History of American Chinese Cuisine
History of American Chinese Food
American Chinese cuisine is a style of Chinese cuisine developed by Americans of Chinese descent. The dishes served in many North American Chinese restaurants are adapted to American tastes and often differ significantly from those found in China.
Chinese immigrants arrived in the United States to work as miners and railroad workers. As the large groups of Chinese immigrants arrived, laws were put in place preventing them from owning land. They mostly lived together in ghettos, individually referred to as "Chinatown". Here the immigrants started their own small businesses, including restaurants and laundry services.
By the 19th century, the Chinese community in San Francisco operated sophisticated and sometimes luxurious restaurants patronized mainly by Chinese. The restaurants in smaller towns (mostly owned by Chinese immigrants) served food based on what their customers requested.
These smaller restaurants were responsible for developing American Chinese cuisine, where the food was modified to suit a more American palate. First catering to miners and railroad workers, they established new eateries in towns where Chinese food was completely unknown, adapting local ingredients and catering to their customers' tastes. Even though the new flavors and dishes meant they were not strictly Chinese cuisine, these Chinese restaurants have been cultural ambassadors to Americans.
Chinese restaurants in the United States began during the California gold rush, which brought twenty to thirty thousand immigrants across from the Canton (Guangdong) region of China. By 1850, there were five restaurants in San Francisco. Soon after, significant amounts of food were being imported from China to America's west coast. The trend spread eastward with the growth of the American railways, particularly to New York City.
Along the way, cooks adapted southern Chinese dishes such as chop suey and developed a style of Chinese food not found in China. By the 1920s, this cuisine, particularly chop suey, became popular among middle-class Americans. Late 20th century tastes have been more accommodating. Take away food became popular amongst Americans, Chinese food becoming a favourite "take out" option.