Chinese immigration began in the 1960s. By 1865, rice production in California was valued at $1 million a year and was the most expensive item in stores. The primary consumers of rice were the Chinese. In the 1960s, the second significant wave of Chinese immigration arrived, bringing with it different regional cuisines. During this time, chefs from Beijing and Taiwan introduced popular dishes such as kung pao chicken and orange chicken.
Cecilia Chiang’s career
Cecilia Chiang, who helped create Chinese cuisine in the United States, was born and raised in China. In 1942, when Japan invaded China, she escaped with her sister. They walked for six months to Chongqing, where they stayed with a relative. Later, she worked in China as a Mandarin teacher for embassies and was a spy for the Office of Strategic Services. In 1949, she married her husband, Chiang Liang, and the couple had two children. They immigrated to the United States in 1960. The following year, they opened the Mandarin restaurant in San Francisco, where they worked for a few months until they decided to bail out.
Cecilia Chiang is a legend in the Chinese food world. Renowned chefs, including Alice Waters and Tyler Florence, have praised her. Her influence on American cuisine is enormous. Several of the top restaurants in the Bay Area have featured her recipes.
In the 1960s, she brought Chinese cuisine to the United States, where it was once unknown. Chiang was so successful that she was often called the Julia Child of Chinese cuisine. She was a bon vivant who loved to enjoy a glass of champagne while attending local food events. Cecilia Chiang died on October 28, 2020, at 100. Her daughter, Siena Chiang, confirmed her death but did not reveal the cause.
During the Japanese occupation, her family fled to Shanghai. She and her sister lived in a 52-room mansion, where they were forced to hide from Japanese fighter planes. Chiang married a wealthy businessman, and the couple had two children. Chiang also worked as a spy during the war.
When Chinese food was first introduced to the West, many ingredients were unknown to the Americans. Chinese broccoli, for example, looked nothing like broccoli in the United States. Many traditional Cantonese elements also never made it across the Pacific. However, some of these ingredients have since made their way to American restaurants.
As the first Chinese cuisine to be exported, Cantonese chefs were challenged to reproduce their native food in the new land. Since their first immigrants were men from a society where women typically cooked, they were often faced with fresh ingredients they didn’t have. The Cantonese made some culinary changes to compensate for the unfamiliar ingredients. For example, they did not blanch vegetables before cooking them. Instead, they coated them with extra cornstarch and sugar. In addition, they added spices to disguise the lack of flavor. As a result, westerners grew to love this Chinese junk food.
This influence led to more restaurants specializing in Cantonese cuisine, such as Bonnie’s. This restaurant opened nine months later and became one of the hottest new restaurants in New York. The success of Bonnie’s new restaurant is not just good luck; it’s part of a broader trend of new Cantonese cooking in America. A new generation of Cantonese chefs and bakers is reviving the style.
Despite racial discrimination, Chinese food became increasingly popular in America. Anne Mendelson’s book, Chow Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States, details how the first dishes were introduced to white Americans during the gold rush, how anti-Chinese immigration laws were eventually repealed, and the demographic changes that changed the face of Chinese cooking in America.
Americanized versions of Chinese food
Americanized versions of Chinese food are not only wildly popular, but they also have an interesting history. Chinese immigrants first came to the United States in the 1800s, bringing recipes for Chinese foods. Due to discrimination and limited opportunities, these immigrants primarily focused on service industry jobs, including restaurants. Eventually, the Chinese restaurant industry became largely Americanized, and Chinese recipes became increasingly influenced by American tastes. Because of this, Americanized versions of Chinese cuisine became extremely popular.
Chop suey is one of the most popular «Americanized» Chinese dishes. It doesn’t follow a traditional recipe but consists of meat and vegetables cooked in a thick sauce. Although the name means «meat in a soup,» it reflects the Chinese philosophy of not wasting meat. American Chinese chefs adapted this recipe and used acceptable ingredients in China.
Many Chinese immigrants to the United States came from the Guangzhou region. Their cuisine largely mirrored the area’s cuisine, and many Americans mistakenly think these dishes are authentic Chinese food. But this isn’t always the case. General Tso’s chicken, for example, is not Chinese but an Americanized version of the original. It’s a sticky, sweet dish that won the hearts of many American diners and influenced Chinese takeaway menus across the country.
Another popular Americanized version of Chinese food is the pepper steak, which consists of sliced steak with green bell peppers and white onions. This dish is served with a sweet sauce and is usually accompanied by a bowl of soup. Similarly, the fortune cookie originated in Japan and is an Americanized version of the Japanese omikuji senbei.
Legal and social realities of Chinese immigrants
Chinese immigrants experienced various hardships and discrimination during their time in the United States. The passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 severely limited the number of Chinese immigrants entering the country, reducing the number from forty thousand to fewer than one thousand in one year. During this time, immigrants to the United States were under intense government scrutiny. They were often denied entry and held in detention centers for weeks or even years.
Initially, Chinese immigrants were considered fundamentally different from Europeans and thus perceived inferior. Their language was unintelligible to non-Chinese speakers, and they tended to wear traditional Chinese clothing and long braided hair, highlighting their differences from Europeans. Most Chinese immigrants lived in Chinatowns, where they self-regulated their businesses and social affairs.
After the Civil War, many Western States were experiencing economic crises. This created a solid anti-Chinese sentiment that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act. This act restricted the immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years and required immigrants to carry a certificate of status to enter the country.
The Chinese Exclusion Act barred Chinese workers from entering the country for ten years and made it permanent. Chinese residents had to obtain a special certificate to enter the United States, and those without a diploma could be deported back to China. As a result, Chinese immigrants faced a harrowing experience in the United States. These restrictions have contributed to discrimination and racism. As a result, it is not surprising that Chinese immigration to the United States has been limited for over one hundred years.
The Chinese community was unique among immigrant communities in New York. Until the 1970s, most Chinese immigrants were denied the right to become American citizens. The detention center was considered a historic landmark. Today, it bears witness to the frustration and bitterness of Chinese immigrants. More than one hundred poems were found there, containing themes about their experiences.
Growth of Chinese restaurants
According to the Chinese American Restaurant Association, more than 40,000 Chinese restaurants are in the United States. This is greater than all the fast food chains combined. The growth of Chinese restaurants in America can be traced to the Gold Rush era, when many Chinese immigrants settled in California. These newcomers established restaurants in the Gold Rush towns and eventually moved to other states. With the advent of the railroad, Chinese restaurants expanded rapidly, and Chinatowns began to emerge.
During the early twentieth century, the number of Chinese restaurants in the United States tripled; by 1930, the number of restaurants in New York City alone grew by nearly four times. In 1920, New York’s restaurants accounted for $77 million in annual sales; in 1930, this number reached $154.2 million. This was a significant development for the Chinese community because, at the time, the largest employers of Chinese immigrants in the United States were Chinese laundries. Now, Chinese restaurants are the leading employer of Chinese immigrants.
The success of Chinese restaurants in America led Chinese immigrants to invest their profits in improving their lives back home. By building and maintaining Chinese restaurants in the United States, Chinese immigrants increased their incomes by eight to ten percent yearly. Furthermore, these Chinese businesses paid their employees annual salaries equivalent to their investments, allowing major investors to improve the quality of their lives significantly. In Southern China, for example, families with relatives in the United States enjoyed an average monthly income three times higher than their counterparts in their home country. As a result, the Chinese immigrants were able to provide for their families needs.
As time passed, Chinese restaurants started opening luxury restaurants in the United States and China. Initially, the start-up capital was approximately $90,000 to $150,000 in 2015 currency. As few Chinese individuals had this much money, they pooled their resources to establish partnerships and open restaurants. This way, they could bypass the restrictive immigration policies. In addition, Chinese entrepreneurs could bring over their family members to work in their restaurants.