Heading into the first days of 2013, we’d like to introduce you to our small but perfectly formed vintage Chinese menu collection. It’s a colorful and fascinating set of menus, characterized by great illustrations and striking graphics. We have selected three to whet your appetite - with more to come.
Chinese immigrants came to the United States in 1840s and they were merely regarded as cheap labor. Thousands worked in the mines during The Gold Rush, helped build railroads and toiled in the agricultural industry. They suffered harrowing racial discrimination and opposition to the “yellow peril” became so strong that in 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which prohibited new Chinese immigration. This barring by race continued with the Geary Act in 1892 and led to enormous suffering. Chinese immigrants were attacked and poorly treated by employers and those who were already here were unable to bring their families over. Anti miscegenation laws in many states also barred the Chinese from marrying white people. When the US and China became Allies during the Second World War, things began to improve and in 1943 the ban on immigration was lifted. It took a while – until the 1960s – before large numbers of Chinese were allowed to come into the country.
Despite all this, Americans became fascinated with Chinese food and as the first restaurants opened, people flocked to try this strange new cuisine. Writer David R Chan, guest blogger for the Menusim Chinese Food Blog, says that the first wave of Chinese immigrants actually came from one small part of China; the rural districts near Canton. The food, of course, was adapted for American tastes and bore no resemblance to the diverse and authentic range of Chinese food on offer today. We recommend that you read his full account called How American Chinese Food Came To Be here.
Two of our menus come from Los Angeles. The Rice Bowl opened in 1938 and was patronized by film stars and intrepid Angelenos alike. There’s also the 1940s Forbidden Palace, which has amazing artwork on the menu cover. Then there is the Port Arthur menu from downtown Manhattan that is dated in the 1920s and which has particularly attractive graphics.
It must have been such an adventure all those decades ago to visit any of these ground-breaking Chinese-American restaurants.Sadly, all of them have closed so we feel very fortunate to have these reminders of historic Chinese-American restaurants on Cool Culinaria.