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Foodscapes of Chinese America

The Transformation of Chinese Culinary Culture in the U.S. since 1965

Xiaohui Liu

This book explores the transformation of Chinese food in the U.S. after 1965 from a cultural perspective. The author asks how Chinese food reflects the racial relation between the Chinese community and the mainstream white society and investigates the symbolic meanings as well as the cultural functions of Chinese food in America. She argues that food is not only a symbol that mirrors social relations, but also an agent which causes social and cultural change. A particular geographic focus of this book is California.
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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, restaurants 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 historical 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 workers 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 craze”10 emerged in this period. The third period is from the late 1960s up until the present. This period witnessed the transformation 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...

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