culture. To them, the sensual and unconstrained life in
Chinatown provided them with an alternative to the morally conservative
and rigid middle-class American life style. Rich with pungent smells and
tastes, Chinese restaurants proved particularly fertile ground for the Bohe-
mians exotic fantasies.24 The less sanitary environment, the free and easy
atmosphere and the unpretentious table manners of Chinese diners were great
attractions to those young countercultural people.
At first, Chinese restaurateurs did not make special efforts to cater to
Western customers. However, seeing the increasing number of non-Chinese
clientele, Chinese restaurants gradually added a number of Western dishes

20 Compared with other ethnic restaurants, Chinese restaurants had the price ad-
vantage. The all you could eat for one dollar meal they offered was very
appealing to both Chinese and non-Chinese poor working-class customers. See
Hsia, Eating the Exotic; Bryan R. Johnson, Lets Eat Chinese Tonight,
American Heritage 38, December 1987, 98107.
21 Hsia, Eating the Exotic.
22 Ibid., 12.
23 Andrew Coe, Chop Suey: A Culinary History of Chinese Food in the United States
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 15657.
24 Barbas, Ill Take Chop Suey, 672.

37
to their menus such as steak, fried eggs, potatoes and steaming coffee.25
A number of grand, elaborately-decorated Chinese restaurants equipped
with white tablecloths and shining silverwares emerged. A minister who
dined in a restaurant in Chinatown in 1876 noted that it was complete with
knives, forks, plates, tablecloths and napkins.26 More often than not, these
restaurants were located in a two or three-story building, in which different
floors were used to serve different customers, mostly based on social classes.
The top floor was usually given to wealthy Chinese elite and middle and
upper-class white customers.27 On this floor, the decoration was elaborate:
Most were decorated with nostalgic reminders of their distant homeland:
scrolls of cherished poetry, richly carved wooden screens and altars, and
dark wooden stools and tables imported from China.28 It was usually in
such settings that lavish banquets were held. Thus, such establishments
were also known as banquet restaurants. Sometimes, when the attend-
ance was large, over a hundred courses were offered at a banquet.29 Chinese
merchants also managed to introduce some luxury Chinese delicacies such
as birds nest and sea cucumber, which were served in high-end restaurants
to satisfy the needs of the local Chinese elite. During the late 1860s and
1870s, out of more than a dozen Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, three
or four were elegant, multistory establishments whose chefs were capable of
preparing banquets featuring the same costly ingredients and sophisticated
preparation as used by Guangzhous (Kwangtung) finest chefs.30 Samuel
Bowles, a newspaper editor who attended a grand banquet in a Chinatown
restaurant in 1865, elaborated upon his experience at the banquet. He com-
mented that the dinner was peculiarly sumptuous a variety of dishes were
served including Chinese national delicacies such as fired sharks fin, birds
nest soup, stewed pigeon and fungus. Despite of the abundance of food,
Bowles found that the dishes were anything but agreeable to his palate. So

25 Joel Denker, The World on A Plate: A Tour through the History of Americas
Ethnic Cuisines (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2003), 96.
26 Barbas, Ill Take Chop Suey, 672.
27 Hsia, Eating the Exotic.
28 Tonia Chao, Communicating through Architecture: San Francisco Chinese
Restaurants (PhD diss., University of California, Berkley, 1985), 59.
29 Ibid., 5965.
30 Coe, Chop Suey, 12526.

38
he left before the end of the dinner and eased his hunger in an American
restaurant.31 Apparently, like Samuel Bowles, the majority of Americans
were not ready to accept such Chinese delicacies, both physically and men-
tally. They still tended to shun from Chinese food that looked strange to
their eyes and tasted weird to their palates.
Despite the occasional patronage of white tourists and labor workers,
generally speaking, the main customers of Chinese restaurants were still
Chinese in this period. Due to racial discrimination and culinary prejudice,
the American public considered Chinese food repulsive and unappetizing
during the latter half of the nineteenth century. It did not gain acceptance
by mainstream Americans until the beginning of the twentieth century.
The Chinese restaurant industry underwent great change at the turn of
the twentieth century. After the completion of the transcontinental railroad
in 1869, the labor market became much more competitive in California
and other states in the Pacific Northwest. Blaming the low-paid Chinese
immigrants for taking away their jobs, white laborers resentments towards
Chinese got out of control as of the 1870s. One piece of evidence was the
1871 anti-Chinese riot in Los Angeles, in which 21 Chinese were killed.32
The increasing hostility towards Chinese workers and the enforcement of
a series of anti-Chinese legislations, especially the 1882 Chinese Exclusion
Act, put Chinese people into an extremely vulnerable position. Legalized
discrimination and persistent physical violence from anti-coolie leagues
and labor unions expelled Chinese from lucrative trades. They had to with-
draw into their ethnic enclaves and take menial occupations. Many of them
were forced to enter the service sector, such as the laundry or restaurant
business.33 In 1930, the number of Chinese in the restaurant industry was
about six percent of the total male Chinese population in California. The
ratio was even higher in the middle and eastern states, about one fifth to
one fourth.34

31 Ibid., 10407.
32 Daniels, Asian America, 5859.
33 Roberts, China to Chinatown, 144.
34 H. Mark Lai, Cong Hua qiao dao Hua ren: er shi shi ji MeiGuo Hua ren she hui
fa zhan shi : [From overseas Chi-
nese to Chinese American: A history of the Development of Chinese American

39
The situation faced by Chinese was the worst in the west. The discrimina-
tory laws passed by the local government and the physical harassments from
white people made the lives of Chinese in California challenging, and even
drove a large number of them out of the state. Many Chinese relocated to
eastern and central states. A number of them moved to New York, where
Chinese were not seen as big of an economic threat as they were out west.
New York Chinatown took shape in the late 1870s and became the second
largest Chinatown in the U.S.
Racial antagonism isolated Chinese from mainstream society and confined
them to Chinatowns. The Chinese community realized that one way to make
a profit from the wider market was to develop a tourist trade. Believing it
was the notorious image of the old Chinatowns that scared American tour-
ists away, Chinese merchants initiated a campaign to clean up Chinatown.
They tried to change the negative image of Chinatowns by suppressing the
vices and crimes that took place there.35 Seeing the decline of Chinese custom-
ers after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, Chinese restaurateurs were
eager to court customers from outside the Chinese community. Restaurant
operators renovated their establishments and upgraded their facilities to at-
tract Western customers. They not only paid great attention to sanitation,
but also made great efforts in adapting their food and dcor to European-
American preferences. As a result, the white patronage of Chinese restaurants
increased rapidly. Besides the efforts of Chinese restaurateurs, a growing
interest in non-Western cultures and Oriental sensuality among middle-class
white Americans in the period of American imperial expansion was another
reason for the Chinese food craze in this period.
Chinese restaurateurs went to great lengths to please mainstream Euro-
pean American customers. They presented a number of Chinese dishes that
were highly adapted to Western taste. Among those dishes, one aroused
public attention, which was known as chop suey. Chop suey was a stir-fried
mixture that originally included chicken gizzards and liver, pigs tripe, bean
sprouts, and water chestnuts. Chop suey means animal intestines in Canton-
ese. But when it appeared in Chinese restaurants serving American clientele,

Society during the Twentieth Century] (Hong Kong: Joint Publishing Company,
1992), 85.
35 Denker, The World on a Plate, 99.

40
meat usually took the place of intestines, which were often perceived as
inedible in America; and celery and onions were typically added. This
dish might have country origins in Kwantung Province, but it is generally
considered an American creation.36 There are several versions of the story
about the origins of chop suey. The most well-known version involves a
historical character Li Hongzhang, a high-ranking Chinese government
official of the Qing Empire. It was said during his visit to New York City
in 1896, the envoy, having no appetite for Western food, stuck to Chinese
food and his favorite dish was called chop suey. Since Lis trip to America
generated a lot of publicity and every detail attracted media attention, chop
suey quickly became a well-known dish to Americans. However, historians
like Renqiu Yu challenged the credibility of the story by pointing out that
there were no historical records showing Li relished chop suey in the U.S.
And besides that, chop suey had already existed in New Yorks Chinatown
before Lis visit.37 No matter if the anecdote is true or not, thanks to Lis
visit, this particular dish aroused plenty of public interest. Restaurateurs
capitalized on Lis story and advertised chop suey as Lis favorite. After
its ingredients were modified, chop suey won the hearts of many New
Yorkers and drew more diners to Chinese restaurants. Chop suey became
one of the most important reasons that Americans set foot in Chinatown.
Due to its popularity, many Chinese restaurants named themselves chop
suey houses, chop suey parlors, etc. The New York Times said in 1900
that judging from the outbreak of Chinese restaurants all over town, the
city has gone chop suey mad.38 Chinese restaurants mushroomed and

36 Although the name chop suey was used in America, it might have been a coun-
try specialty of Kwantung Province. In the rural areas of China, it wasnt an
uncommon practice for villagers to improvise a dish by putting rice, whatever
vegetables was at hand and a little bit of meat together. Some Chinese immi-
grants also mentioned that they had eaten chop suey in China before they came
to the U.S.
37 Renqiu Yu, Chop Suey: From Chinese Food to Chinese American Food,
Chinese America: History and Perspectives 1 (1987): 8799; also see Haiming
Liu, Chop Suey as Imagined Authentic Chinese Food: The Culinary Identity
of Chinese Restaurants in the United State, Journal of Transnational American
Studies 1, no. 1 (2009): 124.
38 Liu, Chop Suey as Imagined Authentic Chinese Food, 9, quoted in Heard
About Town, New York Times, January 29, 1900.

41
expanded beyond Chinatown. By 1903 more than a hundred chop suey
restaurants could be found in New York between 14th and 45th street, from
Third to Eighth avenues.39 In 1924, there were already more than 250
Chinese restaurants in New York City and the patronage of the Chinese
restaurants is increasing in leaps and bounds.40 Seeing the obsession of
night life among the New York middle-class in the post-war years, Chinese
restaurateurs were striving to make a profit by accommodating this need.
Many fancy Chinese restaurants were established with silk-embroidered
panels covering their walls and tables of teakwood with inlaid mother-of-
pearl in ornate designs.41 Catering to theater-goers, the Chinese restaurants
in the heart of the theater and hotel district equipped themselves with jazz
bands and large dancing floors, just like any other first-class American
eatery.42 Besides Chinese American dishes like chop suey, Chinese restau-
rants also served a variety of Western dishes. There were also cheap, small
Chinese cafes that anticipated lower-class customers.43
Back to the west coast, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was a turning
point in the development of the Chinese restaurant business in the city. The
earthquake gave Chinese people an opportunity to reconstruct their com-
munity. Chinese merchants struggled to rebuild Chinatown into an Oriental
City to attract Western tourists.44 A new and clean Chinese quarter was built
in San Francisco. This time it seemed more appealing to Westerners and
thus quickly became a tourist attraction. Probably inspired by the chop
suey craze in New York City, many Chinese restaurants with huge signs of
chop suey were established. In order to attract Western clientele, restau-
rants were decorated in a pseudo-oriental style and the Chinese food there
was agreeable to the Western palates. Like in New York City, the number
of Chinese restaurants in large cities in California also multiplied quickly.

39 Jung, Sweet and Sour, 41.


40 Carroll Raymond G., Chinese Laundries Gone; Restaurants Are Many, Los
Angeles Times, Mar 27, 1924.
41 Ibid.
42 Ibid.
43 Coe, Chop Suey, 169.
44 Philip P. Choy, San Francisco Chinatown: A Guide to Its History and Architec-
ture (San Francisco: City Lights, 2012), 4344.

42
In San Francisco, the number was 44 before the 1905 earthquake. After 20
years, the number increased to 78.45 In Los Angeles, the city directory listed
only five Chinese restaurants in 1903. By 1923, the number jumped to 28.46
In big cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Chinese
restaurants rapidly sprung up across the nation. While only a small number
of American customers patronized Chinese restaurants in large cities in the
19th century, by the late 1950s, about 20 percent of the American popula-
tion frequented 4500 Chinese restaurants scattered across the continental
United States.47 Thanks to its popularity, from the 1900s to 1960s, chop
suey was synonymous with Chinese food in the U.S.48
Chop suey was so popular that customers even requested it at non-Chinese
restaurants. In response to these requests, American restaurants put chop
suey and chow mein on their menus. In the 1920s, food companies like La
Choy began to produce canned chop suey ingredients. Cookbooks, wom-
ens magazines and newspapers began to give recipes for chop suey as well as
other popular Chinese dishes.49 This made it much easier to prepare Chinese
food in non-Chinese restaurants as well as in restaurants operated by non-
Chinese restaurateurs. Furthermore, this made the Americans who developed
an interest in chop suey from their dining experience in Chinese restaurants
capable of preparing Chinese food in their home kitchens. During World
War II, chop suey and chow mein were served in Army mess halls. Veterans
who acquired a taste for Oriental food during the war created a demand for
such food when they came home. An Italian-American entrepreneur Jeno
Paulucci capitalized on the opportunity and founded the brand Chun King.
Pauluccis company manufactured prepackaged Chinese food such as canned
chow mein and chop suey.50 Mass-production of Chinese food suggested that
Americans began to incorporate chop suey and chow mein into their regular

45 Chao, Communicating through Architecture, Table 2.


46 Roberts, China to Chinatown, 145.
47 H. Mark Lai, Cong Hua qiao dao Hua ren, 393.
48 Liu, Chop Suey as Imagined Authentic Chinese Food, 2.
49 Most cookbooks didnt go far beyond giving recipes for the most common and
popular dishes in American Chinese restaurants.
50 Denker, The World on A Plate, 10005.

43
diets. By the time the war was over, chop suey and chow mein had become
as ubiquitous as meat loaf in the U.S.51
Far from embracing Chinese cuisine, up until the 1950s, the American
public only accepted a very narrow range of highly Americanized Chinese
dishes.52 Besides that, before the 1950s, there were few books that introduced
sophisticated Chinese dishes, eating practices and culinary culture, especially
when compared with the substantial amount of literature that came out in
the decades that followed. San Francisco Chronicle noted that as late as 1972
Chinatown is still a mysterious world to most whites who only know
how to order chop suey and beetle juice.53 Americans understanding of
Chinese food and Chinese culinary culture was still quite limited.
Why did only the simple and inexpensive dishes like chop suey and chow
mein gain acceptance and why did Chinese food in America become so dif-
ferent from its original versions back in China? Cultural assimilation played
an important role in shaping Chinese food. Anglo-conformity was quite
strong and American nativism was in full swing during this period.54 As the
anti-foreign spirit was expressed in the culinary field, immigrant foodways
underwent the process of cultural assimilation. Thus, the Chinese food scene
in America had to conform to the culinary norms of white Americans, who
were the racial majority in the United States. In order to please European
Americans, Chinese restaurateurs removed controversial ingredients and
got rid of strange flavors from their dishes in agreement with European

51 Sylvia Lovegren, Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads (Chicago:


University of Chicago Press, 2005), 93.
52 On the menus of Chinese restaurants, chop suey and chow mein usually occupied
the utmost important positions, while other stir-fried main dishes were simply
categorized as miscellaneous. See Online Archive of California, The Chinese
in California, 18501925, http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt5p3
019m2/?query=Chinese+restaurant+menu.
53 Beetle juice meant soy sauce. See Woking Through Time: The Chinese
Food Experience in San Francisco, 27. Chinese Historical Society of American
Collection.
54 On American nativism in the latter half of 19th century and the beginning of
the 20th century, see John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American
Nativism, 18601925 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1955).

44
American eating habits. Thus, a bland and tame55 version of Chinese food
was presented in public settings. Realizing Chinese food could be a comfort-
able and delicious alternative to their daily diet, Americans incorporated
popular Chinese dishes into their diets. The Handy Book of Recipes for
Twenty-Five gave several recipes for chop suey in 1931. One version called
for green peppers, onions, chopped beef, tomato soup and spaghetti to be
baked together, and another included bacon, onions, ground beef, turnips,
corn, chili powder and tomatoes.56 Without soy sauce, ginger and other ex-
otic Chinese vegetables, these recipes bore little resemblance to the original
version back in China. When chop suey came back to China and was served
to the GIs and American businessmen in restaurants during and after the
Second World War, it was labeled genuine American chop suey.57 In this
way, chop suey morphed into a different dish and was detached from its
cultural roots. Sherrie Inness said that Americans favorite chow mein and
chop suey were nothing more than the worst examples of the excesses of
Chinese-American cooking, possessing little or no connection to authentic
Chinese recipes. Jennifer Wallach held a similar view, the Chinese food
that first bewildered and intrigued American eaters reflected very little of
the vast culinary imagination of China.58 Thus, the tame Chinese American
food could by no means represent real Chinese cooking and the acceptance
of Chinese food by the American public was very limited in this period.
Under the forces of cultural assimilation, not only did Chinese food
change, the functions of Chinese restaurants also differed from the earlier
period. Focusing on courting white American customers, Chinese restau-
rants paid less attention to the needs of the Chinese community. Ethnic
restaurants are supposed to serve the social function of preserving eth-
nic foodways as Samantha Barbas has asserted.59 In the earlier period, by
serving home-styled food that lower-class immigrants were accustomed to,

55 Sherrie Inness used the word tame to describe the Chinese American food that
was made to appeal to the Anglo-American palate. See Sherrie Inness, Secret
Ingredients: Race, Gender, and Class at the Dinner Table (New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2006), 51.
56 Lovegren, Fashionable Food, 91.
57 Liu, Chop Suey as Imagined Authentic Chinese Food, 17.
58 Wallach, How America Eats, 176.
59 Barbas, Ill take Chop Suey, 669.

45
Chinese restaurants played an important role in keeping the foodways of
Cantonese immigrants intact, especially when male workers were unable
to cook for themselves and thus incapable of preserving their ethnic food-
ways in their home kitchens. However, after changes had been made to ac-
commodate white customers, most of the restaurants became more like an
American institution than a Chinese one. A considerable number of Western
dishes appeared on the menus. In the restaurants located outside China-
towns, menus often featured a large number of American dishes alongside
a small selection of Chinese dishes.60 In some large establishments, dancing
floors were added, cocktail bars were installed and music bands were hired
to cater to Western preferences. Some restaurants even adopted Western
style of decoration - neon signs, naugahyde booths, formica tabletops and
fluorescent lights.61 Although a large number of American customers pa-
tronized Chinese restaurants, most of them were actually attracted by the
entertainment rather than the food. The customers had no interest in the
restaurant as an eating house but were drawn by the free and sensual night-
life here.62 As the cultural territory of white customers expanded in these
chop suey restaurants, the cultural domain of Chinese customers naturally
shrunk. Although chop suey and other tame Chinese American dishes
dominated large Chinese restaurants, they were never liked nor considered
ethnic cuisine by the Chinese community.63 However, the needs of Chinese
customers were by no means the priority of large chop suey houses. Even in
the restaurants within Chinatowns, Chinese preferences were overlooked.
In a 1938 guide to San Francisco restaurants, Ruth Thompson said of a
Chinatown restaurant, The Lotus Bowl is Americanized Chinese food! One
who goes there may know he is getting Chinese flavors and cooking, but that
many dishes enjoyed by the Chinese, which Americans regard almost with

60 Jung, Sweet and Sour, 58.


61 Chao, Communicating through Architecture, 130.
62 G. H. Danton, Chinese Restaurants in America, May 1925, V3, #5, Carton
93: 1 Him Mark Lai Research files, Restaurants-General Files (Pre-World War
II). Ethnic Studies Library of UC Berkeley.
63 Most of the Chinese people were not fond of chop suey. According to Sing Ching
Sen, a cook in a Chinese restaurant in New York in the 1920s, chop suey was
no good for China boy. See Lovegren, Fashionable Food, 89.

46
horror, are simply not included.64 Chinese restaurateurs avoided serving
the dishes that Chinese enjoyed but repelled white Americans in case the
strange ingredients and flavors would scare off white customers. Con-
sequently, the needs and expectations of Chinese customers were ignored
to a great extent. Cantonese country-styled dishes, which used to serve in
chow-chows earlier, were rarely seen in chop suey restaurants. Besides
serving Western customers, these large establishments were also known for
catering Chinese banquets for social gatherings. In analyzing human culi-
nary practices, Michael Dietler made a distinction between the routinized
practices of daily consumption that we may call meals and the more self-
consciously performative rituals of consumption that are called feasts.65 In
this vein, the mundane food served in the earliest Chinese restaurants can
be regarded as meals and those offered at banquets as feasts. In the
cultural environment in which white racial group dominated, in order to get
recognition, the Chinese community had to hide the real Chinese cooking -
their daily diets - in the domestic sphere to avoid attacks from white people
on their food habits, while only letting the ritual performance banquet-
style eating take place in the public sphere. No longer serving dishes that
resembled Chinese home cooking, Chinese restaurants lost the function of
preserving the original foodways of immigrants. Chinese restaurants were
no longer the social centers and havens that were reserved exclusively for
the Chinese community in the earlier years. Even though there were some
unpretentious small eateries like fan deem or noodle shops in Chinatowns
which targeted Chinese customers, their presence was often overshadowed
by the ubiquitous chop suey houses.
The evolution of Chinese food and Chinese restaurants in the U.S. in this
period is a reflection of white supremacy. American perceptions of Chinese
food were influenced by the racial attitudes held by white Americans towards
Chinese. Americans usually saw Chinese as barbarians. Often described as

64 Chao, Communicating through Architecture, 135, quoted in Ruth Thompson


and Chef Louis Hanges, Eating Around San Francisco (San Francisco: Sutton-
house Ltd, 1937), 88.
65 Michael Dietler, Culinary Encounters: Food, Identity, and Colonialism, in The
Archaeology of Food and Identity, ed. K. Twiss (Carbondale: Southern Illinois
University Press, 2007), 227.

47
heathens, morally inferior, savages, childlike and lustful, the Chinese ethnic
group held a subordinate cultural position in America.66 European-American
superiority was exhibited through American perceptions of Chinese food.
Words like barbarian, disgusting and filthy were often used to describe
Chinese food in Western literature. Chinese eating habits were generally
looked down upon in American society and became one of the reasons white
Americans assaulted Chinese people.67 Although Americans gradually ac-
cepted Chinese food, the negative views of Chinese cooking died hard. The
Los Angeles Times said mockingly about Chinese culinary skills in 1924, for
pure delight in compounding viands that taste like medicine and yet will not
cure you of anything the Chinese cook is the worlds peer.68 In addition,
Chinese food was typically cheap in price. As Joel Denker said in The World
on a Plate, the Chinese-American menu in Chinese restaurants was made
of cheap, quickly assembled, easily assimilated dishes.69 The cheap price was
an indicator of the inferior status of Chinese food among other ethnic foods.
A look at the ambiance of Chinese restaurants will reveal the subordinate
position of Chinese culture in these establishments. To fulfill the Western
fantasies of Oriental sensuality and exoticism, Chinese restaurateurs usually
built and decorated their restaurants with Oriental motifs.70 They presented
an image of Chinese restaurants that conformed to the stereotype of China
and Chinessness in American minds. They used cultural symbols like red
doors, green tiles, golden letters and silver couplets, paired with stone lions
and golden dragons, carved figurines and flowering plants, palace lanterns,
precious ceramics and delicate embroideries to create a pseudo-Chinese am-
bience, which European-American customers could easily grasp.71 In the first
half of the twentieth century, China still remained an alien, unknown, distant
land for most Americans. American customers expected to see symbols that
would evoke a sense of distance, mysteriousness and Otherness from Chinese

66 Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans,


rev. ed. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1998), 99101.
67 Roberts, China to Chinatown, 147.
68 China Has Most Things Chinese But Chop Suey Isnt to Be Found There,
Los Angeles Times, May 25, 1924.
69 Denker, The World on A Plate, 98.
70 Jung, Sweet and Sour, 40.
71 Chao, Communicating through Architecture, 120.

48
restaurants. Their cultural expectations exerted a huge influence on the way
restaurants were decorated. Although it was usually Chinese restaurateurs
who were in charge of the restaurant design, the results were shaped by white
expectations. White Americans inflicted an external but decisive influence
on the design of Chinese restaurants, based on their understanding of the
Orient. Although the market also played an important role in the creation
of ambience in Chinese restaurants because Chinese restaurateurs needed to
cater to the preferences and expectations of their customers to make profits,
white cultural domination and supremacy in Chinese restaurants was too
obvious to be ignored.
Although American eating is usually considered a multi-ethnic mix, which
combines many ethnic foodways, different ethnic foods followed different
paths of acceptance. Taking the inferior social status of Chinese in American
society into consideration, it is not hard to imagine that Chinese food could
by no means be regarded as high-class cuisine. Racial supremacy of white
American society was exhibited through the way European-Americans ap-
proached Chinese food. The Los Angeles Times said in 1924 that nowadays
the entire public is eating Chinese dishes and thinks nothing of it.72 Serious
cultural appreciation of Chinese food was rarely detected among Americans.
Although there were also customers from other racial groups who frequented
Chinese restaurants, such as Jewish or African ethnics, their particular pref-
erences were rarely met by Chinese restaurateurs, except in the restaurants
within or near their ethnic neighborhoods. Chinese American foodscapes
were mainly shaped by the desires of white Americans. Under this circum-
stance, the Chinese community could hardly assert their cultural selves or
build their cultural identity through food, but had to accommodate white
preferences and subjected their cuisine and food culture to white cultural he-
gemony. Although some scholars considered the acceptance of Chinese food
in America in this period as a suspension of racial prejudice in the culinary
field,73 I argue that the inferior status of Chinese food reflected the unequal

72 Raymond G. Carroll, Chinese Laundries Gone; Restaurants Are Many, Los


Angeles Times, Mar 27, 1924.
73 Samantha Barbas saw white patronage of Chinese restaurants in the earlier
period as a suspension of racial prejudice when it came to eating. She said that
Americans suspended traditional racial prejudices and opened themselves to

49
racial relation between the Chinese group and the white group in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth century. Ethnic food can be a symbol that
reflects social attitude and interracial relations. American consumption of
Chinese food in this period was a manifestation of white supremacy rather
than cultural appreciation. The cultural developments of Chinese America
reflected the economic and political developments of the community and its
relations with society at large.
American eating was racialized since there was a racial hierarchy be-
tween different ethnic foods as there was between different ethnic groups.
A comparison between Chinese cuisine and a particular white cuisine would
make the racial hierarchy more evident. Compared with Chinese food,
the acceptance of Italian food in the U.S. was much easier. Like the earli-
est Chinese restaurants, Italian restaurants also had very humble origins,
usually starting as small taverns or boarding houses serving single male
immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century. However, unlike Chinese
food that took almost half a century to become accepted, within decades
of its arrival, Italian cuisine became one of the most popular ethnic cui-
sines in America.74 Americans accepted a wide range of food items, like
spaghetti, tomato sauce, macaroni and cheese, etc.75 Italian cooking was
often associated with the nations artistic talent, which was not unfamiliar
to the Western world since the Renaissance. In 1918, Good Housekeeping
answered the question of why is Italian cooking so good?, Because of
the true artist blood in every Italians veins. Good cooking requires vision,
imagination, a sensitiveness to fine shades of flavors, to beauty of color and

a range of diverse culinary and cultural experiences and argued this culinary
boundary crossing was the first steps toward cultural exchange. See Barbas, Ill
Take Chop Suey; Lisa L. Hsia also believed that the consumption of Chinese
food was not necessarily contingent upon the Euro-American racial attitudes
towards Chinese: The history of eating Chinese food in America cannot be
viewed as a simple parallel to the history of pro- or anti-Chinese feeling in the
U.S. See Hsia, Eating the Exotic.
74 Wallach, How America Eats, 169.
75 Harvey Levenstein, The American Response to Italian Food, 18801930, in
Food in the USA: A Reader, ed. Carole M. Counihan (New York: Routledge,
2002), 88.

50
form and composition. That is where Latins have the advantage over us.76
Italian food, along with Italian culture, took a shorter amount of time in
getting the recognition from the white-dominated American society. As a
cuisine of a white racial group, it faced fewer barriers in gaining acceptance
than Chinese cuisine did.
To sum up, in the pre-Civil Rights era, ethnic food was closely associated
with the political, economic status of its home country (place) and the hier-
archy of cuisines could reflect the social hierarchy between different racial
or ethnic groups in the U.S. Thus, Chinese food reflected the subordinate
social status of the Chinese ethnic group as well as unequal racial relations
in the United States.
In the 1950s, Chinese food in America stopped evolving. Most restau-
rants offered customers reassuring and familiar dishes.77 Chinese American
foodscapes in the public sphere was dominated by bland, Americanized
Cantonese dishes: Their food stagnated into bland and unexciting dishes
that were now far removed from the preparations of the Pearl River Delta.78
Since non-Chinese food purveyors presented their versions of chop suey and
chow mein, Chinese American dishes gradually lost their exoticism. Chinese
restaurateurs suffered a loss of cultural capital and became less competitive
in the market. The dominance of chop suey in Chinese American foodscapes
was not challenged until the late 1960s when new immigrants arrived. At
this particular time, the homogenous Chinese American foodscapes were
awaiting a major transformation.

76 Simone Cinotto, Serving Ethnicity: Italian Restaurants in New York City,


19101940 (paper presented at the conference of Trends in American Studies
in Europe, University of Torino, April 2730, 2000), quoted in Grace Savage
Selden, Vegetable Victories, Good Housekeeping, 65 (October 1918), 50.
77 At this time, the mainstay in Chinese restaurants was family dinner, which
was a multicourse meal including a few American favorite Chinese dishes for
a low price. The courses usually included were chow mein, chop suey, egg foo
young and fried rice. Nothing that was considered strange to the average diner
was included.
78 Coe, Chop Suey, 210.

51
Chinese Tea Garden, Grand View Hotel Menu: Chinese-American business
miscellany, [1900s]-1952, AAS ARC 2000/37: fol. 21, Chinese in California
18501925, online archive of California

52
53
54
Chapter 3.The Transformation of Chinese
American Foodscapes

3.1Culinary Diversification The Chinese


Restaurant Revolution
New types of Chinese food actually made their presence felt in America
earlier than the late 1960s. They appeared during the Second World War.
The entry of new immigrants contributed greatly to the introduction of new
cuisines and novel culinary ideas. American immigration laws towards the
Chinese changed significantly during and after the war. For a start, the Chi-
nese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943, and an annual quota of 105 was
established for persons of Chinese ancestry. Following that, after 1944, an
increasing number of non-quota Chinese immigrants flowed into American
territory, including the Chinese brides of Chinese American G.I.s and the
alien wives and children of American citizens. In addition, political refugees,
including former nationalist government officials and their families, as well
as a number of students and professionals, came under various immigra-
tion acts.79 Among these new immigrants, many were well educated and
had better cultural awareness. They began to bring new tastes and culinary
ideas to the U.S. It was cookbooks that first introduced new types of Chinese
cuisine to the American public. A landmark work was Buwei Yang Chaos
How to Cook and Eat in Chinese, which was first published in 1945. In this
book, Buwei Yang Chao, a Chinese physician and the wife of the famous
linguist Yuen Ren Chao, not only introduced a variety of Chinese regional

79 As wartime allies, China and the U.S. enjoyed a harmonious relationship between
1937 and 1944, which was often called the Age of Admiration based on the
affinity between the two countries. And the visit of Madame Chiang Kai-shek
to the U.S. also elevated the prestige of China. Moreover, the image of Chinese
Americans also improved. With young Chinese Americans enlisted in the armed
forces of the U.S., they fought side by side with white comrades. Americans no
longer saw them as strange aliens but loyal citizens who fought for their country.
On the change of immigration laws during and after World War II, See Birgit
Zinzius, Chinese America: Stereotype and Reality (New York: Peter Lang, 2005),
3150; Tsai, The Chinese Experience in America, 11418.

55
cuisines, but also invented a number of important English terms for Chi-
nese cooking methods like red cooking and stir-frying with the help of
her daughter and husband. Without those terms, the subtle art of Chinese
cooking couldnt have been adequately introduced to the Western world.80
In the following decades, many comparable cookbooks were published,
which introduced more sophisticated Chinese cooking and gave recipes for
non-Cantonese dishes to American readers, such as Kenneth Los Cook-
ing the Chinese Way and Doreen Yen Hung Fengs The Joy of Chinese
Cookery.81 However, only a handful of restaurants offered non-Cantonese
dishes - Kans Restaurant and Mandarin restaurant in San Francisco being
the two earliest.82 The restaurant owners of these two establishments were
knowledgeable about culinary culture. They criticized the poor quality of
Chinese food served in most chop suey joints and advertised the authenticity
of their dishes. Both restaurants deliberately took chop suey off their menus
and served more sophisticated dishes and diverse regional food.83 However,
because the number of the new immigrants that came during this period
was relatively small, the culinary influence they exercised in the U.S. was
not enough to cause a sea change.84
Despite these small changes, the real metamorphosis of Chinese Ameri-
can foodscapes didnt take place until the late 1960s. Starting from the late
1960s, Chinese restaurants proliferated and Chinese food diversified. The
number of Chinese restaurants increased dramatically. Take San Francisco
for instance: between 1960 and 1984, the number of Chinese restaurants

80 Buwei Yang Chao, How to Cook and Eat in Chinese, rev. ed. (New York: the
John Day Company, 1949).
81 Kenneth Lo, Cooking the Chinese Way (New York: Arco Publishing Company
INC., 1955) and Doreen Yen Hung Feng, The Joy of Chinese Cookery (New York:
Grosset & Dunlap, 1954).
82 Coe, Chop Suey, 22021.
83 Madeline Y. Hsu, From Chop Suey to Mandarin Cuisine: Fine Dining and
the Refashioning of Chinese Ethnicity During the Cold War Era, in Chinese
Americans and the Politics of Race and Culture, ed. Sucheng Chan and Madeline
Y. Hsu (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008).
84 Although some chefs who made great contributions to the transformation of
Chinese American culinary culture came to the U.S. between 1943 and 1965,
they did not make their presence felt until after 1965. Thus, I would like to talk
about their contributions and achievements in the post-1965 era.

56
in the city increased 234% from 121 to 284.85 The passage of the 1965
Immigration Act resulted in the arrival of a large number of new Chinese
immigrants, who brought a wide range of Chinese regional cuisines. Chi-
nese people had been barred from entering America for more than half a
century, so there was little inflow of new culinary ideas from China before
the arrival of the post-1965 immigrants. Under white cultural domination,
Chinese food in America stopped evolving and was reduced to cheap and
tame food. The culinary sophistication brought by the new immigrants
subverted the dominance of chop suey in Chinese American foodscapes.
Restaurants serving different Chinese regional cuisines sprung up in large
quantities. Among them, there were a number of large, fancy, high-end
eating establishments. No longer devoting themselves to serving simple
Cantonese American fare, many of these new Chinese restaurants boasted
extensive menus full of curiosity-provoking dish names like General Tsaos
chicken, moo shu pork, kung pao chicken, dragon and phoenix.
Some dishes even sounded challenging and intimidating to the ears of Amer-
icans like pig intestine with daily special, snake soup and squid with ginger
and green onion.86 In contrast to the earlier restaurants that gave priority
to Western preferences, the new establishments reaffirmed the significance
of the Chinese community and offered food agreeable to the Chinese pal-
ate. Chinese restaurants tended to split into two camps, one serving the
Chinese community and the other targeting non-Chinese, with the latter far
exceeding the former in number. The types of Chinese restaurants were also
further diversified, ranging from the upscale Hong Kong seafood restaurant,
equipped with hundreds of seats and extraordinarily exquisite chandeliers,
to the medium-sized Hunan restaurant with white table cloth and moderate
decoration, and to the humble hole-in-the-wall Taiwanese eatery probably
run by a couple from Taiwan. Chinese take-away restaurants that scattered
across America also occupied a large part of Chinese American foodscapes.
Although they played a less important role in celebrating Chinese cuisine
and spreading Chinese culinary culture, they made the practice of eating

85 Chao, Communicating through Architecture, 148.


86 Menu Collection of Los Angeles Public Library.

57
Chinese take-out a part of everyday American life.87 New Chinese food
trends first caught on in metropolitan and coastal cities like New York
and L.A., and then spread to other big cities, finally reaching small towns
in the Midwest and the South. The opening of new restaurants pushed
older ones to the wayside. A number of old-time restaurants were shut
during this time period. San Francisco Chinatowns then oldest restaurant
Yee Jun, which opened in 1885, closed in 1978; General Lees (formerly
known as Man Jen Low) in Los Angeles Chinatown, which opened in
1878, shut its door in 1985.88 These restaurants, together with old types
of Cantonese American food, faded into historical oblivion. The closing of
such restaurants marked the end of an era and ushered in a new one. The
introduction of the large variety of Chinese regional cuisines reinvigorated
Chinese American foodscapes.
New Chinese cuisine received enthusiastic reactions from Americans.
The famous food writer James Beard wrote in 1973, Right now theres a
small cultural revolution in cooking going on. Everywhere you find people
taking classes in Chinese cuisine, flocking to the newest Chines restaurants,
buying Chinese food to take out.89 In coastal cities, sophisticated white
customers were no longer drawn to the cuisine of local Chinese Americans,
but instead to the regional cuisines of Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan and Hunan
that were introduced by new immigrants.90 According to the National Res-
taurant Association, Chinese food edged out Mexican in 1982 and became
Americas second most popular ethnic food, after Italian.91 A study by the
association showed that customer traffic at Chinese restaurants increased

87 Chinese Takeout Cheap and Tasty, China Express, September 14, 2001. Him
Mark Lai Collection, Box 93, Carton 8; The Greater New York Area Has More
Than 400 Take-away Restaurants, Chinese Times, January 16, 1978, Yuk Ow
Collection, Ethnic Studies Library of UC Berkeley.
88 See Ken Wong, Yee Jun Folds, the End of an Era, East/West, May 17, 1978,
Nancy Wey Research Files, 1850 1994, Carton 18 Folder 12 Restaurants 1972
1990, Ethnic Studies Library of US Berkeley and David Holley, Historic L.A.
Chinatown Restaurant to Close, Los Angeles Times, Oct 11, 1985.
89 James Beard, Cooking Up a Chinese Revolution, Los Angeles Times, April
19, 1973.
90 Harvey Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern
America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 216.
91 Assembly-Line Chinese Food, New York Times, January 22, 1985.

58
16 percent from 1978 to 1982, and from 1982 to 1984 it increased by 23
percent.92 According to a survey in 2001, it was estimated that 90% of the
American population had tried Chinese food and 63% of Americans ate
Chinese food every month.93 The popularity of Chinese regional cuisines
in Chinese restaurants precipitated the publication of a huge number of
cookbooks. Different from Chinese restaurants that claimed to specialize
in one kind of regional cuisine but usually incorporated other regional cui-
sines into their menus to attract more consumers, a considerable number
of cookbooks were devoted to single types of regional cuisine, like Jennie
Lows Szechwan Cookbook (1976) and Peking Cooking (1971), and Henry
Chungs Hunan Style Chinese Cookbook (1978), just to name a few. Chinese
immigrants or Chinese Americans wrote most of these cookbooks. In these
cookbooks, the authors not only provided Americans with Chinese recipes
to cook at home, but also celebrated Chinese culinary culture and expressed
their cultural pride.
The diversification and authentication of Chinese food went hand-in-
hand with the Americanization and assimilation of it. The emergence of
Chinese fast food restaurants with standardized food products exhibited
the strong homogenizing forces of American society.
In order to better understand the transformation of Chinese food, one
needs to situate it in a wider social, cultural and culinary context and look
at how American eating changed in this period. There was a gastronomic
revolution in America during the second half of the twentieth century, which
to a large extent changed the American foodscape. Although American eat-
ing was a cultural hybrid combining many ethnic foodways and culinary
practices since the very beginning, it was Americanized over the years and
gradually became homogenous and unexciting. Due to the industrializa-
tion of the food industry that gave birth to mass-produced and processed
food, the scientific food movement which drew more attention to calories

92 Deanne Brandon, Fast-food Industry, Orlando Sentinel, July 5, 1985. http://


articles.orlandosentinel.com/19850705/business/0310220035_1_ethnic-food-
national-restaurant-association-chinese-food.
93 Liu and Jang, Perceptions of Chinese Restaurants in the U.S., 338, quoted in
R. T. George, Dining Chinese: a Consumer Subgroup Comparison, Journal
of Restaurant & Foodservice Marketing, 4(2), 6786.

59
and nutrients rather than the flavor of food, as well as the decline of the
foreign-born population which slowed down the inflow of new ethnic foods,
American eating remained bland until the 1950s.94 As in many other aspects
of American culture, white domination also manifested in the field of gas-
tronomy. By the time the 1960s rolled around, Americans were resistant to
new immigrant cuisines in general that besides spaghetti, macaroni, French
cuisine, and a few other well-entrenched adoptive American dishes.95 Be-
sides that, home economists advocated that cooking as a precise scientific
procedure rather than an impromptu art. Cindy Ott writes in Pumpkin: the
Curious History of an American Icon, with the discovery of vitamins and
other chemical compounds, consumers started to judge a foods value more
in terms of its component parts, and cooking more in terms of digestibility
than in terms of taste and texture.96 Even restaurant cooking was character-
ized by culinary monotony. The majority of establishments recommended
in restaurant guides specialized in American cooking with an emphasis on
steak, lobster and roast beef.97 American restaurant cooking was dominated
by homogenized meat and potato fare in the 1940s and 1950s. Even in San
Francisco, a mecca for culinary adventurers, restaurants not only conformed
to the standard fare of meat, potato and seafood, but all served similar
dishes.98 From the 1960s, the situation began to change and a culinary trans-
formation was imminent. Several influential cooks and food writers such as
James Beard, Julia Child and Craig Claiborne emerged in the public eye and
introduced more sophisticated dishes as well as culinary cultures to ordinary
Americans. They incited the interest of Americans in food and led them to
an unexplored world of ethnic cuisines. Although some of the cuisines might
have already been familiar to Americans, there were still much to discover or

94 On how food processing industry blunted the American palate with frozen and
canned food, see Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, 10118.
95 Leslie Brenner, American Appetite: The Coming of Age of a National Cuisine
(New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 90.
96 Cindy Ott, Pumpkin: the Curious History of an American Icon (Seattle, Wash-
ington: University of Washington Press, 2012), 118.
97 Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, 12526.
98 Laresh Jayasanker, Sameness in Diversity: Food Culture and Globalization in
San Francisco Bay Area and America, 19652005 (PhD diss., University of
Texas at Austin, 2008), 18297.

60
rediscover in them. Starting with French cuisine, Chinese, Mexican, Indian,
Japanese and Thai food then successively became the most fashionable cui-
sines in the U.S. New ethnic food trends started in the big cities on the two
coasts and later reached the heartland. In 1969, Gourmets pages were full
of references to exotic foreign food. In New York City, Argentine, Danish,
Italian, Polynesian, and Indian restaurants were reviewed; features ran on
Indonesian Rijsttafel and Turkish cooking99 On the west coast, since the
1970s, numerous restaurant guides continued to be published, giving de-
tailed introductions to the restaurants in the Bay Area and L.A. Among these
guides, Jack Sheltons Private Guide to Restaurants, a monthly newsletter,
chronicled the prosperity of ethnic dining in America through several decades
starting in 1967. Cosmopolitan cities like San Francisco and L.A. boasted
great culinary diversity. In a book titled Arthur Bloomfields Guide to San
Francisco Restaurants, published in 1977, the author said in the introduc-
tion, This is a guide to San Francisco cuisine which is another way of
saying an excursion into some of the most interesting food in the world.100
Although the reception of some ethnic cuisines had a regional limitation,101
undoubtedly, there was a nationwide craze for ethnic food in the 1970s
and 1980s. In the 1980s, ethnic restaurants constituted 10 percent of all the
restaurants in the country.102 Americans welcomed this culinary diversity
and embraced new ethnic foods with enthusiasm. According to a survey
conducted by the National Restaurant Association in 1984, customers said
that they wanted to see more ethnic dishes on restaurant menus and that
they would order more ethnic food if it was offered. They would also enjoy
sampling food they have never eaten before.103 Eating ethnic food was so
popular that Americans were not satisfied with only one kind of ethnic flavor
in one dish, but expected to see different ethnic flavors on a single plate. In

99 Brenner, American Appetite, 101.


100 Arthur Bloomfield, Arthur Bloomfields Guide to San Francisco Restaurants
(Sausalito, California: Comstock Editions, 1977), rev. & enlarged ed., vii.
101 For instance, new food from Mexico received the warmest welcome in Califor-
nia and Texas, and Chinese regional food firstly became a hit in the two coasts.
102 Donna R. Gabaccia, We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of
Americans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 218.
103 Consumers Clamor for Ethnic Food, Nations Restaurant News, Decem-
ber 3, 1984, Culinary Arts Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

61
response to this demand, fusion cuisine developed. Fusion cuisine soon
became popular in big cities like Los Angeles and New York. Franco-Asian
cuisine once became a hit in L.A. In this way, the culinary world of America
was greatly democratized and liberated from white domination.
Tired of the additive-laden and flavorless processed food churned out
by giant food corporations, young American consumers were in search of
natural and gourmet food. Fresh, flavorful food was desired, not the mass-
produced, tasteless stuff that passed as food. The concern of Americans
about safety issues in modern food production helped to precipitate the
health food movement.104 Natural food was preferred and organic food was
no longer merely consumed by the health food circles but has edged into
the mainstream since the 1970s.105 Fresh ingredients prepared with simple
cooking methods began to be evaluated more highly than haute cuisine
among a certain number of middle-class restaurant chefs and home cooks.
The emergence of California cuisine with Alice Waters and her restaurant
Chez Panisse as the pioneer echoed the zeitgeist. Besides that, vegetarian
eating has resurged as a fad since the late 1960s.
Although the new food waves were characterized by great culinary di-
versity, sophistication and novelty, the 1950s and 1960s also witnessed
the rise of the American fast food industry. Since then, fast food has held a
very important position in American eating. By 1983, there were more than
122,500 fast food outlets in America, three times as many as two decades
earlier. That same year, their sales amounted to thirty-four-billion-dollar,
about 40 percent of all public eating place revenue.106 Even ethnic foods
couldnt avoid the fate of mass-production and they were also shaped into
Americanized convenience food in fast food restaurants.
Many agents contributed to the culinary revolution. First of all, the
massive inflow of new immigrants made a significant contribution to the
diversification of American ethnic foodscapes. Without the new wave of

104 Influenced by Rachel Carson and her famous book Silent Spring which caused
public alarm against the danger of pesticide, fungicides and chemical fertiliz-
ers, Americans began to pay more attention to the safety and healthiness of
food. See Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, 16061.
105 Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, 195202.
106 Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, quoted in Malcolm Knapp, 11th Annual Res-
taurant Growth Index, RB, Sept. 1, 1978, 165.

62
immigration that brought in a large variety of foreign cuisines, the American
foodscapes wouldnt have been as diverse as it is today. Secondly, postwar
economic prosperity and the availability of commercial transcontinental
air flights made long-distance travel much easier. More Americans could
afford to travel overseas, most often to Europe.107 Their travels not only
provided them with opportunities to sample and enjoy foreign cuisine at
the source, but also expanded their culinary horizons - cosmopolitanism
was growing among middle-class Americans as a result of foreign travel.
Americans became more receptive to foreign food in general.108 Thirdly,
with the development of transportation technology, a wider range of new
food items were available on the mainstream American food market like
mangoes, cilantro, jalapeno pepper and bok choy, which were previously
hard to find.109 Fourthly, thanks to the new economic boom brought by the
war as well as the change of family structure, people ate out more often than
before. With more women joining the work force, the number of families
with two bread-winners increased. As the American middle class expanded,
more families could afford to eat out at restaurants. The breakup of the
traditional family structure also contributed to change in American eating
patterns. Some of the adult baby boomers were leading an unconventional
family life. The traditional two-parent, two-and-a-half-child family pattern
with the mother doing the cooking at home became rare. According to a
report in 1977, families with a breadwinning husband and a homemaking
wife and children only accounted for seven out of every hundred house-
holds. Half of the households were composed of single men or women or
married couples without children. People who worked outside the home
had little time or inclination to cook at home.110 This increased the frequen-
cy with which they dined out at restaurants. After trying foreign cuisines in
restaurants, people developed a fondness for them. Next, although notori-
ous for churning out homogenized and standardized food products and
posing a threat to American taste, mass production nevertheless boosted
the popularity and facilitated the wider acceptance of ethnic food. Both

107 Brenner, American Appetite, 41.


108 Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, 217.
109 Ibid., 32.
110 Ibid., 23233.

63
ethnic entrepreneurs and large American corporations capitalized the ethnic
food boom in this period. They took ethnic foods out of ethnic enclaves
and brought them to the mainstream market. Thanks to mass production,
more ethnic foods were introduced to the national market. The fast food
industry, in particular, played an important role in promoting the popularity
of ethnic foods by incorporating them into their realm.111 What needs to be
pointed out is, in spite of the important role of mass production, in terms
of Chinese food, sit-down restaurants were leading the food trends - dishes
usually gained popularity in restaurants first, then were mass prepared and
put on the mainstream market.
Last but by no means least, the American attitudes towards ethnic cul-
ture and ethnic food changed, especially towards non-European ones. The
Civil Rights Movement made interracial relations in the U.S. more equal,
and increased American tolerance of ethnic diversity. The ethnic revival
that took place in this period not only made people reexamine their own
cultural and ethnic heritage, but also aroused an appreciation in cultures of
other ethnic groups. Cultural pluralism extended into the culinary world,
which broadened the market for ethnic food.112 To young cultural rebels,
like hippies and leftists, eating ethnic food was deemed a way of express-
ing countercultural feelings. These young radicals denounced giant food
corporations as undemocratic and manipulative, and believed the food
they produced endangered the health of Americans.113 Warren J. Belasco
elaborated on the connection between dietary change since the late 1960s
and anti-establishment sentiments. There were rebellious, anti-authoritarian
and decentralist impulses among a number of Americans in this era. Dis-
satisfied with mainstream, mass-mediated, corporate American culture,
the cultural rebels rejected the totalitarian control of corporate America
and WASP male hegemony.114 When it came to eating, Belasco pointed out
that the disgust of mainstream processed food and dissatisfaction with the
established food industry gave birth to countercuisine. Countercultural

111 Gabaccia, We are What We Eat, 17072.


112 Ibid., 161.
113 Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, 17879.
114 Warren J. Belasco, Ethnic Fast Foods: The Corporate Melting Pot, Food
and Foodways 2 (1987): 34.

64
groups believed that mass-produced food aggravated the alienation from
nature, society as well as human body, and they attempted to seek culinary
alternatives to mainstream American eating. They saw ethnic food as a
form of countercuisine.115 They expressed their political attitudes through
eating ethnic food. As Belasco argued, eating un-American dishes could
be interpreted as a protest against American cultural imperialism.116 The
time-tested ethnic food symbolized tradition, cultural root and continuity,
which stood in contrast to the plastic, rootless, mass prepared food.
The unpretentious and informal dining environment in ethnic restaurants
also stood in opposition to American mainstream bourgeois eating.117 For
people who were bored by the monotony of mainstream eating, eating
ethnic food provided them with an exciting experience. There were also a
number of people who turned to ethnic food for health reasons. In some
minds ethnic foods were health foods, because foreign cuisines often lagged
behind Americas in the use of prime beef, chemical additives, frozen or
canned produce, and plastic wrap.118 Some ethnic foodways were admired
for healthy eating habits. Chinese foodways, which are largely based on a
vegetable-centered diet, were one of them.
Mass media also played an especially important role in advocating eth-
nic food in the 1970s. Traditional media like newspapers and magazines
continued to exert a strong influence on the way Americans ate the food
magazine Gourmet served as an indicator of culinary trends. TVs advertis-
ing role became increasingly important in the latter half of the 20th century.
TV cooking shows like Julia Childs The French Chef exercised a great
influence on the home cooking of Americans.
Against such a gastronomy-friendly background in which Americans
were exceedingly keen on new culinary pleasures, it is not difficult to under-
stand why a new Chinese restaurant boom emerged during this time period.
There was an important historical incident that particularly stimulated the
interest of Americans in Chinese food Richard Nixons visit to China in

115 See Warren J. Belasco, Appetite for Change: How the Counterculture Took
on the Food Industry (New York: Pantheon Books, 1990).
116 Belasco, Ethnic Fast Foods, 5.
117 Ibid., 5.
118 Belasco, Appetite for Change, 6263.

65
1972. Nixons well-reported dining of the multi-course Chinese banquet in
the Great Hall of the People aroused American interest in Chinese regional
cuisines, especially Northern style cuisine. Much media attention was drawn
by the Presidents encounter with Chinese food and the meal began under
the glare of the television lights at the big round table next to the stage.119
Both NBC and ABC were impressed by the fact the President of the United
States was actually welding chopsticks.120 During and after Nixons trip,
Americans embraced Chinese food even more warmly. According to San
Francisco Chronicle, on the west coast, some restaurants reported that cus-
tomers interest in Chinese food surged after the Presidents trip in February.
They said they were getting more orders for Maotai, a liquor Nixon tasted
during a party in China.121 Without the Presidents trip, dishes like Peking
duck wouldnt have been so popular among American diners.
The rise of the social status of Chinese Americans in the latter half of the
twentieth century might also have contributed to the wider popularity of
Chinese food. The socioeconomic success achieved by Chinese Americans in
this period put them in the rank of model minority together with Japanese
Americans.122 Since the perception of the ethnic group changed among the
American public, peoples attitudes toward ethnic cuisine also underwent
changes.
This new Chinese American culinary culture differed from the previous
era, which was not only reflected by the cuisine, but also by the way new
types of food were introduced, as well as their cultural influence on Ameri-
can eaters. In the new era, with the conscious efforts of the food purveyors,
Chinese food and Chinese restaurants not only exerted an influence on the
change of American eating, but also provided Americans with access to
Chinese culinary culture, which further aroused their curiosity in Chinese
culture in general and changed their perceptions of Chineseness. Let us now
start from the change of the restaurant proprietors and chefs.

119 Coe, Chop Suey, 238.


120 Ibid.
121 Ralph Blumenthal, The Chinese Restaurant Boom, San Francisco Chronicle,
September 6, 1972, Yuk Ow Collection, Carton 15, Folder 13.
122 Daniels, Asian America, 317.

66
3.1.1The Coming of the Culinary Diasporas Change of
Restaurant Operators/Chefs
The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act caused great demographic change
in the Chinese America. The Act abolished the national origins quotas system.
China as a nation state got a maximum of 20,000 visas annually as did all
other countries in the Eastern Hemisphere. Since there were no diplomatic
relations between the United States and the PRC at the time, the quota that
was given to China fell in practice to Taiwan. Hong Kong, as a British colony,
got the quota reserved for dependent territories, and the quota kept increasing
in the following years, especially upon its reunification with mainland China.
It wasnt until 1979, when Sino-U.S. relations were normalized, that PRC re-
ceived its own quota of 20,000, which was only the same as that of Taiwan.123
This explained why people from Taiwan and Hong Kong were overrepre-
sented in the foreign-born Chinese population in this period. Ethnic Chinese
also entered the U.S. from Vietnam and other South Asian countries. Prefer-
ence was given to seven social groups within the quota system. Although the
Act gave priority to the category of family reunion, the preferential categories
also included vocational preference. People with extraordinary abilities like
professionals, scientists, artists and skilled and unskilled labor workers were
given altogether 20% of the total quota.124 The vocational preference in the
Act brought a number of middle and upper-class immigrants to America,
which changed their socioeconomic profiles, especially the class dynamics
of the Chinese population. The post-1965 immigrants were as a group,
relatively well-educated and many are from urban areas of China: Taiwan,
Hong Kong and Macao. These immigrants differ significantly from earlier
ones who came primarily from rural areas and were relatively uneducated.125
They were not only equipped with professional skills, but also had a better
awareness of their ethnic culture. The number of the foreign-born Chinese
population increased rapidly after the 1965 Act came into force. By 1980,
more than 50% of the Chinese in the United States were foreign-born.126

123 Zinzius, Chinese America, 70.


124 Ibid., 5354.
125 Bernard Wong, Ethnicity and Entrepreneurship: The New Chinese Immigrants
in the San Francisco Bay Area (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998), 14.
126 Zinzius, Chinese America, 76.

67
Although the new immigrants as a group were relatively well-educated
and highly-skilled, a considerable number of them still entered the restaurant
industry out of various reasons.127 Although more other job opportunities
became available to Chinese Americans and Chinese immigrants since the
Second World War, the number in the Chinese restaurant business work
force nevertheless increased since the 1960s.128 A number of well-educated
Chinese from middle and even upper-class backgrounds also joined the ranks
and set up their own restaurants. Among these people, there were a number
of master chefs from Taiwan, Hong Kong and later mainland China, who
entered America under the quota of technical personnel. Some of these mas-
ter chefs had worked for former nationalist government officials and flew to
Taiwan or Hong Kong after the founding of the PRC. Before them, there had
never been such a large group of food professionals in America specialized in
Chinese cooking. These chefs had received serious and systematic training in
cooking and some of them even owned restaurants before their emigration.
In stark contrast with the earlier cooks who were familiar with nothing but
Cantonese cooking before coming to America, these new chefs were well-
informed and cosmopolitan. Many of them had worked in another foreign
country before. These master chefs usually chose to work in large- or at least
medium-sized restaurants. They played an exceedingly important role in
professionalizing Chinese cooking and gentrifying Chinese food in America.
They introduced Chinese cuisine innovatively to Americans and improvised
several new dishes that later became popular. Crispy sea bass, crispy
orange beef and Lake Tung Ting prawns were said to originate at Shun
Lee restaurant in New York, attributed to chef Tsung Ting Wang and Michael

127 Some of them entered the restaurant industry out of practical concerns. Be-
cause of language and cultural barriers and lack of educational or working
credentials valued by the U.S., they engaged in the restaurant business which
required minimal language ability. And there were also many people who
entered the restaurant industry out of either an interest in celebrating Chinese
culinary culture or a desire to set up their own business and make a fortune
from it. There were also several American-born well-educated middle-class
chefs who became famous by cooking Chinese food such like Ming Tsai and
Ken Hom, but they are not the focus of this chapter since my emphasis is on
the important role of foreign-born chefs and restaurateurs.
128 Tsai, Chinese experience in America, 149.

68
Tong.129 The popular dish Beef with Broccoli was also said to be invented
in the U.S. It was not an unusual phenomenon that one or two master chefs
made a particular restaurant popular. In New York, when people learned
that chef Wang Yun Ching had moved from Szechuan restaurant to Peking
restaurant just down Broadway, the lines of people followed him to Peking
for his lamb with scallions.130 Chinese cooking in America was lifted to a
new level by these professional chefs. Besides chefs, a group of professional
restaurant managers from Hong Kong also joined the influx of immigrants.
In order to seek a better career life, they came to the U.S. and made use of
their managerial expertise in running restaurants.
Different from the immigrants who had to enter the restaurant sector for
survival, these people chose to work in the restaurant industry to make use
of their culinary expertise. Because they had intention to work in the culinary
field before emigration, these people can be called culinary diasporas.131
The United States was, by no means, the only destination for these immi-
grants. They were scattered across the world. Mark Ting, the owner of Plum
Tree restaurant in L.A., was one such master chef. He told me some of his
former colleagues are now running restaurants in different cities in Europe.132
Believing their cooking skills and culinary knowledge would be appreciated
abroad, they wanted to make a better living and fulfil their career ambitions
using their expertise in the food business.

129 See Michael Tong and Elaine Louie, The Shun Lee Cookbook: Recipes From
a Chinese Restaurant Dynasty (New York: William Morrow, 2007). In my
interview with a senior master chef who had worked in Europe, New York
and L.A, he told me a dish like sizzling rice soup might also have been invented
in America, because he had never heard of it before in China.
130 Coe, Chop Suey, 224.
131 Ien Ang tried to give a definition of diasporas by saying they are transna-
tional, spatially and temporally sprawling sociocultural formations of people,
creating imagined communities whose blurred and fluctuating boundaries are
sustained by real and/or symbolic ties to some original homeland. See Ien
Ang, On Not Speaking Chinese: Living Between Asia and the West (London:
Routledge, 2001), 25. In the case of culinary diasporas, it was their culinary
expertise and career orientation in the food industry that tied them together
in the transnational context.
132 Based on the authors personal interview.

69
There were huge differences between the old and new generations of
restaurant operators and cooks. Firstly, few of the earlier restaurant cooks
were trained as chefs, nor did they have much prior cooking experience.
The only cooking style they were familiar with was Cantonese country
cooking. Unlike them, the new immigrants came from different regions of
China and had solid knowledge of the cooking of their respective places of
origin.133 Moreover, the group of professional chefs was well acquainted
with other cooking styles. They introduced a global Chinese culinary cul-
ture to America. Secondly, compared to the earlier restaurant owners who
usually started from scratch, the new immigrant restaurateurs brought
greater economic capital with them to the U.S. It took them a shorter time
to gather enough money for starting their own businesses. Thirdly, unlike
their predecessors who entered the restaurant business simply to make a
living, new restaurant operators were more career-oriented and ambitious.
They wanted to build their careers and fulfill their American dreams in the
food business.134 Finally, the new restaurateurs and chefs had better cultural
awareness. They looked down on chop suey as a bastardized version of
Chinese food and strove to undo the effect of cultural assimilation on their
ethnic cuisine in the setting of restaurants. Instead of merely catering to
the preferences of American customers, Chinese restaurateurs attempted to
teach American people to appreciate Chinese cuisine and tried to educate
the American palate. Compared to the previous generation of restaurateurs,
they were more confident and proud to display their ethnic food in public
with fewer modifications.
Class is an important marker in distinguishing the new culinary di-
asporas and the food they brought to America from the earlier generation
of restaurateurs and the old types of Chinese food. The earlier generation

133 It is true that the majority of Chinese quota immigrants came from Taiwan
before 1979. However, the demographic status of Taiwan has been complex
since 1949 because a large number of people fled to Taiwan from different
provinces of China.
134 Although these middle-class restaurant proprietors and professional chefs
were only a minority and there were still many immigrants who engaged in
the restaurant business out of economic necessity, this small number of cu-
linary diasporas have had a disproportionately cultural impact on Chinese
American foodscapes.

70
restaurateurs were mostly from the lower-class, while quite a number of the
new restaurant operators were of middle or even upper-class background.
They possessed different types of capital, which explained their different
performances in the restaurant business and the different degree of cultural
influence they exercised on American eaters. Although all the cultural ele-
ments of an ethnic group are considered ethnic resources, Ivan Light and
some other sociologists highlight the distinction between ethnic and class
resources possessed by ethnic and immigrant entrepreneurs.135 According
to Light, ethnic resources refer to the features of the whole ethnic group
including ethnic ideologies, solidarity, social networks, ethnic institutions,
etc.; while, class resources are the cultural and material endowments unique
to the bourgeoisies which include material resources, occupationally relevant
and supportive values, attitudes, knowledge, and skills. The bourgeois im-
migrants have both ethnic and class resources.136 Although these sociolo-
gists discussed the roles of material resources, educational background and
working experience in promoting entrepreneurship, they didnt explore the
importance of other aspects of class resources, such as bourgeois values,
knowledge and cultural awareness. In my case, these middle and upper-class
Chinese restaurateurs tastes and knowledge in the culinary field, bourgeois
cultural values, culinary expertise, previous business experience, financial
capital and education all constituted their class resources. Unlike earlier
Cantonese immigrants, these culinary diasporas arrived with the financial,

135 See Ivan Light and Carolyn Rosenstein, Race and Ethnicity, and Entrepre-
neurship in Urban America (New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1995), 2226;
Ivan Light, Immigrant and Ethnic Enterprise in North America, Ethnic and
Racial Studies 7, no. 2 (April 1984): 195216; In-Jin Yoon, The Changing
Significance of Ethnic and Class Resources in Immigrant Business: The Case
of Korean Immigrant Businesses in Chicago, International Migration Review
25, no. 2 (Summer 1991): 30332; In-Jin Yoon, On My Own: Korean Busi-
nesses And Race Relations in America (Chicago: The University of Chicago
Press, 1997), 4445; Akiko S. Hosler, Japanese Immigrant Entrepreneurs in
New York City: A New Wave of Ethnic Business (New York: Garland Pub-
lishing, Inc., 1998), 2531. Ivan Light and Edna Bonacich, Class and Ethnic
Resources, in Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Koreans in Los Angeles 19651982,
ed. Ivan Light and Edna Bonacich (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1988), 178204.
136 Light and Rosenstein, Race and Ethnicity, and Entrepreneurship, 2225.

71
social and cultural resources that the higher classes possessed exclusively.
There was a social stratification in Chinese culinary culture since ancient
times. The higher the social class, the more cultural traits their eating pos-
sessed, and the responsibility of cultural reproduction usually fell on the
shoulders of the bourgeoisie and aristocracy among whom there were many
gourmets and theorists of culinary culture.137 Having more access to high
culture and boasting refined tastes and good manners due to their family
backgrounds, the middle and upper-class usually have more cultural capital
at their disposal. They are in a better position to mobilize these cultural
resources than the working-class. Thus, the immigrants from higher social
classes were more capable of transplanting their culture from their native
place to foreign countries and keeping them intact. In contrast to the ear-
lier immigrants who were easily subject to white cultural domination and
presented a faux-Chinese dcor and tame Chinese American food, the
culinary diasporas were eager to display Chinese cuisine in public and
ardently promote Chinese culinary art among Americans. They celebrated
Chinese cooking through various media and generated much publicity. Some
Chinese chefs attended TV cooking shows, and even hosted culinary tours to
China to arouse the interest of Americans in Chinese cooking and culinary
culture. Joyce Chen, who opened New Englands first Mandarin Chinese
restaurant in Cambridge, was the first Asian woman to host a TV cooking
show.138 Martin Yan, a well-educated and charismatic chef, spent 20 years
hosting the popular TV cooking show Yan Can Cook to demolish the
mystiques attached to Chinese cuisine.139 Some chefs offered cooking classes
and seminars to the public and disseminated the art of Chinese cooking. For
example, Chef Lawrence Chu, the owner of Chef Chus Restaurant, who was
once invited to a White House reception and introduced as the best Chinese
chef in America, opened up his own cooking studio in 1974. He also partici-
pated in the Master Cooking Series held at the Trade Center in San Francisco

137 Zhao Rongguang , Zhongguo linshi wenhua gailun


()[A Introduction to Chinese Dining Culture, 2rd. ed.] (Beijing:
Higher Education Press, 2003), 57.
138 Chen, Joyce, 19941995, Biographies, Box 12, Carton 14, Him Mark Lai
Research Files, Ethnic Studies Library of UC Berkeley.
139 Him Mark Lai Research Files, Box 12, Carton 29, Ethnic Studies Library of
UC Berkeley.

72
and taught at different cooking schools.140 Madame Wu, the owner/chef of
Madame Wus Garden, not only taught Chinese cooking but also introduced
Chinese culture to her students.141 Many of the famous chefs also published
cookbooks to pass on Chinese recipes to their co-ethnics and Americans
at large. Michael Tong, the owner and executive chef of the popular Shun
Lee West and Shun Lee Palace in New York, introduced Szechuan, Hunan
and Shanghai regional cuisines in The Shun Lee Cookbook; Henry Chung,
the owner/ chef of Hunan Restaurant in San Francisco, introduced Hunan
cuisine - the food of his hometown - to his American readers. Before the
emergence of these chefs, Chinese cooking literature in America was mainly
written by amateur Chinese women cooks who were zealous to show their
cooking skills.142 The participation of professional male chefs in cookbook
writing marked that this field was no longer womens domain.
The chefs and restaurateurs with middle and upper class backgrounds
played an active role in preserving, spreading and innovating their ethnic
food cultures in foreign places. They strove to give Americans a better un-
derstanding of Chinese food and increase their appreciation of Chinese culi-
nary culture. They attempted to undermine American stereotypes of Chinese
food, which was often seen as a cheap, simple, low-class cuisine, and tried
to convince Americans that Chinese food can be refined, delicate and rich
in cultural contents. Michael Chow, a restaurateur who owned three restau-
rants in London, Beverly Hills and Manhattan, said in an interview, I felt
Chinese food was always badly presented, always compromised to Western
tastes the food was always cheap, like pizza; it had no respect. What he
wanted to present to the American public was a 20th-century environment

140 Gerrye Wong, Business Services, Asian Week, December 18, 1987, Asian
Interest VF- Chinese food folder 2, San Francisco Public Library Chinatown
Branch.
141 Xiaoli Liu, Ambassador of Chinese Cooking Madame Wu, Him Mark
Lai, Box 12, Carton 28, Ethnic Studies Library of UC Berkeley.
142 On Chinese womens contribution to Chinese-American cooking literature in
the 1950s, see Sherrie A. Inness, Unnatural, Unclean, and Filthy: Chinese
American Cooking Literature Confronting Racism in the 1950s in Secret
Ingredients: Race, Gender, and Class at the Dinner Table (New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2006), 3960.

73
with non-compromising, true Chinese food.143 Restaurateurs like Chow
culturally redefined their ethnic group and made their voices heard through
food. Thanks to the favorable political, social and cultural environment in the
1970s and 80s, Chinese immigrants gained more cultural agency in American
society, and were capable of expressing themselves culturally. The new res-
taurant operators and chefs showed Americans that Chinese people working
in the restaurant industry were not just purveyors of Chinese food whose only
job was to serve American customers, but also the disseminators of Chinese
culture who were cosmopolitan, well-informed, sophisticated and confident.
They made food an important aspect of the expressive culture of the Chinese
community. Through the cultural aspect of food, they wanted to change the
old image of Chinese immigrants in American society, which was often as-
sociated with lower-class labor workers who lacked culture, and endeavored
to demonstrate that they were a people with a rich cultural heritage.
Entrepreneurs with more resources usually outperform those with less.144
While most of the earlier restaurateurs only had ethnic resources to rely
on, the new culinary diasporas had both ethnic and class resources at
their disposal. Making use of the material and cultural resources endowed
by their higher sociocultural status, they outperformed the old-timers not
only socioeconomically but also culturally. They mobilized their cultural
resources, which were not available to their predecessors from lower-class,
and exerted a much stronger cultural influence on American diners. Capital-
izing on resources like cooking skills, managerial expertise and knowledge
of Chinese food, they pursued personal achievements in a more confident
and aggressive way. Although Chinese cooks in the earlier period also devel-
oped a few dishes that became popular in America, such as chop suey, the
inventors generally remained anonymous. Earlier cooks didnt get credit as
individuals, and few chefs names were known to the public. Different from
them, quite a few of the new immigrant chefs were well-known publicly and
aroused attentions as individuals. It reveals that the earlier immigrant cooks
from the lower-class were less capable of standing out and displaying their
skills and talents in public but more likely to act collectively. In contrast,

143 Marilyn Alva, Chow Making Chinese Food Chic, Nations Restaurant
News 19, June 24, 1985, Culinary Art Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.
144 See Light, Immigrant and Ethnic Enterprise in North America.

74
the well-trained, skilled food professionals had a strong inclination to exert
individual influence and left their personal imprints on the development of
Chinese American food.
These professional chefs and restaurant managers were equipped either
with cooking skills, culinary knowledge or managerial expertise that they
exclusively possessed. As for the middle and upper-class restaurateurs with-
out previous experience in the catering profession, their financial capital,
bourgeois cultural values, educational background, knowledge and taste of
food also provided them with resources to utilize.
Equipped with more material and cultural capital, these middle and upper-
class restaurant operators and chefs acquired upward social mobility much
easier and quicker than their lower-class predecessors. The well-trained new
chefs and culturally sophisticated restaurateurs had a better chance of mak-
ing it and achieving their American dreams. Some of the Chinese chefs
gained reputations for their culinary talents and cooking skills through at-
tending international cooking contests. One example is Hwang Jan June,
a chef from Taiwan, who won golden medals several times.145 Some chefs
names became what attracted customers to their restaurants, such as Henry
Chung with his Hunan Restaurant in San Francisco. Some even became ce-
lebrities through showing their culinary skills on TV programs, which made
them join the rank of famous American chefs like Julia Child, James Beard
and Jeremiah Towers. With his nationwide-broadcasted, award-winning tel-
evision show Yan Can Cook, Chef Martin Yan, who had a master degree
in food science, became famous across the country and gained a large number
of fans. Some of the restauranteurs acquired upward social mobility using not
only culinary but also managerial expertise. Andrew Cherng, a chef holding a
master degree in math who started his business with a tiny family restaurant
in a converted trailer, became the CEO of Panda Express, the largest Chinese
fast food chain in America.
Besides individual immigrants, corporations from China also entered the
American food market. Beginning from the late 1970s, an increasing number
of Chinese food companies were setting up chain restaurants in the United
States. Among them, many were based in Hong Kong. Some upscale Chinese

145 The King of Cooking Hwang Jan June, China Press, July 2, 2002. Him
Mark Lai, Box 54, Carton 15.

75
restaurants like Harbor Village and Meriwa were established by transna-
tional corporations. Owned by merchants in Hong Kong, both restaurants
have branches in Hong Kong, L.A. and San Francisco.146 Hong Kongs largest
Chinese fast food restaurant group, Caf de Coral, set up its first chain in the
U.S. in 1987.147 Large food companies from mainland China also joined the
game. Szechuan Palace in New York was a joint venture, co-established by
Sichuan Catering Service Company and local Chinese immigrants. All the
chefs of Szechuan Palace came from Sichuan. They brought the true flavors
of Sichuan to America.148 With the establishment of these multinational res-
taurant chains from China, more top-class chefs were imported from China
whose cooking retained the true taste of their native lands.
This phenomenon first of all had economic implications. Chinese busi-
nesses began to tap into the American market and capital was brought from
China to the U.S., which manifested Chinas adoption of global business
strategies and its participation in the global economy. It demonstrated the
economic expansion and growth of China. This also exerted an important
influence on Chinese American culinary culture. These food corporations
played a significant role in leading the newest Chinese food trends. Food
fads had manifested a transnational tendency in recent years. Chinese food
trends in America often mirrored those back in China. What was in fashion
in China soon became a trend in the United States among American food-
ies, lovers of Chinese food and young people. For instance, bubble tea,
a Taiwan invention, became popular across Asian countries in the 1990s.
With teashop chains and franchises being opened in big cities in the U.S,
bubble tea soon became a fashionable drink among young Americans.149
Besides multinationals, individual restaurant chefs and ethnic organizations
also contributed to transnational culinary trends. Individual chefs were often

146 Wong, Ethnicity and Entrepreneurship, 90; Hong Kong Meriwa bought Kuo
Wah. Young China, November 30, 1978, Him Mark Lai, Box 93, carton 2,
Ethnic Studies Library of UC Berkeley.
147 Hong Kong Fast Food Corporation Entered California, Sing Tao Daily.
148 People in charge of Szechuan Palace Talked About its Operation, Overseas
Chinese, January 6, 1981, Him Mark Lai, Box 93, carton 3.
149 Aizhen Liu, Americans Begin to Drink Bubble Tea, Overseas Report, 23
(2001), http://www.people.com.cn/GB/guoji/25/95/20010814/534730.html.

76
going back and forth between the U.S. and China, learning newly-invented
dishes, familiarizing themselves with the latest food trends in China and
bringing them to America. Ethnic cultural and business organizations were
also zealous in promoting culinary and cultural exchanges between Chinese
chefs working in America and their peers back in China by organizing cul-
tural activities. For instance, in a food exhibition co-organized by Beijing
Catering Service Company and Chinese American Cultural Exchange As-
sociation, several top-class chefs were invited from Beijing to the Grand
Taipai Restaurant in Fremont to display their culinary skills.150 Thanks to
the frequent transpacific culinary exchanges, a transnational network was
built in terms of Chinese culinary culture.
There have always been concerns that globalization would lead to the
global dominance of Western culture and the emergence of a single hegem-
onic homogenized global culture.151 With the process of globalization
accelerated, Western values, ideas, life styles and cultural products further
permeated the non-Western world, from the spread of the English language,
consumer culture of capitalism, fashion, eating habits, architecture and music
to the adoption of an urban lifestyle based on industrial production as well as
the acceptance of cultural values like personal liberty and human rights.152
The United States, in particular, exports its national values and life style
through cultural products - young people all over the world are now watch-
ing American sitcoms, wearing jeans and T-shirts and using i-phones. These
are all the manifestations of the Westernization of the world. The global food-
scapes and food culture also went through McDonaldization.153 With Western
corporate food invading the global market, brands like Heinz, Nestl, and

150 Chinese Chef Delegation come to America to prepare Manchu and Han
Imperial Feast, International, February 12, 1995, Him Mark Lai, Box 93,
Carton 6, Ethnic Studies Library of UC Berkeley.
151 See Serge Latouche, The Westernization of the World: Significance, Scope and
Limits of the Drive towards Global Uniformity (Cambridge: Polity, 1996); Her-
man E. S. and R. W. McChesney, The Global Media (London: Cassell, 1997).
152 John Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture (Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1999), 89.
153 George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society, rev. ed. (Thousand Oaks,
California: Pine Forge Press, 2004).

77
Kraft are not unfamiliar to customers in non-Western countries. This exer-
cises a homogenizing impact on the global foodscapes and brings sameness
to the global food market. However, the transnational food network estab-
lished between China and U.S. stood in opposition to the homogenization
and Westernization of the global food production and consumption. Bringing
authenticity and diversity to the American food market, it can be seen as a
transnational trend of counter-McDonaldization. It poses a challenge (no
matter how tiny it is) to the cultural hegemony of Western corporate food.
It suggests, in the age of globalization, culture doesnt transfer in a unidirec-
tional way but moves through transnational networks in many directions.
Since the Second World War, especially after the passage of the 1965 Im-
migrant Act, more middle and upper-class Chinese immigrants entered the
restaurant industry. Among them, there were a considerable number of food
professionals who committed themselves to introducing Chinese cuisine to
the U.S. Having better knowledge of Chinese food and stronger cultural
awareness, these well-educated and highly-skilled individuals had great en-
thusiasm in celebrating Chinese cooking and spreading Chinese culinary cul-
ture. Utilizing their class resources like knowledge, cultural values, culinary
skills, managerial experience endowed by their social classes, they gained
upward social mobility faster and easier than their lower-class compatriots
who only had ethnic sources to draw upon in the foreign land. It was these
middle and upper-class Chinese restaurateurs and chefs who introduced a
high Chinese cuisine to America and shaped the American taste for Chi-
nese food after 1965. Thanks to the establishment of Chinese multination-
als and frequent culinary exchanges between China and the United States,
Chinese American foodscapes manifested a new transnational trend. In the
case of Chinese food, the culinary diversity and authenticity generated by
the transnational business network posed a challenge to the dominance of
Western corporate food in the global foodscapes, which indicated that cul-
ture transmits in many directions in the age of globalization instead of just
West-to-East model. Since the demographic structure of restaurant operators
and chefs changed in this period, cultural strategies of introducing new food
also changed.

78
3.1.2How New Cuisines Were Introduced Menus and Other
Translation Strategies
Pierre Bourdieu asserted that the ways of treating, serving, presenting and
offering food are quite different between the working-class and the bour-
geoisie.154 This theory can be applied to analyze the social distinction and
stratification of Chinese cooking and eating, even in a transnational context.
With the arrival of new immigrant restaurateurs and chefs of higher social
classes, the strategies of introducing new food to the U.S. also underwent
a series of changes.
The only written form of cultural presentation that customers encounter
in restaurants is the menu, which is the principal medium used by restau-
rant operators to describe, interpret and translate dishes to customers. As
a means of building communication between restaurateurs and customers,
menus introduce a rich variety of food, culinary practices and cultures to
customers from an insiders perspective. This is especially true in ethnic
restaurants. I would like to start from menus and conduct a semiotic study
on them to explore their symbolic meanings.
Like the menus in the chop suey age, those in the new Chinese restaurants
also made a few adaptations. While menus in China normally group dishes
by the style or feature of cooking, those in American Chinese restaurants
usually classified entrees by the main ingredient, especially for meat dishes.
Dishes were listed by the categories of pork, beef, poultry, etc., con-
forming to the classification system and culinary conventions of American
Continental restaurants. Sometimes, there was a list of dishes on the menus
designed specifically for the health-conscious as the American concern for
healthy eating increased in recent years.
The new restaurateurs didnt just copy menus from the older Chinese res-
taurants but were very innovative in introducing new dishes. Menus before
and after 1965 were quite different. First of all, American dishes were disap-
pearing from menus after the 1960s. In the earlier Cantonese restaurants,
the bill of fare was usually divided into two sections the Chinese and the

154 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, in


Food and Culture: A Reader, 3rd. ed., Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik
(New York: Routledge, 2013), 369.

79
American menu with equal importance given to both. However, with the
great enrichment and wider acceptance of Chinese cuisine, American dishes
were gradually removed. Secondly, the naming of the dishes was different. In
earlier menus, few Chinese dishes had proper names. Some were just named
after their principal ingredients, such as almond duck or chicken with
bitter melon; some were transliterated from their Cantonese names with
the ingredients pointed out in English, such as gai lan yuk (green vegetables
cooked with meat). In the new menus, quite a few dishes were given proper
names with meanings, such as pot sticker, General Tsaos chicken, siz-
zling rice soup, moo shu pork, etc. Some were named after their places
of origin such as Westlake duck, Tung Ting Lake jumbo shrimp, or
Chung King lamb, etc., which had cultural and geographical connotations.
Thirdly, the focus of menus shifted. Before the 1960s, the popular items,
like chop suey and chow mein, occupied a central position and appeared at
the very front of the menu. However, these were considered side dishes in
the Chinese culinary system and were usually put at the end of the menus in
China. The small variations between different kinds of chop suey and chow
mein were highlighted, and there was usually a long list of chop suey dishes.
Importance was not attached to the main dishes in the Chinese culinary
system such as various kinds of stir-fried dishes. These main dishes were
often downplayed and listed as miscellaneous in American Cantonese
restaurants. However, on the new menus focus was given to these main
dishes. These dishes usually occupied more than two-thirds the length of the
menu. Chop suey and chow mein were moved to the end of the menus if they
still existed at all. On the one hand, it reflected the restaurateurs efforts to
change the old food paradigm. The new menus bore more resemblance to the
menus in China, which showed the new immigrants attempts to observe the
culinary traditions and practices of their ethnic group instead of confirming
to American conventions. On the other hand, this implied the further under-
standing of Chinese cuisine among American diners. It suggested Americans
were ready to appreciate more sophisticated Chinese dishes, and their ap-
petite for Chinese food became more advanced. Fourthly, more information
was provided to describe each dish. On the menus of the earlier restaurants,
the description of a certain dish was very brief and only the main ingredi-
ents were mentioned. The most common description was like green pepper
cooked with beef or dice chicken, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, celery and

80
onions, garnished with granted almonds.155 New menus tended to give more
detailed explanations of dishes. Besides ingredients, the flavor of the dish,
manner of cooking and the way the dish was served were also delineated.
Sometimes even the whole cooking process was elaborated. In explaining
the dish pineapple chicken, a menu said, white chicken meat dipped in
egg batter and deep fried, then mixed with pineapple, sauted in a sweet and
sour sauce.156 The flavor of the dish was mentioned in particular. A menu
described hot braised Szechwan lobster as cracked lobster without shell
sauted with ginger and chili peppers in a spicy red chili sauce.157 Most of
the Chinese restaurants in this period specified the sauces used in the dishes.
The descriptions often went like spicy beef or chicken sauted with orange
peel in sweet & pungent sauce158, boneless fresh fried fish in a light batter
served in our special garlic sauce159 and tender beef, bamboo shoots, water
chestnuts, celery & peanuts on rich hoisin spicy sauce160. It not only sug-
gested that the flavors of Chinese food had become diversified and exciting
in the U.S., but also revealed the growing sophistication and tolerance of the
American palate as well as the American new preferences for zesty flavors.
Menu entries offered abundant cultural knowledge of Chinese food to cus-
tomers. The menu at Dragon Regency in L.A., mentioned Chinese culinary
beliefs and practices as part of the background information for dishes. In
introducing exotic snake and turtle dishes, the menu said snake soup is one
of the most famous Cantonese specialties, with certain restaurants in Hong
Kong and Canton serving just snake. Eating snake is supposed to be very
helpful for persons suffering from rheumatism and the Chinese believe
that the eating of turtle improves circulation.161 In this way, the idea that

155 Chinese Tea Garden, Grand View Hotel menu, Chinese-American business
miscellany, [1900s]1952, Online Archive California.
156 Menu of Rice Chinese Restaurant, Menu Collection of Los Angeles Public
Library.
157 Menu of Golden China, Menu Collection of Los Angeles Public Library.
158 Menu of Grandview Palace, Menu Collection of Los Angeles Public Library.
159 Menu of Hong Kong restaurant, Menu Collection of Los Angeles Public
Library.
160 Menu of Bamboo Garden, Menu Collection of Los Angeles Public Library.
161 Menu of Dragon Regency restaurant, Menu Collection of Los Angeles Public
Library.

81
food has a therapeutic and medical effect in Chinese culture came into the
sight of American diners. There was even a one-page-long introduction to the
menu of Golden Dragon Caf in L.A., which began with a famous Chinese
saying, when you prepare a dish, you must keep three things in mind: must
be pleasing to eye, the aroma must be appealing and it must be appetizing.
It went further to explain the distinctions between different regional cuisines:
All Chinese provinces have great merit in the field of cooking, each one
having its own specialty. Generally speaking, the provinces of the south-west
show a masked liking for sweet dishes with little salt, in the southeast highly
spiced and salty things are popular in the north.162 The menu of Mings, a
famous Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto, introduced Chinese dining customs
and culinary principles:
A Chinese dinner is a communal matter every dish that comes to the table is
shared by all. When you order, your own choice contributed to the variety of the
dinner. Variety, therefore, is not the spice of life; it is also the secret ingredients
that sets Chinese food apart from all other foods, and provides the taste contrasts
and differences that make for a delightful experience in dining.163

Besides the culinary, many other aspects of Chinese culture were also dis-
cussed in menus. The Chinese zodiac was introduced to the diners in Hong
Kong in L.A. - the twelve corresponding animal signs were drawn on the
menu.164 The menu of Hunan Wok even discussed the characteristics of peo-
ple from Hunan, and associated the food with the regions people. It said,
People in these two central provinces (Hunan and Szechuan) are generous,
friendly, warm and leading.165 Chinese restaurateurs used menus as a means
to introduce their ethnic cultures. The restaurant operators and chefs who
wrote these menus saw their customers not only as consumers, but also as re-
cipients of cultural knowledge. Unlike earlier immigrants who were shy about
their cultural selves, they bravely celebrated their ethnic and regional culture.

162 Menu of Golden Dragon Cafe, Menu Collection of Los Angeles Public
Library.
163 Hoover Institution Archives, Pardee Lowe, Box 324: Chinatown: Food &
Restaurants, University of Stanford.
164 Menu of Hong Kong, Menu Collection of Los Angeles Public Library.
165 Restaurants-Menus, Him Mark Lai Collection, Carton 93, Folder 13, Ethnic
Studies Library of UC Berkeley.

82
Restaurant menus relayed more information and cultural knowledge in
the new era. This suggested that ethnic food was endowed with greater cul-
tural meanings and become increasingly closer to its cultural roots. Besides
introducing and interpreting new food, menus played other new roles they
acknowledged tradition and communicated culture. Whereas the menus
in earlier Chinese restaurants showed more of the homogenizing forces of
American society and the acculturation of the Chinese ethnic group, recent
menus suggested cultural diversity and the conscious self-expression of the
Chinese community.
The enrichment of cultural contents in menus suggested the change of
consumer culture, especially shifting expectations of American consumers
about Chinese food and maybe also other ethnic cuisines Americans not
only expected exotic food but also a different cultural experience from ethnic
restaurants. Although the changes in menus were to a large extent driven by
consumers needs, they also showed the will of restaurateurs who wanted
to exhibit their culture in the public sphere. By offering knowledge of the
cultural and geographical roots of Chinese food through restaurant menus,
new immigrants resorted to their ethnic cultural heritage to resist assimila-
tion in the host country. They constructed a different kind of Chineseness
to represent themselves against the stereotypes in the American imagination.
Next to that, since the menu is also a form of text produced in a certain
political, social and cultural context, the change of the contents and forms
in ethnic restaurant menus manifested the change of American attitudes
towards ethnicity and ethnic culture. The increasing visibility of Chineseness
on the new menus showed that Americans tended less to draw Chinese food
from its cultural context as in the days when they invented the American
chop suey, but were more interested in learning the cultural connotations
of Chinese food and gave increased reverence to it.
Although most menus in ethnic restaurants give interpretations and expla-
nations to dishes from a native and insiders perspective, some of the menus
in Chinese Restaurants were actually attached with restaurant reviews writ-
ten by white restaurant critics. For instance, there were two long restaurant
reviews that were attached to the menu of China Sea restaurant, L.A. One
of them was written by Charles Perry, a famous food historian. By attaching
such a restaurant review, an outsiders point of view was brought in to com-
plement the insiders. Although Chinese restaurateurs were trying to reassert

83
their cultural authority on Chinese food and challenge the stereotypes im-
posed on them by white Americans, recognition from the white community
was still highly valued. Adding restaurant reviews written by well-known
white food writers did not only aim to attract more white customers, but
also to prove that new Chinese food has been acknowledged and appreciated
culturally by mainstream American society.
Menus are the most convenient and immediate medium that brings
Chinese food and Chinese culinary culture to American diners. Americans
who may not have the time or chance to read cookbooks or other books on
Chinese food cant avoid being exposed to the aforementioned information
on menus as long as they eat in Chinese restaurants. Although the new
menus in Chinese restaurants gradually became standardized again and
tended to be the same everywhere by the end of the 1980s, the transforma-
tion that happened in the 1970s and 1980s was remarkable.
Under the new social and cultural context in which multiculturalism was
advocated and celebrated, new immigrant restaurateurs were in a favora-
ble environment to introduce Chinese culinary customs and disseminate
Chinese culinary culture to Americans. Instead of conceding to cultural
assimilation, they imbued food with more cultural meanings and used it
to highlight their ethnicity and cultural heritage. The cultural contents of
Chineseness were enriched and the nature of Chinese ethnicity was changed
in the U.S.
In addition to menus, restaurant staff also used other strategies to in-
troduce Chinese food and food culture. While the earlier restaurateurs
and chefs offered American customers what they liked and bowed to their
preferences, the new generation restaurateurs were so ambitious that they
strove to introduce real Chinese cooking to America. Jimmy Lo, the execu-
tive chef at Pagoda in San Jos, said he stuck to making authentic Chinese
dishes rather than Americanized ones in the hope of letting Americans
know what real Chinese cooking is.166 Some restaurateurs even introduced
mysterious and lesser-known aspects of Chinese culinary culture through

166 Jimmy Lo Sticks to Making Real Chinese Food, Sing Tao Daily, January 30,
1997, Him Mark Lai Collection, Canton 93, Folder 7, Ethnic Studies Library
of UC Berkeley.

84
the food they served. Since ancient times, Chinese people have held the
belief that food has medical values and specific ingredients have healing
effects on specific ailments. A restaurant in San Francisco named Emperor
Herbal Restaurant advocated this belief in their culinary practice. Different
dishes were advertised as having different medical effects: For a beauti-
ful complexion, theres pearl soup, made with real ground pearls, wild
ginseng and white tree fungus And to maintain youthful beauty, women
should eat Queens Secret, which lists among its ingredients snow lotus,
deer antler and the meat from a black-featured chicken.167 The managing
partner said: We opened this restaurant to educate the American people
who think herbal food tastes terrible.168 By using these unusual ingredients
to concoct dishes according to traditional Chinese culinary beliefs, the Chi-
nese restaurant operators of Emperor Herbal Restaurant manifested their
increasing cultural pride as well as the desire to have their culture accepted
by mainstream society.
In the new age, restaurants not only interpreted new dishes, but also
introduced Chinese culinary practices to American customers. While the
earlier restaurateurs totally conformed to the Western way of dining, post-
1965 restaurateurs tried to influence the way their American clientele dined.
In Chinese culinary tradition, people sitting at the dining table usually share
entrees. In some Chinese restaurants, this communal style of eating was
recommended to American diners: Family style Oriental dining is featured
at the Mandarin Orange Chinese Restaurant Instead of everyone in a
group ordering an entre for himself, the restaurant encourages the group
to share a variety of dishes. That way, everyone can try different things on
the table.169 As Netta Davis observed, it might be also that the communal
aspect of Chinese food is one reason why Americans seek it out. Americans
tend to share dishes or eat off a communal platter in Chinese restaurants

167 Bruce Cost, A Restaurant with a Remedy for What Ails You, San Francisco
Chronicle, March 11, 1987, Asian Interest VF Chinese Food Folder 2, San
Francisco Public Library.
168 Ibid.
169 Family Style Dining at Chinese Restaurant, Los Angeles Times, November
19, 1981.

85
more commonly than in other restaurants.170 Restaurant Business connected
the popularity of communal dining in America to the experience of American
diners in ethnic restaurants.171 An article from Sunset magazine also noted,
Sharing many delicious dishes at a communal table has long been a daily
ritual in Asian families. Now restaurants around the West are encouraging
this way of dining, letting food lovers sample more dishes by sharing little
tastes.172 The practice of sharing food in some ethnic cultures, such as Chi-
nese communal dining, provided an alternative dining style to Americans.
Ethnic cultural practices became the sources of inspiration to the mainstream
way of life. The Chinese mode of communal eating probably made average
Americans rethink about their own way of dining which was greatly shaped
by Western individualism. The change of dining modes might have caused
ideological change among American eaters. The late 1960s and early 1970s
witnessed a renaissance of community culture in America. Many communal
food activities have been organized since the 1970s. Restaurant Hospitality
reported in 1990, communal dining was very much in vogue. It was not
considered odd for strangers to sit opposite at a table for four, or even along-
side each other at peak periods.173 Not only consumption, the means of food
production and distribution also underwent change. The boom of communal
agriculture, communal kitchens and new co-ops echoed the spirit of this
era.174 A number of countercultural Americans began to reattach importance
to communal life. They wanted to address alienation in human relations by
resorting to a collective way of life. Ethnic communities, which were known

170 Netta Davis, To Serve the Other: Chinese- American Immigrants in the
Restaurant Business, Journal for the Study of Food and Society 6, no. 1
(Winter 2002): 7081.
171 Elizabeth Bernstein, Big Top, Restaurant Business, June 1, 1999, 29. Culinary
Arts Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.
172 Linda Lau Anusasananan, Changing Tastes: Savor an Array of Vibrant
Dishes at an Asian small-plates Party, Sunset, 212.3 (March 2004), 114,
Culinary Art Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.
173 Robert Schoolsky, Bar Association: How Bar-area Seating Promotes Solo
dining and Single-mingling at a number of New York City Restaurants,
Restaurant Hospitality, 74.4, April 1990, 174, Culinary Art Collection, Los
Angeles Public Library.
174 Regarding the radical changes in food production, distribution and consump-
tion in the 1960s and 1970s, see Belasco, Appetite for Change.

86
for their communal way of life as they usually shared living quarters, prop-
erty, visions and identities, provided rich sources for the mentality change
of Americans. The communal mentality was extended from dining to other
aspects of social life, and a new utopian vision of society was formed. This
reveals the permeability of culture - mainstream culture could draw inspira-
tion from ethnic cultures and thus acquire new ways of thinking. Besides the
style of dining, eating tools used by Americans in Chinese restaurants also
underwent changes. In the new era, restaurant owners claimed American
customers used chopsticks more often.175 Sing Tao Daily also reported that
many Americans were eager to try chopsticks instead of sticking to forks
and knives after Nixons visit to China.176 The Chinese way of dining was
gradually accepted by American diners alongside Chinese food. This also
suggests that ethnic culture and tradition not only continued to exist, but
also exerted an ever-growing influence on mainstream social and cultural life.
Although the earlier restaurateurs also drew on certain elements from
their ethnic culture to exhibit exoticism, it was different from the later ones.
In the earlier period, the cultural elements the restaurateurs adopted were
highly selected and Chinese ethnicity was usually presented in a twisted and
distorted way to attract American customers. In the first half of the twenti-
eth century, the social and cultural environment in America wasnt tolerant
enough and didnt give Chinese restaurateurs much space to present their
true cultural selves. The way Chinese represented their culture involved
more self-ethnicization than self-expression. Chinese food barely had an
influence on mainstream Anglo-American eating except for adding a few sa-
vory dishes to the American culinary repertoire. However, since the 1960s,
thanks to the Civil Rights Movement and the subsequent change of the
mainstream attitude towards ethnic cultures, Chinese restaurateurs not only
represented their ethnicity in a more confident and straightforward way, but
also made Chinese restaurants their own cultural domain. Reasserting their
cultural authority in Chinese restaurants, they encouraged non-Chinese din-
ers to follow the Chinese way of dining. This can be seen as a conscious or

175 Based on the authors personal interviews.


176 The Business in Chinese Restaurants is Blooming, Sing Tao Daily, February
28, 1972. Yuk Ow Collection AAS ARC 2000/70, Carton 15, Folder 15, Ethnic
Studies Library of UC Berkley.

87
unconscious act of cultural resistance - they challenged the stereotypes of
Chinese food imposed by Americans and attempted to represent Chinese
food - an important symbol of Chineseness - by themselves. Thus, the rela-
tion between Chinese restaurateurs and white customers changed, and the
cultural hierarchy in Chinese restaurants was inverted. White Americans
were no longer the rule makers but cultural outsiders, and restaurant
operators, chefs and other staff became the cultural purveyors, which I will
elaborate on in Chapter Four. Although the new restaurateurs still made
adaptations and compromises on their food to fit the American market,
to a certain extent they managed to shape and alter the cultural demands
and tastes of Americans. Chinese culinary beliefs and practices even caused
changes in mainstream behaviors and thinking as more Americans adopted
communal eating styles, used chopsticks and followed culinary customs in
Chinese restaurants.
In analyzing the shift of the perception of Italian food in America that
occurred during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Simone Cinotto attributed
it to the radical transformation in consumption pattern the culturaliza-
tion of consumption has enlarged the quantity of knowledge available
on Italian food culture.177 Gvion and Trostler attributed the change in the
form and content of the ethnic restaurant menus between the 1960s and
the 1990s to the shift of the American perception of ethnicity.178 However,
speaking particularly of the American reception of Chinese food, besides
the transformation of consumer culture and the change of the larger cul-
tural environment, the active role of restaurateurs in connecting Chinese
food with its cultural roots was too significant to be ignored. Although the
golden rule in the setting of restaurants is that customers are king and res-
taurant operators need to fulfil their expectations and demands, the tastes

177 Simone Cinotto, Now Thats Italian!: Representations of Italian Food in


American Popular Magazines, 19502000. New York: The Italian Acad-
emy for Advanced Studies in America (2004): 12, accessed January 14,
2014, http://italianacademy.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/papers/paper_
sp04_Cinotto.pdf.
178 Liora Gvion and Naomi Trostler, From Spaghetti and Meatballs through
Hawaiian Pizza to Sushi: The Changing Nature of Ethnicity in American
Restaurants, The Journal of Popular Culture 41, no. 6 (2008): 95074.

88
and expectations of customers are constantly shaped by many social agents
including ethnic restaurateurs. The way the middle and upper class Chinese
restaurateurs introduced new food and culinary culture was so distinct from
the previous generations - they not only regenerated the Chinese American
culinary culture but also led American customers into a different culinary
world of China.
The body of ethnic cultural knowledge that American diners were ex-
posed to in ethnic restaurants enriched their cultural repertoire. As the most
ubiquitous cultural emblem of Chinese ethnicity, Chinese restaurants were
an important medium that lured Americans to further explore Chinese
culture. As Roger Abrahams said, it was from ethnic food that Americans
learned about cultural relativity and managed to get beyond the stereotypes
they imposed on other ethnic groups - alternative culinary styles enter
into our popular culture and become part of the civilizing process.179 The
influence of Chinese culinary beliefs and practices on mainstream American
eating and thinking has larger cultural implications American social and
cultural life is constantly changing under the influence of ethnic cultures.
The introduction of new Chinese food exhibited new characteristics.
This suggested a new pattern of cultural negotiations, contestations and
power relations between ethnic restaurant operators and mainstream cus-
tomers. More importantly, the food in this period also became much more
exciting as it was quite different from the old bland Cantonese American
fare.

179 Roger Abrahams, Equal Opportunity Eating: A Structural Excursus on


Things of the Mouth, in Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States,
ed. Linda Keller Brown and Kay Mussell (Knoxville: The University of Ten-
nessee Press, 1984), 23.

89
Menu of Hong Kong, Menu Collection of Los Angeles Public Library.

90
Menu of Dragon Regency, Los Angeles, CA, 6/21/1986, Menu Collection
of Los Angeles Public Library.

91
92
3.1.3There was More Than One Cuisine From Standardized
Cantonese American Fare to Diversified Regional Cuisines
Due to cultural assimilation in American society, Chinese food moved far
away from its original forms before the 1960s. It completely succumbed to
the forces of Americanization and conformed to Western culinary norms.
Chop suey, a humble peasant dish from Kwangtung Province, became the
icon of Chinese food in America, and Chinese cuisine in America was often
equated with several popular Americanized Cantonese dishes such as chow
mein, egg foo young, sweet and sour pork, etc. In addition, because of the
absence of discerning clientele, restaurateurs usually used precooked ingre-
dients instead of fresh ones to accelerate service. Therefore, the food quality
remained at a relatively low level.180 This situation didnt change until the
late 1960s when new immigrants arrived. The new immigrants from dif-
ferent regions of China brought in a great variety of regional cuisines. Not
only Mandarin, Szechuan and Hunan cuisine, but also Fujian, Chaozhou,
Hakka food gradually became known to Americans with an interest in
Chinese food. Even Tibetan food, which didnt arouse too much attention
in China, was introduced to America.181 Chinese food in America became
more varied and regionally distinct. A large number of new dishes were
brought in, and they quickly became popular in the U.S., such as Peking
duck, moo shu pork, Mongolian beef, kung pao chicken. Ameri-
cans began to learn that China doesnt have a national cuisine, but many
cuisines. The arrival of professional chefs elevated the quality of Chinese
cuisine to a new level and the arrival of affluent Chinese customers also
encouraged and motivated the gentrification of Chinese food in America.
In this chapter, I conduct two case studies to explore the introduction
and reception of new Chinese regional cuisines in this period, and see how
it differed from the previous era in which chop suey dominated Chinese
American foodscapes. I put emphasis on the American response to new
Chinese food. I examine why Hong Kong cuisine won such great popularity
in large American cities and what its special cultural identity was. Another

180 In Chinese cooking, immediate consumption after cooking and the perfor-
mance of artistic improvisation by chefs are essential for achieving high qual-
ity dishes.
181 Lovegren, Fashionable Food, 112.

93
cultural phenomenon I investigate is why mainstream Americans, who were
always known for their bland taste buds, suddenly became fascinated with
food with strong and zesty flavors. I hope a study of the American response
to Szechuan and Hunan cuisine will help explain why food with rich and
spicy flavors was gradually becoming mainstream in the U.S.

a. The Charms of Hong Kong Cuisine and Its Cultural Identity


During World War II, the continuous inflow of Hong Kong immigrants
brought Hong Kong cuisine to the U.S. As a colony of Great Britain, Hong
Kong was allocated with independent quotas. The decade between the
1980s and 1990s witnessed a large influx of Hong Kong people to the U.S.
upon the imminent return of Hong Kong to mainland China. This explained
the overrepresentation of Hong Kong people in foreign-born Chinese popu-
lation in the U.S. As Hong Kong immigrants settled down, Hong Kong
style restaurants sprung up. Since Hong Kongs economy was more devel-
oped, its immigrants were relatively affluent. Compared to the immigrants
from mainland China, they usually brought more financial capital into the
host country and invested more money into the business they set up. The
Washington Post noticed the difference between Hong Kong restaurateurs
and the earlier restaurant operators, they bring not just plenty of money,
but sophisticated plans and celebrated chefs. They expect to open nothing
less than superstar restaurants.182 Hong Kong style restaurants in the U.S.
were usually large in size and elaborate in decoration. The food they served
ranged from delicate snacks to fancy meals with many kinds of delicacies.
Expensive banquets were sometimes held for wealthy Chinese for special
occasions like birthdays or weddings. Unlike the traditional American Chi-
nese restaurants where prices were often cheap, Hong Kong style restaurant
were known for their elegant dining environments and exquisite food. The
Los Angeles Times noted in 1990, some cosmopolitan Hong Kong-style
restaurants are showing up in Los Angeles and theyre nothing like the

182 Phyllis C. Richman, Chinese Cooking From Hong Kong Revolutionizes N.


Americas Restaurant Industry, Washington Post, April 18, 1989, Asian
Interest VF San Francisco-restaurants-Asian, San Francisco Public Library,
Chinatown Branch.

94
cheaper places183 San Francisco Focus also reported that the upscale
Hong Kong restaurants were redefining Chinese dining in the Bay Area.184
Among these restaurants, many were chains set up by multinational res-
taurant corporations from Hong Kong.
In order to better explore the reception of Hong Kong food in the U.S.,
we need to trace it to its source and have a look at the region of Hong Kong
and its special culinary culture. As Hong Kong experienced rapid economic
growth and edged itself into the Four Asian Tigers in the latter half of the
20th century, a special cultural identity was constructed among Hong Kong
people.185 Living in a metropolis where the East meets with the West, Hong
Kong people had a sense of superiority. They not only felt proud of their
material wealth, but also boasted the so-called Hong Kong spirit which
was mainly characterized by good adaptability and perseverance.186 Hong
Kong peoples sense of superiority persisted even when they were displaced
in foreign countries. They distinguished themselves from the mainland Chi-
nese by clinging to their regional identity which embodied material wealth,
good education, cosmopolitanism and social prestige.187 The cultural dis-
tinctiveness of Hong Kong can be reflected by its special culinary culture.
The establishment of Hong Kong cooking was indebted to both Cantonese
urban cooking and Western influence.188 Since the majority of Hong Kong
people were descendants of Cantonese immigrants, Cantonese foodways

183 Laurie Ochoa, Not the same places, Not the same old egg roll Its Haute
Chinese, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 1990.
184 Sharon Silva, Chop Suey Goes Upscale, Asian Interest VF, San Francisco-
Restaurant-Asian, San Francisco Public Library.
185 Shanshan Lan mentions the British colonial government also played a role
in cultivating the unique identity of Hong Kong as distinct from mainland
China. See Shanshan Lan, Negotiating Multiple Boundaries: Diasporic Hong
Kong Identities in the United States, Identities: Global Studies in Culture
and Power 19, no. 6 (November 2012): 70824.
186 Siumi Maria Tam, Heunggongyan Forever: Immigrant Life and Hong Kong
Style Yumcha in Australia, in The Globalization of Chinese Food, ed.
David Y. H. Wu and Sidney C. H. Cheung (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press,
2002), 133.
187 Ibid., 715.
188 E. N. Anderson, The Food of China (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1988), 21617.

95
were in a dominant position in Hong Kong. Cantonese style cooking is often
considered the finest of all Chinese regional styles,189 from which Hong Kong
inherited a rich culinary heritage. Having been a British colony for 155 years,
Hong Kong cuisine had long been exposed to Western influence. It incor-
porated many Western culinary elements over time and developed a cosmo-
politan culinary identity. Especially during the 1970s, with the fast economic
development in Hong Kong, a nouvelle Cantonese cuisine emerged which
combined exotic tastes and expensive ingredients with Western catering.190
Serving the newly rich, this style of cooking was characterized by new
recipes (stewed in western red wine), adventurous cooking techniques, ex-
cellent catering service (individual portions rather than family-style shared
dishes and changing dishes for each course of the meal) and outstanding
dcor and ambience.191 Thanks to such culinary innovations, a refined and
elegant eating style combining Eastern and Western elements took shape in
Hong Kong, which Jack Goody would call a higher cuisine.192 The ac-
ceptance of higher cuisine in foreign lands was different from other types
of cuisines.
After Hong Kong style restaurants were established, they soon became
popular in large cities. Eating in Hong Kong style restaurants became the
culinary fashion. One particular type of Hong Kong food that received
much attention from Americans was dim sum. Dim sum is a generic term
for a variety of small food items that are savory or sweet, and often con-
sumed together with Chinese tea. To provide a variety of food choice to

189 There is a Chinese proverb that goes like this: Live in Hangchow, marry in
Suchou, dine in Canton, and die in Liuchou, which means you can find the
finest food in Canton.
190 Sidney C. H. Cheung, Food and Cuisine in a Changing Society, in The
Globalization of Chinese Food, ed. Wu and Cheung, 106.
191 Ibid., 106.
192 Jack Goody discussed about the hierarchy of food in Eurasian societies, and
highlighted the distinction between haute cuisine and low cuisine, or higher
cooking and lower cooking in other words. Higher cuisine is usually featured
by exotic ingredients, elaborate preparation and conspicuous consumption
and often associated with people of higher social class, see Jack Goody, Cook-
ing, Cuisine and Class: A Study in Sociology (Cambridge and London: Cam-
bridge University Press), 97153.

96
accompany drinking tea, dim sum is bite-sized.193 Being a style of Cantonese
food, dim sum had actually existed in Chinatowns long before the arrival of
Hong Kong immigrants, but it didnt become popular until the emergence
of Hong Kong style restaurants. Therefore, it was Hong Kong immigrants
who brought dim sum to the attention of Americans. After Hong Kong
restaurants made their presence felt, L.A. Times was filled with articles on
dim sum. One report said Marco Polo lacked foresight. He returned from
his Chinese travels with ginger, which captivated his fellow Venetians. But
he slipped up when he failed to record the recipes for those delicate Chinese
pastries known as dim sum.194 Eating dim sum became a new culinary fad
in the 1970s as Sylvia Lovegren discussed in her book Fashionable Food:
Seven Decades of Food Fads.195 There were many reasons for its popular-
ity: dim sum is usually light and served in small amounts, which accorded
with the trends of healthy eating in America. The wide range of choices and
tastes in dim sum was also a great attraction to Americans who embraced
culinary diversity. The elevation of the American living standard and the
change of the American cultural atmosphere in the latter half of the 20th
century generated a demand for culinary variety and cultural sophistica-
tion among Americans.196 Dim sum, which offered different choices in one
single meal, quickly won the hearts of Americans. As an American food
writer admitted, To me its a Chinese smorgasbord of little plates filled
with an almost infinite variety of tantalizing tastes, textures, and smells
served directly to you at your table.197
Together with dim sum, Hong Kong immigrants brought the practice
of Yum Cha to America. Dim sum is an indispensable component of Yum

193 Siumi Maria Tam, Eating Metropolitaneity: Hong Kong Identity in Yumcha,
The Australian Journal of Anthropology 8, no. 3 (1997): 295.
194 David Nelson, Non-Chinese Discovering the Virtues of Dim Sum, Los
Angeles Times, April 16, 1981.
195 Lovegren, Fashionable Food, 10607.
196 Americans were so obsessed with culinary variety that they wanted different
choices even in one meal. That was why the tasting menu, which meant try-
ing several small servings of menus items rather than a single entre became
a trend in restaurant eating throughout the 1980s and 1990s, see Brenner,
American Appetite, 23638.
197 Bernard Pechter, Delights of Chinese Pastry, California Living, April 29,
1973.

97
Cha. Yum Cha literally means drinking tea, but it is not limited to tea
drinking. It is an eating style originating from Canton. At first, it was a
usual practice of getting together to eat breakfast among merchants and
traders with the main purpose of exchanging information and conducting
business. When it was later introduced to Hong Kong, it became an occa-
sion not only for business activities but also for family get-togethers.198 In
Hong Kong, the practice of Yum Cha developed a distinct local identity,
which incorporated a metropolitaneity embracing Chinese tradition, in-
ternational flavors and an innovative spirit.199 Hong Kong people believed
Hong Kong style Yum Cha was the best among all others and could best
epitomize their life style.200 Thanks to the speedy commercial and cultural
development in Hong Kong, it is now Hong Kong rather than Canton that
sets the standards for Yum cha.201 Since the earlier immigrants in the U.S.
were mostly from rural areas of Kwangtung, they didnt have the tradi-
tion of Yum Cha. It was the wealthy, urban Hong Kong immigrants who
brought this culinary practice to America. In American Hong Kong style
restaurants, it is not uncommon to see a group of Chinese gathered around
a large table, sipping tea, tasting dim sum and conversing in Cantonese.
With a distinct regional color, the cultural practice of Yum Cha is endowed
with social and cultural meanings it helps express the cultural identity
of Hong Kong immigrants and reinforces their group solidarity. As Siumi
Maria Tam pointed out, the practice of Yum cha contributed to the forma-
tion of Hong Kong cultural identity in its culture-searching process.202 It
also served as a bond between the Hong Kong diaspora and kept the Hong
Kong consciousness alive. Through the regular ritual of Yum Cha, Hong
Kong immigrants not only preserved their culinary tradition abroad, but
also strengthened the social and cultural ties within their real and imag-
ined Hong Kong community. As Benedict Anderson asserted in Imagined
Communities, geographically dispersed individuals can be connected by

198 Cheung, Food and Cuisine in a Changing Society, 107.


199 Tam, Heunggongyan Forever, 133.
200 Ibid., 131.
201 Tam, Eating Metropolitaneity, 291306.
202 Siumi Maria Tam traced how Yum Cha has been constructed as representative
of Hong Kong culture, see Tam, Eating Metropolitaneity.

98
shared values and practices.203 The concept of cultural community raised
by Huping Ling, a scholar on Asian American studies, echoes Andersons
idea. Ling argues that a new model of Asian American community came
into being recently which had no particular physical boundaries, but was
socially defined by the common cultural memories, practices and values of
its members.204 In this vein, the Hong Kong diaspora who shared a common
cultural past were in the position to form their own cultural community.
In spite of their diffuse geographic locations, the Hong Kong diaspora was
connected by their shared history and food practices. The regional cultural
identity of Hong Kong can be expressed through the culinary practice of
Yum Cha in Hong Kong diasporic communities, no matter in the United
States, Australia or Europe as long as Yam Cha style restaurants existed.
Yum Cha can be seen as an embodiment of their imagined community
in the minds of Hong Kong people. The cultural practices like Yam Cha
enabled Hong Kong immigrants to maintain their special cultural identity
and avoid being assimilated either in American mainstream society or the
larger Chinese community.
Hong Kong immigrants not only retained their eating practices and tradi-
tion within their own community, but also introduced them to Americans.
In American Hong Kong style restaurants, fish and shellfish usually swim
in tanks and are netted the moment they need to be cooked. Dim sum is
served exactly the same way as it is in Hong Kong. A server usually brings
customers either a tray or wheels a cart laden with various food items that
are usually put in steamer baskets or small plates. The server walks around
the room and stops at each table. With great variety to choose from, cus-
tomers could pick what was most appealing to them. If customers want
more tea, they alert the server by turning the teapots lid on its side, which
is a traditional signal of asking for a refill.205 At the end of the meal, the
server tallies the bill by counting the plates and baskets left on the table.

203 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and


Spread of Nationalism. rev. ed. (London: Verso, 1991).
204 Huping Ling, ed., Asian America: Forming New Communities, Expanding
Boundaries (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2009).
205 Carole Terwilliger Meyers, Dining Out Chinese Style, Parents Press, January
1986, Asian Interest VF San Francisco-restaurants-Asian, San Francisco Public
Library.

99
Interestingly, Americans found the dining experience fun and exciting rather
than bizarre and strange. Unlike the earlier immigrants who concealed their
culinary practices in public settings, Hong Kong people kept their cultural
practices intact and introduced them to American customers. Rather than
conform to Anglo-American eating conventions and serving food in a West-
ern style, Hong Kong immigrants observed their own dining customs and
tradition in their restaurants.
A food writer said that the difference between the food in Hong Kong
style restaurants and in Americanized Chinese restaurants can be summed
up by the phrase bones and shells.206 In Hong Kong restaurants, meat
was usually served on the bone and shellfish with unpeeled shells. For in-
stance, fresh fish were plucked alive from tanks and often served whole to
diners; duck was served with the head. Actually, this culinary practice was
not limited to Hong Kong style restaurants, but could also be seen in many
other new Chinese restaurants. However, it was in Hong Kong restaurants
that this culinary practice was most boldly and evidently observed. Jennifer
Lee talked about eating taboos in contemporary American society:
Mainstream Americans dont like to be reminded that the food on their plate
once lived, breathed, swam, or walked. That means nothing with eyeballs. No
appendages or extremities (no tongues, no feet, no claws, no ears) But perhaps
most important in American eating is the idea that what goes into the mouth
should never come out. That is, there should be nothing where you have to chew
on something and then spit out an inedible part. This means no chicken feet, no
fish with bones, no shrimp with shells.207

In contrast to the United States, China has always been a nation with a
large population and limited natural resources. Ordinary Chinese people
couldnt afford to have eating taboos, so they ate and savored everything
on an animal. Gradually, this became part of their eating habits. In earlier
Cantonese restaurants, in order to attract mainstream American custom-
ers and also to avoid attacks on their strange foodways, restaurateurs

206 Richman, Chinese Cooking From Hong Kong Revolutionizes N. Americas


Restaurant Industry.
207 Jennifer Lee, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of
Chinese Food (New York: Twelve, 2008), 756.

100
removed controversial items from their menus. In the new generation
restaurants, adaptations were also made to appeal to the American palate,
but to a different extent. Although as a commercial space all the restaurants
welcomed both Chinese and non-Chinese customers, some of the restau-
rants made non-Chinese diners their major client base and were dedicated
to satisfy their palate with more Americanized food, while some others
attracted Chinese customers with food agreeable to the Chinese palate. In
restaurants mainly targeting Chinese customers, food that seemed intimat-
ing to Americans appear on menus such as whole fish, chicken feet, intestine,
etc. They not only satisfied the needs of Chinese customers, but also brought
a holistic eating philosophy eating the whole animal - to the American
public, which later became a part of American foodie culture.208 Hong Kong
restaurants belonged to neither of these two types. Although they made little
adaptations of food, they still attracted substantial number of non-Chinese
diners. Thanks to the wide range of choices offered, non-Chinese customers
could select what suited their palates from the extensive menus.
The reception of Hong Kong cuisine in the U.S. was different from that
of other Chinese regional cuisines. Whenever Hong Kong restaurants were
mentioned in newspapers and magazines, words like luxurious, elabo-
rate, upscale, elegant were frequently used. In describing a Hong Kong
restaurant in Burlingame, a restaurant critic wrote: the meals here take
on a ceremonial cast as they do at formal French restaurants and recom-
mended it as a place to go when you want to have a civilized evening.209
In an article titled East Comes West: The bustling Hong Kong Restaurants
Introduce a New Chinese Style to the Bay Area, the observation was made
that Hong Kong-style fare tastes quite different from the old-fashioned Chi-
natown dishes with thickened gravies, assertive sauces and familiar American
Chinese ingredients and the level of cooking and presentation was higher

208 On the emergence of an extremist foodie culture in the U.S., see Dana Good-
year, Anything that Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making
of a New American Food Culture (New York: Penguin, 2013).
209 Patricia Unterman, Exotic Chinese Meals at Hong Kong Transplant, San
Francisco Chronicle, December 18, 1991, Asian Interest VF, San Francisco-
restaurants-Asian, San Francisco Public Library Chinatown Branch.

101
than anything I had seen outside of Hong Kong.210 The Los Angeles Times
praised the dim sum at Mission 261: theyre delicious - prepared in the
delicate, au courant style of upscale Hong Kong tea halls Beyond the
fanciful shapes of the quirkier items lies seriously good eating that can often
measure up to the best to be had in Hong Kong.211 To sum up, it seemed
that Americans considered Hong Kong cooking sophisticated, distinctive and
serious. The representation of Hong Kong food in American media reflected
the nations perception of it. The emergence of Hong Kong food debunked
the stereotypes of Chinese food, which was often deemed a fast, cheap and
humble fare. Hong Kong restaurants and food were perceived differently
from other types of Chinese restaurants and other regional cuisines.
Chinese cuisine was a highly differentiated cuisine in line with social
stratum. Huge differences existed between the diets of people from different
socioeconomic classes.212 Since the hierarchy between ranks and classes
takes a culinary form in China,213 people of different socioeconomic sta-
tuses had their own way of cooking and eating. In the transnational context,
the socioeconomic status of Chinese immigrants determined the nature of
the cuisine they brought to the host country. Since many of the Hong Kong
restaurants were either owned by wealthy merchants from Hong Kong or
by large Hong Kong restaurant corporations, the cuisine they brought to
America was usually sophisticated, refined, and of high quality. There was
a world of difference between the fare introduced by the earlier Cantonese
immigrants and the food brought in by the recent arrivals from Hong Kong.
Not surprisingly, their acceptance followed different paths. The status quo
of Hong Kong was also an important factor in the acceptance of Hong
Kong food in America. With more Americans travelling to Hong Kong,
they experienced the cosmopolitan, culinary culture of the city firsthand.
For instance, L.A. Times recorded a culinary trip of a group of American

210 Patricia Unterman, East Comes West: The bustling Hong Kong Restaurants
Introduce a New Chinese Style to the Bay Area, San Francisco Chronicle,
October 30, 1991,
211 Linda Burum, Mission 261 is the place for serious Hong Kong-style eating,
Los Angeles Times, March 3, 2004.
212 Zhao asserted there were five culinary stratums in Chinese feudalistic society.
Zhao, A Introduction to Chinese Dining Culture, 5777.
213 Goody, Cooking, Cuisine and Class, 113.

102
chefs to Hong Kong, and reported that California-style cooking, Thai food,
Australian and New Zealand wine, Italian, French and Mexican cuisine
could all be found on the island.214 The all-embracing East meets West
culinary characteristic of Hong Kong was impressive to Americans. Their
impression of Hong Kong influenced how they perceived Hong Kong food
in the U.S.
Since Hong Kong immigrants usually brought more financial capital,
many of the Hong Kong style restaurants were high-end establishments
featuring high-class cuisine and luxurious decoration. Based on the large
amount of money and a considerable number of food professionals that
concentrated in Hong Kong style restaurants, it is fair to say that what
these immigrants brought to the United States was high cuisine. Hong
Kong immigrants not only maintained their food practices and tradition
but also introduced their culinary culture to the American public in restau-
rants. By holding onto their special cultural practices like Yum cha, Hong
Kong immigrants, a subgroup of the greater Chinese community, resisted
cultural assimilation in American society and refused to be submerged into
the generic category of Chinese. They maintained and expressed their
distinctive regional identity. Unlike earlier Cantonese immigrants who were
less confident to display their real food practices in public, the Hong Kong
immigrants were proud of their culture and manifested this cultural pride
through their food and food practices.
Food historian Harvey Levenstein once said, The adoption of new food
tastes is probably facilitated by an absence of lower-status people from
whose homelands they originate.215 Krishnendu Ray also attributed the
undervaluation of Italian food in America before the 1960s to the lower
social status of Italian Americans most of who were living in ghettos at
the time.216 In this vein, I boldly assume that the presence of higher-status

214 Margaret Sheridan, The Toniest Restaurants in Town Are American in Style
and Attitude, Los Angeles Times, April 21, 1996.
215 Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, 215.
216 Krishnendu Ray, Ethnic Succession and the New American Restaurant Cui-
sine, in The Restaurant Book: Ethnographies of Where We Eat, ed. David
Beriss and David Sutton (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2007), 101.

103
immigrants from a certain place could be conducive to the acceptance of
the cuisine from that place.
The socioeconomic statuses of the immigrants who import the cuisine as
well as the situation of the home country (land) play an important role in
the acceptance of an ethnic cuisine in a foreign country. It is much easier for
high-class ethnic cuisine to be accepted by the mainstream urban middle-class
American diners as it was shown by the American reception of Hong Kong
food. The humble and crude Cantonese country fare and the sophisticated
and cosmopolitan Hong Kong cuisine have different cultural connotations
to Americans. The status of Hong Kong cuisine which was associated with
the wealthy Hong Kong people was certainly different from the earlier Can-
tonese food associated with poor Cantonese labor workers. Based on the
representation of Hong Kong food in American media, Hong Kong cuisine
seemed to enjoy a much higher status than other types of Chinese food. The
issue of race and racial hierarchy in American society may help explain the
difference between the reception of French and Chinese cuisine in the U.S.
two finest cuisines in the world. But how can we explain the different ways
of reception between Italian and French cuisine or between Hong Kong and
other Chinese regional cuisines in America? The reception of a foreign cuisine
in a transnational context is determined by a range of complex economic,
social, cultural or even political dynamics. Even within the same ethnicity or
nationality, the cuisine introduced by higher-class immigrants and that by the
lower-class follow different paths during their acceptance. In addition, the
socioeconomic and cultural conditions of the region from where the cuisine
comes also affect the status of the cuisine in the host country.

b.The Awakening of the American Palate Americas Love Affair


with Spicy Szechuan and Hunan Cuisine
In Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads Sylvia Lovegren talked
about Szechwan cooking: Reports began coming in about strange new
restaurants serving strange new dishes, fiery with hot peppers and strong
tastes And what they ate, they liked.217 Riding on the hot wave ignit-
ed by spicy Szechuan cooking, Hunan food came into vogue later. Both

217 Lovegren, Fashionable Food, 10708.

104
Chinese cuisines first achieved popularity in New York City. Andrew Coe
described the craze for the two regional cuisines in the city: Eateries like
Szechuan Taste on Chatham Square, David Kehs Szechuan on Broadway
and Ninety-fifth Street, and Szechuan East on Second Avenue and Eightieth
Street flourished and spread as chefs followed opportunities.218 There was
even a Szechuan Valley (also known as Hunan Gulch) - the stretch of
Upper Broadway in Manhattan where nearly every block had its Szechuan or
Hunan restaurant.219 Travel & Leisure also reported in 1972, In Manhattan
an almost fanatical Szechuan cult has sprung up only in the past few years.
As many as a dozen of new recently converted restaurants specialize in this
peppery, richly spiced food220 The culinary trend quickly spread to other
large cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. The pepper
flavors of Szechuan and Hunan, once paid scant attention by San Diegos
longer-established Chinese houses, have become commonplace at these newer
establishments and are available in wide variety.221 In Chinese restaurants,
asking for chop suey was out and savoring Szechuan or Hunan food was
in in the 1970s and 1980s.
If the popularity of Hong Kong food can be credited to the higher socio-
economic status of Hong Kong immigrants and the regions cosmopolitan
culinary culture, why did eating the food from Szechuan and Hunan, two
relatively remote and economically underdeveloped provinces in China,
become a culinary trend? As both cuisines are known for their strong and
spicy flavors (although they are spicy in different ways), is this shared trait
the main reason for their popularity? Why did Americans, a people known
for their mild taste buds and less spiced diet, suddenly embrace food with
rich and bold flavors? And what did this change suggest?
When asked which flavor(s) American diners like best in American Chi-
nese restaurants, Chinese restaurateurs and chefs often said, sweet and sour
are their favorite, Oh, they also like things with a touch of spiciness.222

218 Coe, Chop Suey, 22324.


219 Ibid., 244.
220 Silas Spitzer, Farewell Cantonese, Hello Szechuan, Travel & Leisure, 2.3,
June, July, 1972.
221 David Nelson, Restaurants Explore Chinese Cuisine, Including Spicy Dish-
es, Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1985.
222 Based on the authors personal interviews.

105
It is not hard to understand the sweet and sour part, which Americans
inherited from their British ancestors, but why spiciness? And when did
Americans develop an appetite for spicy food?
It is a well-known fact that Americans didnt pay much attention to their
palates and usually had a strange preference of insipidity.223 The bland
palates of Americans might be part of their British culinary heritage. As
Waverley Root and Richard Rochemont asserted, although the United States
attained political independence from Britain early in 1778, it always main-
tained a cherished dependence on British traditions in terms of cooking.224
In addition, the Puritan tradition restricted Americans from gaining sensual
pleasures from eating and also from seeking stimuli for their taste buds.
The scientific food movement in the first half of the 20th century, which
placed more value on nutrition than flavor, was a perfect demonstration
of this culinary predisposition. As Harvey Levenstein said Over the years
Americans have added ingredients of overseas origin to their cuisine and
have even adopted some foreign methods of preparing and serving food,
but they have been relentless in domesticating them, integrating them in
ways that did not disturb essentially British palates.225 Although some
regional foodways were full of fresh, colorful and flavorful dishes, they
were confined to particular regions. Beside these, mass production also ex-
erted a homogenizing influence on the American palate. With prepackaged
products, frozen food as well as numerous national fast food chains, mass
production deprived food of its regional characteristics and peculiarity, and
reduced the taste of food to the lowest denominator as embodied by the
food products at McDonalds.
However, since the 1980s, Americans began to manifest a particular
enthusiasm for food with vibrant and pronounced flavors, and especially

223 Leslie Brenner acknowledged that on account of the lack of attention they
paid to their palates, most Americans still had a long way to go to achieve a
real understanding and appreciation of food, see Brenner, American Appetite,
251; Waverley Root and Richard Rochemont also talked about the lack of
attention to the intrinsic quality of food among Americans, see Waverley Root
and Richard Rochemont, Eating in America (New York: William Morrow
and Company, Inc., 1976), 47075.
224 Root and Rochemont, Eating in America, 911.
225 Harvey Levenstein, The American Response to Italian Food, 75.

106
spicy food. Their taste buds seemed to heat up all of a sudden, and Ameri-
cans began to consume more hot and spicy foods than ever before. Be-
tween 1980 and 1984, the American consumption of hot spices was 139.6
million pounds a year and it was a 45% increase from 10 years earlier.
This represented a major change in the American national taste pattern -
hot and spicy food has become part of the everyday American diet.226
A food journal named The Whole Chile Pepper came out in 1987, which
was devoted entirely to the introduction of spicy food.227 The increase in
the consumption of spicy food among Americans was to a large extent
influenced by regional and ethnic cooking. The L.A. Times reported on
the trend of eating hot and spicy food, bland may not be bad, but for
many it cant compete with the zesty foods dispensed by the citys ethnic
and regional restaurants.228 The food from Szechuan and Hunan were
by no means the first cuisines with conspicuous spicy elements Americans
were exposed to. Southwestern foodways, influenced by Mexican cooking,
have always been known for the frequent use of chilies, but they basically
remained regional phenomena in several states like Texas, Arizona and
New Mexico.229 Through the case study of Szechuan and Hunan cuisine, I
explore the American perception of richly spiced food, and see how Ameri-
cans comprehended and responded to the relatively unfamiliar tastes of
Szechuan and Hunan.
Apparently, it was the strong and rich flavors of the two regional cuisines
that appealed to American eaters. According to a review of Szechuan Palace
in Gourmet Magazine, the dish that won the most commendation from cus-
tomers was catfish with garlic, which was smothered with a colorful and
spicy gingery sauce composed of many minced vegetables celery, scallion,
and red chilies among them- and garnished with huge garlic cloves steamed
to softness and rectangles of deep-fried bean curd.230 It was the aggres-
sively spicy food that aroused the interest of the American diners. Another

226 Nancy Backas, Some Like It Hot & Spicy, Restaurant & Institutions,
November 13, 1985, Culinary Arts Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.
227 Daniel P. Puzo, Hot New Magazine Devoted to Spicy Cuisine Suits Taste of
Aficionados, Los Angeles Times, September 28, 1989.
228 Barbara Hansen, Hot and Spicy, Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1986.
229 Root and Rochemont, Eating in America, 27879.
230 Caroline Bates, Szechwan Palace, Gourmet, May 1980.

107
writer commented on the food in Pengs Hunan, the best to my taste are
aromatic beef (which is marinated with no fewer than eighteen spices in a
blend of vinegar, wine, and soy sauce, then simmered with herbs, drained,
and chilled).231 Spiciness was definitely a selling point rather than a
setback for the acceptance of the two distinctive cuisines. One restaurant
review stated, Red chili peppers, peppercorns and red chili oil produced
in the fertile Sichuan basin add a distinctive flavor to the colorful dishes
prepared by the restaurant chefs.232 When James Beard, one of the most
influential figures in the American gastronomic world, described his din-
ing experience in Henry Chungs Hunan Restaurant in San Francisco, he
recalled we had a spicy chicken with a hint of curry, a magnificent pork
dish with hot overtones and deliciously crisp vegetables, a dish made with
smoked ham in which the smokiness permeated the hot Hunanese saucing
in a most exciting way233 Almost everything he tasted had a touch of
heat. His writing betrayed Americans fascination with exotic and fiery
flavors. Food writers exhibited no hesitation in trying food with authen-
tic vibrant flavors. A writer described his dining experience in Shun Lee
Palace, a renowned restaurant specializing in Szechuan food: I asked for
Szechuan Beef, demanding that it be cooked in Chef Wangs most sincere
manner, with no cowardly compromise.234 It seemed that Americans diners
were eager and ready to try bolder and spicier food. In introducing Hunan
dishes, another food writer associated tasting spicy food with bravery, and
encouraged readers to try it: Try using only one chili in the beginning, or
use a slightly milder variety. Youll get the essence of the dish, and your
palate may be braver the next time.235
Through the representation of Sichuan and Hunan food in mainstream
American media, we can see the American perception of food of unfamiliar
and unexpected tastes has changed. Newspapers and magazines encouraged
Americans to try dishes with more unconventional and exciting flavors

231 Jay Jacobs, Pengs, Gourmet, August, 1977.


232 Andrea Troutman, Spicy and Mild Chinese Dishes Served Daily at Camarillo
Restaurant, Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1983.
233 James Beard and Jose Wilson, Beard on Food: Henrys San Francisco Treat
Smoked Ham Hocks, Hunan Style, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 1979.
234 Spitzer, Farewell Cantonese, Hello Szechuan.
235 Betsy Balsley, Steamed & Spicy, Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1984.

108
rather than stay with the flavors they were comfortable and familiar with.
Bland tastes were on their way to becoming part of the American culinary
past. It seemed that Americans were getting bored of the insipid and flavor-
less food that used to fit their Anglo-American palates so well. One article in
L.A. Times said hot and spicy sauces are a sure cure for one thing: bland
and boring food.236 The American palate was evolving and expanding in
the new age. And culinary sophistication was not only boasted by a small
number of gourmets and culinary elites, but also now reached the general
public. Culinary conservatism no longer held sway; instead, culinary ad-
venturism gathered its momentum. As Americans frequently dined out and
sought new taste sensations and culinary adventures, their taste boundaries
were constantly expanding.
Although mass production ravaged and dulled the American palate with
standardized and banal food products, the influence of regional and foreign
cuisines served as a counterforce. They awakened and sophisticated the
palates of mainstream Americans. Americans went a long way from frown-
ing upon the zestfully spiced Italian food at the turn of the 20th century to
embracing the intense and strong notes in Szechuan and Hunan cuisine.237
In the terms of eating, Americans seemed to turn against their Puritan tradi-
tion and undo the legacy of the scientific food movement.
The American fascination with intense and spicy flavors seemed to be
more than a passing fad since it didnt abate over the years. As Americans
dined out more often, they had more opportunities to get to know cuisines of
bold flavors. Following spicy Szechuan and Hunan, fiery Thai, hot Korean,
Indonesian and Indian cooking successively gained a foothold in the Ameri-
can food market. Since the early 1980s, mass-produced Mexican food also
made its way into the mainstream American eating. As these foreign influenc-
es sophisticated the American palate, the flavors of hot and spicy gradually
gained mainstream acceptance. KFC and McDonalds even launched their
spicy versions of chicken wings and sandwiches respectively; salsa outsold

236 Barbara Gibbons, Hot, Spicy Sauces a Sure Cure for Boredom Brought on
by Bland Foods, Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1985.
237 On the change of the American perception of Italian food, see Levenstein,
The American Response to Italian Food.

109
ketchup.238 San Francisco Chronicle went on to assert in 2006: If people re-
ally are what they eat, we are becoming a nation of hotties.239 The spectrum
of the American palate was obviously widening. In 2010, a food magazine
article titled Exotic Flavors Go Mainstream claimed that products that
were edgy and exotic only a few years ago are being assimilated into the
American palate.240 The change of the American palate manifested the
great influence exerted by ethnic food on the mainstream eating. Harvey
Levensteins statement of American tastes in food have remained resolutely
Anglo-Saxon241 no longer held water in the new age Americans not only
incorporated new ingredients, foreign cooking methods into their diet, their
very Anglo-American palate has also underwent fundamental change.
The growing interest of Americans in food of strong, spicy and zesty
flavors could be seen as a rebellion against their banal and insipid daily fare,
which consisted of many mass-produced food products. Sensing their tastes
were deteriorating through consuming bland food products churned out
by giant food corporations, Americans were going extreme and embracing
sharp, vibrant and complex tastes as they rediscovered their palates.
Van den Berghe said, as an outsider consuming an exotic cuisine, one
is literally taking in the foreign culture.242 Then what did Americans
take in from Szechuan and Hunan cuisine. A and what did the words
Szechuan and Hunan imply to Americans when they ate or thought
of the food from the two regions?
Id like to borrow the concept of culinary tourism from Lucy Long to
analyze the consumption of these two particular regional Chinese cuisines.

238 Salsa Outsells Ketchup as American Tastes Change, Associate Press, Oc-
tober 17, 2013. http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2013/10/17/changing-face-
america-is-influencing-our-taste-buds-one-tortilla-chip-at-time/.
239 Stacy Finz, Americas Mean Cuisine: More Like It Hot/ From Junk Food to
Ethnic Dishes, Spicy Flavors are the Rage, San Francisco Chronicle, April
16, 2006.
240 Matthew Reynolds, Exotic Flavors Go Mainstream, Baking Management
14.1, January 1, 2010.
241 Levenstein, The American Response to Italian Food.
242 Pierre L. Van den Berghe, Ethnic Cuisine: Culture in Nature, Ethnic and
Racial Studies 7, no. 3 (July 1984): 38797.

110
Long defined culinary tourism as the intentional, exploratory participa-
tion in the foodways of an other participation including the consumption,
preparation, and presentation of a food item, cuisine, meal system, or eat-
ing style considered to belong to a culinary system not ones own.243 She
argued that food can carry us into other realms of experience, allowing
us to be tourists while staying at home. Restaurant, cookbooks, televised
cooking shows, food magazines, and the recipe sections of local and national
newspapers enable us to experience vicariously the cuisines and foodways of
others.244 Employed as a vehicle, food can transport people to other places.
It was the food from Hunan and Szechuan that incited American curiosity
of the two regions that most had never been to or probably had never heard
of before. Representation of the two regional foods in mass media enabled
Americans to be culinary tourists without having to leave home, and gave
them access to foreign cultural spaces and let them mentally experience
these exotic places. For those interested in the food, cookbooks played an
important role in providing further information about Szechuan and Hunan.
In one cookbook the authors introduce Szechuan and its lifestyle:
Szechwan is a special province of gourmets; isolated deep in the heart of China, it
is a prosperous province whose rich agriculture was undisturbed by the political
upheavals of the coast. As a girl, Mrs. Chiang heard about floods and famines
elsewhere in China, but they never disturbed her familys placid life in the fertile
countryside outside of Chengdu.
Our life revolved around my mothers kitchen, she recalls. She cooked all our
meals on a big, wood-burning brick stove that practically filled the kitchen. My
brothers and sisters and I would run in and snatch a piece of fruit or a bit of salted
vegetable to eat on the way to school. We spent rainy days around the stove, making
lollipops or frying glutinous rice until it popped like popcorn . . .245

This description depicts a serene, primitive and pastoral life, which formed
a sharp contrast to the bustling urban life that most of the readers were
leading. Such representation constructed a cultural Otherness and opened

243 Lucy M. Long, Culinary Tourism: A Folkloristic Perspective on Eating and


Otherness, in Culinary Tourism, ed. Lucy M. Long (Kentucky: University
Press of Kentucky, 2004), 21.
244 Lucy M. Long, Introduction to Culinary Tourism, 1.
245 Ellen Schrecker and John Schrecker, Mrs. Chiangs Szechwan Cookbook
(New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 45.

111
a different cultural world for the American readers to explore. In Henry
Chungs Hunan Style Chinese Cookbook, the author interspersed recipes
with legends and customs of Hunan. The author stated that Hunan is a won-
derland with many legendary stories. He gave the audience a few examples:
A Kung Fu master can knock a man unconscious or paralyze him just by tapping on
certain blood vessels with his fingertips, and he is the only one capable of reviving
the victim. A snake caller can call all the snakes, large and small, in an area to a
designated spot and send them back when desired.246

By portraying the mysterious and inscrutable side of Hunan, the author cre-
ated a fantasy cultural space that was totally exotic and unfamiliar to most
Americans. It was such unknown, strange and novel cultural spheres that
the culinary tourists were eager to visit. Serving as the cultural Other, the
cuisines of Hunan and Szechuan offered Americans a chance to break from
their daily routine and experience other cultural worlds. Cultural informa-
tion about the two regions, which was provided by mass media like food
magazines and cookbooks, fostered a cultural imagination of Szechuan and
Hunan among American readers in spite of the remote physical distance.
Through food consumption and cultural imagination, connections (no mat-
ter how superficial they were) were established between consumers and the
cultural origins of the cuisines, between the local and global.
The trend of highlighting distinctions between different types of regional
cooking within one ethnic cuisine instead of perceiving one ethnic cuisine as
an indiscriminate whole was not limited to Chinese cuisine. The same can be
said about Italian cuisine in almost the same time period. Since the 1970s,
the discourse of Italian food in American media began to attach importance
to its regional distinction: The field reportagesof Travel Holiday and
The New York Times Magazine examined the culinary systems of different
sub-regions of Italy, connecting the origin of foods with the natural resources,
microclimate, material culture and history of the areas in question.247 The
regional cuisines of Tuscany, Valle dAosta and the town of Merano were
given special attention.248 It was those specific locations that served as cultural

246 Henry W. S. Chung, Henry Chungs Hunan Style Chinese Cookbook (New
York: Harmony Books, 1978), 1.
247 Simone Cinotto, Now Thats Italian! 18.
248 Ibid., 17.

112
alternatives in the American imagination. Tuscany was often conceived as an
idyllic escape and a site of anticipated pleasures in America.249 Thanks to the
existence of ethnic restaurants, cookbooks and other forms of mass media
on ethnic cuisines, Americans were capable of conducting a culinary and cul-
tural tour around the world without leaving their home. Thus, they explored
different imaginative cultural spheres. The popular saying - the world is
on a plate- was a good manifestation of this inclination. By eating food of
others and establishing imaginative contacts with various geographical and
cultural Others like Hunan or Tuscans, Americans displayed their worldli-
ness and competence of comprehending and dealing with cultural diversity.
Their desire of performing a cosmopolitan cultural identity was betrayed.
In a certain sense, the exploration of the Other is also an exploration of
the self. The act of exploring the global through food helped Americans
establish a cosmopolitan cultural status. Based on the food literature that
often placed emphasis on the cultural otherness and exoticism of ethnic
cuisine, I would like to argue that the tendency of detecting regional nuances
within a particular ethnic cuisine among Americans was more about an
expression of their cultural sophistication and cosmopolitan identity than
a desire of actually being engaged in a particular regional culture.
The introduction and reception of Chinese cuisine after 1965 manifested
new characteristics. Unlike the earlier humble Cantonese American food
which was brought into the U.S. by lower-class immigrants, Hong Kong
cuisine that came with the relatively affluent Hong Kong immigrants won
a higher culinary status in the U.S., and became one of the most popular
Chinese regional cuisines. As previously demonstrated, the special identity
of Hong Kong, its unique regional culinary culture as well as the high socio-
economic status of Hong Kong restaurateurs all contributed to the prosperity
of Hong Kong food in America. No longer completely conforming to Anglo-
American eating preferences, ethnic cuisines in the new era were also influenc-
ing American eating and American culinary culture. Hunan and Szechuan
cooking together with Mexican and other ethnic cuisines of strong flavors
have shaped and are still shaping the American palate. Through eating and

249 Ibid., 17.

113
experiencing culinary and cultural Others, Americans attempted to perform
a cosmopolitan identity and exhibit their cultural sophistication.
Although ethnic and foreign cuisines were received with unprecedented
tolerance and appreciation by American society after 1965, it doesnt mean
ethnic foods were free from cultural assimilation. The homogenizing forces
of American society were still shaping ethnic foods, which was best mani-
fested through the emergence and development of ethnic fast food.

3.2Americanized Panda - The Rise of Chinese Fast


Food Chains
Located in central downtown L.A., Los Angeles Public Library is like Shan-
gri-La for people who want some peace of mind. The quietness inside the
library forms a sharp contrast to the bustling world outside filled with roars
of endless cars. At twelve a.m., the readers who have spent an entire morn-
ing studying in the library temporarily put aside their thirst for knowledge
and give priority to their hunger for food. Luckily for them, there is a little
food court in the corner of the ground floor. There are only two options for
diners. One of them is a small counter selling salad bowls and sandwiches.
But business here seems really dull compared with the long line surrounding
the other counter. With the Latino counterman shouting kung pao chicken
and Beijing beef to his co-workers back in the kitchen as well as the con-
spicuous business logo of a giant panda, it is not hard to tell that Chinese
food is served. As the largest national Chinese fast food chain, the ubiquitous
presence of Panda Express in the American urban landscape is quite impres-
sive. Besides in the Los Angeles Public Library, this Panda logo can be found
almost everywhere within urban America, from the fancy shopping mall Nor-
dstrom in downtown San Francisco and to the beautiful campus of UCLA
to JFK international airport. Scattered throughout the U. S., Panda Express
is by no means the only player of this game. Chinese fast food restaurants
mushroomed since the 1980s such as Quick Wok, Oriental Express, and
Mark Pi have all rapidly made their presence felt since the 1980s. Chinese
fast food chains became a part of the American fast food landscape.
Whereas the great enrichment and diversification of Chinese food after
the 1960s signified the culinary democratization and cultural tolerance
of American society, the emergence of Chinese fast food chains showed

114
a different side of the story. It demonstrated the impact of Americaniza-
tion on ethnic foodscapes. This section focuses on the emergence and
development of Chinese fast food restaurants. It explores whether the
development of the ethnic fast food industry suggests the democratiza-
tion of American food culture in the sense that all ethnic culinary cultures
could be accepted and tolerated, or whether it indicates that ethnic foods
and ethnic enterprises are still under the influence and shaped by the
dominant Anglo-American culture. This part revolves around the issue
how Chinese food, which boasts a long history and is heavily loaded with
cultural meanings, adjusted itself to mass-produced, quick-setting concept
in order to enter the American fast food market. It examines the earliest
attempts of non-Chinese and Chinese entrepreneurs in adapting Chinese
food to fit the American fast food pattern. A detailed study is conducted
on one of the most successful Chinese fast food chains Panda Express
through which I seek to investigate what specific changes Chinese cook-
ing underwent in fitting into the fast food category and what were the
agents of the cultural, culinary and economic adaptations. I also explore
the significance of ethnicity in fast food restaurants, and see if the ethnic
capital possessed by the Chinese restaurateurs contributed to the success
of Panda Express. I further examine to what extent Panda Express was
Americanized and to what extent it was committed to Chinese ethnic
heritage.
The advent of fast food is usually seen as a quintessential American phe-
nomenon. Furthermore, the international spread of franchised foods is re-
garded as worldwide Americanization.250 The fast food industry seemed to
serve the American obsession with time and labor-saving perfectly well
with its lightning-fast service, drive-in convenience, and the economies of
mass production techniques.251 Fast food also exerted a huge influence in
shaping American modern life. Eric Schlosser writes in the beginning of
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, the fast food

250 Belasco, Ethnic Fast Foods, 1. Although fast food might have existed for
centuries in the world, here I am talking about mass-produced fast food in
industrialized societies.
251 Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 22728.

115
industry has helped to transform not only the American diet, but also our
landscape, economy, workforce, and popular culture.252 The coming of
the fast food era was signified by the rise of the McDonalds Corporation
in the 1960s.253 This gave birth to new forms of restaurants. The new forms
of restaurants are featured by tasty and inexpensive food, quick service and
clean environments with numerous identical chains or franchised outlets
sharing one brand name. Within the restaurant industry, the mode of Mc-
Donalds was contagious. Many enterprises adopted its business strategies
and underwent McDonaldization.254 Both food and dining environments
in such restaurants was standardized to maintain consistency for the purpose
of mass marketing. In this way, standardization and mechanization endan-
gered the diversity of American culinary culture. In addition, influenced by
McDonalds mode, independent businesses had a strong tendency to expand
and to go corporate by setting up chains. Thus, the corporate form domi-
nated the fast food restaurant industry and made independent businesses
vulnerable in front of competition from big corporations. McDonaldization,
as an embodiment of American capitalism, has had a homogenizing impact
on American eating and life.
The fast food industry also expanded its sphere of influence to reach
ethnic food. Riding on the ethnic food boom in the 1970s, different ethnic
cuisines presented their own versions of fast food in the market. The emer-
gence of ethnic fast food, at first, seemed like a paradox. The ethnic food
boom in the 1970s was closely related to the movement of ethnic revival,
in which ethnicity, or more specifically ethnic particularism, was recognized

252 Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
(Boston, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001), 3.
253 Although there were other fast food chains long before the 1960s, it was the
rise of McDonalds that marked a new era.
254 McDonaldization refers to the diffusion of a paradigm in the business world
or other institutions that based on the McDonalds model, which highly values
standardized products and efficiency. As a form of rationalization, it asserts
the progressive sway of rationalized structural constraints over agents, espe-
cially in the sphere of consumption. As McDonalds is often seen as a symbol
of America and American cultural imperialism, McDonaldization is usually
associated with Americanization and sometimes even deemed as a subset
of Americanization. See Ritzer and Stillman, Assessing McDonaldization,
3048.

116
and celebrated.255 During the 1960s and 1970s, America was engaged in
many serious social issues: civil rights, the Vietnam War and environmental
crises, etc. Under these circumstances, a countercultural movement gathered
momentum. Cultural rebels held an anti-authoritarian, rebellious attitude
towards the establishment and mainstream culture. They advocated cultural
pluralism and gave increasing attention to ethnic cultures that often had
connotations of tradition and authenticity. When it came to the culinary
world, they called for decentralized food production rather than a mono-
lithic one dominated by conglomerates. They strongly rejected industrial
food producers such as McDonalds, Pillsburys and General Foods.256 And
they resorted to countercuisine as a way to resist mainstream foodways and
challenge the corporate culinary hegemony embodied by mass production.257
Repelled by processed food manufactured by large food corporations, these
people wanted to make their own choice about what they ate. Ethnic food
served as an alternative for people who disapproved of mainstream Anglo-
American bourgeoisie food culture. The consumption of ethnic food had
a close association with the countercultural sentiments of the era. Often
associated with tradition, authenticity and rootedness, ethnic food provided
American consumers with a mental cure for the ailments of modern society,
as characterized by rushed and rootless living conditions as well as human
alienation.258 Dining in ethnic restaurants offered American consumers a
culinary adventure, and gave them a chance to embrace culinary diversity.
However, although fed up with mass-produced, processed food, modern
consumers seemed reluctant to relinquish the convenience and efficiency
brought by modern food-processing technologies and couldnt completely

255 The decade from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies is viewed as the era
of modern ethnic revival or the ethnic renaissance as it witnessed an
upsurge in ethnicity mainly in the West. In this time period, Western Europe
and North America made great progress in integrating indigenous and/ or
immigrant minorities into the mainstream sociocultural identities. See Joshua
A. Fishman, eds., The Rise and Fall of the Ethnic Revival (Berlin: Mouton
Publishers, 1985); Anthony D. Smith, The Ethnic Revival (Cambridge and
London: Cambridge University Press, 1981).
256 Belasco, Ethnic Fast Foods, 34.
257 On the rise and fall of countercuisine and its relationship to the countercul-
tural movements, see Belasco, Appetite for Change.
258 Ibid., 89.

117
resist the temptation of fast food. Besides that, in the 1980s, the counter-
cultural movement began to lose momentum and became less influential
than it was in the 1960s. Although people still equated ethnic foods with
health, craftsmanship, and authenticity, they also valued high-tech ap-
pliance and time-saving services.259 In addition, neophobia and cultural
conservatism still played a part in the food choices of people.260 Although
most Americans were tired of the culinary monotony created by giant food
producers and quite open to eating different things, they were still hesitant
to try things absolutely everything new and strange. Donna Gabaccia said
Human eating habits originated in a paradoxical, and perhaps universal,
tension between a preference for the culinarily familiar and the equally
human pursuit of pleasure in the forms of culinary novelty, creativity, and
variety.261 What most Americans desired was something exciting yet not
totally unfamiliar, something they could predict and feel safe with but was
not too mainstream. Ethnic fast food served the purpose quite well. With
predictable dishes and uniform settings under each brand name, ethnic fast
food restaurants were the perfect place for mainstream customers to savor
exotic food that was laden with ethnic cultural meanings and at the same
time enjoy the quick service and the comfortable dining environment.
Seeing how profitable the fast food market was and the growing popu-
larity of Chinese food, entrepreneurs began to adapt Chinese food to fit
the fast food model and developed Chinese fast food. Both Chinese and
non-Chinese entrepreneurs joined the game, and they all wanted a piece of
the action. In Ethnic Fast Foods: The Corporate Melting Pot, Belasco as-
serted that the emergence of ethnic fast food was the depressing evidence
of corporate conglomeration and cultural homogenization rather than
another step toward the pluralistic ideal of America in which all subcul-
tures would enjoy equal access and mutual tolerance.262 Belascos words

259 Ibid., 8.
260 Peter Farb and George Armelagos assumed that neophobia might have played
a role in the rapid expansion of fast food restaurants with their fixed and
limited menus, which manifested peoples desire for familiarity. See Peter Farb
and George Armelagos, Consuming Passions: The Anthropology of Eating
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980), 191.
261 Gabaccia, We Are What We Eat, 6.
262 Ibid., 23.

118
were true in a certain sense - when ethnic foods adapted to the American
fast food industrys huge corporate melting pot, they usually suffered a
loss of their ethnic idiosyncrasies to a certain extent. But the question is
to what extent it sacrificed its ethnic heritage and to what extent it main-
tained and preserved its ethnic traditions? Was there a distinction between
Chinese-owned chains and those owned by non-Chinese businessmen or
American conglomerates in the strategies of adapting Chinese food to the
American fast food market?
Compared to other ethnic fast food restaurants, Chinese fast food chains
were relatively underrepresented in the American market at the beginning.
Interestingly, most of the earlier attempts at fabricating Chinese fast food
were actually made by non-Chinese entrepreneurs.263 Since the beginning
of the 1980s, a number of entrepreneurs joined in the game and a host of
Chinese fast food restaurants were established. Quik Wok was one of the
first. The first Quik Wok was opened in southwest Texas in 1980. Connie
Andrews, the founder of Quik Wok, had no previous experience cooking
Chinese food. I had never cooked Chinese food on a Chinese stove until
the first customer put in the first order, said Andrews.264 The menu was
based on the luncheon buffet at Golden Wok, Andrews first full-service
restaurant that was opened before Quik Wok. Most of the dishes on the
menu were traditional Cantonese American fare, such as egg roll, chop
suey, sweet and sour pork. Andrews insisted on fresh ingredients, so
production costs were relatively high, which made the operational control
tough and the profit low. She also added drive-thru and take-out services

263 As a matter of fact, Chinese fast food existed in America long before the
emergence of Chinese fast food chains that were built on the McDonalds
model. Numerous small Chinese take-out restaurants were the earliest produc-
ers of Chinese fast food. Most of them were hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop
restaurants or deli stores owned by Chinese. Using the methods of reheating
and stir-frying, they managed to get dishes prepared in minutes, but they
were nothing like the expresses in the 1980s from the food to the dining
environment.
264 Andrews cooking career started with making egg rolls in her home kitchen
with the help of a cookbook. She later hired a Chinese cook as vice president
to make up for her incapability of cooking Chinese food. See Mark Schoifet,
McDonaldizing Chinese Cuisine; Andrews and Quik Wok: Genesis of a
Fast Feeder, Nations Restaurant News, August 5, 1983, 3.

119
at her chains. Within four years, Quik Wok grew to nine outlets and had
more than $4 million in sales.265 Ohio-based Charlie Chan was another
predecessor of Chinese fast food chains. Owned by Rudy and Jane Krie-
bel, the chain served highly Americanized, old-fashioned Chinese dishes,
such as deep-fried shrimp egg roll, deep-fried chicken and fish and fried
rice. Some items were actually just American dishes with Asian sauces. In
Charlie Chan, food was prepared in a central kitchen elsewhere, frozen, and
then shipped to the point of sale. Local restaurants only needed to thaw,
fry and mix the sauces.266 Charlie Chan seemed to be doing pretty well at
the beginning and expanded to a 43-outlet chain. Although most of these
restaurants were small start-up chains serving a particular region, some of
them had an ambitious business agenda: they wanted to replicate McDon-
alds success and turn themselves into a national chain. Nankin Express,
headquartered in Minneapolis, was such an enterprise. It had an aspiration
to go nationwide. In order to grow into a national brand, the first problem
the chain had to address was how to streamline cooking procedures. Nan-
kin Express standardized Chinese cooking using a self-invented four-step
process including the fresh vegetable component, the cut meat component,
and the spice and the sauce components. Its food technician, Craig Schow-
alter, said that 80 percent of all Chinese recipes could be adapted to this
process. By September 1985, Nankin Express grew into a six-outlet chain
operating with total annual sales of more than $1 million.267
However, the earliest attempts were not the most successful ones. Very
few of them succeed in expanding nationwide. Some start-up chains fell by
the roadside, such as Charlie Chan, which filed for protection from creditors

265 Quik Wok; Oriental chain Stirs Notoriety with New Parent, Restaurant
Business, October 10, 1985, 194; Albert C. Lasher, Chinese Fast Food Sets
Pace; Nutrition, Low Calories Make Takeout a Growing Segment, Nations
Restaurant News, September 16, 1985, F9.
266 Emily Stehle, Charlie Chan Restaurant Open; It Serves up Chinese food
fast, St. Petersburg Times, December 27, 1980, accessed May 13, 2013,
http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=888&dat=19801227&id=am5QA
AAAIBAJ&sjid=NVoDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5563,2772891.
267 Fast-food Chinese Chains Join Mom-and-Pop Establishments, Lawrence
Journal-World, January 27, 1985, accessed May 13, 2013, http://news.google.
com/newspapers?nid=2199&dat=19850127&id=MjwyAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Ge
UFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6643,5174496; Lasher, Chinese Fast Food Sets Pace.

120
under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code.268 Conglomerates
through acquisition either purchase a few of them or they gave franchising
rights to large food corporations.269 Pillsbury purchased Quik Wok in 1985.
General Mills announced the purchase of Leann Chins, a four-unit chain in
Minneapolis.270 Nankin Express sold its franchising right for outlets east of
the Mississippi to International Multifoods. The failure of these small fast
food chains in going nationwide showed the disadvantage and vulnerability
of individual start-up chains. They were less competitive compared with the
conglomerates that were equipped with sophisticated distribution systems
and adequate promotional budgets. Managerial problems aside, food qual-
ity was another issue that impeded the subsequent development of these
chains. Most of them didnt do a good job at controlling food quality on a
mass-marketed basis. Prudential-Bache analyst Michael Culp described the
food served in a handful of publicly traded Oriental chains as atrocious
fare consisting of soggy, overcooked rice and greasy egg rolls.271 Even
after acquisition, these fast food brands didnt develop very well. Some
time later, General Mills Restaurant Group decided to sell its Leann Chin
concept; Pillsbury closed nine of its Quik Wok units.272 These conglomerates

268 The management of Charlie Chan claimed that the major problem of the
company was quality control. See Fast-food Chinese Chains Join Mom-and-
Pop Establishments.
269 Facing the obstacle of further expansion with their current brand products,
food conglomerates turned their eyes to small, local ethnic food enterprises
and made them their targets of acquisition. Ethnic food market underwent
conglomeration in the 1980s. See Belasco, Ethnic Fast Foods, 112.
270 Lasher, Chinese Fast Food Sets Pace; Nutrition. Before the acquisition,
Leann Chins was among the earliest private Chinese-owned food chains that
made a great effort in order to expand into the fast food business. In the
early 1980s, most of the other Chinese-owned restaurant chains were more
enthusiastic about developing their full-service than fast food chains probably
because of the lack of a systematic method in mass-producing Chinese dishes
and ensuring the food quality and efficiency at the time. Ohio-based Mark Pi
International was one such example. See Jacque Kochak, Oriental: Market
Segment Report, Restaurant Business, March 1, 1988, 177.
271 Mark Schoifet, Chinese Food Luring Chains; Wide-open Segment Ripe for
Expansion, Nations Restaurant News, Jane 17, 1985, 1.
272 Jacque Kochak, Oriental: Market Segment Report, Restaurant Business,
March 1, 1988, 177.

121
were not interested in developing new products within their Chinese units.
The enormous distribution and promotion powers of big corporations
worked more to control competition than to encourage innovation.273
Relying only on the innovation of market strategies rather than the crea-
tion of new food products,274 conglomerates Chinese food units gradually
fell into oblivion.
The most successful Chinese fast food chain in this period was Chinese-
owned Panda Express. Based in South Pasadena, California, Panda Express
was one of the few Chinese fast food chains that went national. Its first
outlet opened in 1983 and was located in the Glendale Galleria in Califor-
nia. Ten years later, it expanded into a 100-outlet chain. Most of the outlets
were located in areas with a quick passenger flow, such as food courts in
shopping malls, supermarkets, university campuses and airports. Freestand-
ing and drive-through units were also built. In 2011, Panda boasted 1,551
restaurants across 45 states and also had international locations in Mexico
and Korea.275 The founder-CEO Andrew Cherng was born in Jiangsu Prov-
ince, China. His father, Ming-Tsai Cherng, was a master chef. Andrew came
to the U.S. in 1966 to attend university. After getting his bachelors degree
from Baker University and masters from the University of Missouri, he got
into the restaurant business. His first restaurant was full-service and called
Panda Inn. As a new immigrant entrepreneur, he had great enthusiasm in
introducing new regional cuisines like Mandarin and Szechuan and break-
ing the chop suey monotony of that era. With this spirit, he capitalized
on the ethnic fast food boom, and ushered in a new age of Chinese fast
food. Panda Management Company President and COO Joseph Micatrotto
believed that the dinner-house origin of Panda Management was a major
advantage in the evolution of Panda Express. He said the Panda Inn origin
provided a solid ground and tradition for the Mandarin and Szechwan

273 Belasco, Ethnic Fast Foods, 14.


274 Pillsbury chose seven Quik Wok outlets to be the test stores for its take-out
and home-delivery service. See Martin Richard, Quik Wok Tests Take-out
and Delivery, Nations Restaurant News, October 27, 1986, 1.
275 Panda Express Website, accessed Jane 19, 2013, http://www.pandaexpress.
com/locations/#!/current-locations.

122
cooking in Panda Express, and instilled quality in its fast-food format.276
At that time, most Chinese fast food restaurants served Americanized Can-
tonese dishes like egg roll and fried won ton. Panda Express was among the
first that brought Mandarin and Szechuan food into the realm of fast food
restaurants. Cherng could be seen as a rebel and innovator for he presented
a new type of Chinese fast food to Americans. Rather than homogenize
his cuisine for less sophisticated palates, he offered gourmet-style Chinese
food that would retain its flavor on the steaming trays.277 Cherng not only
introduced more regional flavors, but also presented a whole new image
of Chinese fast food restaurants to American customers. The great success
of Panda Express provided a role model for other Chinese fast food estab-
lishments. However, the issue left to be explored is the way in which he
created the new image and how he adapted Chinese cuisine, a cuisine with
thousands years of history, to fast food, a concept which originated in and
is often associated with the American industrial society.
First of all, I would like to take a look at the logo of Panda Express and
try to figure out the cultural messages it conveys to American consumers. In
the logos center, there is a chubby black and white lumbering panda bear.
The black and white panda contrasts with a red background with the text
PANDA EXPRESS and GOURMET CHINESE FOOD. The panda
image was borrowed from Cherngs full-service restaurant Panda Inn. The
reason why he settled on the panda is that the panda bear engendered much
publicity in the wake of Nixons visit to China.278 First of all, as one of the
few animals exclusively associated with China, the image of a panda serves
the role of representing Chinese ethnic and Szechuan regional identity, a
role it performs well. Secondly, the early 1980s was still the Cold War era,
during which Red China was perceived as a major enemy of America and
an important force of the monolithic Communist World, especially after the
Korean War. Although Nixons visit to China in 1972 and the normalization

276 Charles Bernstein, Micatrottos Dream: Panda Express in 50 States, Res-


taurants & Institutions, March 1, 1994, 20.
277 Steve Hirano, Fast-Food, August 17, 1993, 4749, 8283. Asian Interest
Vertical File: Asian Americans in Business- Entrepreneurs, San Francisco Public
Library Chinatown Branch.
278 Ibid.

123
of Sino-U.S. relations in 1979 eroded the image of China as an enemy and the
American perception of China was gradually shifted from hostile to benevo-
lent, as long as ideological difference existed, political and social prejudice
would not vanish. In the eyes of Americans, China remained an authoritarian
political regime that posed a threat to the American democracy. In order to
relieve the hard feelings of Americans toward China, Cherng avoided using
any image that would exhibit the powerful and tough side of China and Chi-
nese culture. So, he went with a panda. The lovely, tame, harmless animal is
just the opposite side of the Chinese dragon, the traditional Chinese totem
usually used by Chinese people to represent their self-reliant and unyielding
national spirit. However, in the Cold War context, the traditional Chinese
cultural symbol with its menacing and intimidating connotations had to give
way to the cute, innocent panda bear in order to build a friendly image of
Chinese fast food restaurants. Thirdly, with a crawling panda in the center
and the capitalized bold characters PANDA EXPRESS above, the logo
seems to convey an ambitious message: we make the panda move as fast
as an express, which might have an implication that Chinese food is served
really fast here. Using the logo, Cherng tried to send American customers a
message that gourmet-style Chinese food can be served quickly in a friendly
and comfortable setting.
To analyze the modifications and alterations Chinese food made in fast
food restaurants, it is helpful to draw upon the framework set by Peter
Farb and George Armelagos in Consuming Passions: The Anthropology of
Eating on the four components that made up the so-called cuisine. They
argue that a cuisine has fours aspects: the very limited number of foods
selected from what the environment offers; the manner of preparation;
the societys traditional principle of flavoring staple foods; eating habits,
rituals, culinary beliefs, setting and table manners.279 Warren Belasco went
further to summarize the four components as staple foods, preparation
techniques, flavor principles and setting in analyzing and generalizing ethnic
corporate cuisine.280 Id like to emphasize changes in these four compo-
nents, and examine how Chinese cuisine changed in the American fast food
setting. I discuss the different eating habits and culinary practices between

279 Farb and Armelagos, Consuming Passions, 190.


280 Belasco, Ethnic Fast Foods, 15.

124
China and the U.S. as the cultural backgrounds of the culinary adaptation.
Id like to start from the primary component of a cuisine: the staple foods.

Staple Foods:
Known as the land of plenty, America boasts an abundance of edible
materials. This imparted American people the privilege of being selective in
eating, which made lean meat the main component of the American diet. The
situation in China is exactly the opposite. As a country with a very large and
ever increasing population and having been a vulnerable target for natural
disasters throughout history, China has always been a hungry nation.
As a result, ordinary Chinese people highly cherish foodstuffs and seldom
waste things that are edible, especially animal products, which used to be a
luxury food in China.
Chicken, duck, fish and pork are the most common meat in China, while
beef and mutton are not very common.281 Entrails of animals are also an
important part of Chinese eating. Liver was considered a good thing in
China long before people talked about vitaminsKidney, lungs, intestines,
tripe, when rightly prepared, are very good indeed.282 Although some sit-
down Chinese restaurants in America served entrails to satisfy Chinese con-
sumers, fast food restaurants like Panda Express, that targeted mainstream
diners, excluded these controversial foodstuffs from their menus. Chicken,
beef and shrimp is the new triad on the menu of Panda Express. Beef used
to be rarely eaten in China,283 so it was one of the few meats that Chinese
cooks were not so good at preparing. However, its preeminent status in
the American diet put it in the rank of Pandas entrees,284 where pork, the
chief meat source in China, was barely present. But the beef dishes in Panda
Express are more like steaks cut into small chunks than traditional Chinese
stir-fried beef, which is usually sliced paper-thin.
In fact, it was not meat but vegetables and starchy staples that made up
the bulk of the traditional Chinese diet. On account of the scarcity of meat

281 Chao, How to Cook and Eat in Chinese, 15.


282 Ibid., 16.
283 Anderson, The Food of China, 145.
284 Harvey Levenstein said beef enjoys a very important position in American
eating. See Harvey Levenstein, Revolution at the Table, 4.

125
in Chinese history, meat consumption per person was quite small except for
among the rich. Meat was often used only as flavoring for dishes rather than
the main ingredient.285 Vegetables, beans and grains provided most of the
nutrition. Chinese vegetarian cooking, shaped by Buddhism and Taoism, also
reinforced the importance of vegetables in Chinese cooking.286 In contrast to
China, America has a carnivorous tradition. American cuisine has tradition-
ally been centered on meat. Very few other societies in the world give such
prominence to meat as North Americans do, and far fewer regard meat as the
focus of the meal and the other dishes as peripheral.287 Taking this culinary
difference between the two nations into consideration, Chinese food needed
to shift from its original structure to fit the meat-based American eating
paradigm in order to be accepted by mainstream American customers. On
the menus of Panda Express, starchy staples and vegetable dishes were put
into the rank of sides, while almost all the entrees were meat-based. There
were only two vegetable dishes on the menus, and no exotic vegetables
could be found in the two dishes.
As for starchy staples, although rice, noodle and steamed buns (mantou)
are almost of equal status in China on the whole,288 the menus of Panda only
included steamed and fried rice and chow mein. It was because these items
were already familiar to most Americans since they were served in older
Cantonese restaurants. Even though there were a small number of dishes
that were invented in Panda Express, most of the entrees had been tested in
other Chinese sit-down restaurants at least a decade earlier, such as orange
chicken and broccoli beef. It was usually the widely accepted Chinese
dishes that were chosen and put on the menus of fast food restaurants.
Fast food restaurants were not places for culinary adventure. Instead, they
provided customers with a sense of security and familiarity. In analyzing
the charm of McDonalds, Gregory Hall asserted in The Psychology of
Fast Food Happiness that McDonalds offered people a sanctuary in which

285 Wonona W. et al., An Encyclopedia of Chinese Food and Cooking (New York:
Crown Publishers Incorporation, 1970), 1.
286 Stella Lau Fessler, Chinese Meatless Cooking (New York: New American
Library, 1980), 34.
287 Farb and Armelagos, Consuming Passions, 198.
288 There are regional differences. Generally speaking, people in the north part
of China prefer noodles and steamed buns, while those in the south like rice.

126
they could escape the stress of modern life in a world that is full of rapid
change and discontinuity.289 The same mentality also applies to other fast
food restaurants. People expected both culinary novelty and familiarity
from ethnic fast food restaurants. One of the charms of fast food restaurants
was their predictability. In order to minimize risks, fast food restaurateurs
had to make sure most of their dishes were already widely accepted and
nothing on the menu seemed strange to their customers. That was exactly
what Panda Express did. On the one hand, it tried to present the variety
of Chinese cuisine to American customers by incorporating Szechuan and
Mandarin flavors; while on the other, it gave customers a sense of familiarity
by serving time-tested popular dishes.
Since ancient times, healthy eating has been attached with great im-
portance in Chinese culture. Chinese people believe that to a large extent,
health depends on daily diet, and food has a therapeutic effect on human
body. Influenced by the traditional Chinese philosophy of yin and yang,290
Chinese people classified food as opposites cooling food which generates
cold energy in human body and has a chilling effect like tea, watermelon
and cucumber, and heating food which has a strengthening, tonic and body-
building function like ginger, lobster and mutton.291 Taking either too much
heating or cooling food into human body could cause disorder or sickness,

289 Gregory Hall, The Psychology of Fast Food Happiness, in Ronald Revisited:
The World of Ronald McDonald, ed. Marshall Fishwick (Bowling Green,
Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 1983), 81.
290 In Chinese philosophy, the cosmos can be divided into two aspects, the yin and
the yang. While yin represents the dark, passive, slow and cool aspect of the
cosmos, yang represents the bright, aggressive, fast and warm side. The two
seemingly opposite sides actually give rise to each other and complement one
other, like males and females. Many natural dualities can be perceived using
the yin and yang philosophy, such as life and death. The traditional Chinese
view of the universe heavily relies on the concept of yin and yang.
291 Cooling food is usually used to treat fever, rash, and sores and heating food is
used to treat pallor, weakness and diarrhea. There is actually also a neutral
category referring to balanced foods like starchy staples, which are neither
cooling nor heating. On Chinese traditional philosophies of food and
health, see Anderson, The Food of China, 18798; K. C. Chang, Food in
Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1977), 911.

127
so a harmonious balance needs to be kept through consuming appropriate
amounts of both. Different from China, in modern America the concerns
about healthy eating are manifested directly by peoples fascination with
nutrition data, such as the amount of calories, proteins or vitamins in a
dish. Thanks to the movements on healthy eating, all of sudden, America
was full of health-minded and calorie-conscious consumers.292 Counting
calories became a trend. Several years before California passed the law that
required restaurants to post calories on menus, Panda Express launched its
Wok Smart logo and menu. The Wok Smart logo identified 18 dishes from
the Panda menu that contained 250 calories or less per serving for the pur-
pose of highlighting more healthy options.293 Chinese fast food restaurants
adopted the approach of healthy eating used by Americans counting calo-
ries. There was no time in the speed-oriented fast food industry to meditate
on yin and yang philosophy or to distinguish the cooling from the heating
food. Although food calories were rarely calculated in restaurants back in
China, it was done in America. Quick service left little room for Chinese
eating philosophies to survive.

Preparation Techniques:
Although most American fast food restaurants obsession with speed and
consistency have made restaurant operators mechanize cooking processes
and abandon the use of traditional cooking methods in their kitchens,
Panda Express has continued to use the traditional Chinese cooking method
and vessel: stir-frying in a wok. The traditional Chinese cooking is a cook-
ing of scarcity.294 Being short of energy sources over a long time in history,
Chinese people made great efforts in maximizing the use of cooking utensils,
ingredients and creating cooking methods to save fuel. This made stir-frying

292 On the healthy eating movements in the U.S, see Harvey Levenstein, The
New England Kitchen and The Origins of Modern American Eating Hab-
its, American Quarterly, 32, no. 4 (1980): 369386; Levenstein, Paradox
of Plenty.
293 Jerry Hirsch, More Nutrition Data on the Menu; California Fast-food Res-
taurants Are Getting Ready to Comply with a State Law that Takes Effect
Jan. 1, 2011, Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2009, B2.
294 Anderson, The Food of China, 149.

128
one of the most important cooking methods.295 Capable of getting dishes
ready over high heat in a very short amount of time, stir-frying is a good
way to save energy. First, ingredients are cut into bite-size or smaller chunks
to increase the surface-to-volume ratio in order to save cooking time. A wok
is the indispensable utensil in stir-frying because the smooth curves of its
sides allows flame and heated air to rise rapidly and evenly, thus ensuring
quick and consistent cooking.296
Warren J. Belasco mentions four cooking methods which are frequently
used in American fast food restaurants: particulation, thawing, microwav-
ing, and deep fat frying.297 No particular skills are required from fast food
workers. Generally speaking, fast food restaurants rely more on modern
technologies and devices than on manual labor. For instance, in McDonalds
manual labor only involves thawing foods in microwaves and putting them
on grills. With the application of assembly line system, much work in the
fast food industry is controlled and done by machines rather than humans.
In many fast food restaurants, foods like burgers, French fries and meats
are frozen, and conveyer ovens or broilers are used to ensure the correct
amount of cooking time.298 Restaurant workers become thawer-outers299
rather than cooks. Although modern technologies relieve restaurant work-
ers from lots of drudgeries and heavy work, in mass-produced fast food
kitchens the food suffers a loss of human touch and becomes dehumanized.
In Panda Express, most of work is still left to the restaurant staff. A
large part of the cooking including chopping and stir-frying is conducted in
restaurant kitchens by manual labor. Since Chinese cooking requires fresh
ingredients and immediate consumption, the methods used by other fast
food restaurants such as reheating the precooked food are not applicable
in Chinese restaurants. A lot of manual work needs to be done in the cook-
ing process to ensure good look and good taste, which are the essence of
Chinese eating. After the dishes are done, they are held and displayed in a

295 Although boiling and steaming are also the basic techniques in Chinese cook-
ing, restaurants use stir-frying more often due to its advantage in time-saving.
296 Ibid., 151.
297 Belasco, Ethnic Fast Foods, 17.
298 Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, 6869.
299 Belasco, Ethnic Fast Foods, 18.

129
steam table to keep them warm and retain their fresh quality. Cherng, the
CEO of Panda Express, said that traditional Chinese cooking techniques
must be used. Western cooking methods couldnt be applied to cooking Chi-
nese; otherwise, Chinese food would lose its charm and Americans would
not dine at Panda Express. It was its Chineseness that attracted American
clientele.300 Chinese cooking can be quick or slow depending on the differ-
ent strategies adopted by cooks. Panda used stir-frying as its main cooking
method, which is not only the most timesaving technique but also unique to
China. Woks were also used in the kitchens of Panda Express because with
woks dishes could be made in a short amount of time over high heat, which
was able to serve food quickly. The use of stir-frying as cooking method and
woks as cooking utensil in Panda were not only culinary strategies, but also
cultural strategies. American customers expected cultural Otherness from
ethnic restaurants. If Chinese fast food restaurants also relied on commonly-
applied techniques like microwaving and deep-frying as McDonalds did,
Chinese food would either be reduced to a few simple and mediocre dishes
or lose its exoticism, ethnicity and attractiveness to American customers.
As one of the most important Chinese cooking methods, stir-frying was
preserved in fast cooking kitchen to present the ethnicity of Panda Express.
Although it was an act of commodification of cultural difference for
the consumption of mainstream consumers,301 aspects of Chinese cooking
traditions were retained in quick-service restaurants.
Although some traditional cooking methods were still used in Panda
Express, some particular practices couldnt be maintained. The charm of
Chinese cooking lies in its variety and flexibility. The experiences and actual
practice of individual cooks are essential to the quality of a dish. There is a

300 Annual Sales Revenue of Panda Express above 90 Million, accessed May 16,
2013, http://huashangbao.com/portal.php?mod=view&aid=766.
301 bell hooks used the term commodification of difference to analyze the
consumption of ethnicity among white American customers and the new
form of white cultural domination in contemporary American society. In my
case, the exploitation of the cultural features of their community in satisfying
American customers by Chinese entrepreneurs could also be seen as a form
of this concept. See bell hooks, Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance, in
Eating Culture, ed. Ron Scapp and Brian Seitz (Albany: State University of
New York Press, 1998), 181200.

130
Chinese saying: A thousand cooks have a thousand ways of cooking.302
The success of a dish depends very much on the cooks interpretation of a
particular recipe and his or her creative improvisation. During the process
of cooking, there is a lot of space for the cook to display his/her cooking
skills. Having in mind the final goal he/she wants to achieve, the cook has
everything at his/her disposal: he can raise the heat here, and lower the
heat there; he can add a dash of flavor here and a touch there; he can add a
mighty injection of taste, ingredient, or seasoning at the beginning, middle,
or towards the end.303 The entire cooking process is full of variables, and
it is those variables rather than mechanized operations that endow Chinese
cooking immense creativity and incomparable sophistication. However, fast
food kitchens have always valued standardization higher than individuali-
zation. Standard Operating Procedures were observed in Pandas kitchens,
from the selection of ingredients to the preparation of certain dishes. To
ensure consistent quality of each dish, cooks were required to use premix
sauces designed by a group of chefs instead of adding different seasonings in
an impromptu way.304 In this way, cooks were deprived of their spontaneity
and creativity, which was against the rules of traditional Chinese cooking.
What they needed to do was just strictly follow the predesigned procedures.
The emphasis on consistency and standardization turned cooks into mere
workers rather than artisans. Everything would fall into place as long as
they followed the cooking protocols. That was probably the reason why
Panda Express hired so many non-Chinese people without previous experi-
ence of cooking Chinese. Flexibility and subtlety, the traditional cultural
characteristics of Chinese cooking, were lost in industrialized American
fast food kitchens.

Flavor:
Catering to American taste is the most distinct characteristic of Panda Ex-
press. Targeting mainstream American consumers, Panda did everything

302 Zhao, An Introduction to Chinese Dining Culture, 2021.


303 Kenneth Lo, The Encyclopedia of Chinese Cooking (New York: Bristol Books,
1990), 9.
304 The Secret of Panda Express Growth, accessed August 21, 2013, http://
www.ccas.com.cn/Article/HTML/14521_2.html.

131
to please their palates. Although America never had just one cuisine but
instead many regional and ethnic cuisines, American people had their own
preferences in terms of flavor. Most noticeably, due to their British culinary
heritage, Americans inherited sweet tooth. The sugar consumed by inhabit-
ants of the United States is almost twice as much as in France and it perme-
ates a considerable part of American cooking.305 Americans not only used
sweet or sweet and sour condiments as accompaniments for meat, but also
added sugar in many vegetables during cooking. As a result, American cui-
sine relied more on sweetness than any other major cuisine in the world.306
There was another thing that Americans shared with their British ancestors
in eating: a light hand with spice. In addition, an overwhelming heaviness
and greasiness also featured in the traditional American diet. For instance,
American people were usually fond of fried foods.307
Chinese cooking differs greatly from American as well as much of the
worlds cooking because of its unique flavor principle. The Chinese flavor
principle is based on the traditional Chinese philosophy: the Theory of Five
Elements.308 Chinese people believe there are five flavors that human taste
buds can sense: sweetness, sourness, bitterness, spiciness and saltiness. The
essence of the Chinese flavor principle is to blend the five flavors in a har-
monious proportion. The blending of flavors aims at stimulating the savory
notes in ingredients while getting rid of unpleasant ones like fishy taste. The
five flavors coordinate with, constrain and integrate with one other in one
dish during cooking, and this helps the dish achieve a harmonious and ideal
state. According to traditional Chinese medicine theory, the five flavors are
closely related to human health. A healthy body requires a balanced intake
of all five. Based on this principle, Chinese cooking heavily relies on flavor
mixing. Like E. N. Anderson said in The Food of China, Chinese food is

305 Roland Barthes, Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Con-


sumption, in Food and Culture: A Reader, ed. Counihan and Esterik, 23.
306 Levenstein, Revolution at the Table, 67.
307 Ibid., 5.
308 The Five Elements refer to wood, fire, earth, metal and water, which are
considered the basic elements of the material world. These five elements are
believed to be interdependent and restrain one other. This theory has been
used for more than 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine as a method
of diagnosis and treatment.

132
typically flavored with a rather complex and subtle variety of things and
many seasonings, especially strong-flavored ones, are often used in a single
dish.309
The actual practice of the Chinese flavor principle needed to be adapted
to the American cultural and culinary environment. American customers
might go to full-service ethnic restaurants for culinary adventures, but they
never wanted to encounter anything that would challenge or even offend their
taste buds in fast food restaurants. They expected convenience food from
these places. Convenience not only means quick to get, but also implies
agreeable and familiar. McDonalds set a good example in accommodat-
ing its food taste to the majority of customers it created a low-profile
food with a penchant for low-level if not nonexistent seasonings geared to
the largest common denominator.310 In contrast to the popular but bland
food at McDonalds, Chinese dishes with a strong or even pungent taste
would naturally be repulsive, so the rich flavors in Chinese cooking had
to be streamlined in fast food establishments. The flavor of sweet and sour
was maintained in most of the dishes on the regular menu at Panda Express
as it was in the earlier Cantonese restaurants, for this flavor was not only a
favorite in America, but also what Americans expected from Chinese res-
taurants. Although stir-frying is the main cooking method at Panda, many
ingredients are first deep-fried. Crispiness is another important common
feature of many dishes at Panda as it caters to the American preference for
crispy food. Roland Barthes once pointed out that Americans have a particu-
lar love of crispiness. He said that American people are obsessed with two
categories of mouthfeel sweet and crispy. He argued that crispness in
food, referring to briskness and sharpness, is used by Americans to oppose to
the soft, soothing character of sweet food.311 To appeal to Americans, Panda
added a crispy-coating to many ingredients by deep-frying them in batter
first. Panda advertised that one of its specialties is Szechuan-style cuisine.

309 Anderson, The Food of China, 156.


310 Margaret J. King, Empires of Popular Culture: McDonalds and Disney, in
Ronald Revisited: The World of Ronald McDonald, ed. Marshall Fishwick,
108.
311 Roland Barthes, Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Con-
sumption, 26.

133
Szechuan cuisine is known in China for its intensive use of pungent spices,
varied seasonings and sauces.312 Szechuan dishes are rich in flavor. There are
several typical flavors such like fish-fragrant,313 scorched chili-fragrant and
sesame oil-flavored. However, it was thought that too many complicated
flavors would confuse American fast food consumers and scare them off.
So the spiciness was toned down, and the subtlety and variety of Szechwan
flavors were reduced to a slight touch of hotness. The quick-service setting
not only limited the selection of ingredients, but also narrowed down the
range of flavors on offer. Interestingly, although the original Chinese flavors
greatly changed in Panda, the general Chinese cooking principle was upheld.
Flexibility is also a feature of Chinese cooking, which allows cooks to adjust
the taste of food to the eaters preferences.314 In other words, how a dish
is cooked depends on for whom it is cooked. So the adaption of Chinese
cuisine to American taste is, in general, in accordance with Chinese cooking
principles. In spite of this, there is still one aspect of Panda cooking that is
a far cry from traditional Chinese cooking beliefs and practices. The taste
of a dish depends very much on the cooking skills of chefs. Chinese cook-
ing encourages maximum flexibility and spontaneity, so Chinese chefs are
usually free to exercise their individual talents in kitchens. The taste of a
dish usually varies from chef to chef. Tolerance of ambiguity and subtlety
is part of the excitement and charm of Chinese cooking. While at Panda,
variations in the taste of a dish were not permitted. In mass-marketed fast
food kitchens, food needs to be served in a uniform fashion. Thus, cooking
processes were standardized, and to ensure the consistency of the flavor each
dish was required to be prepared in exactly the same way no matter who
cooked it. In short, by streamlining the flavors in Chinese cooking, selecting
seasonings agreeable to the American palate and maintaining a consistency,
Panda Express succumbed to Anglo-American preferences in terms of flavor.

312 Frederick J. Simoons, Food in China: A Cultural and Historical Inquiry (Boca
Raton, Ann Arbor: CRC Press), 53.
313 This is one of the traditional flavors in Szechuan dishes. Szechuan people
use the combination of seasonings including chilies, great onions, ginger, soy
sauce, etc. instead of fish itself to create a fish flavor.
314 See Zhao, An Introduction to Chinese Dining Culture, 21.

134
Setting:
Although the environment of American Chinese restaurants was often ste-
reotyped as dark, mysterious and unsanitary, Chinese fast food restaurants
set a new image and subverted this stereotype. Panda Express, with its
bright lighting, vibrant colors and the sparkling steam tables in which fresh
dishes (at least seemingly fresh) are displayed, is a model of modernized,
Chinese quick-setting restaurants.
Most of the earlier outlets of Panda were located in food courts. Built
into the mall setting, the stores only had a faade to showcase their pres-
ence. Their overhead menu board, soda fountain and glass counter were no
different from any other food court stalls. There was no space for Chinese
ethnic symbols like red lanterns, Chinese scrolls and other ornamentations
that usually existed in traditional American Chinese restaurants. Looking
from afar, if it was not for the logo of a crawling panda bear, you would
never know whether its a Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese food stall. In food
courts, the setting of ethnic food counters usually lost their ethnic distinction.
Panda Express, like other food court stalls, became a part of the homogene-
ous whole in the American fast food scene.
With its further development, Panda added freestanding stores to its
business agenda. The architecture of the street stores was carefully designed.
The rectangular building had a peculiar roof, which was like a patchwork,
high and low in picturesque disorder. As Panda installed glass doors and
windows as fast food restaurants customarily did, it gave passers-by a
clear view of its inside, adding an alluring effect. Although the shape of
the building distantly resembled the contour of the Chinese architecture
pailong,315 without elaborate decorations and intricate carvings, the
Lego-like block shared more similarity with buildings in American car-
toon movies. Although artistically insufficient, the design was functionally
effective. The obtrusive shape of the building and its warm and playful
colors aimed at catching peoples eyes and attracting travelers. The design
was to a large extent inspired by McDonalds architecture, which placed
more emphasis on high visibility than anything else. It seemed that with
this pragmatic modern design, Panda Express was more eager to conform

315 Pailong is a traditional Chinese architectural gating style.

135
to the vernacular architectural style of American chain restaurants than to
distinguish itself by its ethnic features.316
Compared with the mall-based outlets, the freestanding stores had more
decoration in the interior. However, the major task of chain restaurants
achieving a uniform level of performance - limited its potential for rich or
subtle design.317 In accordance with this principle, Panda Express was char-
acterized by middle-of-the-road dcor. The food serving bar was similar to
that in mall outlets, but the dining area was much more spacious. The overall
ambience was quite modern with the absence of ancient Chinese cultural
symbols, such as carved figurines, altars or other antique artifacts. Anything
that might show the mysterious and incomprehensible side of China was
not to be found in Panda. The photos hanging on the wall were of different
themes - some showed a giant panda playing, other showed Chinese cooks
preparing food. There were also photos that illustrated the history of the
corporation, emphasizing its entrepreneur spirit. The only ornamentation
that gave people a sense of Chineseness was the red paper lanterns hanging
from ceilings.
Attempting to change the old image of Chinese restaurants, which were
usually perceived as dingy and inscrutable, Panda placed great emphasis on
cleanness and openness. In many of its newly opened freestanding stores,
Panda used glass door refrigerators and open kitchens to make the cooking
process visible to the public, and gave customers confidence in the cleanli-
ness and freshness of their food. This kind of open kitchen is rarely seen in
other types of Chinese restaurants.
While many sit-down Chinese restaurants in the same period went all the
way to showcase their ethnicity through decorations and ornamentations,
Panda Express toned down certain aspects of Chineseness in the setting.
Different from sit-down ethnic restaurants, which American customers only
occasionally patronized, Panda endeavored to make their food products a

316 On the vernacular tradition of American chain restaurants, see Philip Lang-
don, Orange Roofs, Golden Arches: The Architecture of American Chain
Restaurants (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1986); Bruce A. Lohof, Ham-
burger Stand: Industrialization and the American Fast Food Phenomenon,
Journal of American Culture 2, no. 3 (1979): 51933.
317 Langdon, Orange Roofs, Golden Arches, 193.

136
part of the American regular diet as the food from McDonalds. In order
to become the types of restaurants that Americans patronize on a regular
basis, Panda made their setting fit into the paradigm of American fast food
chains featured by modernism, cleanness and predictability. Too exotic or
seemingly mysterious elements had to be eliminated from the scenario to
avoid evoking the negative images that were often associated with Chinese
restaurants. A light touch of Chineseness was maintained, as nevertheless
the ethnic aura was still one of Pandas important selling points.
A close look at the adaptation of Chinese cooking to the quick-service
setting in America makes people wonder what socioeconomic and cultural
forces contributed to the change in cuisine. First of all, modern American
capitalism had a great impact on the formation and expansion of Chinese fast
food chains. The prefect embodiment of American capitalism, McDonaldiza-
tion played a significant role in shaping the food and dining environment in
Panda Express.318 Actually, McDonaldization has influenced many sectors
of American society, but it was the business world that underwent the big-
gest transformation. Characterized by uniformity, standardization and ef-
ficiency, McDonaldization has had a homogenizing and consolidating effect
on American enterprises.319 The development of Panda Express was to a large
extent based on the business model of McDonalds. To maximize efficiency,
calculability, predictability and central control,320 Panda limited its food
choices, streamlined the cooking process, standardized the setting and food,
and created an identical ambience in its different chain stores. By doing so,
it provided the same predicable dining experience to customers exactly the

318 George Ritzer defined McDonaldization as the process by which the princi-
ples of the fast food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors
of American society as well as the rest of the world. He argued McDonalds
and McDonaldization, then, do not represent something new, but rather the
culmination of a series of rationalization processes that had been occurring
throughout the twentieth century. See George Ritzer, The McDonaldization
of Society: An Investigation into the Changing Character of Contemporary
Social Life (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press, 1993), xii.
319 Ibid.
320 Ibid., 911. George Ritzer asserted that these four aspects are the four dimen-
sions of McDonaldization.

137
same way as McDonalds did. In this way, Chinese fast food restaurants were
integrated into the homogenized landscape of American fast food.
Besides food and setting, the business strategies and managerial culture
of Panda Express also went through Americanization. In emulating Mc-
Donalds development mode, Panda Express went corporate and sought
business expansion. Since the late 19th century, bureaucratic management
has characterized large businesses in America. They have employed mana-
gerial personnel, as well as the strategy of raising money through incorpo-
ration. Corporate and bureaucratically managed enterprises, along with
their products, increasingly defined what seemed modern and American
in American business.321 The corporate form of business is an incarna-
tion of modern American capitalism. Meyer Weinberg writes in A Short
History of American Capitalism: the modern business corporation is an
original creation of the American imaginationBoth American industriali-
zation and capitalism were crucially dependent upon the corporate form of
organization.322 Being able to control more assets, make more sales, and
earn more profits than any other form of business, the corporate form of
organization held a dominant position in American society.323 The corpo-
rate mechanism facilitated the concentration of capital and power, and thus
nurtured a large number of giant corporations. The rise of large corpora-
tions posed a threat to independent, local businesses, and put them in a
vulnerable position. When these big American corporations made inroads
in the international market in the form of multinationals, they were often
regarded as the global presence of American capitalism and a symbol of
American economic imperialism.324 Within America, ethnic enterprises were
inevitably shaped by American capitalism. The post-Civil Rights American
society provided ethnic enterprises with a more favorable and open market,
and gave them more access to wealth-generating resources. This enabled

321 Donna R. Gabaccia, As American as Budweiser and Pickles? Nation-Building


in American Food Industries, in Food Nations, ed. Belasco and Scranton, 187.
322 Meyer Weinberg, A Short History of American Capitalism (New History
Press, 2003), 5, accessed July 7, 2014, http://www.newhistory.org/.
323 Rodney D. Peterson, Political Economy and American Capitalism (Boston:
Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991), 48.
324 Ibid., 22652. Eric Schlosser pointed out that fast food restaurants in every cor-
ner of the world today seem to assume a symbolic role of American imperialism.

138
ethnic enterprises to participate more actively in the mainstream American
market and adopt the same business strategies used by the mainstream
American business. In order to grow big and strong under the American
capitalist system, Panda Express adopted new business strategies. Most of
the Chinese restaurants at that time were independent, family-owned busi-
ness, with only a marginal number of small-chain restaurants. In these firms,
management power and wealth were in the hands of family members. Unlike
the traditional enterprises, Panda Corporation, a family-owned business,
finally adopted the corporate management style. It employed professional
managers from outside and gradually separated management from owner-
ship. The central office assumed the centralized power and gave directives
from top to bottom, and the individual stores complied with the standard
set by the corporate headquarter. The operation of the company was guided
by American corporate culture. Panda developed its own corporate culture
by setting up a common value system and encouraged all staff to abide by
it. Through going corporate, Panda Express expanded successfully. It
continued setting up new chain stores at a very fast pace and became ever
stronger through expansion. Subscribing to the corporate format, ethnic
enterprises entered into the mainstream market in an unprecedentedly ag-
gressive way and transformed the landscape of ethnic business that was
previously dominated by small businesses.
Anglo-American culinary domination also played a significant role in
shaping Chinese cuisine in fast food restaurants. Although multiculturalism
has permeated many aspects of American life and resulted in great culi-
nary diversity since the mid-20th century, Anglo-American conformity has
promoted and still promotes American taste. Although American culinary
culture has always been a mix of various ethnic culinary traditions,325 the
influence of British culinary heritage has persevered, which can be seen as a
manifestation of Anglo-conformity in the culinary world.326 British American

325 See Oliver, Food in Colonial And Federal America; Gabaccia, We Are What
We Eat.
326 On the impact that Anglo-conformity has had on the life of U.S. immigrants
in contemporary American society, see Susan J. Dicker, US Immigrants and
the Dilemma of Anglo-conformity, Social and Democracy 22, no. 3 (2008):
5274.

139
culinary conservatism prevailed in the colonial period and the several follow-
ing decades. During this time period, Americans manifested a remarkable
degree of resistance to the culinary influence of other cultures (beside British
culture) and the waves of immigrants from Europe and Africa barely left
marks on the way Americans ate.327 Through the forces of cultural assimi-
lation, the second- and third-generation immigrants adopted Anglo-Saxon
eating habits. Anglo-Saxon eating habits were thus ingrained in American
food traditions, such as the predilection for sweet flavors, the preference of
fried food, as well as the light hand with spices. Although new foreign food
items and cooking techniques were incorporated into the American culinary
repertoire over time, American tastes in food have remained resolutely
Anglo-Saxon.328 The WASPs palate dominated American taste. In order
to gain mainstream acceptance, ethnic food in the American commercial
market had to conform to the Anglo-American palate. This was especially
true of fast food restaurants because people usually expected food agreeable
to their taste buds from quick-service setting. For this reason, ethnic food
in fast food restaurants was usually modified and Anglo-Americanized. As
one such restaurant, Panda Express selected dishes from the large repertoire
of Chinese recipes, modified the flavors of dishes and modeled the dining
environment to the American quick-service restaurant setting.
In spite of Americanization, restaurants owned and managed by immi-
grant entrepreneurs distinguished themselves from others through the cultur-
al capital possessed by immigrants. Of course, ethnic entrepreneurship is not
a prerequisite for the success of ethnic fast food restaurants. Otherwise, there
would not be the success of Taco Bell, a big Mexican fast food chain founded
by a non-Mexican entrepreneur in America. While ethnic entrepreneurs in
the early 20th century usually uncoupled ethnicity from their products when
they aimed at the mainstream market, after the Second World War, the role
of ethnicity in influencing consumer decision was rediscovered.329 As cultural
insiders, immigrants and ethnics were in a better position to make use of their
cultures. Moreover, they were much better at commodifying their ethnicity.
Donna R. Gabaccia said in We Are What We Eat Members of enclaves still

327 Levenstein, Revolution at the Table, 34.


328 Levenstein, The American Response to Italian Food, 75.
329 Gabaccia, We Are What We Eat, 208.

140
seem to understand and to target the tastes of multi-ethnic urban markets
more effectively330 The ethnic background and cultural heritage of ethnic
entrepreneurs were employed as a vital part of their stock-in-trade, and these
represented innovation and novelty to non-ethnic consumers although the
entrepreneurs just transferred ethnic capital from their countries of origin to
the host country.331 This theory suits Chinese ethnic restaurants well. Taking
the sophisticated and subtle nature of Chinese cooking into consideration,
it seemed that Chinese immigrants and ethnics could much better represent
the authenticity of their cuisine in a convincing and trustworthy way. Their
ethnicity endowed them with a great advantage of asserting authority on
their own culinary culture. The entry of Chinese immigrants into the fast
food arena twisted the power relations in the Chinese fast food industry in
which the majority of mass-produced Chinese food was previously manu-
factured by non-Chinese enterprises.332 In the case of Panda Express, no
matter how unauthentic the dishes were to the Chinese community, the
image of its Chinese owners and Chinese chefs who frequently showed up
on television or in newspaper advertisements reassured American customers
of its authenticity. The ethnicity of the restaurant owners and staff helped
construct an imagined authenticity in the minds of consumers.
Thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, especially the ethnic revival in
the 1960s, ethnicity aroused a growing interest among Americans. Under this
circumstance, ethnic restaurants tended to reevaluate their ethnic culture.
Equipped with ethnic cultural endowments, ethnic enterprises had a strong
inclination to maintain their ethnic heritage and celebrate their ethnic cul-
tures. Despite the forces of Americanization, Panda Express preserved a few
Chinese culinary practices in its establishments and even propagated their

330 Ibid., 208.


331 Robin Palmer, The Rise of the Britialian Culture Entrepreneur, in Ethnic
Communities in Business, ed. Robin Ward and Richard Jenkins (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1984), 90.
332 Although Chinese sit-down restaurants have always been owned and man-
aged by Chinese immigrants and ethnics, the domain of mass-produced and
fast food were dominated by non-Chinese entrepreneurs before the 1960s.
Companies like La Choy and Chung King which occupied the canned Chinese
food market, and the many fast food restaurants I mentioned earlier were all
owned by non-Chinese.

141
ethnic cultural knowledge to Americans. Although the dishes on its regular
menu were highly adapted to American taste, Panda Express introduced
more genuine Chinese dishes together with Chinese culinary culture to
American customers through limited-time offers, managers specials and vari-
ous promotional activities, such as the Kung Pao Kick and the Flavors of
Garlic. Although these activities might only be used as marketing strategies,
they did propagate Chinese culinary art and culture, and made Chinese cook-
ing known to more Americans. Chinese fast food chains like Panda Express
served as an entryway, leading Americans to the palace of Chinese cuisine
and Chinese culinary culture.
Although the American foodscape in the post-Civil Rights era was often
perceived as ethnically diverse and culturally tolerant, the ethnic fast food
scene showed an opposite tendency. From ethnic fast food restaurants, we
can see American society was still exerting a homogenizing influence on
the ethnic foodscapes by the force of capitalism and cultural assimilation.
In order to gain acceptance from mainstream customers, ethnic fast food
restaurants conformed to the paradigm of American fast food restaurants
and were integrated in the homogenized American fast food scene. The
largest national Chinese fast food chain Panda Express is a perfect example
for this phenomenon - Chinese cooking at Panda was deprived of its artis-
tic subtlety under the influence of industrialization and Americanization.
Due to Anglo-American culinary conformity, Chinese food was modified
to suit the Anglo-American palate. In spite of the great diversification and
democratization in the American culinary world, the force of Americaniza-
tion still exerted its influence on the contemporary American foodscape.

3.3 Chinese Food and Chineseness in the New Era


Due to changes of Chinese American foodscapes, the American reception of
new types of Chinese food was also different from the previous era. Actu-
ally, the American perceptions of Chinese food underwent constant change
over time. In order to get a glimpse of the shifting perceptions, it would
be helpful to take a look at the general discourse of Chinese food in the
American mass media. Newspapers and magazines are good sources to start
with. Before the turn of the 20th century, Chinese food was not accepted
by mainstream Americans and the Chinese community mainly consumed

142
the food in restaurants. Mainstream newspapers usually portrayed Chinese
food as barbaric, filthy and unappetizing. They highlighted the strangeness
of Chinese food and deemed it totally unreliable. A report titled Strange
food of the Chinese recounted in 1897 the opinion that the Chinese
will eat almost anything that is eatable is not altogether wrong. It is also a
fact that they sometimes eat that which would appear to us as absolutely
uneatable.333 A white observer expressed disgust in describing Chinese food
in a restaurant: Pale cakes with a waxen look, full of meats, are brought
out. They are sausages in disguise. Then giblets of you-never-know-what,
maybe gizzards, possibly livers, perhaps toes.334 Another newspaper article
showed an ambivalent attitude towards Chinese food. After acknowledging
the Chinese diet is sufficient in variety, wholesome and well cooked, it
continued to say, doubtless many of the dishes found are extremely unpal-
atable to Americans because of the quantity of nut oil used and by reason of
the pungent flavor of the large amount of garlic introduced.335 Then came
the first turning point. The American view of Chinese food changed at the
turn of the 20th century. Since Americans patronized Chinese restaurants
much more, Chinese food was no longer unfamiliar to them and more and
more it was described favorably. A white reporter said: Somehow water
lily tea, or tead loo hon tea, seems more delicious than tea served as just
tea. So does birds nest chicken broth sound nicer than chicken soup. Our
favorite Chinese dish is foo young dan omelette336 With a small number
of Chinese dishes (although some of them were American creations) having
been embraced, the image of Chinese food had slightly improved in America.
A few aspects of Chinese cuisine aroused the interest of Americans. It was
the unusual Chinese food items, especially vegetables that first attracted

333 Strange Food of the Chinese, Morning Oregonian, July 4, 1897, 19th Century
U.S. Newspapers, DBIS Universittsbibliothek der LMU Mnchen.
334 Jung, Sweet and Sour, 23, quoted in John Mariani, America Eats Out: An
Illustrated History of Restaurants, Taverns, Coffee Shops, Speakeasies, and
Other Establishments That Have Fed Us for 350 Years (New York: William
Morrow, 1991), 77.
335 Chinese Eat Wholesome Food, The Daily Picayune, December 10, 1899, 19th
Century U.S. Newspapers, DBIS Universittsbibliothek der LMU Mnchen.
336 Raymond G. Carroll, Chinese Laundries Gone; Restaurants Are Many, Los
Angeles Times, March 27, 1924.

143
attention of Americans. An article said in 1929 Chinese vegetables are a
bit queer, but we seem to like them.337 The article went on to introduce a
number of queer vegetables such as water chestnuts, bitter melons, bam-
boo shoots. Another article attempted to recommend a variety of Chinese
soybean products to readers including bean sprouts, bean curds, soybean
milk and soy sauce and also advocated their food values. The tendency of
cultural appropriation could clearly be felt from assertions like while their
(Chinese) cooking techniques are different from ours, we can adopt some of
their vegetables to our dietetic advantage.338 Americans gradually incorpo-
rated more Chinese food items into their own diet. According to an article
titled Chinese Vegetables Becoming as American as Apple Pie in 1980,
an ever-growing variety of Chinese vegetables was available in American
supermarkets, in response to the increasing demands for them. Some observ-
ers even touted Chinese vegetables as the food of the 1980s in America.339
The vegetables that were once regarded as exotic became mainstream.
As more Chinese food items became familiar to Americans, Chinese
cooking methods were also gradually accepted. Newspapers often discussed
the Chinese way of preparing and cooking dishes with admiration. When
introducing chop suey to Americans, a newspaper article said: the dish is
economical because it conforms to the ancient Chinese culinary rule. More
vegetables than meat and everything cut into small pieces,340 In another
report, the journalist admitted The tasty Americanized combination of
flavorful meat with crisp fresh vegetables prepared by the authentic Chinese
cookery method is particularly pleasing to our western taste.341
Although Americans were beginning to eat and cook Chinese food, Chi-
nese cuisine had yet to gain recognition and reverence from Americans.

337 F. Colman, The Makins of Chop Suey, Los Angeles Times, December 15,
1929.
338 Betty Quail, Vary Your Menus With Chinese Foods, Los Angeles Times,
March 29, 1942.
339 Bill Sing, Chinese Vegetables Becoming as American as American as Apple
Pie, Los Angeles Times, July 6, 1980.
340 Marian Manners, Chinese Food Can Be Used for Variety, Los Angeles
Times, December 13, 1946.
341 Marian Manners, The Chinese Flavor: It Is a Matter of Cookery Technique,
not Exotic Ingredients, Los Angeles Times, October 7, 1956.

144
First of all, the reports in newspapers often manifested an inclination of
Americanizing Chinese food. In introducing Chinese dishes and recipes to
Americans, newspapers always assured their readers that these are adapt-
able to American tastes342 or these dishes have been designed to please
the American taste.343 Secondly, Chinese culinary culture still remained
inscrutable to most Americans. After listing a number of unusual dishes
in a Chinese banquet, including sea-slug soup and ducks tongues, a reporter
added, I have known a few Europeans, who having survived such a dinner,
appeared upright on the street the next day, but they were exceptional.344
The Chinese table manner seemed inscrutable to the reporter: too often
the sticks are used as shovels or rams to force inordinately large lumps of
rice into voracious mouths.345 The art of Chinese cooking still remained a
mystery to most Americans as an article claimed this is not to say that we
should attempt to master their cooking. That art is as old and difficult as
calligraphy and as abstract and legendary as magic.346 Here I would like to
again draw upon Peter Farb and George Armelagos definition of cuisine
to analyze the process of how Chinese cuisine was accepted in America.
As there are four components of a cuisine food items; the manner of
preparation; flavor principles; culinary etiquettes, customs and beliefs, from
the discourse of Chinese food in American media, we can see Americans
showed little interest in getting to know more about Chinese cuisine beyond
several simple cooking methods and a few food items. The Chinese flavor
principle was barely touched upon - Chinese spices and seasonings were
rarely talked about except for the flavor of sweet and sour, which was a
long-time favorite of Americans. Besides that, Americans embraced Chinese
food without giving due respect to Chinese table manners, culinary customs,
culture and tradition. In an article titled Real Chinese Food is Delicious
Food, the Los Angeles Times reported an interview with Pearl Buck, an
authority on China. In talking about Chinese food, Pearl Buck, according

342 Marian Manners, Chinese Food Can Be Used for Variety.


343 Marian Manners, Helps Given to Prepare Chinese Dishes at Home, Los
Angeles Times, October 31, 1947.
344 China Has Most Things Chinese But Chop Suey Isnt to Be Found There,
Los Angeles Times, May 25, 1924.
345 Ibid.
346 Betty Quail, Vary Your Menus With Chinese Foods.

145
to the newspaper, only mentioned that Chinese food is interesting, and
discussed some aspects of Chinese foodways superficially. She didnt men-
tion any cultural aspects.347
There was a huge shift in the American perceptions of Chinese food after
the 1960s. Chinese food was not only deemed as palatable, but also given
more credit for its cultural connotations. Americans began to pay attention
to the cultural meanings of Chinese food. First of all, Chinese table manners
and eating customs were discussed in American media. The Los Angeles
Times published a number of articles that showed readers how to properly
order and eat in Chinese restaurants with titles like A Guide to Chinese Res-
taurant Table Manners348 and An Advanced Course in Dining Chinese.349
This showed that Americans were no longer satisfied with eating Chinese in
Western manner as most of them were used to but instead wanted to adapt
the Chinese way. Secondly, newspapers and magazines often talked about
Chinese customs and beliefs on food. The Chinese belief on the medicinal
effects and health properties of food, the overriding idea about food in
China,350 was often discussed. Harpers Bazaar, a fashion magazine, de-
scribes to its readers The Chinese were the first advocates of preventive
medicine food is considered one of the best preventive medicines of all.351
The idea of yin-yang and cold-hot equilibrium in eating, which was based on
the fundamental Chinese logic of balance, order and harmony, received lots
of attention from American media. San Francisco Chronicle noted in 1986,
The opposite and complementary balancing aspects of yin and yang are as
important in food as in other areas of Chinese life.352 An article in the Los

347 Grace Turner, Real Chinese Food is Delicious Food, Los Angeles Times,
January 12, 1941.
348 Bruce Cost, A Guide to Chinese Restaurant Table Manners, Los Angeles
Times, July 14, 1988.
349 Bruce Cost, An Advanced Course in Dining Chinese, Los Angeles Times,
February 26, 1989.
350 K. C. Chang, introduction to Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and
Historical Perspective, ed. Chang, 9.
351 Dian Dincin Buchman, Secrets of Health and Beauty, Harpers Bazaar, June
1979.
352 Black Green, China Food: More Than Meets the Chopsticks, San Francisco
Chronicle, January 31, 1986.

146
Angeles Times also tried to make its readers understand the Chinese belief
of cold-hot equilibrium by noting:
Foods are considered as heating or cooling Excess of hot or cold foods are
to be avoided, according to traditional Chinese cuisine. When serving fruit, for
example, the heating mango will be accompanied by the cooling papaya. Even
the basic diet of rice (neutral), meat (hot), vegetables (cold) and green tea (cold)
may be taken at the same meal to produce a balanced result.353

Newspapers also talked about the history of Chinese food. Hundreds


of years before the birth of Christ, in the Zhou dynasty (1027221 B.C.),
Chinese cuisine began to take form, based on guiding principles that exist
today: status, seasonality and nutrition, one of such accounts stated.354
The way Americans approached Chinese food gradually shifted from
cultural appropriation to cultural appreciation.355 American mass media
gave more respect to Chinese cuisine and tried to understand more about
its cultural contents. California Living Magazine noticed the essence of
Chinese eating in 1973:
The joy of eating a fine Chinese meal lies in the blending of tastes, textures, colors,
and aromas all within one meal. The meals are a juxtaposition of opposites; large
foods opposite small ones, crispness against smoothness, cold dishes opposite hot
ones, sour opposite sweet.356

353 Roslyn B. Alfin-Slater and Derrick B. Jelliffe, The High Art of Chinese Cuisine:
Its a Philosophy as well as Gooding Eating, Los Angeles Times, November
11, 1973.
354 Black Green, China Food: More Than Meets the Chopsticks.
355 I see no clear boundary between cultural appropriation and cultural apprecia-
tion. During cultural contacts between a majority group and a minority group,
cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation stand at the two opposite
ends of a continuum. It is an issue of degree rather than an issue of black and
white. Showing more curiosity and giving more respect to the deeper level of
another culture would be much closer to cultural appreciation. Although the
culturalization of Chinese food by the mass media was rooted in American
consumer culture and might not completely move away from cultural appro-
priation as someone might argue, based on the attention and respect these
representations gave to the cultural meanings of Chinese food, it did move
much closer to cultural appreciation.
356 Bernard Pechter, The Chinese Banquet Experience, California Living Maga-
zine, December 2, 1973.

147
Words like art or artful appeared very frequently in the narratives of
Chinese food in newspapers. Statements on the artistic nature of Chinese
cooking were abundant: Chinese cuisine is an art that strives for balance
and harmony in life. It is complex and full of symbolism he full range
of Chinese cuisine is somewhat similar to Chinese calligraphy.357 Articles
were published with titles like Uncovering Artful Chinese Cooking358 or
The Artful Ad-Lib Dexterity of the Chinese Cook.359 An article that talked
about the hand-pulling technique in Chinese noodle making was named
An Ancient Art Lives.360
Moreover, the flavors in Chinese cuisine aroused the interest of Amer-
icans. Having been discussed in the previous part, Hunan and Szechuan
food gained popularity because of their rich and spicy flavors. The flavors
in Chinese cooking aroused the attention of Americans as represented by
American media. Chinese food is sophisticated in its subtle flavor Such
sharp seasonings as garlic and ginger are used in Chinese cookery, but not
to the extent that they mask basic food flavors, stated one article.361 One
reviewer asserted that Mandarin and Szechuan dishes actually surpass the
more well-known Chinese entrees because they usually have a heartier, more
full-bodied flavor than their Cantonese counterparts.362 Newspapers also
introduced the Chinese flavor principle in cooking and eating to the public.
In showing readers how to order appropriately in a Szechwan restaurant, an
article relayed:
The kitchen does so good a job with Szechuan cooking that it is tempting to order
a meal that concentrates solely on these spicy-hot dishes. To do so would be a

357 Roslyn B. Alfin-Slater and Derrick B. Jelliffe, The High Art of Chinese Cuisine:
Its a Philosophy as well as Gooding Eating.
358 Cecily Brownstone, Uncovering Artful Chinese Cooking, Los Angeles
Times, February 17, 1977.
359 Rose Dosti, The Artful Ad-Lib Dexterity of the Chinese Cook, Los Angeles
Times, September 18, 1980.
360 Bruce Cost, An Ancient Art Lives, San Francisco Chronicle, August 7, 1985.
Him Mark Lai Collection Carton 93, Folder 11, Ethnic Studies Library of US
Berkeley.
361 Marian Manners, A Guide to Chinese Cookery, Los Angeles Times, June
5, 1966.
362 Experience A Wonderful New World of Chinese Dining at Caf Mandarin,
Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1983.

148
mistake, though, because the Chinese sense of balance wisely demands that a meal
include as many different tastes and sensations as possible.363

Another article said taste is one of the most important aspects of all schools
of Chinese cooking which includes salty, bland, sweet, sour, hot, fragrant
and golden. It went on to interpret when a large meal is planned, the
Chinese ideal of harmony dictates that the dishes not only represent the
various schools, but that they should be balanced so as to include the vari-
ous tastes. In this way, each dish throws the others into relief.364 Not until
the latter half of the 20th century did the rich flavors in Chinese cuisine gain
public attention from Americans. Since then, the flavor principle in Chinese
cooking has been gradually known to American food enthusiasts.
Although the Chinese community wrote most of the Chinese cookbooks
published in America, the small number of them written by white American
writers could also be seen as a source that represented the white perception
and understanding of Chinese cuisine. Cookbooks tended to place more
emphasis on the introduction of Chinese culinary customs, conventions and
eating practices after the 1960s. While the earlier cookbooks written by
white writers or published by American food corporations often stressed
the high nutritional value, affordability and tastiness of Chinese food,365
and gave recipes for a few popular Chinese dishes (more often American-
ized recipes), new cookbooks included more cultural knowledge. Gloria
Bley Millers The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook, published in 1968,
written by a Westerner for Western readers, covered nearly every aspect
of Chinese cuisine, from its history and traditions to the use of cooking
utensils. It also included a rich repertoire of Chinese recipes.366 In a cook-
book titled Naturally Chinese: Healthful Cooking from China, Ruth Spira,
a white woman, discussed many essential Chinese cooking principles like
that timing is crucial. The success of the creation depends upon a good

363 David Nelson, Restaurants Explore Chinese Cuisine, Including Spicy Dishes,
Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1985.
364 David Nelson, Mandarin House: Good Food in Chinese Manner, Los
Angeles Times, May 28, 1981.
365 Food companies like La Choy issued numerous cookery pamphlets to promote
their food products.
366 Lovegren, Fashionable Food, 104.

149
understanding of the medium and its limitations367 and balance a highly
flavored dish, seasoned with star anise and soy sauce, for example, with a
delicate dish that depends only on the natural tastes of its ingredients.368
She also expressed her admiration for Chinese cooking: the Chinese made
their cuisine into a true art form, containing many elements usually associ-
ated with paining or architecture.369 Through her words, a deepening of
the American understanding of Chinese food was manifested. Other forms
of literature written by white Americans also showed interest in the cul-
tural aspects of Chinese cuisine. In Dorothy Farris Lapiduss The Scrutable
Feast, which was published in 1977, regional distinctions between different
schools of cooking were highlighted. Besides that, Chinese table manners,
dining etiquettes and cooking techniques were also discussed.370 Academic
books on Chinese food also appeared after 1965. Two of the most famous
are Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspective
edited by K. C. Chang and published in 1977 and E. N. Andersons The
Food of China which came out in 1988. The former traced the long history
of Chinese food culture over several thousand years, and the latter con-
ducted a systematic study on Chinese food system, covering aspects from
natural environment, culinary history to foodstuffs, cooking strategies and
traditional medical values of food.371
To sum up, before the turn of the 20th century, the image of Chinese food
in America was highly distorted. Due to racial discrimination, the narratives
of Chinese food in American media were flooded with negative comments. As
most of the journalists were white, the American perception of Chinese food
at that time was to a large extent shaped by the cultural prejudice of white
Americans. Regarding Chinese as an inferior and barbaric race, Americans
naturally deemed Chinese food as filthy and unacceptable. In the earlier 20th
century, after a long presence in America, Chinese food no longer seemed
strange, and some aspects of the cuisine, such as food items and cooking

367 Ruth Rodale Spira, Naturally Chinese: Healthful Cooking from China (Em-
maus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1974), 4.
368 Ibid., 10.
369 Ibid., 3.
370 Dorothy Farris Lapidus, The Scrutable Feast A Guide to Eating Authenti-
cally in Chinese Restaurants (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1977).
371 Anderson, The Food of China.

150
methods, were accepted by Americans. However, under the white cultural
domination, Chinese food in public settings was changed and shaped into
the way mainstream Americans expected. Under this circumstance, cultural
contact took the form of cultural appropriation. Chinese food was detached
from its cultural origin, deprived of its cultural significance and left only with
a touch of exoticism and Otherness for the white consumption. Chinese
food became what white Americans thought Chinese food should be. The
stereotype of Chinese food was perpetuated - American people often equated
Chinese cuisine with cheap and simple dishes before the 1960s. However,
after the 1960s, cultural appreciation dominated the discourse of Chinese
food. Chinese cooking was highly regarded and the cultural significance of
Chinese food was recognized in America. Americans began to show a strong
interest in the culture behind Chinese food. They were more willing to ob-
serve Chinese eating customs and table manners in Chinese restaurants, and
were more curious to know the culinary beliefs and traditions behind food.
Culture was given lots of weight in the general discourse of Chinese food in
the new era, although the people behind food were rarely mentioned.
Although the change in the general American attitude towards ethnic cul-
ture and the transformation of the nature of consumption also contributed
to an increase in attention to cultural aspects of Chinese food,372 I would
like to assert that the change of the American perception first of all signified
the further acceptance of Chinese cuisine by American mainstream society,
not only in terms of range but also depth. As was shown by the acceptance
of Chinese food in America over such a long time period, among the four
components of Chinese cuisine, the category of food items was accepted
first as new food items were quickly incorporated into the American diet.
Cooking methods was the second to be accepted as stir-frying became
familiar to Americans long before 1965. It took relatively longer for flavors
and culinary customs and beliefs to be noticed and recognized. The four
components of a cuisine can be seen as four layers - food items in the first

372 Simone Cinotto argued the nature of consumption changed in the latter half
of the 20th century. The value of commodities has been more and more in-
fluenced by the symbols and meanings projected onto them, which Cinotto
summarized as the culturalization of consumption. Cinotto, Now Thats
Italian!

151
layer, the manner of preparation in the second, followed by the flavor prin-
ciples and culinary etiquettes, customs and beliefs in the deepest layer. The
acceptance of a certain cuisine in a transnational context followed a certain
order. The deeper it goes, the harder it is for the outsiders to accept. Since
the representation of Chinese food in American newspapers and magazines
has reached the third and fourth layer of Chinese cuisine, Id like to assert
the acceptance of Chinese food in America after 1965 was not only wider
but also deeper.
Mary Douglass asserts on the social meanings of food: If food is to be
treated as a code, the message it encodes will be found in the pattern of
social relationships being expressed. The message is about different degrees
of hierarchy, inclusion and exclusion, boundaries and transactions across
boundaries.373 If food encodes social relations, ethnic food first and foremost
encodes ethnic relations in a given society. In this vein, the greater acceptance
of an ethnic cuisine in a society would signify the further diminution of the
hierarchy between the ethnic group concerned and the dominant ethnic group
and a better integration of the ethnic community into society. However, does
the wider acceptance of Chinese food after the 1960s indicate a further inclu-
sion and recognition of the Chinese community by mainstream society? Is it
like what Susan Kalcik says that by ingesting the foods of each new group,
we symbolize the acceptance of each group and its culture?374
Food is a significant metaphor for and symbol of ethnicity. The foodways
of a particular group may symbolize the group and reflect the attitudes
towards that group from cultural Others.375 Chinese food can be seen as a
symbol of Chinese ethnicity. It is Chinese ethnicity in culinary form. Thus,
the general discourse on Chinese food can somehow reflect the change of
the American perception of Chinese ethnicity and things Chinese the
so-called Chineseness. There has been a lot of scholarship on the concept
of Chineseness, especially by Chinese researchers.376 Since it is generally

373 Mary Douglas, Deciphering a Meal, in Food and Culture: A Reader, ed.
Counihan and Esterik, 36.
374 Kalcik, Ethnic Foodways in America, 61.
375 Ibid.
376 Most of the works try to (re)conceptualize Chineseness and explore what
the meaning of being a Chinese is and what constitutes Chineseness, such as
Wang Gungwu, The Chineseness of China (New York: Oxford University

152
considered a fluid notion,377 the perceptions of Chineseness by cultural
Others will certainly be subject to change. The expression of Chineseness
usually involves an external perspective. The perceptions of Chineseness
embody many dimensions. The most important dimensions include the
people, culture and society of China.378 The narratives in media showed that
food tended to be more closely associated with culture than other dimen-
sions. Most of the newspaper accounts on Chinese food paid great tribute
to Chinese ancient culture based on which Chinese culinary principles were
established, but paid little attention to the people behind the food. With the
exception of a very small number of reports on Chinese chefs and cook-
book writers, little concern was given to the Chinese people who prepared
and served food like ordinary restaurant cooks or waiters. In the chop
suey era, the representation of Chinese food often involved the descrip-
tions of Chinese restaurant staff and Chinese clientele. The humble, cheap

Press, 1991); Anbin Shi, A Comparative Approach to Redefining Chinese-


Ness in the Era of Globalization (Lewiston and Queenston: The Edwin Mellen
Press, 2003). Some of the studies explore how Chineseness is constructed in a
transnational context, see Chee Kiong Tong, Identity and Ethnic Relations in
Southeast Asia: Racializing Chineseness (London: Springer, 2010); E.K. Tan,
Rethinking Chineseness: Translational Sinophone Identities in the Nanyang
Literary World (Amherst, New York: Cambria Press, 2013), and Andrea
Louie, Chinese Across Borders: Renegotiating Chinese Identities in China
and United States (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004).
377 There is an innate relationship between Chinese ethnicity and the coined term
Chineseness. Since the study of ethnicity shifted from primordial approaches
to situationalist approaches, Chineseness is considered a socially-constructed
category which is fluid and flexible.
378 In exploring the Sino-American mutual images among a group of selected
Chinese and Americans during the early 1990s, Jianwei Wang analyzed the
structure of mutual images and focused on portraying four important as-
pects: Chinese or Americans as a people; China or the United States as a
society; China or the United States as a cultural identity, and China and the
United States as a dyad in international relations. Since my concern is not as
much about nation-state as about ethnicity, I need to point out that the
category of people I am using here not only refers to the Chinese people
within the national border as Wang intended, but also includes Chinese dias-
poras and people of Chinese origin. See Jianwei Wang, Limited Adversaries:
Post-Cold War Sino-American Mutual Images (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2000), 34.

153
Chinese food was often associated with lower-class Chinese immigrants,
who were the main customers of Chinese restaurants. Different than from
before, Chinese food was more closely tied to culture than people after the
1960s. That explained why many Chinese, especially new immigrants, were
still struggling for cultural recognition from mainstream society in spite of
the wider acceptance of Chinese food. The same situation also applied to
Mexican food although tacos, tortillas and burritos were consumed quite
frequently by Americans and were integrated into the American diet, Mexi-
can people were still in a lower social stratum, and generally stereotyped as
labor workers, service providers and even illegal immigrants. The status of
Chinese cuisine in America was also less and less relevant to the dimension
of society. Political turmoil, government behaviors and social upheavals
in China no longer had a strong impact on the image of Chinese food in
the U.S. For instance, the Tiananmen Incident, which seriously affected the
image of the PRC in America in a negative way, didnt hinder Americans
from consuming Chinese food. In spite of the differences in values, ideol-
ogy and social systems between the two countries, Chinese food was still
popular in the United States. The acceptance of Chinese food became less
political and more culture-oriented. The acceptance of the cuisine was
less influenced by political upheavals in the home country, the governmental
behaviors of the national state on the international scene or the interna-
tional relations between the home country and host country. American
consumers tended to associate cuisine less with the political aspects of the
home country but instead pay more attention to the cultural context of the
food. In the new era, in which multiculturalism was advocated and cultural
tolerance was celebrated, minority cultures were admired and appreciated.
As a result, Americans perceived Chinese culture with more veneration
and less prejudice as it was reflected by the discourse of Chinese food in
American media. On the one hand, it can boldly be said that eating Chinese
food in contemporary American society can be seen as a manifestation of
the gradual acceptance of Chinese culture, especially traditional Chinese
culture, rather than Chinese people. In this vein, consuming the food of
another ethnic group symbolizes less the acceptance of the group of people
than the recognition of its culture. On the other hand, the several dimen-
sions of Chineseness arent always congruent with one another although
they may influence each another from time to time. Although China is still

154
a communist country and considered a geopolitical menace to the U.S.,
Chinese culture is perceived admiringly by the American public. Culture
is capable of transcending ideology, political regimes, and social form and
can even be detached from people. Culture can be evaluated independently
in a transnational context.
Chinese food and Chinese ethnic restaurants might also cause a change in
the American perception of Chineseness. The new food the Chinese commu-
nity presented to Americans in public settings influenced the way Americans
perceived Chineseness. As Susan Kalcik pointed out, foodways can be a
channel for communication that is available when others may not be.379
The food of a cultural group may serve as one accessible entry point for a
certain culture, and eating across ethnic boundaries facilitates cross-cultural
communication. Pierre L. van den Berghe asked What more accessible and
friendlier arena of interethnic contact could be devised than the ethnic restau-
rant? What easier way to experience vicariously anther culture than to share
its food.380 Chinese restaurants and Chinese food provided American people
with convenient access to Chinese culture. The American attitude towards
Chinese food might influence their attitude towards Chinese culture. Load-
ed with cultural meanings, Chinese food opened a window through which
Americans could see more Chinese things. In the reception of Chinese food
by American society after the 1960s, the formula seemed to be sophisticated
cooking equals sophisticated civilization. The refined cooking, or higher
cuisine to use Jack Goodys term, brought by the middle and upper-class
Chinese immigrants debunked the stereotype of Chinese food in the eyes of
American people. The new types of Chinese food and cooking aroused the
interest and even admiration of Americans in Chinese culture, and changed
their view of Chineseness. Thanks to food, an important medium of com-
munication, culture can be more easily transmitted and understood. Chinese
food is not only a symbol of and metaphor for Chinese ethnicity, but also an
active agent which helps reshape the America perception of Chineseness. The
new types of food symbolized a new version of Chineseness. Food helped
new immigrants construct their cultural identities.

379 Kalcik, Ethnic Foodways in America, 60.


380 Van den Berghe, Ethnic Cuisine, 39394.

155
White cultural supremacy was no longer discernable in the reception
of Chinese cuisine in the new era since Americans were no longer only
interested in Americanizing Chinese food and drawing it out of its cultural
context for their own consumption, but eager to learn about the culture
embodied by the food. With the prevalence of cultural pluralism, Ameri-
can perceptions of ethnic cultures underwent a huge transformation. As it
was reflected by food, the form of cultural contact gradually shifted from
cultural appropriation to cultural appreciation. The hierarchy between the
white and the Chinese ethnic culture was gradually diminishing, although
the racial hierarchy between the two peoples might still have existed. The
cuisine of an ethnic group not only symbolized that group, but also changed
the mainstream attitude towards the culture of that group.
In this era, the transformation of Chinese American foodscapes featured
diversification and homogenization at the same time. The new immigration
wave played an extremely important role in the metamorphosis of Chinese
food. The new immigrants brought a global Chinese cuisine to the United
States and consciously celebrated their ethnic culinary culture in the new
cultural environment in which multiculturalism was advocated. The bur-
geoning interest of Americans in food, gastronomic and culinary matters
after the 1960s also contributed to the further acceptance of Chinese food.
Under these circumstances, the American understanding of Chinese food
and perception of Chinese culture underwent no small change.
American foodways and food culture are highly marked by regional
differences. Each region has distinctive food practices and unique culinary
culture. The reception of a new ethnic cuisine in a metropolitan city in
California is surely different from that in a small town in the hinterland of
America. For this reason, I would like to take a regional perspective and
zoom in on the region that is the birthplace of Chinese American food.

156
Chapter 4.Culinary Culture in Metropolitan
California

California stands out among other states for its unique foodscape and its
sensitivity to food change. The natural environment and local agriculture
in California allow a cornucopia of fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood. As
people of diverse ethnicities have congregated in California since the Gold
Rush Times, myriad ethnic cuisines could be found here much earlier than
elsewhere. Thanks to the availability of a great variety of ethnic restaurants,
it is possible to take a culinary tour around the world without ever leav-
ing California, especially in big cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Besides Europeans, the large Mexican and Asian populations also have
exerted culinary influences on the way people eat in California.
As food writer Leslie Brenner said, Californians have always been adven-
turous, willing to try new sensations, and they readily embraced a new way
of eating.381 California has been standing in the forefront of culinary change
in America for a long time. A cookbook writer wrote, Even in the fifties,
while those in the Midwest were eating canned vegetables, Californians were
feasting on guacamole, artichokes, tacos, and chow mein.382 The birth of
California cuisine is the best manifestation of the enthusiasm Californians
have for food. With the creative efforts of young ambitious chefs like Alice
Waters, Wolfgang Puck, Michael McCarty and Jeremiah Towers, California
developed its own culinary style.383

381 Brenner, American Appetite, 134. The adventurous spirit of Californians in eat-
ing can be seen from the fact that the taste for white and light drinks started
in this state, see Carmel Berman Reingold, California Cuisine (New York: Avon
Books, 1983), 3.
382 Marlena Spieler, The Flavor of California: Fresh Vegetarian Cuisine from the
Golden State (New York: HarperCollinsPulishers, 1994), vi.
383 On how these individual chefs contributed to the birth of California Cui-
sine, see Leslie Brenner, The California Vision in American Appetite,
123157, and David Kamp, California Nouvelle in The United States of
Arugula: The Sun-dried, Cold-pressed, Dark-roasted, Extra Virgin Story of
The American Food Revolution (New York: Broadway Books, 2006), 23166.

157
The foodscape in California is multifaceted and its culinary spirit is
paradoxical. On the one hand, as a state in which California cuisine and
a series of food movements came into being, Californians attaches great
importance to health, low calories and nutrition. In the culinary field, words
like natural, light, fresh and wholesome are highly appreciated in
the Golden State. Vegetarian eating and cooking is a long-lasting culinary
fashion in California. On the other hand, California is also home to numer-
ous national fast food chains such as McDonalds, Carls Jr., Panda Express
and Taco Bell, just to name a few. The two seemingly contradictory trends
converge in the Golden State.
California is not only leading recent food trends, but is also the birth-
place of Chinese American food. The earliest Chinese restaurants in Amer-
ica were found in the city of San Francisco. Boasting the longest Chinese
American history and the largest Chinese American population, the Golden
State nurtured the most complicated Chinese American foodscape. Chinese
restaurants have always served both Chinese and non-Chinese customers.
In the first half of the 20th century, the Chinese population was relatively
small because of the decades-long Chinese Exclusion Act. Due to their low
socioeconomic status, the consuming capacity of the Chinese community
was relatively limited.384 So except for some deli shops and mom and pop
restaurants, white Americans were the major customers of Chinese restau-
rants. Large chop suey houses mainly catered to the preferences of European
Americans.385 However, among the new Chinese immigrants who came to
California after 1965, there were a considerable number of wealthy people
who possessed a discriminating palate and pronounced consuming capac-
ity. They created a demand for Chinese food that is both authentic and
high quality. Thanks to the increased number of Chinese restaurants and
the improved quality of Chinese food, the interest in Chinese food among
Americans grew and people in California developed much more sophisticat-
ed palates for Chinese food. Some of them were even interested in searching

384 Although there were a small number of Chinese social elites and wealthy
Chinese merchants, the majority of Chinese were in the lower social class.
385 There were also some special occasions. For instance, at the banquets held by
wealthy Chinese merchants, most of the diners were Chinese.

158
for authentic Chinese food around the state. Thus, the clientele of Chinese
restaurants in California are no longer homogenous.
As commercial settings, restaurants must offer what consumers want to
buy. No different from any other types of business, the top concern of res-
taurants is market. However, how big the market is not only hinges upon
the number of potential consumers but is also shaped by consumer culture.
If consumer culture changes, business strategies used by enterprises change
accordingly. There was a trend of market segmentation in the American
market beginning in the 1970s. Influenced by countercultural and anti-con-
formity sentiments, as well as the expressive individualism in this period,
a new form of consumerism emerged. Thanks to their growing affluence,
American people were in search of a distinctive lifestyle. Consumerism
became an expression of a profoundly fragmenting individualism that was
fostered in part by the countercultural movement.386 The business world
noticed personalized needs and attempted to satisfy those needs by means of
commodities. They found that they could sell more products if they tailored
their products to specific segments of consumers. So the business strategy
shifted from mass marketing, which was in dominance before the 1950s, to
segmented marketing. This trend was clearly observed in the retail industry,
such as large supermarket chains which tried to segment consumers based
on various elements, including race, ethnicity, income and education when
they discovered there was no typical shoppers.387 The food industry was
inevitably influenced by the trend: grocery stores, food processors, and res-
taurant chains progressively moved to target smaller subsets of the buying
public and used a broader range of products to do so.388 Ethnic groups,
the most visible subgroup of consumers in the American market, gained the
most attention from the business world. Lots of businesses targeted specific
ethnic groups with ethnic products in the 1980s. Probably inspired by the
trend of market segmentation, Chinese ethnic restaurants repaid attention to
their own ethnic community. A number of restaurants targeting the Chinese
community were opened and the foods they served bore more resemblance

386 Gary Gross, An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern


America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 191.
387 Jayasanker, Sameness in Diversity, 9.
388 Ibid., 910.

159
to their original forms in China. Some of the food items seemed challenging
or even intimidating to mainstream American diners. Gradually, Chinese
restaurants in California were split into two camps; I would like to call them
restaurants for insiders and outsiders.389 In the category of insiders,
I include Chinese immigrants, Chinese Americans who still have a Chinese
palate, or part of a Chinese palate, as well as non-Chinese food enthusiasts,
the so-called foodies, who have developed a Chinese or semi-Chinese pal-
ate. The restaurants serving the insiders usually opened in places where
the Chinese population concentrated. In the recent years, these restaurants
were usually found in suburbs as more and more Chinese ethnics moved to
suburban areas. The term outsiders here refers to the non-Chinese cus-
tomers who neither had a special interest in Chinese food nor thought much
of it beyond simply eating the food. Restaurants targeting the outsiders
usually adapted the food and dining environment to the preferences of these
customers (although to a different extent compared to the chop suey era).
The interactions between Chinese restaurateurs and American customers
were featured by cultural acculturation rather than cultural assimilation. This
situation is especially true in metropolitan areas. I focus on two cosmopolitan
cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, both of which have a large Chinese
population and a fascinating Chinese American foodscape.

4.1 Serving Outsiders: Restaurants for Non-Chinese


Although generally speaking, the new generation restaurateurs had a bet-
ter cultural awareness and were more eager to celebrate and spread their
culinary culture, in serving non-Chinese customers, they still needed to ad-
just their food to the preferences of customers. The needs and demands of
customers are also affected by cultural factors. Chinese restaurants not only
accommodated the American cultural environment and commercial market,
but also exerted an influence on the reception of Chinese food and culinary
culture among non-Chinese eaters. In this vein, the Chinese restaurateurs

389 There were surely a number of restaurants targeting both insiders and
outsiders, but they usually used different kinds of food to attract different
types of customers. Some of these restaurants had two menus: English and
Chinese. The items on the two menus were also quite different. Even within
one restaurant, the trend of market segmentation was quite visible.

160
and American customers were involved in a cultural negotiation. In the
commercial market, cultural adaptation of ethnic commodities seemed nec-
essary. Not only the food, but also the dining environment and dcor were
refashioned to appeal to American customers. I would like to explore what
cultural adaptation of Chinese cuisine was like in the new era.

4.1.1Chinese Cuisine and Californian Taste Cultural Adaptations


and Negotiations
In the restaurants targeting mainstream customers in California, ethnic food
needed to be adapted to the American palate in general and Californian taste
in particular. Modifications and alterations were made in terms of ingredi-
ent, preparation, flavor and ways of serving. Firstly, as in the chop suey
era, unconventional and controversial food items were usually absent
from menus,390 at least from English menus to avoid offending the palate of
mainstream American diners. Chinese people usually enjoy fish head, pig
ears, duck feet and other animal organs, which might be out of the lack of
eating materials throughout Chinese history and the Chinese belief in unity
and wholeness of foodstuffs. In contrast, in America these food items are
deemed inedible. We removed items like fishs tail from our menu because
our American customers never ordered them, Mr. Zhao, a restaurant em-
ployee who has been working at Chinese Friend for over thirty years.391 Felix
Chang, the owner and founder of Fu-Shing said,392 We dont serve fish head
because Americans wont accept it. We serve fish filet instead. Human eat-
ing habits sometimes seemed hard to change. The food items like jellyfish,
sea cucumber and fishs tail couldnt be accepted by mainstream American
customers. I even tried to give them to my American customers for free, but
they didnt eat them, said Mark Ting, the founder of Plum Tree Inn in L.A.
We also removed the dishes that Americans dont like from our menu. If
Chinese customers came, they needed to ask for them.

390 Controversial food refers to the foods that were regarded as inedible in
American culture.
391 Chinese Friend is a small restaurant located in Los Angeles Chinatown.
392 Fu-Shing is a Szechuan restaurant located in Pasadena, L.A which opened in
1980.

161
In a competitive market, restaurants needed to reduce costs to maximize
profits. Due to the high cost of some ingredients, mostly particular Chinese
vegetables like Chinese cabbage, leeks and garlic shoots,393 substitutes were
used. Vegetables that are cheap and plentiful in America like mushrooms,
broccoli, green pepper and onion were used more often than in China.
Because of the availability of chicken and duck, the Chinese do wildly
delectable things with these two rather basic foods.394
While cooking methods used by restaurants didnt change much, the ways
to prepare ingredients changed slightly. For instance, Chinese people usually
see meat in its entirety or partial entirety. So in China meat is sometimes
served with bones and seafood often with shells. Americans eat differently.
In America, as summarized by Jennifer Lee, people dont like the practice of
chewing on something and then spitting out an inedible part.395 Thus, fish,
shellfish and chicken (with the exception of chicken wings) were usually
served without bones or shells in most American Chinese restaurants.396
Modifications were also made in terms of seasoning. As many know that
most Americans have a sweet tooth. More sugar was added in the dishes
than the usual, standard Chinese amount. Although Americans began to
embrace foods with zesty flavors since the 1970s, extremely pungent or spicy
flavors were usually toned down. The dishes here are a little bit sweeter, not
as spicy as they were before we had to tone down a lot of dishes, said
Benny Yun, the manager of Yang Chow and also the grandson of one of its
founders.397 Nearly all the dishes with a sweet and sour flavor are used to
attract American customers, opined Mr. Zhao.

393 Cost is a major reason for the substitution of ingredients in Chinese restau-
rants because in California the availability of Chinese ingredients doesnt seem
to be a problem due to the large population of Chinese immigrants.
394 Jeanne Voltz, Californians Bow to Chinese Cookery, Los Angeles Times,
June 26, 1969. Yuk Ow Collection, Carton 21, Folder 2. Ethnic Library of
UC Berkeley.
395 Lee, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, 76.
396 As I mentioned in Chapter 3, Hong Kong restaurant, as an exception, still
observed traditional Chinese practices.
397 Yang Chow is one of the famous Chinese restaurants in L.A., which opened
in 1977. Now it has three chains, located in Chinatown, Pasadena and San
Gabriel Valley respectively.

162
Changes were often made by restaurateurs in response to customer re-
quests. Benny Yun said that the spicy Szechuan wonton was not served in
a soup form at first, but when customers asked for it, soup was made into
wontons. He also mentioned that they added new things and took things
away from their menu.398 Restaurateurs and chefs accommodated their food
to the individual tastes of customers. Li Hua, the manager of Ocean Star
Restaurant,399 who has worked as a manager in several restaurants said,
In the business world, we need to learn about the needs of our customers
and serve them what they want. We made dishes according to their tastes.
Frank, the owner of Twin Dragon restaurant proudly said, When a custom-
er comes into my restaurant, I know which kind of food he/she wants. Since
California is a state with a population of highly diverse ethnic backgrounds,
customers at Chinese restaurants are also of different racial or ethnic origins,
Caucasian, Japanese, Korean, Hispanic and Filipino. Customers from dif-
ferent ethnic groups have different demands. Mexican customers usually
requested more spicy food and Filipinos liked seafood a lot, Mr. Zhao told
me. Our restaurant is in a Jewish community, so we have to tailor our food
to their tastes.400
The sequence of how food was served followed American custom. It was
in the order of appetizer, soup, and main course, in spite of the fact that soup
is usually served after the main course in China. Another change restaurants
made was to speed up their service: American people wont wait very long,
so we prepare food fast for them. In Hong Kong or Mainland China, people
are willing to spend three or four hours to eat one meal, but in here people
only spend one hour eating and then they leave, said Li Hua.
Despite the adaptations and compromises restaurants made to attract
more business, they held some essential culinary principles dear such as the
blending and variations of flavors and textures, shapes and colors in a single
dish. It was these fundamental cooking principles that made Chinese cook-
ing Chinese.

398 Personal interview with Benny Yun.


399 Ocean Star Restaurant is an upscale Cantonese-style restaurant in Monterey
Park, L.A.
400 Personal interview with the owner of Twin Dragon restaurant.

163
In the new era, not only did restaurants adapt and compromise, Ameri-
can customers also changed the way they approached Chinese food. Res-
taurant operators said more and more Americans were beginning to share
dishes in Chinese restaurants as Chinese do. Nowadays, American people
understand Chinese food much better they learn a lot and know a lot.401
In order to get better food to satisfy their ever-evolving palates, Americans
took the initiative in approaching Chinese food instead of waiting to be
approached by it. Californian local media noticed this inclination of Cali-
fornians. San Francisco Chronicle clarified some American stereotypes of
Chinese restaurants in an article titled Test Your Chinese Dining IQ.402
The Los Angeles Times gave tips on how to order a good meal in a Chinese
restaurant.403 In restaurants, people from the two different cultures were
getting to know each other and were communicating through food.
Like chop suey, a humble country dish in origin that had been considered
the Chinese national dish for many years in America and fortune cookie,
which had never existed in China, the emergence of invented traditions
was also witnessed in the new era. Although many of the well-known dishes
like General Tsaos chicken, broccoli with beef and orange chicken
were said to be first invented in the East Coast, they also became the must-
have items in Chinese restaurants throughout the Golden State. Some res-
taurants in California also created their own specialties, like the slippery
shrimp from Yang Chow and lobster ball from Ocean Star, according
to the restaurant operators. Hong Kong style restaurants were particularly
creative in constantly improvising new dishes. Li Hua asserted, Some dim
sum made in America even taste better than those in China. Unlike chop
suey, a rustic fabrication, the new inventions embodied the high culinary
skills of expert chefs.
Californias long growing season and large amount of agriculture products
make fresh vegetables a key part of the local diet. Since the 1960s, California

401 Personal interview with Li Hua.


402 Bruce Cost, Test Your Chinese Dining IQ, San Francisco Chronicle, April
6, 1988. Asian Interest VF-Chinese Food, San Francisco Public Library.
403 Cost, An Advanced Course in Dining Chinese, Los Angeles Times, February
26, 1989.

164
has been leading the trend of vegetarian eating in America. Vegetarian eat-
ing was especially popular in Californian communes. Belasco described the
situation back then: in her tour of communal kitchens, Lucy Horton found
that only half were vegetarian, that most of those were in California.404
The Vegetarian Times also claimed that The bay area San Francisco in
particular is the spiritual home of vegetarians.405 Under this context, Chi-
nese vegetarian restaurants came into being in California. In San Francisco,
the first Chinese vegetarian restaurant opened in 1969.406 People in the U.S.
and China practice vegetarian eating out of different reasons, and the two
seemingly similar styles of eating have very different cultural backgrounds.
Vegetarian eating is practiced in the United States out of different motivations,
including concerns about animal rights, health, environment and economy.407
Vegetarianism was actually rooted in Christian beliefs. An early 19th century
Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham, who was also known as the Father
of Vegetarianism in the United States, asserted that meat was a stimulant
to the body and not the food for which man was designed to eat.408 In its
formative years through the 1860s, American vegetarianism was used as a
means to reform social injustices such as the oppression of African Ameri-
cans, women and the impoverished.409 At the end of the 19th century, the rise
of vegetarianism was out of the concern that the overconsumption of meat
would cause physical and moral problems for human beings.410 Advocates
of vegetarianism such as H. P. Fowler believed vegetarianism was not only

404 Belasco, Appetite for change, 58.


405 Amy OConnor, Bay Watch: Vegetarian Travelers Can Enjoy Lots of Choices
in San Francisco, Vegetarian Times, September 1, 1997.
406 Chinese Vegetarian Restaurant will open in San Francisco, Chinese Times,
June 2, 1969.
407 On the history of the vegetarian movement in the United States, see Karen
Iacobbo and Michael Iacobbo, Vegetarian America: A History (Westport,
Connecticut: Praeger, 2004).
408 Ibid., 212.
409 Adam D. Shprintzen, Looks Like Meat, Smells Like Meat, Tastes Like Meat,
Food, Culture & Society 15, no. 1 (March 2012): 11328.
410 Robyn Smith, Exploring the Ethical Limitations and Potential of Aesthetic
Experiences of Food and Eating in Vegetarian Cookbook, Food Culture &
Society 11, no. 4 (December 2008): 42048.

165
conducive to human ingestion and health, but also a cure for intemperance.411
However, the resurgence of vegetarianism in the 1960s and 1970s took on a
different tone. Vegetarianism in this period was associated with the political
turmoil and social upheaval related to the anti-Vietnam War, Civil Rights
and environmental movements. Hippies and cultural rebels expressed their
countercultural feelings through the way they ate.412 As eating meat was the
mainstream in carnivorous America, vegetarian eating was seen as counter
to the mainstream. Ecological and ethical concerns were also important mo-
tivation. Last but not least, as the concerns of Americans about health kept
increasing, the pursuit of a low-calorie, low-fat diet was also an important
factor that led Americans to vegetarian food. In China, people practice veg-
etarian eating mainly for religious reasons. Buddhism and Taoism have had
a huge influence on the development of Chinese vegetarian eating. Believing
the deprivation of any living creatures life is a sin, Buddhism pervades people
to steer clear from meat dishes in order to avoid killing. Taoism believed that
meat is unclean and in order to purify ones body, meat should be shunned.
Vegetarian cooking was first practiced in Buddhist monasteries and then
spread to private homes and restaurants.413 Thanks to the creativity of Chi-
nese chefs, as well as the sophisticated Chinese culinary culture, vegetarian
cooking gradually developed into its own style of cooking in China. In spite
of ideological difference, Chinese and American vegetarian cookery have
something in common: both of them have mock meat or imitation meat.
Chinese chefs are good at using non-meat ingredients such as flour, potato
and soybeans to create dishes that not only look like but also taste like meat.
In America, there are similar practices. Vegetarians also like to dress meatless
dishes in the image of meat. The first vegetable meat came out in J. H.
Kelloggs experimental kitchen at the end of 19th century.414 Regardless of the
difference in the belief systems and mentality behind eating, Chinese vegetar-
ian restaurants were received with welcome in California. An article titled

411 Ibid., 429.


412 Iacobbo, Vegetarian America.
413 Florence Lin, Florence Lins Chinese Vegetarian Cookbook (New York:
Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1976), xvi.
414 Liora Gvion, Whos afraid of cooking vegetables? Changing conceptions
of American vegetarianism 18501990, European Journal of American
Culture 21, no. 3 (November 2002): 14659; Shprintzen, Looks Like Meat.

166
Chinese Vegetarian Cooking Gains Popularity in Bay Area reported the
growing trend of Chinese vegetarian restaurants.415 According to the article,
Caucasian customers outnumbered Chinese diners in these restaurants. Ad-
aptations were made by these restaurants to accommodate local preferences.
In California people are particularly health-conscious and appreciate natural
food. Shangri-La Caf, a Chinese vegetarian restaurant, advertised in its menu
that all the ingredients are natural earth-grown and there was nothing
artificial in them. These restaurants also made their dining environments
comfortable for local Californians. In Lotus Garden, another restaurant,
vegetarian foods were served in an enchanting atmosphere that includes a
cocktail bar with Happy Hours. Although Chinese vegetarian cooking was
developed less out of health concerns than out of Buddhist mercy, these res-
taurants modified their dishes in response to requests of customers. William
Chiang, the owner of Long Life Vegi House, said if customers requested
that their food be cooked with no oil, salt, eggs, dairy products or MSG, the
chefs would be sensitive to these special demands.416 These restaurants also
introduced the art of Chinese vegetarian cooking to California. Fragrant
Vegetable, a vegetarian restaurant in L.A., captured the attention of Gour-
met. According to the magazine, the restaurant introduced to Los Angeles a
distinct, highly developed Chinese subcuisine, rooted in Buddhist and ancient
court traditions 417 Gourmet gave detailed descriptions of the dishes that
were designed like artwork - for an elaborate banquet the kitchen carves
vegetables into pagodas and phoenixes as centerpieces for an assortment
of hors doeuvres swirling with clouds of dry ice and Next came tai chi,
an elegant soup composed of purees of corn and spinach somehow poured
separately into a bowl to make a Yin Yang design of interlocking green and
yellow circles.418 Through the individual dishes, Chinese vegetarian cooking
was presented to American customers as a visual art. Although the number of
Chinese vegetarian restaurants was not very big, they nevertheless introduced

415 Eunice Lew and Van Ng Louie, Chinese Vegetarian Cooking Gains Popularity
in Bay Area, February 17, 1982. Yuk Ow Collection, Carton 21, Folder 3,
Asian American Studies Archives.
416 Ibid.
417 Caroline Bates, Fragrant Vegetable Restaurant, Gourmet, January 1985,
Culinary Arts Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.
418 Ibid.

167
Chinese vegetarian cooking to the U.S. and exerted a culinary influence on
the Californian foodscape. By adapting their food to local food preferences,
Chinese vegetarian restaurants made themselves attractive to non-Chinese
vegetarians in California. It provided another option for Californian veg-
etarians and added variety to local vegetarian eating. Although the cultural
implications of vegetarian eating were totally different in the two countries,
the food was appreciated all the same.
Chinese restaurants did not merely cater to the tastes and cultural pref-
erences of locals, but also influenced the way they ate. Chinese cookery
exerted a cultural influence on mainstream cooking and eating in California
as the Los Angeles Times claimed: The Chinese have had a dynamic influ-
ence on the gastronomic profile of California. The typical California palate
is tuned to the subtle flavors and fragrances of Chinese-style cookery.419
The influence of Chinese cooking penetrated into mainstream restaurant
cooking. This was marked by the opening of Wolfgang Pucks Chinois
one of the most popular and trendy Californian restaurants in the 1980s
and 1990s. Puck, a famous chef and one of the practitioners of nouvelle
cuisine, opened a Chinese-inspired restaurant in L.A., which was based
on his take on Chinese food.420 In the restaurant, he created a style of Sino-
French fusion cuisine by blending Chinese culinary elements with French
cooking techniques. The restaurants famous creation Chinois Chicken
Salad was flavored with Chinese seasonings. Puck himself even learned to
make Chinese smoked duck in his restaurant.421 It was not the first time that
Chinese food was fused with other ethnic flavors in restaurants. As early as
1938, Trader Vic, a renowned restaurant that located in Oakland, initiated
a trend of blending Polynesian flavor with Chinese cooking. Following it,
many restaurants featuring Polynesian Chinese food emerged. However, it
was the first time that Chinese cuisine was put on a par with French cook-
ery in an American restaurant. The two cuisines ranked quite differently
in the hierarchy of American ethnic foods. French cuisine was in a domi-
nant position in American restaurant dining since the 19th century. Due to
the international predominance of French gastronomy in elite restaurants,

419 Jeanne Voltz, Californians Bow to Chinese Cookery.


420 Kamp, The United States of Arugula, 251.
421 Ibid., 252.

168
Americans were used to turning to French cookery for culinary standards,
especially in the field of fine dining. Most of the upscale restaurants in the
earlier period featured French cuisine, such as the renowned Delmonicos
and Le Pavillon, and their menus were usually written in French.422 The
huge influence of French cooking on American elite restaurants lasted until
the mid-20th century.423 In contrast, in the eyes of Americans, Chinese food
held a relatively low status and was regarded as cheap and unsophisticated.
Although Americans ate Chinese food (usually Americanized versions), they
didnt pay much attention to Chinese cooking and Chinese culinary culture
until the 1960s. They ate the food without giving too much thought to it.
The practice of combining Chinese and French culinary elements in fine
dining establishments and the subsequent trend of fusion cuisine signified
that the racial hierarchy between ethnic cuisines was gradually diminishing
in California. The domain of fine dining was no longer French-dominated,
but consisted of many ethnic cuisines. The mixing of two cuisines of dif-
ferent racial hierarchies into a single dish signified that American eating
became less racialized in the new era.
The birth of California cuisine was also partially indebted to Chinese
cooking. It drew on ingredients and cooking techniques from Chinese as well
as other ethnic cookeries. The cookbook The Cuisine of California stated:
The cuisine of California borrows from French, Italian, Mexican, and Chi-
nese cuisine, as well as from the foods of Japan and the Middle East.424
Combining elements from various ethnic cookeries into one style of cooking,
a trans-ethnic cuisine was taking form in California. In contemporary Cali-
fornia, the boundaries between different ethnic cuisines became permeable.
In the new era, cultural acculturation replaced cultural assimilation in
America between the majority and minority ethnic groups. Unlike the chop
suey era in which Chinese restaurants unilaterally made comprises to cater
to white customers, the new period witnessed cultural negotiations and

422 Delmonicos in New York initiated the trend of presenting menus in French
in fine dining restaurants. Root and Rochemont, Eating in America, 326.
423 It wasnt until the 1980s that Alice Waters stopped printing her menus in
French. On how French cuisine lost its hold in American restaurants, see
Brenner, American Appetite.
424 Diane Rossen Worthington, The Cuisine of California (Los Angeles: Jeremy
P. Tarcher Inc., 1983).

169
exchange between American customers and Chinese restaurant operators.
American customers and Chinese food approached each other in restau-
rants. As a result, Chinese cooking left its impression on Californian local
foodways.
In spite of this, a depressing phenomenon emerged starting in the 1990s.
Menus in many of the Chinese restaurants targeting mainstream American
customers became standardized, and were again limited to a few number
of popular dishes like kung pao chicken (or shrimp), moo shu pork,
beef with broccoli. This indicated that despite the democratic cultural
environment in post-1965 California, ethnic cuisines still needed to undergo
rationalization in order to gain wider acceptance.
Homi Bhabha said in the Location of Culture:
What is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond
narratives of originary and initial subjectivities and to focus on those movements
or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences. These
in-between spaces provided the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood
singular or communal that initiate new signs of identity425

Although the space Bhabha mentions mainly refers to an imaginary one,


it can also be applied to material entities. American Chinese restaurants, an
ethnic institution that was born out of cultural displacement, can be seen as
an in-between space in which cultural negotiation is going on. It neither
fully represent the original Chinese foodways nor is rooted in American
culture, but serves as an interstitial, liminal space, in-between the designa-
tions of identity.426 According to Bhabha, in such interstitial spaces, the sites
of disruption, intervention and innovation, the border between the home
and outside world becomes confused. Under this circumstance, new hybrid
identities are constructed: this interstitial passage between fixed identifica-
tions opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference
without an assumed or imposed hierarchy.427 In this vein, the hierarchy dis-
solved in cultural hybrids. Thus, Chinese American food is not a bastardized
version of Chinese food, but can be seen as a new cultural form. Stuart Hall

425 Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 1.


426 Ibid., 4.
427 Ibid.

170
was one of the scholars who showed a strong interest in the construction
of identity. He made the assertion that cultural identity is a fluid concept:
Cultural identity is a matter of becoming as well as being. It belongs to the
future as much as to the past. It is not something which always exists, transcending
place, time, history and culture. Cultural identities come from somewhere, have
histories. But, like everything which is historical, they undergo constant transfor-
mation. Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialised past, they are subject
to the continuous play of history, culture and power.428

According to Halls theory, the identity of Chinese food is not fixed, but
instead constantly subject to change. In moments of rupture or disconti-
nuity, like in the case of cultural displacement, cultural identity is mostly
likely to be reconstructed. Through cultural adaptation, negotiation or
even reinvention, Chinese food acquired new dynamics in the transna-
tional context, and formed a new cultural identity in California. The old
cultural tradition (continuity) and new cultural environment (rupture) were
in dialogue together. Difference, therefore, persists in and alongside
continuity.429 Chinese food in California retained its connection to the
past: Chinese culinary tradition. The formation of the new identity took
place in the moment of discontinuity: migration. I agree with David Y. H.
Wu when he argues that the development of Chinese cuisine overseas is
not a result of the often-assumed global process of a direct flow of cultural
traditions from the center to the periphery Chinese cuisines overseas dem-
onstrated re-creation, invention and representation of cooking, especially in
restaurants.430 As the cultural center and periphery blurred, Chinese Cali-
fornian food, a cultural hybrid, came into being in an in-between space:
Chinese ethnic restaurants. Possessing an independent cultural identity, it
exerted an influence on mainstream eating and contributed to the birth of
Californian cuisine. Chinese food has become an important component
of the Californian culinary scene, and enriched the cultural life here.

428 Stuart Hall, Cultural Identity and Diaspora, in Identity: Community, Cul-
ture, Difference, ed. Jonathan Rutherford (London: Lawrence & Wishart,
1990), 225.
429 Ibid., 227.
430 David Y. H. Wu, Improvising Chinese Cuisine Overseas, in The Globaliza-
tion of Chinese Food, ed. Wu and Cheung, 56.

171
4.1.2Representing and Reconstructing a New Ethnicity through
Restaurant Dcor
In a traditional sense, ethnicity refers to the shared features that char-
acterize the identification of an ethnic group - the quality of being ethnic.431
Unlike generic restaurants, ethnic restaurants sell ethnicity to customers.
Ethnic particularities distinguish ethnic restaurants from generic ones. In a
society in which multiculturalism is advocated, ethnicity is a desired object
of consumption in commercial settings. In the United States, since the 1960s,
thanks to the ethnic revival movement, ethnicity was reevaluated and
celebrated. People from various ethnic groups, including white ethnics, were
attempting to reclaim their cultural roots by means of consumption, which
created a niche for ethnic products in the market. Since then, ethnicity has
often been employed as a marketing tool.432 Ethnic businesses in particular
commodified ethnicity into their products and services to attract ethnic and
non-ethnic customers alike. They created an image of their ethnic group for
their customers, as they created images of their customers, as Lu and Fine
claimed.433 Rediscovering the value of ethnicity, entrepreneurs highlighted
their ethnic characteristics, utilized ethnic capital and displayed the cultural
distinctiveness of their ethnic group in order to attract customers.
To non-ethnic customers,434 when they patronized ethnic business, they
usually intended to seek an exotic experience, and wanted to experience the
cultural Other through consumption. This is especially true for customers
who patronized ethnic restaurants, in which the word consumption
takes its original meaning. Lucy Long said in her book Culinary Tourism
that eating foreign or ethnic food is also a form of tourist activity

431 Marcus Banks, Ethnicity: Anthropological Constructions (London: Rout-


ledge, 1996), 6.
432 Marilyn Halter, Shopping for Identity: The Marketing of Ethnicity (New York:
Random House, Inc., 2000).
433 Shun Lu and Gary Alan Fine, The Presentation of Ethnic Authenticity:
Chinese Food as a Social Accomplishment, The Sociological Quarterly 36,
no. 3, 539.
434 Here by non-ethnic, I refer to the customers outside the particular ethnic group
from which the cuisine comes, instead of white people whose ethnicities often
remain invisible in American society.

172
and restaurants are one of the most important sites of culinary tourism.435
These customers share mentalities with tourists. They expected things to
be different and unusual from their usual dining experience. Dean Mac-
Cannell argued that touristic consciousness is motivated by its desire for
authentic experiences.436 According to MacCannell, tourists are in search
of authenticity out of the desire to construct totality in modern society
that is characterized by fragmentation and alienation. Thus, authenticity
becomes important in tourist sites. The rhetoric of tourism is full of mani-
festations of the importance of the authenticity of the relationship between
tourists and what they see.437 To meet the expectations of tourists, tourist
establishments usually set up authentic scenes to give tourists a feeling
that they are experiencing the real thing. Although the scene may be both
artificial and superficial, tourists may not always be aware of that. Staged
authenticity can be often observed in tourist settings.438 The definition of
authenticity has been controversial for a long time. Based on recent studies,
authenticity is generally considered a socially and culturally constructed
concept, instead of an objective criterion. Authenticity is a matter of de-
gree, and is negotiable. People conceive it from their own positions and
perspectives. Authenticity also has a relational character. People define
authenticity in association with their own social experience.439 Non-ethnic
customers usually expected an authentic ethnic experience from ethnic
restaurants, but the authenticity they are pursuing is based on their former
experience and imaginations of the real thing, which is very likely to be
different from the ethnics self-comprehension. Ethnic restaurateurs need
to meet the expectations of customers to attract them. They put on staged
authenticity in their establishments, which is based on their understand-
ings of the customers needs.

435 Long, Culinary Tourism.


436 Dean MacCannell, The Tourist: a New Theory of the Leisure Class (New York:
Schocken Books, 1976), 101.
437 Ibid., 14.
438 Ibid., 9899.
439 Lu and Fine, The Presentation of Ethnic Authenticity, 543. On the con-
tingent nature of authenticity, also see Erik Cohen, Authenticity and Com-
moditization in Tourism, Annals of Tourism Research 15 (1988): 37186.

173
In ethnic businesses, ethnic food businesses in particular, ethnicity is usu-
ally the main signifier in the presentation of authenticity. An authentic
ambience is often created through the representation of ethnicity in ethnic
restaurants. As ethnicity is often manifested by material cultural symbols,
besides food, the design and decoration of restaurants are the most expres-
sive aspects of ethnicity, which are often used to create an exotic atmos-
phere. To construct the image of a cultural Other, restaurateurs have the
decoration of their restaurants gone through ethnicization and try to make
them performative for the consumption of customers. In commercial set-
tings, these acts are not a natural representation of ethnicity. Instead, they
are contrived. Ethnic distinctiveness is usually embodied by material objects
that symbolize a given ethnicity. In doing this, cultural symbols, the most
easily commodified objects, are often drawn upon. Through commodifica-
tion, ethnicity is externalized and represented by the design and decoration
of restaurants. In other words, the representation of ethnicity relies on a
set of symbols and signs. It is these external manifestations that represent
ethnicity. In this vein, symbolic ethnicity is practiced by ethnic restau-
rateurs by using the symbols of their culture.440 Ethnicity is represented in
ethnic restaurants in an artificial and contrived way.
Being no exception, Chinese restaurants in America also commodified
their ethnicity and presented Chineseness through design and decoration.
Since the chop suey era, Chinese restaurant operators have used artifacts and
other ornaments to create a sense of authenticity for customers. In the late
19th and early 20th century, American expansionism and colonialism were
in full swing. Orientalism dominated the American perception of the East.
Artifacts from the East like china, furniture and clothing could often be found
in American upper and middle-class homes. The domestic display of these
exotic objects signified the appropriation of Asian culture by Americans in

440 Herbert J. Gans is among the first who used this term. He said when the
third or fourth generation ethnics who no longer need either ethnic cultures
or organizations resort to the use of ethnic symbols to express their cultural
identity, ethnicity may be turning into symbolic ethnicity. See Herbert J. Gans,
Symbolic Ethnicity: the Future of Ethnic Groups and Cultures in America,
Ethnic and Racial Studies 2, no. 1 (January 1979).

174
the middle of the American overseas expansion.441 In this era, Chinese restau-
rateurs often used symbols of ancient Chinese culture to fulfill Western fan-
tasies of Oriental exoticism. Red lanterns, wooden screens, altars and scrolls
were often used to construct an Oriental motif. These objects later became
the stereotypical symbols of China in the American popular culture. What
is worth noticing is that there was a temporal delay in the representation
of Chineseness in the earlier restaurants. In other words, a time lag existed
between the signifier and signified. The objects that represented Chineseness
tended to be stuck and frozen in a time zone of the unchanging past. The use
of old style furniture and ornaments was very common in Chinese restau-
rants. Far East in San Francisco was such an example: black wood tables
and stools inlaid with marble or mother-of-pearl, hanging lantern, embroi-
dered pictures, etc., suggest the drawing room of an old Chinese house.442
The cultural legacy of the feudal dynasties was very often drawn upon. Many
restaurants emphasized the feudal and imperial image of China through
their decor. Some restaurateurs decorated their restaurants like palaces. For
instance, Mandarin Caf in San Francisco, opened in 1924, was a duplicate
of the Forbidden Palace the interior architecture evoked the image of
an authentic Chinese palace with its elaborate coffered ceilings, impressive
wooden post and structure, and intricately detailed beam connections.443
When representing Chinese ethnicity, the earlier restaurant operators didnt
take new developments in their home country into consideration, but instead
looked back to the past. Although the process of modernization accelerated
after 1912 when the feudal dynasties ended and the Republic of China was
founded, the feudal image of China was often evoked by dcor in American
Chinese restaurants. On the one hand, this revealed feelings of nostalgia
from Chinese immigrants, especially the first generation. Since the second
and third generations lacked a strong cultural tie with the old country, they
just drew on the ethnic heritage brought by their parents or grandparents to

441 Mari Yoshihara, White Women and American Orientalism (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2003).
442 Jung, Sweet and Sour, 28, quoted in David Te-Chao Cheng, Acculturation of
the Chinese in the United States: A Philadelphia Study (PhD diss., University
of Pennsylvania, 1945), 93.
443 Chao, Communicating through Architecture, 125.

175
the new country. Probably due to the decline of Chinese immigration from
1882 to 1943, the representation of Chineseness in restaurants was frozen in
the time period when the first generation left the old country. On the other
hand, the American perceptions of China influenced how the Chinese com-
munity presented their own culture. Stuart Hall said:
Not only, in Saids Orientalist sense, were we constructed as different and other
within the categories of knowledge of the West by those regimes. They had the power
to make us see and experience ourselves as Other. Every regime of representation
is a regime of power formed, as Foucault reminds us, by the fatal couplet, power/
knowledge. But this kind of knowledge is internal, not external. It is one thing to
position as a subject or set of peoples as the Other of a dominant discourse. It is
quite another thing to subject them to that knowledge, not only as a matter of
imposed will and domination, by the power of inner compulsion and subjective
con-formation to the norm.444

Owing to the racial hierarchy between the white and the Chinese com-
munity, Chinese had to accept the stereotypes imposed on them. In Ori-
ental thinking, the premodern, exotic and underdeveloped East was seen
as a cultural alternative to modern American society. As one of the oldest
countries in Asia, China was often imagined as a distant, mysterious and
aesthetically seductive land. Under the white cultural domination, Chinese
restaurateurs created ambience that conformed to American stereotypes
of China. A highly contrived oriental style decoration came into being, in
which the cultural past of China was represented. There were also some
restaurants where the dcor was Americanized. Elements of Western deco-
rations were borrowed to make American feel customers comfortable. In
these restaurants, aside from the spattering of stereotypical Chinese hues
and gold trim, few of the restaurant interiors were truly oriental.445
Although there was a continuum in the decoration style of Chinese restau-
rants, changes were sensed after the 1960s. As Chinese restaurants were split
into two groups in California, the two types of restaurants exhibited different
traits. Whereas the restaurants mainly targeting Chinese customers usually
featured simple and modest decor, those serving outsiders were elaborately
decorated. It is widely agreed that most Chinese do not care too much about

444 Stuart Hall, Cultural Identity and Diaspora, 25556.


445 Chao, Communicating through Architecture, 132.

176
the dining environment as long as the food is good. The full-service restau-
rants anticipating non-Chinese customers manifested different characteristics
in their dcor compared to the earlier restaurants. New restaurateurs made
innovations and no longer conformed to the old stereotypes. Chang, an eat-
ery in La Mesa, California, had a contemporary and refreshing dcor
which was quite different from the old establishments that have adhered
to the elaborate palace-style dcor446 Chang has cast aside the dancing
dragons, hanging lanterns and heavy crimson color scheme of other years,
choosing instead a cool, updated style that hints at the Orient but could easily
suit any other type of Southern California shopping center restaurant.447
The dcor of a Newport Beach restaurant named Five Feet Too also seemed
modern and unconventional the restaurant has a striking design lots
of jutting, angular cornices; an all-steel open kitchen; designer chairs; floor
cacti taller than NBA centers and a collection of modern art that could rival
some small museums.448 New cultural symbols were adopted to represent
Chinese ethnicity. In two restaurants that were both called Seafood Paradise
in Orange County, the decor were innovative:
the color scheme is not the oppressive old Mandarin red and gold routine but a
light, frivolous shade of pink, bandbox pink, with geometrical accents of pale,
flashy-fake gold. Instead of carved lions and dragons on the walls they have car-
toony Chinese landscapes painted on backlighted glass.449

Ethnic distinctiveness was still embodied by the restaurant decoration, but


in a different way than before. A transnational trend was detected in the
dcor of a few restaurants. The representation of Chineseness began to
reflect recent developments of the home country. For instance, water tanks
with live seafood were installed in restaurants, which was a popular practice
in contemporary China. In some fancy Hong Kong restaurants, expensive
furniture and chandeliers were imported directly from Hong Kong, and the

446 Chang, East County Chinese Eatery, Offers Good Food and Fresh Dcor,
Los Angeles Times, Nov 19, 1987.
447 Ibid.
448 Max Jacobson, Chinese Dining Experience is Easy on the Eye, Less So on
Palate, Pocketbook, Los Angeles Times, Sep 22, 1989.
449 Chinese Seafood at its Best: A Double Pleasure, Los Angeles Times, Jan 9,
1987.

177
restaurants were decorated in the same style.450 In this case, representation
came much closer to the reality and the signifier was contingent with the
signified. In other restaurants, Oriental style was mixed with Western ele-
ments. This kind of decoration could be observed in Chinese Expression,
a restaurant in L.A. Recent renovation, a sign of new prosperity, has
dressed up the room with smart-looking, French-designed black plastic
chairs, subtle gray linens, mirrors and illuminated Chinese opera masks
that stare impassively overhead.451 French elements were used without
disturbing the Chinese style. Sometimes, Californian local decoration style
was found in Chinese restaurants, which was for the purpose of creating an
easy and comfortable atmosphere for the local people. Plum Tree restaurant
in Santa Monica was such an example: The dcor is clean-lined California-
contemporary, in dark beige, gray, sky blue and plum; there is dark blond
woodwork; the foyer is paved in terra-cotta tiling.452 In a nutshell, Chinese
restaurants created a modern, open, fashionable and cosmopolitan image
for themselves. Tonia Chao said, new interpretations of Chinese restaurant
dcor took place in this time period.453 Ethnicization and gentrification
characterized the change of restaurant dcor in this period.
The change in restaurant decor showcased that a number of new res-
taurateurs no longer conformed to established stereotypes but presented a
new image of Chinese restaurants and represented a new Chinese ethnicity,
which would in turn affect the American perceptions of Chineseness. In
the more favorable and tolerant cultural environment since the 1960s, the
Chinese community gained more cultural space to present their culture.
New cultural symbols were adopted and used for cultural representation.
The Chinese community no longer conformed to white expectations in
representing their ethnicity, but tended to present their culture in their
own way. Here I want to argue that the representation of ethnicity in com-
mercial settings is a two-way process and often negotiable. It is affected

450 Based on personal interviews with restaurants owners and managers.


451 Barbara Hansen, Lets Eat Out: A Chinese Restaurant Grows Up, Los
Angeles Times, July 31, 1986.
452 Colman Andrews, Menu: Mandarin, Szechuan or Yuppie, Los Angeles
Times, Nov 23, 1984.
453 Chao, Communicating through Architecture, 162.

178
by ethnic relations in a society. Owing to the highly unequal cultural rela-
tions between Chinese restaurateurs and white American customers in the
earlier period, Chinese restaurateurs had to meet the expectations of white
customers in representing their ethnicity, and create dcor that conformed
to the stereotypes of China imposed by white Americans. Thus, the repre-
sentation of Chinese ethnicity in earlier Chinese restaurants was to a large
extent based on the Western perceptions of Chineseness. However, when the
social and cultural status of Chinese was lifted after the 1960s in America,
the Chinese community acquired more cultural confidence and agency for
self-expression. Chinese restaurateurs attempted to redress the stereotypes
of Chinese restaurants and changed the old decoration style on which the
white cultural domination left an imprint. The Chinese community repre-
sented their ethnicity in a different manner in the new era. The performance
and representation of ethnicity in public settings can be seen as a symbol
of ethnic relations.
The change of the restaurant dcor after the 1960s reflected the change
of Chinese ethnicity. Through cultural representation, ethnicity was recon-
structed. Like authenticity, ethnicity is also socially constructed. Although
some scholars took a primordialist position and saw ethnicity as a perma-
nent and essential condition, many recent scholars such as Frederik Barth,
argue that ethnicity is not absolute or stable and thus should not be exam-
ined in isolation. According to Barth, the main features that characterize the
identification of an ethnic group are contingent upon external factors, which
are in turn reified by the group into internal cultural factors.454 In this vein,
during interethnic interactions, the contents or features of the identity of
an ethnic group are affected by external factors. For instance, in the trans-
national context, the experience of a given ethnic group is always changing
because of its constant interaction with the host society. Thus, ethnicity is
subject to change. As one of the external manifestations of ethnicity, dcor
in ethnic restaurants reflects changes of ethnicity. The new Chinese restau-
rant dcor after the 1960s helped represent a new Chinese ethnicity, whose
contents were different from before. In order to make itself visible, ethnicity
needs to be expressed externally. It can be manifested and represented by

454 Banks, Ethnicity, 12.

179
cultural symbols or overt cultural forms. The process of representing ones
ethnicity often involves self-reflection and self-expression. Ethnic groups
reexamined their ethnicity, as well as how to represent it. By practicing
symbolic ethnicity, that is, representing ethnicity through cultural symbols
such as artifacts, Chinese restaurateurs exerted their free will. They selected
some aspects of their ethnicity they wanted to express while casting off those
they didnt want according to the given situation. They even brought new
cultural symbols into the cultural representation. The interactions between
the ethnic group and the host society gave rise to new cultural production.
Representation, operated as a form of power, would in turn influence the
way Americans perceived Chineseness, and thus reproduced Chinese ethnic-
ity. Through the external manifestations, like ethnic artifacts, ethnicity was
not only represented, but also reconstructed and reproduced in and of itself.
Commercialism also affects the representation and reconstruction of eth-
nicity in commercial settings. On the one hand, commodification thwarts the
straightforward expression of ethnicity. The ethnicity that ethnic entrepre-
neurs represent in their businesses need to be commercially viable. So cultural
forms are reduced to the status of commodity and ethnicity is represented in a
performative way. The commercialized representation of ethnicity is different
from that in other spheres. On the other hand, commercial settings arenas in
which ethnicity can be reexamined and reconstructed. The presence of non-
ethnic consumers raises the ethnic consciousness of ethnic entrepreneurs. In
exploring the relationship between commodity culture and ethnicity, Dwyer
and Crang assert commodity culture can help fashion ethnicity, and ethnicity
is reproduced through the production of commodities for the market.
Commodification is not something done to pre-existing ethnicities and ethnic
subjects, but is a process through which ethnicities are reproduced Commodity
culture does not inevitably result in the production of superficial, thin and bland
ethnic differentiations. Nor does it inevitably involve the appropriation of ethnic
forms constructed as authentic through being located as exterior to the opera-
tions of commodity culture. Rather commodity culture can mobilize varied ways
of thinking about cultural difference455

455 Claire Dwyer and Philip Crang, Fashioning Ethnicities: The Commercial
Spaces of Multiculture, Ethnicities 2, no. 3 (2002): 41030.

180
They believe that the process of commodification not simply enables the
appropriation of ethnic cultural forms but also produces cultural differ-
ence. As the representatives of a collective cultural identity in commercial
settings, ethnic entrepreneurs play a role in (re)producing the cultural dif-
ference. They reexamine their ethnic heritage and culture, reflect upon and
reconstruct their cultural distinctiveness. Cultural awareness arises among
ethnic restaurateurs during their encounter with the ethnic Other. The fluid
nature of ethnicity allows innovations in cultural representation. In the
vibrant and dynamic process of ethnicity representation and performance,
new cultural symbols are sometimes adopted or even fabricated for the pur-
pose of cultural expression. Thus, invented traditions come in to being. The
symbols used by ethnics acquired new meanings during commodification.
Innovative adoption of new cultural symbols together with the meaning-
making practices of these symbols renewed the contents of ethnicity, and
contributed to the (re)construction of a non-essentialized identity. Com-
modification of cultural difference sometimes leads to cultural production
and gives birth to hybrid identities. This reveals that ethnic qualities are not
essentialized and fixed but in constant renovation and change. However,
as long as ethnic boundaries remain intact, ethnicity wont perish. The cul-
tural messages sent by ethnic entrepreneurs to their non-ethnic customers
through cultural representation might in turn affect their self-perception,
and contribute to the reconstruction of their own ethnicity. Commercial set-
tings are an important arena for the active performance of ethnicity. Lu and
Fine said, many of the transactions by which ethnicity is made real are
economically grounded: festivals, restaurants, art galleries, clothing outlets,
and musical venues.456 In the contemporary society, ethnicity is most often
represented and reconstructed during cultural interactions between differ-
ent ethnic groups in commercial settings. The presence of an ethnic Other
makes ethnicity a salient matter that awaits to be explored. Commercial
settings are a space within which creative work can be done on fashion-
ing those imaginaries of cultural difference and ethnicity.457 Although the
non-first generation immigrants are losing direct or indirect ties with their
old country, ethnicity wont die in the host country not only because of the

456 Lu and Fine, The Presentation of Ethnic Authenticity, 535.


457 Dwyer and Crang, Fashioning Ethnicities, 427.

181
new and constant inflow of new immigrants and the transnational cultural
trend, but also owing to the preservation, presentation and reinvention of
ethnic traditions in commercial settings.

4.2Serving Insiders: Restaurants for the


Chinese Community
In the Chinese restaurants anticipating Chinese customers in California, the
dining environment and food were quite different from restaurants targeting
outsiders. These insiders restaurants aimed at making Chinese custom-
ers feel at home. The dcor was usually simple and unpretentious. The food
was not quite different from that in China and it was without doubt satisfying
to the Chinese palate. Unusual and controversial food items that seemed
strange to American eaters appeared daringly in these restaurants. Sometimes,
the food was rather challenging to the mainstream American palate and might
even be intimidating and unacceptable to most American diners. Since these
restaurants mainly targeted Chinese customers, adaptions were rarely made
and the food was seldom modified for non-Chinese. In spite of that, these
restaurants were still attractive to and patronized by a number of American
foodies and American Chinese food lovers, who had a strong interest in real
Chinese food and wanted to taste what Chinese people eat. San Francisco
Sunday Examiner & Chronicle reported in 1974 that non-Chinese diners be-
gan to enjoy some peculiar Chinese food such as duck feet, squids and tripe.458
Restaurant operators also said dishes like pickled Chinese cabbage with plain
boiled pork and fried leek dumplings, which were not even liked by quite
a number of Chinese eaters, were embraced by some American foodies.459

4.2.1 Features and Cultural Functions


One of the most distinct characteristics of this type of restaurants was their
location. Since the late 1970s, these restaurants tended to congregate in
suburban areas, resulting from the surge of the Chinese population in sub-
urbs. The decades following the 1960s witnessed a large flow of people

458 Ken Wong, The Joys of Wo Choy, San Francisco Sunday Examiner &
Chronicle, October 27, 1974.
459 Based on the authors personal interviews.

182
and establishments into American suburbs. Suburbs became not only new
residential areas, but also the new engine of economic growth in America.460
Non-white ethnic groups also joined in the suburbanization trend. The up-
wardly mobile America-born ethnics and the better-off immigrants moved
to suburbs for better housing and nicer neighborhoods.461 One ethnic group
tended to concentrate in one particular area, and formed a new ethnic com-
munity in there. Thus, ethnoburb came into being.462 The Chinese, like
other ethnic groups, formed their own ethnoburbs. Owing to the rapid
increase of the Chinese population and their growing affluence, since the
1960s more and more Chinese Americans and immigrants began to move
into suburban areas. Among them, many new immigrants settled directly in
suburbs without even experiencing life in the inner city.463 In Los Angeles,
a big change in the distribution of the Chinese population was observed
in the 1970s and 1980s. A large number of Chinese people moved from
the old Chinatown downtown to the eastern suburbs. The Chinese have
also moved heavily into Monterey Park, South Pasadena, San Gabriel and
elsewhere.464 The San Gabriel Valley became the new residential center for
the Chinese.465 Monterey Park, a city in the San Gabriel Valley, experienced
a phenomenal increase in the Chinese population. The Los Angeles Times
reported in 1980, suddenly, it seemed Monterey Park had an estimated
10,000 to 15,000 Chinese residents believed to be the largest single concen-
tration of Chinese in Los Angeles County No previous group, neither the

460 Peter O. Muller, The Suburban Transformation of the Globalizing American


city, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 551
(May 1997): 4458.
461 Wei Li, Ethnoburb: the New Ethnic Community in Urban America (Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press, 2009), 41.
462 Wei Li raised the concept of ethnoburbs by saying ethnoburbs are mul-
tiethnic communities in which one ethnic minority group has a significant
concentration but does not necessarily constitute a majority. Such suburban
clusters replicate some features of an ethnic enclave and some features of a
suburb that lacks any specific minority identity, see Wei Li, Ethnoburb.
463 Ibid., 2.
464 Penelope McMillan, L.A.s Chinatown Turns from Tourists to the Chinese:
Change Coming to Area under Urban Pressures, Los Angeles Times, Sep-
tember 18, 1977.
465 Li, Ethnoburb, 73.

183
Chicanos nor the Japanese, moved in so suddenly.466 The arrival of Chinese
residents transformed Monterey Park from a predominantly white town to
an immigrant suburb with a considerable number of foreign-born Chinese.
In 2000, 41 percent of the population in Monterey Park was Chinese.467 It
became the nations first suburban Chinatown.468 In addition, this new
Chinese community no longer evoked the image of ethnic ghettos as the old
Chinatown did, and many of the new residents brought high professional
skills and economic capital into the host country: No group has come with
so much money and ambition.469 For this reason, Monterey Park was also
nicknamed Chinese Beverly Hills.
San Francisco also saw semi-suburbanization of Chinese population in the
latter half of the 20th century. Although San Francisco doesnt have official
suburbs, the tendency bore much resemblance to suburbanization. Early
since the 1950s, Chinese Americans and Chinese immigrants in San Fran-
cisco gradually dispersed from Chinatown and other parts of the inner city
to the outer rings. New Chinese communities were built in Richmond and
Sunset Districts. According to the Chinatown News, a second Chinatown
took form in Richmond District in the 1970s. Purposefully they call it the
New Chinatown, but what these thrifty and industrious settlers have built is
a substantial Chinese community radiating from Clement Street in Richmond
District.470 This new community was different from the old Chinatown.
It created a brand new image for the Chinese community. They (Chinese
residents) would no more want to recreate the dingy, crowded conditions
of the old ghetto They live, instead, in the big, tidy homes built shoulder
to shoulder along the avenues471

466 Penelope McMillan, Influx in Monterey Park: Whose Community Is This?


Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1980.
467 Min Zhou, Contemporary Chinese America: Immigration, Ethnicity, and Com-
munity Transformation (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009), 82.
468 Timothy P. Fong, The First Suburban Chinatown (Philadelphia: Temple Uni-
versity Press, 1994).
469 McMillan, Influx in Monterey Park.
470 Keith Power, San Francisco Gets A Second Chinatown, Chinatown News,
January 18, 1975, Asian Interest VF, San Francisco-Richmond District, San
Francisco Public Library.
471 Ibid.

184
These Chinese ethnoburbs were not just residential areas. The concentra-
tion of Chinese in these regions created a demand for ethnic products and
service. Among other businesses, Chinese restaurants followed the Chinese
community to suburbs.472 In Los Angeles, many new Chinese restaurants
were at first established in Monterey Park, a paradise for eaters,473 and
then stretched to surrounding areas like Alhambra, San Gabriel, South
Pasadena and Rosemead in the 1980s, which made the San Gabriel Valley
home to a virtual Chinese restaurant dynasty.474 It was reported that in
1983 Monterey Park already had more than forty Chinese restaurants.475
In the San Gabriel Valley, Valley Boulevard, Atlantic Boulevard and Garvey
Avenue were lined with Chinese restaurants. Valley Boulevard was the most
conspicuous dining destination:
Most of 100 Chinese restaurants have crammed together on a two-mile golden
stretch in the city of San Gabriel and a couple of blocks of Alhambra Numerous
Chinese restaurants border each other on both sides of the street, while many others
are crowded inside a dozen strip malls on the boulevard.476

These restaurants made every effort to cater to the Chinese palate and not
American taste. Some genuine Chinese dishes, which had never been previ-
ously heard or seen in America, made their debut in the San Gabriel Valley.
Food items that are exclusively pleasant to Chinese were found in restaurants
here. Notable dishes like snake soup, barbecued tripe, goose feet and a stew
containing abalone, conch and soft-shell turtle were served.477 Since these
establishments mainly anticipated discriminating local Chinese residents, the

472 Laresh Krishna Jayasanker noticed the suburbanization of authentic Chinese


food in America, see Jayasanker, Sameness in Diversity.
473 Max Jacobson, Monterey Parks Top Guide to Middle Kingdom, Los Angeles
Times, October 26, 1986.
474 Max Jacobson, When Chinatown Just Isnt Big Enough: Eating Asian in the
San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles Times, January 29, 1989.
475 Steve Harvey, Around the Southland: Singing the Blues Without Locusts
Song, Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1983.
476 Haiming Liu and Lianlian Lin discussed how genuine Chinese food followed
the footprints of Chinese immigrants and moved from Chinatown to suburban
areas in Los Angeles after 1965. See Haiming Liu and Lianlian Lin, Food,
Culinary Identity, And Transnational Culture: Chinese Restaurant Business
in Southern California, JAAS 12, no. 2 (2009): 149.
477 Jacobson, Monterey Parks Top Guide to Middle Kingdom.

185
food was usually of high quality. Although they intended to serve the local
Chinese population, these restaurants also became popular sites among non-
Chinese eaters who wanted to get a bite of real Chinese food. In a restaurant
guidebook Finding Chinese Food in Los Angeles, almost all the restaurants
recommended were located in the San Gabriel Valley. An active and spir-
ited dynamism is constantly churning in this corner of the metropolitan
area, showcasing both authentic- and trendy example of Chinese regions
cuisines Without a doubt, the San Gabriel Valley is the Chinese Food
Capital of North America478 Non-local customers had to drive all the way
to the place in search of good Chinese food. The otherwise inconspicuous
suburban area attracted non-local people from afar by its authentic Chinese
food and thus became a famous destination among Chinese food lovers. In
this sense, the San Gabriel Valley could be called a foodburb.
The decentralization of Chinese restaurants was also detected in San
Francisco. Although in San Francisco, the old Chinatown still held the larg-
est number of restaurants serving good and authentic Chinese food, many
new restaurants popped up in Richmond and Sunset Districts, especially
non-Cantonese restaurants. The old Chinatown was no longer the only
place where real Chinese food could be found. In describing the change of
Richmond District in the 1970s, an article reported:
Between Fourth and Fifth, the street becomes more intensely Asian. Five Happiness
Restaurant has Mandarin cuisine, New Peking has Peking food, while a neighbor
offers Shanghai and Szechuan, as well. Smoked tea ducks sometimes hang in the
window of Man Hing market. Cloud ear mushrooms, pressed disks of tea, dried
squid, thousand year eggs, soy vinegar, hoisin sauce, all show up on the greengrocer
sidewalks.479

Sunset District also boasted quite a number of Chinese restaurants as well as


a variety of Chinese food, from Hong Kong seafood and dim sum to Peking
duck and wonton. The Northeast specialty sauted pickled cabbage and
vermicelli was even served in some restaurants in Sunset District, which

478 Carl Chu, Find Chinese Food in Los Angeles: A Guide to Chinese Regional
Cuisines (Manhattan Beach, California: Crossbridge Publishing Company,
2003), vii.
479 Margot Pattersen Doss, The New Mix in the Richmond, San Francisco Ex-
aminer, February 4, 1979. Newsclippings of Examiner, San Francisco History
Center, San Francisco Public Library.

186
was by no means a common dish in regions outside Northeast China.480 It
was estimated that in 1990 there were forty-two Chinese restaurants in this
district, accounting for 10% of the total number of Chinese restaurants in
San Francisco.481
Such regions became where people sought the most authentic Chinese
food. In addition, a large economy developed around Chinese ethnic food
in these suburban areas. The inflow of Chinese residents brought more eco-
nomic activities and business opportunities with them. Food and food busi-
ness, in turn, consolidated these Chinese ethnic communities. On the one
hand, these restaurants provided job opportunities for recent Chinese im-
migrants as ethnic restaurateurs usually employed workers from their own
ethnic community. On the other hand, attracted by restaurants and other
ethnic institutions that could make their lives more convenient and com-
fortable in the new country, more recent immigrants tended to congregate
in these regions. Since there were also other ethnic restaurants that stayed
true to the original tastes of their cuisines in suburban California,482 Chinese
restaurants just served as one example to demonstrate the diversity of the
ethnic foodscapes in those areas.
The cooking in these restaurants became more specialized. There were a
number of new restaurants that not only specialized in one specific style of
regional cooking but also focused on making one or two specific genres of
regional specialties. Restaurants attempted to use different regional special-
ties to target people from different regions of China and satisfy their hunger
for the foods of their hometowns. The food became more diversified and the
flavors were getting much closer to what one gets in ones hometown back
in China, which suggested a new development of Chinese food in America.

480 Famous North Dishes Were Offered in Little Beijing Restaurant, World
Journal, January 31, 1992, Him Mark Lai Papers, Carton 93, Folder 4, Ethnic
Studies Library of UC Berkeley.
481 Most of the Chinese Restaurant in Sunset District are small- or medium-sized,
World Journal, March 30, 1990, Him Mark Lai Papers, Carton 93, Folder 4.
482 Besides Chinese restaurants, many other Asian restaurants also served au-
thentic ethnic foods to local residents in suburban neighborhoods. For in-
stance, there were plenty of authentic Asian restaurants in suburban Los
Angeles, see R. W. Apple Jr, An Asian Odyssey, Seconds From the Freeway,
New York Times, April 17, 2002.

187
A new transnational culinary trend has never been more clearly observed
in other types of restaurants than these establishments many of the most
popular food in China could be easily found in the areas where the new
Chinese immigrants congregated. As new immigrants came from different
regions of China, different types of regional food were served to satisfy dif-
ferent tastes. In Monterey Park, there was a store that specialized in making
Tianjin Baozi.483 Noodle and Dumpling Houses could be found everywhere
in the San Gabriel Valley. They offered various kinds of noodles and dump-
lings. Dumplings and Noodles houses have flourished in Los Angeles over
the past decades Noodle dishes run the gamut from soups to stir-fires; beef
to vegetarian. They can also feature all different sizes of noodles, from thin
hair-like strands to broad, knife-cut noodles.484 Restaurants that special-
ized in particular kinds of regional specialties were not hard to find in the
San Gabriel Valley. For instance, Mongolian hotpot restaurants and Islamic
Chinese restaurants were quite popular here. Taiwanese eateries also at-
tracted attention. For instance, Lees Garden, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant
that opened in 1984, specialized in making Taiwanese snacks and served
local Taiwanese in Alhambra. Food and food culture were transplanted from
the homeland to the host country. Chinese food trends in the San Gabriel
Valley closely followed the culinary trends in China.
The specialization of Chinese restaurants not only testified the prosperity
of Chinese food and the finer classification of restaurants in California, but
also manifested a transnational cultural trend. The transnational culinary
trend made the Chinese foodscape in metropolitan California more sophis-
ticated. On the one hand, it greatly expanded the eating choices of the Chi-
nese community and satisfied the needs of those who missed specific foods
from their hometowns. Like Sylvia Ferrero said about Mexican restaurants
serving the Mexican community in L.A., they represent amazing arenas of
socialization where the boundaries between private and public spaces are
blurred. These restaurants serve as living rooms for the homesick. There are
great archives of culinary memories.485 Geographical distance became less
important and relevant in peoples minds in consuming and understanding

483 Baozi is a regional specialty of Tianjin. It is a kind of steamed dumpling.


484 Chu, Find Chinese Food in Los Angeles.
485 Ferrero, Comida Sin Par., 206.

188
ethnic food, since real Chinese food became deterritorialized and assumed a
global dimension. One can get the same food in California that one always
gets in his/her hometown. On the other side, it provided American diners
a gateway to see the less-explored, underrepresented but most particular
aspects of Chinese cuisine and culinary culture in their home land. Owing to
the cultural adaptation of Chinese food in America over a long time, exoti-
cism submerged in American Chinese restaurants. Now it reemerged in these
establishments. Although Americans have already been familiar with a wide
range of Chinese food, the food offered in these restaurants was no longer
what they were accustomed to. A Los Angeles Times article said on the food
at Lees Garden, What you will find are specialty dishes quite unlike any-
thing we know of as generic Chinese.486 It broadened the culinary horizons
of non-Chinese eaters. In recommending Noodle and Dumpling Houses,
Find Chinese Food in Los Angeles called them an eye-opener for many in
more ways than one. These restaurants served the same function as a food
exhibition or gallery does: they gave Americans a chance to see Chinese food
and food culture in its original form. In the era of globalization, people,
goods and culture are all transnational. Thanks to the increased movement
of people and the democratization of the American cultural environment,
food and food culture in particular have become more mobile and dynamic
than ever before.
Cultural confidence and culinary pride was strongly expressed in these
establishments. Chinese restaurateurs displayed real Chinese food in public
with little adaptations. Since the main customers were Chinese, there was no
need to modify dishes or hide strange foodstuffs. These restaurants served
as a cultural institution in which real ethnic food practices and food culture
were preserved and the culinary tradition was fully respected. A cultural
connection with the homeland was retained through food, which countered
the force of cultural assimilation. These establishments kept Chinese food-
ways intact in face of the homogenizing forces of American society. Besides
that, these restaurants also exerted cultural influence on a number of non-
Chinese American food lovers and foodies by showing them the real thing
and broadened their culinary horizons. Restaurants for the insiders gave

486 Jacobson, When Chinatown Just Isnt Big Enough.

189
Chinese immigrants a chance to showcase the most bizarre, peculiar and
distinctive aspects of their cuisine without worrying about the stigmatization
associated with food as in the old days, and gave American customers an
opportunity to see and taste real Chinese food without leaving the American
soil. Although Americans used to see Chinese food as unexciting and tame,
these restaurants changed the stereotypical perceptions. More importantly,
these establishments witnessed an inversion in cultural relations. In this new
cultural context, the power relations between Chinese restaurateurs and
American diners changed. The L.A. Times grumbled that it was hard to
get good Chinese food if the customers were not Chinese. They (Chinese
restaurants) tend to strut their best stuff for the local community, leaving
serious Western eaters to the heartbreak of pan-fried noodles.487 Some
American eaters complained that Chinese restaurant staff always assumed
that American taste was not that broad and thus avoided offering them
particular food items like shells, innards and snails. In this vein, American
customers were in a disadvantaged position and had difficulty getting what
they wanted. That leaves those of us who want more than the endless stir-
fry permutations with bell pepper and onion with a fight on our hands.488
Some American customers felt frustrated and bored because they always got
the same kinds of food in Chinese restaurants. A food writer said that when
he went all the way to a particular restaurant and ordered something unu-
sual, the response from the restaurant staff was often you dont like that.
He expressed his dissatisfaction: The more I eat in Chinese restaurants,
the more I find they conform to old stereotypes.489 A newspaper reporter
held the same opinion. He said Chinese restaurant staff always steered him
toward the clich Anglo dishes:
I always get a fork in Chinese restaurantsI am always asked if I want sweet-and-
sour porkWhen I ask if I can have some of the wonderful food that the Chinese
family of 12 is eating at the next table, I am always told that I wouldnt like it.
When I ask what the wall posters mean, I am always told that they are special
foods, for special orders, and I wouldnt like them anyway.490

487 Jacobson, Monterey Parks Top Guide To Middle Kingdom.


488 Cost, An Advanced Course in Dining Chinese.
489 Ibid.
490 Fred Ferretti, Why Is It Hard to Get Chopsticks, San Francisco Chronicle,
April 21, 1983.

190
Those more sophisticated American customers had feelings that they were
marginalized and treated as cultural outsiders. Sometime, English and
Chinese menus even had different items. Some dishes that appeared on Chi-
nese menus could not be found on English ones. It would seem so to a
non-Chinese who scans the menu and is unable to find what the next table
of Chinese are eating such as periwinkles, cuttlefish or pigs tails.491 Wo
choy provides the best example of this. Wo choy was the Menu of the Day
in Chinese restaurants and was written in Chinese only. It included several
dishes grouped together and the price was usually lower than a la carte. Wo
choy was provided for the benefits of Chinese customers. Through the strat-
egy of wo choy, Chinese restaurateurs tended to exclude American customers
from their cultural and gastronomical domain consciously or unconsciously.
They assumed that the specialties on wo choy were beyond the apprecia-
tion of Americans and there would not be a great demand for it, so they
kept it for the Chinese community. The limited range of choices on English
menus made it hard for American customers to get a glimpse of the chefs
full repertoires. In an article titled Wo Choy: the Secret Meals of China-
town, the author stated, There is a curious paralysis of thought that grips
many otherwise rational non-Chinese people when they enter a Chinatown
restaurant the feeling that an intriguing dining experience is just, but for-
ever, beyond reach.492 To a certain extent, the act of treating Chinese and
American customers differentially can be seen as a form of resistance to the
cultural oppression Chinese restaurant operators had suffered for decades.
Just like decades ago when white Americans stereotyped Chinese restaurants
as filthy and unclean, Chinese restaurant operators stereotyped the majority
of American customers as the cultural and culinary outsiders who were
unable to appreciate real Chinese food. Possessing cultural capital of culinary
matters, the Chinese community claimed authority on issues like what real
Chinese food should be like and how to eat in a Chinese way. They reclaimed
their lost cultural territory and placed themselves in a dominant cultural
position in these establishments. In order to get good food, non-Chinese

491 Wong, The Joys of Wo Choy.


492 Robin Zehring and Leslie Nathanson, Wo Choy: the Secret Meals of Chi-
natown, San Francisco, November 1973. Yuk Ow Collection, Carton 21,
Folder 2, Ethnic Studies Library, U.C. Berkeley.

191
customers had to take action. In these restaurants, it was non-Chinese cus-
tomers rather than Chinese restaurants that made adaptations. Chinese food
was no longer modified for American eaters. In this setting, it was American
customers who approached Chinese food. They took the initiative in learning
the way Chinese people order in restaurants. If you want to be treated as
something more than a barbarian, learn a few Chinese names for dishes or
ingredients.493 American diners had to decipher Chinese cultural codes in
order to be treated as insiders and finally get real, original Chinese food:
Nor does it do any good to make a fuss because it simply wont do any good. What
one has to do is develop a strategyI have come up with some rules of behavior
that just might get you chopsticks instead of a fork, attention instead of disdain,
authentic food instead of what the proprietors think non-Chinese like.494

American diners not only learned to appreciate what the Chinese community
savored but also followed the Chinese culinary customs and dining etiquettes.
Through trying unfamiliar food, their taste changed and became much more
sophisticated.
It was food that caused a change in cultural relations. In the social space
of insiders restaurants, the cultural relation between American customers
and Chinese restaurateur changed. Because of food, the old cultural hierarchy
in which white Americans were in a dominant position was challenged, and
a new form of cultural relation was established. The cultural roles of people
were reversed in this type of restaurants white American customers were
no longer the rule makers but had to observe the culinary rules of the
Chinese community; Chinese restaurateurs who used to be the subordinated
became the dominant in terms of cultural position. Like Sylvia Ferrero as-
serted, ethnic food is capable of twisting relations of power and knowledge
in the food market.495 The change of cultural relations might further stimulate
a change of social relations. To sum up, food not only voices power relations
but also changes them.

493 Cost, An Advanced Course in Dining Chinese.


494 Ferretti, Why Is It Hard to Get Chopsticks.
495 Ferrero, Comida Sin Par., 198.

192
4.2.2 Non-Chinese Customers Authenticity and Foodie Culture
Besides Chinese customers, there were also a number of non-Chinese custom-
ers who regularly patronized restaurants mainly serving the Chinese commu-
nity. They not only showed a strong interest in the food but also wrote about
the exciting and unusual eating experiences they had in these restaurants. This
suggested the emergence of a new eating culture in the U.S. foodie culture.
Thanks to the prosperity of American ethnic foodscapes, especially the rapid
increase of different types of ethnic restaurants, the palates of American diners
underwent significant change and became more tolerant and sophisticated
since the 1980s. More and more Americans joined in the rank of foodies.
According to Packaged Facts, consumer survey data showed 19.5% of the
adult population in the U.S. is foodies. Foodies are people who are charac-
terized by their interest in trying new products and more intensive attitudes/
behaviors about foreign, spicy, gourmet, and natural/organic food as well as
their desire for fresh ingredients and upscale presentation.496 The American
Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines the term foodie as a
person who has an ardent or refined interest in food.497 Gourmets, food con-
noisseurs, food writers as well as any eaters who have a particular interest in
and are also willing to devote time, money and energy to food-related activi-
ties all belong to the category.498 These food-conscious people are constantly
discovering rare ingredients, new and exciting flavors, novel and adventur-
ous dishes, and tend to learn food culture at a deeper level. They are willing
to taste things that are unconventional to them. Just like Dana Goodyear
said, the more outlandish and rarefied a find, the more a foodie likes it.499
These food aficionados show a strong interest in foods that are uncommon
to them. They also like to talk about the food items that are unusual or even
inedible in the minds of mainstream Americans and feel proud of their

496 Elizabeth Sloan, The Foodie Phenomenon, Food Technology 67, no. 2
(2013): 18.
497 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 4th ed. (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1992).
498 Although the term foodie also includes people who are interested in food
preparation such as enthusiastic chefs, here I would like to explore it from the
consumers perspective and focus on the consumption rather than the produc-
tion side of foodie culture.
499 Goodyear, Anything That Moves, 3.

193
unchecked appetite. The phrase anything that moves which used to be
an insult when referring to the unrestricted eating habits of some particular
ethnic groups now becomes a foodie-to foodie brag.500 Ethnic cuisines, which
are full of exotic foodstuffs and strange flavors, became a culinary domain
that foodies are enthusiastic about exploring. According to a survey, 29%
of American foodies are more likely to enjoy eating foreign foods than the
general population.501 They not only patronize upscale, high-end establish-
ments, but also eat in small, shabby hole-in-the-wall eateries. The owner of
Lees Garden said that when his small restaurant had just opened, there were
some American customers who ordered the most peculiar and unusual items
from the menu.502
It seems that foodies are generally sensitive to and obsessed with the
term authenticity: Authenticity is a key element of how foodies evaluate
and legitimate food choices.503 Foodies have a strong inclination to seek
authentic food when they dine out. In eating exotic foods, for the sake of
authenticity, foodies are willing to break the culinary taboos of their social
group, and try food which is challenging or even repulsive to them. In res-
taurants serving the Chinese community, non-Chinese foodies conducted a
culinary adventure by trying Chinese foodstuffs that were strange to them
like tongue, tripe, gizzard, duck heads and pig ear.
In exploring foodie culture, authenticity is a vital concern. But what on
earth does authenticity mean to foodies? And why is authenticity of such
great significance? Here I would like to discuss the issue of authenticity in
relation to audience and recipients rather than producers. First of all, I in-
vestigate the essential questions of what authenticity is and who can tell the
authentic from the inauthentic. In defining authenticity, Charles Lindholm
wrote in the introduction of Culture and Authenticity, At minimum, it is
the leading member of a set of values that includes sincere, essential, natural,
original, and real.504 He went on to elaborate: authentic objects, persons,

500 Ibid., 45.


501 Elizabeth Sloan, The Foodie Phenomenon.
502 Based on the personal interviews of the author.
503 Shyon Baumann and Josee Johnston, Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in
the Gourmet Foodscape (New York: Routledge, 2010), 69.
504 Charles Lindholm, Culture and Authenticity (Malden and Oxford: Blackwell
Publishing, 2008), 1.

194
collectives are original, real, and pure; they are what they purport to be,
their roots are known and verified, their essence and appearance are one.505
However, does the authenticity he described really exist in reality? If things
are considered as authentic as long as they have a strong connection to their
provenance and are true to their cultural roots, then how strong is the connec-
tion supposed to be and how true should they be to their cultural roots? The
criterion of evaluation seems so elusive and tricky. Thus, authenticity seems
to be a matter of degree.506 It is a relative notion rather than an absolute
and there is no golden standard to evaluate it. Besides that, like invented
traditions, authenticity is socially constructed. In discussing the issue of au-
thenticity in tourism, Erik Cohen suggested that authenticity should be seen
as a negotiable rather than a primitive concept and it is being constructed
through new cultural developments. Cohen said people in different conditions
may perceive authenticity in different terms. In the tourist world, different
types of tourists have different criteria in the quest of authenticity.507 Shun
Lu and Gary Alan Fine asserted, Authenticity is not an objective criterion
but is socially constructed and linked to expectationsauthenticity also has
a relational character. People define authenticity in association with their own
social experience.508 In this vein, there are different standards and percep-
tions in evaluating and understanding the authenticity of a particular type of
cuisine among different groups of diners.
In discussing authenticity in regards to food, Lisa Heldke asked should
authentic automatically and in principle mean that a dish was prepared
exactly the way an insider cook would do it, in this native habitat? She
argued this understanding of authenticity ignored the possibility that an
insider might regard it as authentic to modify a dish in order to respond to
different local conditions and ingredients.509 Like any other aspect of culture,
the culinary culture of a particular social group is not static and stable, but

505 Ibid., 2.
506 Lu and Fine, The Presentation of Ethnic Authenticity: Chinese Food as a
Social Accomplishment, 538.
507 Cohen, Authenticity and Commoditization in Tourism.
508 Lu and Fine, The Presentation of Ethnic Authenticity, 535.
509 Lisa Heldke, But is it Authentic? Culinary Travel and the Search for the Genu-
ine Article in The Taste Culture Reader, ed. Carolyn Korsmeyer (Oxford:
Berg, 2005), 388.

195
in constant change. In the evolvement of a certain cuisine, modifications and
variations cannot be avoided. From generation to generation, some culinary
preparations and foodways absorb features of alien foods perhaps a func-
tion of biological succession of foodstuffs, migration, technological change,
shortages, or alterations in food-related ideologies.510 This challenges the
very existence of absolutely authentic food. Authenticity is not an inherited
and intrinsic property of food, as with any other cultural objects or forms,
but only exists in peoples imaginations. Speaking from the perspective of
consumers, to assess whether a particular food is authentic or not depends
on ones standpoint and his/her social and cultural imaginations. In a certain
sense, authenticity is a matter of perceptions and expectations: authenticity
is generated through perceptions of how a cultural object negotiates a set of
standards and values, instead of emerging from a cultural objects qualities.
Crucially, these standards and values differ from time to time and from place
to place.511
To return to Chinese American food, although it seems that authenticity is
a desirable trait among customers and no one claims that he/she likes fake
food, different types of consumers would give different definitions of authen-
tic Chinese food. The authenticity non-Chinese eaters pursue is different from
that requested by Chinese immigrants. In the eyes of immigrants, authentic
food should be of the same taste, appearance and smell as what they used
to have in their home country; while non-Chinese customers tend to mix up
exotic and authentic food in Chinese restaurants. What cultural outsid-
ers identify as authentic may just be something new or unfamiliar to their
own cultural group and may or may not seem genuine and real to in-
siders.512 Dean MacCannell argued that what outsiders (no matter restaurant
customers or tourists) believe as authentic might be just a kind of staged

510 Lu and Fine, The Presentation of Ethnic Authenticity, 538. Charles Lind-
holm also argued that authentic cuisine is socially constructed and invented
in some particular socioeconomic and cultural context when he discussed the
authentication process of Belizean, Italian and French national cuisine. See
Lindholm, Culture and Authenticity.
511 Baumann and Johnston, Foodies, 71.
512 Heldke, But is it Authentic?, 388.

196
authenticity which is fabricated deliberately by cultural producers.513 More
often than not, what non-Chinese regard as authentic is merely something
exotic. Chop suey serves as the best example to illustrate this point. For a
long time, chop suey was considered an authentic Chinese dish in America,
which was in fact merely an exotic cultural invention and was never in a
real sense recognized by the Chinese community. Cultural outsiders under-
stand the authenticity of ethnic food quite differently from insiders. To them,
newness, strangeness and exoticness make food authentic.514 Even within the
group of non-Chinese consumers, the authentic eating experience sought
by common American diners is not the same as what foodies demand. It
seems that ordinary American diners dont care as much about authentic-
ity as foodies do. In eating ethnic food, ordinary customers simply expect
something different, exotic and delicious, which they regard as authentic.
Although the dishes in most Chinese restaurants were modified and might
seem quite Americanized to the Chinese community, they were nevertheless
perceived as real Chinese food by common American eaters. To the majority
of American eaters, authenticity doesnt seem to be a big problem as long as
the food is pleasant to them. In contrast, foodies are more sophisticated in
terms of culinary issues and much more concerned about the authenticity of
food. They try to understand ethnic food and food culture at a deep level and
go much further than ordinary eaters in a search of authenticity. In Chinese
restaurants for insiders, foodies were adventurous in trying the dishes
that were new to them. They paid special attention to previously unnoticed
and uncommon dishes, and also attempted to introduce the inconspicuous
aspects of Chinese cuisine to other American eaters. For instance, a food
writer introduced a variety of Chinese lamb dishes and sausages from differ-
ent regions of China to other diners through his L.A. weekly blogs.515 When

513 Dean MacCannell, The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class (Los
Angeles: University of California Press, 1999).
514 Meredith E. Abarca, Authentic or Not, Its Original, Food & Foodways 12
(2004), 125.
515 Jim Thurman, Lamb is the Lure at Liangs Kitchen in Monterey Park, ac-
cessed November 11, 2014, http://www.laweekly.com/squidink/2014/05/06/
lamb-is-the-lure-at-liangs-kitchen-in-monterey-park and Chinese Sausag-
es + Where to Find Four Regional Versions, http://www.laweekly.com/
squidink/2013/12/12/chinese-sausages-where-to-find-four-regional-versions.

197
you think of sausage, Chinese cuisine is probably not what immediately
comes to mind. Germany, obviously, then probably Italy. But China has
an incredibly rich history of sausage-making, said the food writer. Some
foodies even establish their authority and enhance their credibility by travel-
ling to the place of origin of a particular foreign cuisine. Through a culinary
trip, they acquire more knowledge and information on the foreign cuisine.
By comparing the food in American ethnic restaurants with that in its place
of origin, these foodies put themselves in a better position to judge whether
the food is the real thing or not. In the quest of authenticity, foodies also
like to study a particular dish in details and dig deep into an ethnic cuisine.
Since the authenticity of ethnic cuisine often has close connections to its
specific geographical, historical and cultural roots, the foodie discourse in
America was full of references to the cultural traditions and histories of the
cuisine concerned. When telling about his dining experience in a Chaur Jou
(Chao Zhou) restaurant, a food writer introduced the origin of the cuisine to
his audience: Chaur Jou is actually a part of a northeastern Canton prov-
ince inhabited primarily by fishermen. They have a separate language and a
distinctive regional cuisine, which naturally includes many ways to prepare
seafood.516 Similarly, in introducing the cold dishes in Yunnan Restaurant
in the San Gabriel Valley, a foodie wrote, Its common in China to enter a
restaurant and grab two or three small cold dishes to start your meal517
Here the culinary practice in China was drawn upon to make a comparison.
Foodies also have an aesthetic appreciation of food - the artistry of ethnic
cooking especially attracts their attention. In foodie discourses on Chinese
food, the artistic and aesthetic appeal of Chinese food was given emphasis
to. Witness the comment a foodie made on a Chinese dish named twice-
cooked pork:
For this moderately spicy but deeply subtle dish, Mandarin Dynasty cuts pork
tenderloin, bamboo shoots, tofu and onion into uniform rectangles and cooks
together with a few peppers and a nicely seasoned brown sauce. The trick is in

516 Max Jacobson, First Chaur Jou: Chinese Food For Unbelievers, Los Angeles
Times, May 30, 1986.
517 James Gordon, The SGVs Yunnan Restaurant is one of the Only Yunnan Res-
taurants in America, accessed November 11, 2014, http://www.laweekly.com/
squidink/2014/07/15/the-sgvs-yunnan-restaurant-is-one-of-the-only-yunnan-
restaurants-in-america.

198
the appearance: all the bits look the same, but each has a slightly different texture
and a decidedly different taste.518

The subtlety of Chinese cooking, which might be ignored by the general


public, was noticed and voiced by foodies.
Ordinary eaters dont bother spending so much time and effort in the
search for authentic food and are not that enthusiastic about exploring a
foreign cuisine at a deep level. Thus, they dont possess the ability to ques-
tion the authenticity of ethnic food. Unlike ordinary diners, thanks to their
knowledge and dining experiences, foodies develop a more discriminating
palate and better discernment of food. They are more capable of telling the
authentic from the inauthentic. The authenticity that is pursued by foodies
is much closer to the one demanded by the cultural insiders. The quest of
a relatively higher degree of authenticity is one of the status markers of
foodies. By their serious pursuit of authenticity in food, foodies distinguish
themselves from ordinary diners. Their knowledge of food and their ad-
vanced palate that developed through their eating experiences are their
expertise. They display their expertise by introducing the public to what
they see as authentic ethnic food. Foodies seek status distinction by their
eating practices and food knowledge. At the same time that they genu-
inely enjoy food, foodies engaged in identity politics and status distinctions
through their eating practices.519 They place themselves in the position
of experts in terms of culinary culture by showing their discernment and
knowledge of food. Foodies usually have a desire to share their personal
dining experiences in ethnic restaurants, which constitute an important part
of the foodie discourse. In the discourse, they usually claim authority on
ethnic eating, and act as food preachers who can give information and
pass on culinary knowledge to others. They tell their audience where to get
dangerous but delicious food through mass media, not only through the
traditional media like newspapers and food magazines, but also through
new forms of channels such as e-communities like yelp, chowhound as well
as personal food blogs. In an article titled An Advanced Course in Dining
Chinese, the non-Chinese food writer shared his knowledge of the Chinese

518 David Nelson, A Chinese Restaurant That Offers Variations on Stereotyped


Standards, Los Angeles Times, October 20, 1989.
519 Johnston and Baumann, Foodies, 4.

199
restaurant dining with his readers with the tone of a culinary godfather:
unless youve established yourself at a Chinese restaurant, ignore what the
waiter recommends.520 Their discernment and knowledge on food that is
attained through dining experience operate as a form of cultural capital,
which sets them apart from the general public. They pursue a distinctive
status and distinguish themselves from general diners in several ways. First
and foremost, foodies show their culinary connoisseurship by boasting a
more developed palate and better taste. Foodies like to brag about their
fondness of food that is not palatable to the mainstream Americans. In
describing a Chinese dish that contains snake, a challenging food item to
most Americans, a food writer expressed his appreciation matter-of-factly:
One of their best dishes is a snake soup made from cobra, chicken and
dried scallop. Its beyond description, the kind of dish people travel great
distances to experience, with legendary powers as aphrodisiac.521 The idea
of using snake as a food item didnt seem to bother or even surprise him
even a little bit. Another food writer had a similar attitude in introducing
a Hunan-style restaurant: A variety of meats are available in the dishes,
including some offal or frog, the latter either in a hot pot or pickled in a
rice bowl. Of course, steamed Hunan-style fish head can be ordered in a
hot pot or with noodles and vegetable dishes are also on the menu.522
Neither offal nor fish head seemed repulsive to the foodie. It seemed that
foodies make a declaration that they are a group of omnivorous eaters.
They want to assert that like ordinary diners they are in their comfort
zone when encountering or even eating unusual food. Foodies show how
they differ from non-foodies by acting differently in the face of strange
food. As it was shown by the case of Chinese food, their culinary tolerance
and omnivorousness in encountering unusual food justified their foodie
status. Secondly, foodies usually have a strong desire of being identified as
cultural insiders. In Chinese restaurants, non-Chinese foodies tried every
possible way to act like a Chinese. They uttered Chinese words, followed

520 Cost, An Advanced Course in Dining Chinese.


521 Jacobson, Monterey Parks Top Guide to Middle Kingdom.
522 Jim Thurman, New Hunan Restaurant Chiliking Family Opens in the SGV,
accessed November 11, 2014, http://www.laweekly.com/squidink/2014/05/20/
new-hunan-restaurant-chiliking-family-opens-in-the-sgv.

200
Chinese customs and ordered what Chinese customers were eating. A food
writer once told his readers how to ask for a refill of tea and how to thank
the waiter in a Chinese way: It is polite, when your teapot is empty, to tip
back the teapot lid Then after he has brought the filled pot to the table,
you cup your right hand, turn it downward and tap the table gently with
your fingertips. This is an unobtrusive way of saying thank you.523 By
claiming they are different from ordinary eaters in terms of both taste and
dining behaviors, foodies establish a symbolic boundary between them-
selves and ordinary American eaters. Pierre Bourdieu argued in his seminal
work Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste the differences
in taste are associated with positions in the social class structure. It is the
existence of socioeconomic hierarchies that leads to differences in aesthetic
preferences. Bourdieu connected ones taste and life style with his/her eco-
nomic, social and cultural capitals such like parental class background and
educational level. And he believed ones possession of economic, social and
cultural capital bestows him/her the social distinction.524 However, in my
case, the distinction between foodies and non-foodies is more about cultural
status than social class. Since foodies come from different social strata,
socioeconomic factors dont seem to be essential in taste differentiation.
With the new prosperity of ethnic restaurants, the gourmet foodscape has
become more democratic in America and the foodie status more easily at-
tainable. Accesses to ethnic dining were widely available to any eater since
the doors of inexpensive ethnic restaurants were open to every customer.
The difference between foodie and non-foodie to a large extent depends on
whether one has motivation and intention to acquire culinary knowledge
and experience. Through their dining experiences, foodies gain knowledge
and discernment of food, which empowers them and distinguishes them
from the general public. They attain a distinctive cultural status by claim-
ing their rich knowledge of food and their advanced and refined taste.
In foodie culture, taste is not necessarily an indicator of social class but
manifests cultural differences in people.

523 Ferretti, Why is It Hard to Get Chopsticks.


524 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, trans.
Richard Nice (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984).

201
Through food consumption, foodies demonstrate their gastronomic dis-
tinctiveness and culinary sophistication. To foodies, food is a marker of
status and a source of distinction with which they can claim their special
cultural identity. Although anyone might have access to the foodie status
no matter what his/her socioeconomic status is, this group of people devel-
ops a unique collective cultural identity through their eating practices and
their storytelling about eating experiences, which distinguish themselves
from other eaters culturally.
Shyon Baumann and Josee Johnston said in their book Foodies: Democ-
racy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape, although the emergence
of foodie culture featured by omnivorousness democratized the gourmet
foodscape in America, which had a historical preference for French cuisine,
it continued to generate sources of status distinction and maintained a taste
of hierarchy within the foodie discourse.525 Although seemingly the foodie
culture doesnt involve class or socioeconomic status, it nevertheless creates
new cultural and social distinction since cultural capital can sometimes be
transformed into social capital.
The eating practices and food writing of foodies exert an influence on
the way ordinary Americans eat. It is not uncommon for a large number of
people to patronize an underground restaurant and try its specialties after
a famous food writer publicized it. Foodies make a big contribution to the
expansion of American food boundaries and the reshaping of the American
palate. Baumann and Johnston also discussed the influence of foodies on the
mainstream eaters: elite food professionals and food enthusiasts constantly
push the boundaries of what is considered daring, bold, and exotic; some
(but not all) of these trends slowly filtered down to mainstream eaters
526 Thus, foodies serve as very important agents of change in American
culinary culture in recent years.
Restaurants for insiders revealed the distinctiveness of the Chinese
foodscape in California, which is more dynamic and diversified than any-
where else. In talking about the difference between Chinese restaurants in
New York and Los Angeles, Jonathan Golden, a food writer who won the
Pulitzer Prize for criticism, said: The difference is that in New York they are

525 Johnston and Baumann, Foodies.


526 Ibid., 25.

202
cooking for us, Here theyre cooking for themselves.527 Instead of adapting
Chinese food to the preferences of mainstream American customers, these
restaurants targeted insiders the Chinese community and people who
are willing to behave like Chinese in terms of eating. The way insiders
eat exercises a cultural influence on ordinary Californian eaters and changes
their way of eating and thinking to a certain extent. The change of the lo-
cal eating habits and culinary culture would lead to the formation of a new
cultural identity for locals.

4.3Cross-over Consumption The Birth of a Transethnic


Cuisine and Cosmopolitan Identity
As previously discussed, the Chinese foodscape is much more complex in
metropolitan California than elsewhere in the United States. Due to the ex-
istence of diverse ethnic foodways and the confluence of different ethnic
eating, the Golden State has a distinctive culinary culture. With a rich mix
of multi-ethnic populations, there is a multi-ethnic cuisine for multiethnic
consumers in California. Ever since the 1970s, the restaurant guides of Los
Angeles and the Bay Area were full of ethnic restaurants, French, Italian,
Chinese, Mexican but also Eastern European, Thai, Indian, Peruvian and so
on. A San Francisco restaurant guide said in 1984, The city now teems with
some 5000 dining placesrepresenting almost every ethnic culture.528 In
these restaurant guides, restaurants were often categorized by ethnicity. Since
the social composition of consumers was highly diverse in terms of ethnicity
in metropolitan California, cross-over food consumption between different
ethnic groups was commonplace. No longer only catering to the preferences
of white European Americans, ethnic restaurants began to tailor their food to
the tastes of different ethnic groups after 1965. Being no exception, Chinese
restaurants modified their food differently to accommodate eaters from dif-
ferent ethnic backgrounds. An article from the Los Angeles Time reported
about a Chinese restaurant where Chinese dishes are prepared to the Filipino
taste with American ingredients. Since dishes were adapted to the Filipino

527 Goodyear, Anything That Moves, 23.


528 Jacqueline Killeen, Best Restaurants, San Francisco Bay Area (New York: The
Scribner Book Companies, 1984), vii.

203
palate, the place was popular among Filipinos. The small, sparkling, white
room is often jammed with Filipino families and customers waiting for order
to go.529 The situation was particularly true in Chinese restaurants located
in the enclaves of other ethnic groups. In Los Angeles, a Chinese restaurant
in Korean Town named the Heart of China figured out how to cater to
Korean tastes without being so obvious as to accompany meals with kimchi.
In this restaurant, noodles were served in oversized bowls, according to cus-
tom in Korea.530 A Chinese restaurateur whose establishment was located in
a Jewish neighborhood told me he offered kosher Chinese food to his Jewish
customers.531
Cross-over eating of ethnic cuisines signified that the culinary boundaries
between ethnic groups were further broken down, and the cultural domi-
nance of white Americans was seriously challenged after 1965 in the market.
In order to attract customers of diverse ethnic backgrounds, food purveyors
had to adapt their food to different tastes. This culinary consumption trend
found its expression in mass media. For instance, in one of the most popular
American sitcoms The Big Bang Theory, which premiered on CBS on Septem-
ber 24, 2007, the five main characters who live in Pasadena, California eat
ethnic foods on a regular basis they eat Chinese and Thai food on a weekly
basis as it is claimed by the characters. Among the five people, three are white
Americans, one Jewish American and one Indian immigrant. It echoed the
reality that in California the multi-ethnic consumers who are willing to cross
their own culinary boundary consume different ethnic foods.
There was an important culinary invention that distinguished California
from other places: fusion cuisine. In the early 1980s, Wolfgang Puck
invented Sino-French fusion cuisine in his restaurant Chinois on Main by
blending elements of Chinese and French cooking in a single dish.532 Since
then, chefs were enthusiastic about blending culinary elements from dif-
ferent ethnic cooking in a single plate and came up with various fusion

529 Barbara Hansen, Chinese Food is Prepared for Filipino Taste, Los Angeles
Times, June 23, 1988.
530 Barbara Hansen, Chinese Food with Flavor of Korea, Los Angeles Times,
February 26, 1987.
531 Based on the authors personal interview.
532 Kamp, The United States of Arugula, 252.

204
concoctions like Korean-Chinese, Italian-Mexican and Japanese-French.533
Ethnic cuisines began to borrow elements from and merge with one other.
The emergence of fusion cuisine in California suggested the boundaries
between different ethnic cuisines were becoming blurred and permeable. The
birth of fusion cuisine marked the formation of a transethnic cuisine in
the Golden State. Originally inspired in part and still largely influenced by
the cooking of North Italy, the states cuisine is melding the culinary styles
of Western Europe with those of Japan, China, Southeast Asia, Mexico, the
American Indian and others, commented the New York Times.534 Culture
and Customs of the United States said, California cooking is also in fact
a fusion of tastes from all over the world.535
Why did transethnic cuisine first appear in California but not in other
metropolitan cities? A few social and cultural factors might contribute to
the emergence of this new type of cuisine. First of all, California has a
unique culinary history and tradition. Ethnic and cultural diversity resulting
from the long immigration history has played an important role in shaping
the foodways of California. As early as the gold rush era, restaurants in
the city of San Francisco served different ethnic cuisines to miners of dif-
ferent ethnicities, and included cuisines such as Chinese, English, French,
Mexican, and Italian.536 The advocacy and celebration of multiculturalism
in the 1960s and 1970s in American society promoted this culinary tradi-
tion of California. It helped ethnic cuisines attain unprecedented popularity
during this time period. Multiculturalism received the warmest response in
California where the non-white population was on its way to surpass the

533 On fusion cuisine, see M. C. Anderson, Intra-Asian Fusion, Asianweek,


May 28, 1998; Alan Liddle, New SF Restaurants Signal Rising Trend in
Asian-fusion Dining, Nations Restaurant News, January 17, 2000, and
Amy Spector, Hisashi Yoshiara: Japanese Import Stirs Up Interest In Fusion
Cuisine, Nations Restaurant News, April 10, 2000.
534 Robert Lindsey, California Grows Her Own Cuisine, New York Times,
August 18, 1985.
535 Benjamin F. Shearer, Cuisine and Fashion, in Culture and Customs of the
United States, Volume 2: Culture, ed. Benjamin F. Shearer (Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press, 2008), 212.
536 Erica J. Peters, Culinary Trends in Gold Rush San Franciscowith Molasses
on Top, accessed October 19, 2014, http://chscsite.org/erica-j-peters-culinary-
trends-in-gold-rush-san-francisco-with-molasses-on-top/.

205
white population. Thanks to the multiculturalism as well as the new inflow
of immigrants, foodscapes in California became more diversified after the
1960s. Secondly, the local culture helped cultivate the new type of cui-
sine. As the home of Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Disneyland, California
boasted a culture of innovation. People in California enjoyed experimen-
tation and had a strong desire and curiosity for trying new things. It was
this cultural environment that nurtured inventive celebrity chefs like Alice
Waters and Wolfgang Puck. These chefs launched a series of food move-
ments, set the culinary trends and changed the relations between food and
people in America. California, as their base, certainly stood in the very
forefront of the culinary changes. Transethnic eating in California can also
be seen as an expression of anti-provincialism in the culinary field. In ad-
dition, consumerism also helped promote culinary experimentation and
innovation. Thanks to postwar affluence, consumerism flourished in Cali-
fornia since the mid-20th century, which provided fertile soil for commodity
production and cultural creation.537 A considerable number of affluent and
food-conscious consumers in California hunted for novel food to resist
the culinary boredom induced by mass-production. It is consumers who
have sovereignty in the marketplace.538 In order to satisfy the demands of
customers, food producers needed to come up with new types of cuisine
and novel food products.
There is a firmly held belief in modern Western societies to have is to
be. People tend to define themselves and others based on the things they
possess.539 Thus, the consumption of material and cultural goods plays a
significant role in not only expressing but also shaping the cultural identity
of consumers. Consumers seek self-expression through their personal choices
in the marketplace. It is in the sphere of consumption conspicuous leisure
on the basis of adequate disposable income that many will seek to express

537 On the social, economic, political and cultural life of California in the post-
war years, see Kevin Starr, Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abun-
dance, 19501963 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
538 On the shift of authority from producers to consumers in the marketplace, see
Russell Keat, Nigel Whiteley and Nicholas Abercrombie, eds., The Authority
of the Consumer (London: Routledge, 1994).
539 Celia Lury, Consumer Culture (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press,
1996), 7.

206
their sense of freedom, their personal power, their status aspiration.540 They
also (re)construct their identities through their consumption behaviors. The
decisions of purchase made by consumers affect their identity formation.
The consumer choice has a performative character in the marketplace con-
sumption behavior helps the consumer present an image of himself/herself to
others and the image in turn influences the consumers perception of the self.
A few sociologists like Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens and Zygmunt Bau-
man shared the opinion that people define themselves through the messages
they transmit to others through the goods and practices that they possess
and display. They manipulate or manage appearances and thereby create
and sustain a self-identity.541 Consumption behaviors that are based on
free choice invoke a self-reflection and self-identification of the consumer.
Consumer choice is deeply implicated in the process of, respectively, cre-
ating a reflexive self, constructing a narrative of self, or electing oneself to
a shared form of identification.542 Thus, a renewed personal or collective
identity of the consumer might come into being through his purchase of
commodities in the marketplace. Different from dress, music or any other
objects of consumption, food is essential to human life and hence a highly
significant marker of identity. Thus, the consumption of food is often at
the center of what observers think of others as well as what people think of
themselves as they make choices or are constrained in their attempts to use
food and drink as markers of identity.543 What you put in your mouth -
what you literally consume - is of great importance to who you are. Just
like Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin asserted in 1825, Tell me what you eat,
and I will tell you who you are.544 Lu and Fine also argued Through the

540 Alan Tomlinson, Introduction: Consumer Culture and the Aura of the Com-
modity, in Consumption, Identity, and Style: Marketing, Meanings, and the
Packaging of Pleasure, ed. Alan Tomlinson (London: Routledge, 1990), 6.
541 Alan Warde, Consumption, Identity-Formation and Uncertainty, Sociology
28, no. 4 (November 1994): 878.
542 Ibid., 88283.
543 Thomas M. Wilson, Food, Drink and Identity in Europe: Consumption and
the Construction of Local, National and Cosmopolitan Culture, in Food,
Drink and Identity in Europe, ed. Thomas M. Wilson (Amsterdam: Rodopi,
2006), 14.
544 Gabaccia, We are What We Eat, 225.

207
consumption of ethnic cuisine we demonstrate to ourselves and others that
we are cosmopolitan and tolerant: our character is expressed through our
behavior in the market.545 Since California is abundant in ethnic cuisines,
the cross-cultural consumption of different ethnic cuisines by a multi-ethnic
population has been shaping the identity of local Californians. By means of
cross-ethnic food consumption, Californian eaters from different ethnic back-
grounds displayed their culinary adventurousness, sophisticated palate as well
as their cultural tolerance to the outside world. The openness, sophistication,
tolerance and flexibility of Californians in their eating practices and culinary
beliefs can by summarized by a single word: cosmopolitanism. Culinary con-
structions of cosmopolitanism are formed through consumption of foods
and cuisines that are differentiated culturally and geographically.546 Since
eating foreign foods has a close connection to the mentality of embracing
and exhibiting cosmopolitanism, Id like to argue Californian consumers built
a cosmopolitan image for themselves and others through their omnivorous
food consumption, and this very image invoked their self-reflection and self-
identification. In this way, they constructed a cosmopolitan cultural identity
through their trans-ethnic eating.
The construction of cosmopolitan identity among Californian consumers
has cultural implications. First of all, it challenged ethnocentrism, especially
white cultural supremacy. Whiteness was no longer the norm in California.
Commodities in the market no longer only catered to the preferences of
white Americans. The participation of people from other races in the con-
sumer culture was acknowledged and became increasingly visible. Ethnic
commodities, whatever they were, needed to satisfy the demands of a multi-
ethnic group of people who boasted a multi-ethnic culture and a collective
cosmopolitan identity. Secondly, a new kind of cultural democracy was
manifested through the formation of a cosmopolitan identity among aver-
age consumers. Cosmopolitan identity was no longer reserved exclusively
for the middle and upper-class people for them to show their special social
status, but was available to common people from every social stratum by

545 Lu and Fine, The Presentation of Ethnic Authenticity, 539.


546 Shaun Naomi Tanaka, Consuming the Oriental Other, Constructing the Cos-
mopolitan Canadian: Reinterpreting Japanese Culinary Culture in Torontos
Japanese Restaurants (PhD diss., Queens University, 2008), 878.

208
means of food consumption. Thanks to the abundance of cheap ethnic
food, eating food from diverse ethnic backgrounds doesnt necessarily entail
social exclusion and distinction.
Ethnic food caused a change in the cultural life of Californians. Sidney
Mintz said, Changes in food and in taste are changes in culture.547 Just as it
was revealed in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, eating different ethnic foods
become a part of peoples daily life in California. Being exposing to various
ethnic foods on a daily basis, no matter if it was in sit-down restaurants, food
courts, supermarkets or grocery stores, the cultural life of Californians has
been shaped by the consumption of ethnic foods. Through dining in different
ethnic restaurants, people soak up exotic cultural atmosphere, get to know
different culinary customs and savor delicious dishes, which might arouse
their curiosity about the culture behind the food. Through their dining expe-
riences, peoples cultural horizons might be broadened and their knowledge
structure might be altered, which would result in a transformation of their
perceptions of the world and a change in their value system. In this vein,
food not only reflects but also causes cultural changes. The construction of a
collective cosmopolitan identity in California would shed some light on the
correlation between food consumption and identity formation of consumers
in other metropolitan regions.

547 Sidney Mintz, Food, Culture and Energy, in Food and Globalization: Con-
sumption, Markets and Politics in the Modern World, ed. Alexander Ntzenadel
and Frank Trentmann (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2008), 27.

209
Conclusion

Anthropologist Sydney Mintz said, Food is something we think about, talk


about, conceptualize548 and its consumption is always conditioned by
meaning. These meanings are symbolic and communicated symbolically.549
Food is much more than sustenance. It is loaded with symbolic meanings as
anthropologists have discussed for centuries. Anthropologists are the first
group of people in academia who were concerned about the roles of food
in the economic, social and cultural life of people in a given society. This is
because food cemented loyalties, reminded people who they were in relation
to others, fortified them for their tasks, and linked them to their gods.550
Among these roles, food is most often used as a marker of membership and
employed to draw social boundaries between different groups of people.
To eat is to distinguish and discriminate, include and exclude. Food choices
establish boundaries and borders, said food historian Warren Belasco.551
Since the turn of the twentieth century, as people and goods moved at an
unprecedented rate, the global food system has become more complex and
the human relations more entangled. As a result, food bears more meanings
and functions. Scholars found that food can be used as a tool to inquire into
other issues class, gender, ethnicity, consumer culture, material culture,
and environmental studies.552
Mary Douglass said if food is seen as a code, it encodes the messages
that express social relations.553 In a multiethnic society, ethnic food serves
as one of the most important symbols of ethnic relations. The relation
between an ethnic group and mainstream society is not merely judged
from whether its ethnic cuisine is accepted or not, but also from how it is

548 Sidney W. Mintz, Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom (Boston: Beacon Press,
1996), 5.
549 Ibid., 7.
550 Ibid., 4.
551 Warren Belasco, Food Matters, Perspectives on an Emerging Field, in Food
Nations, 2.
552 Ibid., 10.
553 Mary Douglass, Deciphering a Meal, 36.

211
perceived and understood by the people in the host country. The transfor-
mation of Chinese food from Americanized Cantonese country dishes to a
rich variety of regional cuisines in the latter half of the twentieth century
has significant social meanings. It first of all reflects change in the relation-
ship between the Chinese ethnic group and mainstream society. The change
of the class dynamics within the Chinese community can be also observed
through food. The difference in socioeconomic status between the old
and new immigrant restaurateurs was projected on how their respective
foods were served in and accepted by American society. In exploring the
influence of social class on the market, traditional studies usually attached
importance to the social class of consumers but paid less attention to that
of food producers. I would like to point out that in the introduction and
reception of Chinese cuisine in the new era, the sociocultural background
of the food purveyors played a very important role. Thanks to the arrival
of the middle and upper-class restaurant operators and professional chefs,
a refined Chinese cuisine was brought to the U.S. and Chinese food went
through gentrification. Consequently, the American reception of new Chi-
nese food was also different from the earlier period. While earlier Chinese
immigrants spent almost half a century in trying to gain the acceptance
of old Cantonese food by American society, it took new immigrants only
about one decade to make new regional cuisines popular among Ameri-
cans.554 In the new era, Chinese culinary culture has a bigger influence on
American diners - some of them even followed the Chinese way of eating in
restaurants. Based on these facts, it makes sense to argue that even within
the same ethnic group cuisines from different social classes follow different
paths in their acceptance in abroad.
The influence of race and class both find their expression in the status of
ethnic food in the host country. A look at the history of four non-Anglo-
Saxon, ethnic cuisines French, Italian, Chinese and Mexican food in the
U.S. would be helpful for us to understand the roles race and class play in the
introduction and reception of ethnic cuisines in a host society. French cuisine
has enjoyed a high status in the American culinary world for centuries. As

554 As a large wave of Chinese immigrants began to arrive in the U.S. starting
in the late 1960s, a new Chinese restaurant boom emerged in the 1970s and
1980s, which signified the great popularity of the new regional cuisines.

212
early as the beginning of the 19th century, elaborate and gourmet eating in
America all looked up to and tried to emulate French haute cuisine and
most of the menus in upscale restaurants were written in French.555 Com-
pared to French cuisine, Italian cuisine became mainstream in a slower pace
in America. When Italian food was first brought to the U.S. by the large wave
of Italian immigrants in the late 19th century, there was little indication of
any growth in interest or appreciation of Italian cookery. American social
workers even tried to convince Italians to change their food habits.556 This
was probably owe to the fact that the large number of the Italian immigrants
who came to the U.S at the turn of the 20th century were from the lower
class. According to the census, in the 1880s Italians in the United States were
largely in manual labor by occupation.557 Thus, the image of the Italian ethnic
group was linked with conditions of socioeconomic and cultural backward-
ness and inclination for crime.558 Harvey Levenstein said Italian American
food entered the American mainstream only after the great wave of immi-
gration from Italy subsided.559 In contrast, besides the long-standing fame of
French cuisine in Europe, the absence of lower-class French immigrants also
contributed to the high status of French cuisine in America. Compared with
the massive immigration from many other European countries, the pace of
French emigration to the U.S was quite slow. From 1820 to 1996, a total of
almost 811,000 French were recorded entering the U.S. as compared with 38
million from the entire Europe.560 In addition, French immigrants in general
enjoyed a relatively high social status in the U.S.: French immigrants have
tended to be more successful and influential than other groups in America.
French immigrants are generally urban, middle-class, skilled, and progres-
sive, and they are most likely to be employed as artisans or merchants.561

555 Root and Rochemont, Eating in America.


556 Levenstein, The American Response to Italian Food.
557 Roger Daniels, Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity
in American Life (New York: HarperPerennial, 1990), 195.
558 Cinotto, Serving Ethnicity.
559 Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, 215.
560 David M. Brownstone and Irene M. Franck, Facts about American Immigra-
tion (New York and Dublin: The H. W. Wilson Company, 2001).
561 Laurie Collier Hillstrom, French Americans, accessed November 1, 2014,
http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Du-Ha/French-Americans.html.

213
Levenstein once argued that the adoption of a foreign cuisine in a host society
is facilitated by the absence of low status people from whose homeland the
cuisine originates.562 The reception of French and Italian food in American
society seemed to prove his point.
Although it received less attention and reverence than French cuisine in
the earlier age, Italian food gained acceptance from American society more
quickly and easily than non-white ethnic foods like Chinese and Mexican
cuisine. During the Second World War, the status of Italian food was estab-
lished in America.
By the 1940s, long before they were making guacamole in their blenders and dis-
cussing the relative merit of Szechuan and Hunanese Chinese food, housewives,
college students, and professional cooks even in the darkest reaches of Middle
America prided themselves on their recipes for spaghetti and meatballs and dined on
Veal Parmigiano at restaurants with checkered tablecloths and candles mounted
in Chianti bottles on the table.563

Chinese food, as chronicled in this book, struggled for a long time in gain-
ing acceptance. In spite of its long-time presence in America, Chinese food
won little respect from Americans until the arrival of upper and middle-class
new immigrants and the rise of the second- and third generation of Chinese
Americans. Although sharing similarities with Chinese food, the trajectory of
Mexican food in the U.S. has its own distinctiveness. Even if it had exerted
an important influence on the foodways of the Southwest much earlier, it
didnt gain nationwide recognition until the 1980s.564 It was fast food chains
like Taco Bell, Del Taco and mass-produced Mexican food that promoted the
popularity of Mexican cuisine. The popularity was based very much on its
purveyors ability to dissociate it from its Mexican connotations.565 Sylvia
Ferrero also said that Mexican food has bad connotations of low status and
low class distinctions.566 Different from Asian Americans who were regarded
as the model minority, the number of middle and upper-class Mexican
people was still relatively small in the United Sates. And up until the present,

562 Levenstein, 216.


563 Levenstein, The American Response to Italian Food.
564 Jayasanker, Sameness in Diversity, 200.
565 Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, 217.
566 Ferrero, Comida Sin Par.

214
stereotypes associated with Mexican people in America are usually labor
workers, help or even illegal immigrants as it is represented by the American
popular culture.567 That was the reason why Mexican fast food chains tried
to avoid presenting too much Mexicanness and hide some aspects of Mexi-
can culture in their settings. The presence of lower-class people hindered the
cuisine from gaining a higher status among other ethnic cuisines and made
it difficult to gain cultural respect from American society, in spite of the fact
that Mexican food has been eaten widely cross the States.
The factor of race played a significant role in the reception of these four
ethnic cuisines. It seemed white cuisines were easier accepted by American
society than non-white ones. Class was also an important factor. Levenstein
might be only partly right. The fact that most Chinese people were of lower
social status before the mid-20th century didnt prevent Americans from eat-
ing chop suey and chow mein. Americans even incorporated these dishes into
their national diet. However, it did hinder the cuisine from gaining a high
culinary status in the United States. Although Americans patronized Chinese
restaurants and ordered Chinese dishes (mostly faux-Chinese dishes), they
didnt take Chinese cuisine seriously nor gave it due respect. In this vein,
I would like to say the socioeconomic profile of an ethnic population not
necessarily affects the adoption of their ethnic cuisine by the mainstream
society, since cultural appropriation is also a form of adoption.568 The social
status of the majority of the immigrants influences the status of their cuisine
in the host country. The absence of lower-status people and the presence of
higher-class ones of a given ethnic group would help its cuisine acquire a
higher culinary status in the host country.
Food also operates as a form of communication since it is used by people
to communicate with others and as a means of demonstrating personal
identity, group affiliation and disassociation, and other social categories, such

567 In the American television comedy Devious Maid which was produced by
ABC in 2013, American stereotypes of Mexican immigrants are reinforced.
Nearly all of the Mexican characters in the drama are either hired help or
manual workers.
568 The creation of American chop suey is a perfect example of cultural appro-
priation.

215
as socioeconomic class.569 Food conveys cultural messages and functions
symbolically as a communicative practice by which we create, manage, and
share meanings with others570. Chinese restaurateurs communicated their
ethnic and cultural identity to American customers through serving them
food. During the process of communication, new meanings sometimes come
into being Chinese immigrants came up with new cultural inventions and
represented a new Chinese ethnicity to Americans. The act of introducing a
more refined Chinese cuisine and more sophisticated Chinese culinary culture
to the U.S. can be seen as a demonstration of power by new immigrants from
middle and upper-class backgrounds. To consumers, eating particular foods
serves not only as a fulfilling experience, but also as a liberating one an
added way of making some kind of a declaration.571 Consumers commu-
nicate their identities to others and assert their personal freedom by the way
they eat. In the case of my study, by choosing to eat transethnic cuisine and
learning about different ethnic culinary cultures, people in California wanted
to show that they are cosmopolitan, trendy and well informed.
Furthermore, food serves as an agent of social and cultural changes.
Ethnic food is capable of empowering immigrants and causing a change in
their social lives. Sylvia Ferrero said in Comida Sin Par. Consumption of
Mexican Food in Los Angeles:
In this way, objects considered to be ethnic, usually regarded in the anthropological
tradition as forms of self-identification and as a means of understanding peoples
intimate worlds, turned out to be useful and powerful enough to change peoples
social conditions. By gaining economic and social relevance, ethnic objects enable
those who involve in the economic transactions of these objects to state a position
in a dominant social and economic environment.572

Being such an ethnic object, Chinese food enabled Chinese immigrants to


assert cultural authority on their own ethnic cuisine and culinary culture.
Chinese immigrants used their cultural capital on culinary matters and

569 Carlnita P. Greene and Janet M. Cramer, Beyond Mere Sustenance: Food as
communication/ Communication as Food, in Food as Communication Com-
munication as Food, ed. Janet M. Cramer and Carlnita P. Greene (New York:
Peter Lang, 2011), xi.
570 Ibid.
571 Mintz, Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom, 13.
572 Ferrero, Comida Sin Par., 1956.

216
achieved their American dreams in the restaurant business. In this way,
food facilitated upward social mobility for Chinese restaurant operators
and improved their social conditions. By means of food, Chinese restau-
rateurs utilized their cultural capital, empowered themselves and realized
their American dreams.
Ethnic food also causes a change in the eating habits and the culinary cul-
ture of the host country. It is especially true in as multicultural of a society as
the United States. In post-1965 American society, Chinese food contributed
to the development of the American palate and opened the culinary horizons
of American people. Due to the existence of diverse ethnic foodways and the
conflux of them, people in California developed a unique collective palate,
which is more open, tolerant and sophisticated. Ethnic food also exerts a
cultural influence on the host country. Among all the aspects of ethnic culture,
food is most accessible. Chinese food serves not only as the symbol and icon
of Chineseness in the United States, but is also as the most important cut-in
point for Americans to learn about Chinese culture. An interest in food may
arouse peoples curiosity in other aspects of the given culture. The practice of
eating a foreign food makes it much easier for people to take in the foreign
culture. The cultural appreciation of Chinese cuisine and the favorable at-
titude towards Chinese culinary culture held by Americans influenced their
perceptions of Chinese culture. Daily exposure to different ethnic cuisines and
different ethnic cultures changed the knowledge structure and world-views of
local Californians. Since food is central to the personal and collective identi-
ties of human beings,573 eating a transethnic cuisine in their everyday life
helped Californians construct a new cultural identity.
Food serves as a lens through which social trends can be seen and explored.
Food makes societal changes much easier to understand. Marion Nestle said
in the foreword of Food and Everyday Life in the Post-socialist World that
food makes issue accessible, vivid and tangible.574 Food makes abstract con-
cepts like globalization, multiculturalism and Americanization more

573 Warren Belasco, Why Food Matters, Culture & Agriculture 21, no. 1 (Spring
1999): 2734.
574 Marion Nestle, introduction to Food and Everyday Life in the Post-socialist
World, ed. Melissa L. Caldwell (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
2009), xi.

217
concrete and comprehensible. Through food, we can get a clear and distinct
picture of complex and elusive social processes. It also acts as a bond linking
different social trends together and connecting things that are not supposed
to go together. In my case, migration, consumption, transnationalism, glo-
balization, multiculturalism and suburbanization are all linked together by
Chinese food in the United States.
The study of Chinese food in the U.S. first of all reflects the history of
Chinese immigration. Food shows how Chinese immigrants adapted to the
new social and cultural environment and built new identities. It helps us
understand the social and cultural lives of Chinese immigrants in America.
An investigation of Chinese American food also helps reconstruct Ameri-
can culinary history. Through the transformation of one particular ethnic
cuisine, we can better understand the culinary changes in America and the
evolution of the American cuisine over the past fifty years. This work will
not only add a new case study of ethnic foods in America, but also con-
tribute to the study of the globalization of Chinese food from a regional
perspective. Food is probably the most visible aspects of Chinese culture
globally. The ubiquitous presence of Chinese restaurants in almost every
corner of the world demonstrates their cultural importance. However, the
local cultural dynamics give the same food different forms. I see food and
foodways as products of particular places, which are constructed locally.
I do not regard the altered and modified Chinese food in foreign lands as
bastardized versions of Chinese food, but instead think of them as new
cultural entities. Although they derived from the food that originated in
China, they were modified, transformed and reinvented through the pro-
cess of indigenization and localization, and became different from their old
forms. As the concept of authenticity is socially constructed, there is no
single authentic Chinese dish but many locally-invented dishes because
even within China the same dish may have many regional variations. In
spite of the homogenizing forces of globalization, Chinese food in different
regions still exhibited different characteristics as is illustrated in the book
Globalization of Chinese Food.575 It is the cultural dynamics of different

575 In this book, the contributors talk about Chinese food in different regions
and countries, from Austrian and Indonesian to Japan and Philippines, and

218
regions that gave Chinese food different forms in different places. Studies
on the cultural interaction between a given foreign cuisine and a particular
region how the cultural dynamics of the region shape the foreign food and
how the certain food exerts its influence on the cultural life of the people
in the place needs more investigations in the future.

discuss the interaction between Chinese food and the regional foodways, Wu
and Cheung, The Globalization of Chinese Food.

219
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