“I'll Take Chop Suey”: Restaurants as Agents of Culinary and Cultural Change

“I'll Take Chop Suey”: Restaurants as Agents of Culinary and Cultural Change 670 Á Journal of Popular Culture In this article I examine the history of this cross-cultural interaction, its effects on racial attitudes and food preferences, and ultimately, why restaurants were able to facilitate boundary crossing in a way that other institutions could not. Though the presence of Chinese Americans in nonethnic businesses or social settings might have been threatening, their subservient role as restaurant cooks and servers, I suggest, posed little danger to middle-class white Americans. Moreover, Chinese food, like most ethnic cuisines, lent itself easily to adaptation and Westernization. Though authentic Chinese cuisine was shunned by most whites, ‘‘hybrid’’ dishes like chop suey and chow mein were able to penetrate, and significantly influence, the middleclass diet. In short, Chinese restaurants encouraged Americans to maintain many social, ethnic, and geographic boundaries, and at the same time, to breach others. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, restaurants became the venue, and food the medium, of the first hesitant steps toward culinary and cultural exchange. The First Boundary Crossers: Workers, Epicures, Bohemians, ‘‘Tourists’’ In the 1870s, remembers journalist Idwal Jones, hungry workers and travelers in San Francisco’s Chinatown found sustenance and solace in a fragrant, gilded culinary palace http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Journal of Popular Culture Wiley

“I'll Take Chop Suey”: Restaurants as Agents of Culinary and Cultural Change

The Journal of Popular Culture, Volume 36 (4) – Jan 1, 2003

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Publisher
Wiley
Copyright
Copyright © 2003 Wiley Subscription Services
ISSN
0022-3840
eISSN
1540-5931
DOI
10.1111/1540-5931.00040
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

670 Á Journal of Popular Culture In this article I examine the history of this cross-cultural interaction, its effects on racial attitudes and food preferences, and ultimately, why restaurants were able to facilitate boundary crossing in a way that other institutions could not. Though the presence of Chinese Americans in nonethnic businesses or social settings might have been threatening, their subservient role as restaurant cooks and servers, I suggest, posed little danger to middle-class white Americans. Moreover, Chinese food, like most ethnic cuisines, lent itself easily to adaptation and Westernization. Though authentic Chinese cuisine was shunned by most whites, ‘‘hybrid’’ dishes like chop suey and chow mein were able to penetrate, and significantly influence, the middleclass diet. In short, Chinese restaurants encouraged Americans to maintain many social, ethnic, and geographic boundaries, and at the same time, to breach others. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, restaurants became the venue, and food the medium, of the first hesitant steps toward culinary and cultural exchange. The First Boundary Crossers: Workers, Epicures, Bohemians, ‘‘Tourists’’ In the 1870s, remembers journalist Idwal Jones, hungry workers and travelers in San Francisco’s Chinatown found sustenance and solace in a fragrant, gilded culinary palace

Journal

The Journal of Popular CultureWiley

Published: Jan 1, 2003

References

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