Saturday, June 27, 2015

West Meets East

Chinese-American Restaurants
1896-1926

Chinese restaurants first opened in the United States during the California Gold Rush. In the early years, these modest eateries fell into two basic categories, serving Chinese food for Chinese immigrants or typical American fare for non-Chinese patrons. However, by the 1890s, a new style had emerged that we now call Chinese-American cuisine in which traditional Cantonese dishes were modified for the dominant American palate. Compared to traditional native dishes, this version of Chinese food utilized fewer ingredients and expressed a narrower range of textures. The most prominent adaptation was chop suey, comprising assorted pieces of meat or seafood, quickly stir fried with vegetables like bean sprouts, cabbage, and celery, and bound in a starch-thickened sauce.1 Even though this inexpensive dish quickly became popular, it wasnt long before Chinese restaurateurs began putting a few Western-style dishes on their menus, trying to attract the broadest possible audience. A chronology of menus from the early twentieth century shows how the culinary traditions of the two cultures slowly came together.