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Chicago Foodways: American Passion for Non-Chinese Food

Chicago Foodways: American Passion for Non-Chinese Food
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  • Chicago Foodways: American Passion for Non-Chinese Food

    Post #1 - January 30th, 2006, 11:22 pm
    Post #1 - January 30th, 2006, 11:22 pm Post #1 - January 30th, 2006, 11:22 pm
    Past Event

    Chicago Foodways Roundtable

    American Passion for Non-Chinese Chinese Food
    Presented by
    Soo Lon Moy, Curator of the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago and
    Bennet Bronson, Curator of the The Field Museum

    Saturday, February 18th, 2006
    11 AM
    at
    Roosevelt University
    430 S. Michigan Ave,
    Room 628
    Chicago, Illinois
    (Parking within a block for $6 for 3 hours at the Loop Auto
    Park at 524 South Wabash Avenue 312/922-1499. RU is easily accessible by public transit-the Green-Brown-Red and Blue lines plus busses stop nearby)

    Fee: $2.

    Chinese owned restaurants proliferated in the first two decades of the 20th century, they all seemed to announce themselves with signs advertising "Chop Suey," so much so that the term became emblematic for such restaurants. The popularity of these restaurants was attributed to their contrast with the bland offerings of most of the "American" restaurants of the time and the desire for variety and perhaps a touch of the exotic from their clientele.

    The final irony was that with the introduction of real Chinese cooking in urban areas and the increased sophistication of American tastes these dishes are rapidly disappearing from menus, and the "traditional" Chinese restaurant, ubiquitous in mid-century America, is likely to become extinct. Egg foo young, chop suey and chow mein are familiar dishes among Americans, but not always featured in Chinese restaurants today.

    * * *

    This program is hosted by the Chicago Foodways Roundtable. To reserve, please PM Cathy2, leaving your name, telephone number and the number of people in your party or e-mail to: chicago.foodways.roundtable@gmail.com.
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #2 - February 15th, 2006, 2:11 pm
    Post #2 - February 15th, 2006, 2:11 pm Post #2 - February 15th, 2006, 2:11 pm
    Hi,

    Early this summer, Stirring Things Up in conjuction with the Chinese American Museum had a lecture on American Passion for Non-Chinese Chinese Food, which LTHer jbw attended the lecture and provided a brief account. There is a follow up post on local restaurants who still serve Americanized Chinese Food.

    If you want to learn more how these dishes came to be and why they are disapeering fast, then please come to Saturday's lecture at Roosevelt. Later hop on the CTA and head over to Chinatown for lunch!

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #3 - February 16th, 2006, 6:10 pm
    Post #3 - February 16th, 2006, 6:10 pm Post #3 - February 16th, 2006, 6:10 pm
    Cathy, I'll be there, and I'm hoping to follow up with some egg foo yung to rival my first taste of the dish during a 3rd grade field trip to John's #1 Son in Minneapolis. I remember it like it was yesterday. . . I'm a bit concerned about reviving less fondly held memories of the Northrop school cafeteria chow mein, though.
    Man : I can't understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.
    T. S. Eliot: Ah, but you're not a poet.
  • Post #4 - February 21st, 2006, 12:08 pm
    Post #4 - February 21st, 2006, 12:08 pm Post #4 - February 21st, 2006, 12:08 pm
    My thanks to Soo Lon Moy and Bennett Bronson for a very thought-provoking presentation, and to Mr. Moy for his helpful comments. Thanks also go to C2 and the Chicago Foodways Roundtable for organizing the event, which was surprisingly well-attended in spite of the cold day. The lively discussion of the topic by passionate foodies certainly raised the temperature in the room.

    Several questions were raised by the discussion of the origins of Americanized Chinese Food that are perhaps better addressed in the context of the history of Chinese immigration to the United States. While this cuisine may indeed be the invention of men living in bachelor communities, it was unclear to me how the Chinese communities grew and thrived while Chinese women were banned from immigrating. This seems an important matter to address in the discussion of the development of this style of cooking. In addition, it would be interesting to know more about what dishes were prepared by the Chinese men for themselves.

    According to the presenters, the first appearance of Americanized Chinese food offered to the public was at the Columbian Exhibition. However, a slide showing the menu from the "Chinese" restaurant offered nothing even remotely Chinese other than teas and preserved ginger. Still, two gentlemen who were pillars of the Chinese-American community were credited on the menu (perhaps to authenticate the offerings?). Similarly, Chinese restaurants in the teens tended to be ornate dining palaces with grand staircases and orchestras targeted at European-Americans. The menus were heavy on steak and champagne, but also offered chop suey. Rather than an affordable meal, chop suey was a pricey dish for the day.

    What was not addressed by the presenters was the socio-economic context of the democratization of chop suey, which grew in popularity throughout the 20's and 30's. (This was charmingly illustrated by vintage photos of Chicago signage and an Edward Hopper piece, "Chop Suey.") Perhaps someone on the board can comment on the growth (?) of restaurants after WWI. Was there a general democratization of the restaurant experience during the 20's? What was the impact of the Depression on restaurants in general? If, as one might guess, the new economic realities were devastating to restaurants in general, how did the Chinese American restauranteurs adapt, and what permitted the growth of numbers of Chinese-American restaurants during the 30's? It seems clear that Americanized Chinese food was widely available throughout the 30's in small family-run places. My father remembers that years before he ever tasted his first pizza (Boston, 1950) or his first bagel (New York, 1958), his family used to eat chop suey on outings to town in the 30's and 40's (Minneapolis, John's #1 Son). It would also be interesting to know more about the impact of WWII on Chinese restauranteurs -- rationing, xenophobia, etc.

    I'd like to pass along to peripatetic LTH'ers and to those with huge data-bases from deep restaurant experience the current quest of the presenters: To find a Chinese American Restaurant dating from the 1930's that has its original decor and is run by the same family that owned it in the 30's. They suspect this may exist somewhere in a small town in the Midwest. Prizes offered: A Chop Suey dinner, membership to the Chinese-American Museum, and a year's supply of Fortune Cookies!

    Thanks to the presenters for a fascinating presentation that provoked many questions, along with a couple of answers of use to Chicago Foodies:

    1) Best-Preserved Chinese-American Restaurant in Chicago: Orange Garden (decor original)

    2) Chicago Restaurant with the best "Breath of the Wok" : Emperor's Choice (per Mr. & Mrs. Moy)

    3) Most Innovative Chinese Cuisine preserving authenticity: Ed's Potsticker House (per Bennett Bronson)



    Chinese-American Museum of Chicago
    238 West 23rd Street
    Chicago, IL 60616
    312 949-1000
    www.ccamuseum.org
    Friday 9:30 AM -- 1:30 PM
    Sat & Sun 10:00 AM -- 5:00 PM

    Orange Garden
    1942 W. Irving Park Rd.
    Chicago

    Emperor's Choice
    2238 S. Wentworth
    Chicago

    Ed's Potsticker House
    3139 S. Halsted
    Chicago
    Man : I can't understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.
    T. S. Eliot: Ah, but you're not a poet.
  • Post #5 - March 4th, 2006, 9:40 am
    Post #5 - March 4th, 2006, 9:40 am Post #5 - March 4th, 2006, 9:40 am
    First Entree in the "Chinese American Restaurant dating from the 1930's that has its original decor and is run by the same family that owned it in the 30's"

    My offering is the oldest Chinese restaurant in Kenosha, WI, which is a mere 51 years old run by the Yee family. The decor is fairly close to the original mid-50's decor.

    Image

    The take out menu is classic Americanized Chinese food with major sub-headings:

    Chop Suey or Chow Mein

    Sub Gum

    Egg Foo Young

    Cantonese Dishes

    Fried Rice

    Hot and Spicy

    War Mein or Lo Mein


    Classic Chop Suey Sign in the window:

    Image

    Why the interest in older Chinese restaurants run by multiple generations of the same family? The curator's of the Chinese American Museum visited Orange Garden on Irving Park just east of Lincoln. They learned the original owners sold their business about 20 years ago. The new owner found a basement filled with menus and relics of a long established Chinese restaurant and threw them out. The museum is hoping to find an intact basement 'full of treasure' for their collection. They suspect this will not be in Chicago but in a smaller town in the midwest.

    Next time you are passing a Chinese restaurant with classic signage, drop in to learn the heritage, perhaps take a few pictures, then post here and pass on the information to the museum.

    Yee's Oriental Inn
    5030-5034 Sixth Avenue
    Kenosha, WI
    262/652-5446
    Open Tues-Fri: 11:30 to close
    Saturday and Sunday: Noon to close
    Closed on Monday

    Happy Hunting!
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #6 - November 3rd, 2009, 8:28 am
    Post #6 - November 3rd, 2009, 8:28 am Post #6 - November 3rd, 2009, 8:28 am
    Was getting excited to attend and realized it was 3 years ago! Love events like this so will look around the site for something current...
    I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.
    ---WC Fields
    Chicago Hotels Manager
  • Post #7 - November 3rd, 2009, 9:55 am
    Post #7 - November 3rd, 2009, 9:55 am Post #7 - November 3rd, 2009, 9:55 am
    Ming Ling in Miller, IN used to be our
    go-to place for special occasions like
    Mother's Day and such. In fact, my
    Mom worked as a waitress there when
    she was a teenager in the 50's. She
    always said the place was always
    just the same. I haven't been there
    in years, but had heard they went
    out of business - though I did find
    a review for them on Yelp from only
    about a year ago. Even if they have
    closed, the building may still contain
    a lot of historical artifacts.
    Image

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