Chinese Restaurants in U.S. Outnumber McDonald’s

Slate provides a short history of Chinese restaurants in the U.S.

“Have You Eaten Yet?,” the wonderful Chinese restaurants exhibit now on view at New York’s Museum of Chinese in the Americas, takes a Babel of ephemera and makes it speak. One’s visit begins with an absence: the never-photographed first Chinese eateries in America, known as “chow chows,” which sprang up in California in the mid-19th century to serve Cantonese laborers….

According to Chinese Restaurant News, there are now more Chinese restaurants in America than there are McDonald’s franchises–nearly three times as many in fact. In the 19th century, though, the Chinese were scorned as rat-eaters; nothing could have been more revolting than eating what they ate….

Happily, change was on its way. The 1965 liberalization of immigration laws brought new arrivals and new food, from Sichuan and Hunan and Shanghai. Multiculturalism and Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, meanwhile, inspired an “authenticity revolution”—a transformation further fueled by a changing clientele. Charles Lai, the director of the museum, recalls wandering into a Chinatown restaurant as a boy in the ’60s and realizing that everyone else in the place was white. “I felt like, what am I doing here?” he says. But no more: Today, Chinese and Chinese Americans are important customers, as are other Asians and Asian Americans, and some restaurants are once again catering to newly arrived workers. How “authentic” they are, though, depends on how you define “authentic.” “It is and isn’t a return to the way things were at the beginning,” says Lee. She points out that with globalization, food is changing quickly even in Asia; what constitutes Chinese food is evolving.

via Arts & Letters Daily

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