Final Literature Review

The writing on ethnic food in America and around the world is a growing interest when juxtaposed to immigration and migration of groups. One of these groups was Asian immigrants from the late 18th century. These immigrants brought with them their ideas, language, and cuisine. Asian cuisine was not popular with Americans abroad or at home. By looking at the history of Asian immigration to the United States, historians were are able to show how cuisine has changed American culture and society and how the cuisine has been changed in return. Asian American cuisine has changed and continues to have a great and everlasting effect on American society and culture. Recurring themes in a select group of works include globalization, identity formation, transnationalism, gender, and race.

The most prominent occurring theme in the works is globalization. The global movement of food practices to America from the Asian nations brought new food choices to the United States. The Americans’ first reactions to these new foods was not positive. Andrew Coe’s Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States, looks at the arrival of Chinese food to the United States and Americans’ reactions to it. In Coe’s book, he writes about the initial disgust of the ingredients, how it smells, and the way it was prepared; this was before the food was even in the United States.[1] The reaction of Chinese food in the United States pertains to globalization in that it had a reputation even before it reached the nation. Other works also show the after effects of globalization in the Unites States. Theodore Bexter’s article, ‘How Sushi Went Global’ looks at the globalization of sushi and its effects on the relationship between Japan and the United States. Bexter looked at the global economic effect of tuna in New England. Japan’s use of the global economy show the importance of globalization.[2]

Besides sushi, another popular food item from Japan is ramen. In The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze George Solt examines the means that made ramen a staple in Japan and then when it transferred over to the United States. Following the reindustrialization of Japan, ramen’s transformation as a trendy food item for youths and a source of memories for older generations was also felt by non-Japanese consumers in the United States. Unlike Chinese cuisine, ramen was well received by Americans for a few reasons. The first being there were no predisposed prejudice to the cuisine at the same level Chinese food, another reason and an explanation to the first point is the Western influence and interaction with Japan. In the book, Solt writes that the story of ramen is “the clearest manifestation of the changing role of food in the reproduction of labor power and redefinition on the nation in Japan,” and that its popularity is due to “European imperialism, Chinese migration and industrialization of the Japanese economy.”[3] With labor power and redefined Japan, had to do with the global movement of the United States at the time also.  Westerner perception of Asian cuisine was affected by the level of interaction and involvement prior to being introduced to the cuisine.

Of the works that deal with globalization there was a large portion looking at Chinese cuisine and its affects in the United States as opposed to another type of ethnic group’s food. This could be because of the popularity of Chinese food in the United States. Chinese American food was one of the most popular ethnic food in the United States; alongside of Japanese-American and Mexican-American food. The significance of Chinese and Chinese American food largely deals with identity for the early Chinese migrants and the non-Chinese customers who ate it. Anne Mendelson writes about the early discovery and rise of Chinese food for non-Chinese customers. In Mendelson’s Chow Chop Suey: Food in the Chinese American Journey she examines Chinese food in its transition to Chinese American food through historical and events and culinary issue. Mark Padoongpatt, like many authors, looks at Asian cuisine in America. Padoongpatt focuses on the non-Chinese customers and those who want to take the food preparations to their own homes. The author’s article ‘Oriental Cookery: Devouring Asian and Pacific Cuisine during the Cold War’ looks at white housewives and the publication of recipes in magazines and cookbooks. The global relativity of Asian cuisine is brought on by means of economic, political, and identity themes. To expand an idea globally, it needs more than just recognition for Asian immigrants globalizing their food and bringing it with them; it was also a formation of their identity.

Identity formation was the second largest theme in the selected works after globalization. Identity formation also deals with gender and class which can determine the identity formation of a person. Those of different genders will have differing events and areas where they were able to establish themselves and what was expected of them to go along with their already set ethnic identity while class dealt with identity through restrictive measures. If a group was unable to participate in a certain identity maker or experience they would not have been able to choose that for themselves. Cuisine as an identifier is shown in how the food was related to the groups immigrating and the reactions of those who were introduced to it. Chen Yong’s article on cookbook writing showed how for the authors of those recipes it was a way to express oneself. The cookbooks and recipes when printed would also have personal stories to go along with the recipe. The social text were important because they showed off the ‘wisdom and experience of communities’ who would not have the opportunity otherwise.[4] The cookbooks showed identity formation for two groups; women and Chinese immigrant business. For businesses, printing recipes separate from the restaurant meant the food was popular enough that non-Chinese customers would want to make it themselves. Most importantly, cookbooks were a way for women, both American and immigrant, to have a source of livelihood and a separate space from the restaurant.[5] Alongside this they were able to ‘affirm the cultural identity’ of the ethnic group.[6]

For non-Chinese cooks, cookbooks were a source of authenticity they wanted from Chinese cuisine but did not always get because restaurants frequently ‘Americanized’ their cooking to appeal to white American customers. Class also played a role in this with many of the restaurants in separated parts of cities and towns called Chinatown. When the ‘Bohemian’ artist of New York went out ‘slumming’ they went to these lower districted areas.[7] Class played a role in forming the identity of Chinese migrants and restraint owners in New York by marking out where they could do business. Also, the restaurants that were able to move out of the Chinatowns were more likely to cater to white American customers than Chinese migrants, which is seen in Padoongatt’s article and Coe’s book.[8] Whether it is well off artist in New York or white middle class women, they wanted to better invest in Chinese cuisine and there was a growing interest in the food that they could. This was an instant where the identity was being formed by another group of people and a set of expectations to what the Chinese were. The identity that formed from the investment into Chinese cuisine was a search for authenticity. Authenticity and identity were paired together to show how what was proposed for a group versus how they see themselves. Chinese businesses were a large portion of literature topic and identity for the immigrants. As seen in Haiming Liu and Lianlian Lin’s article on business in Southern California, many chose restaurants because they offered the most opportunity and status exemption in the United States.[9] Restaurants were able to show off the immigrants own cuisine how they chose to and also expand it to those who would not have tried it. For many restaurants though, they would end up changing the food in some way depending on the customer. Non-Chinese Americans had a set expectation for the food they would be eating in the restaurants. Restaurant owners reflect the social background, lifestyle, and ethnic identity of pre and post 1965 immigration.[10]

With restaurants, Chinese immigrants and Americans were able to directly tie their identity to a physical place and show it to others also. Connected to these business were the workers, customers, and owners who had interwoven identity to each other and to the business. The business were “also sites of complex networks of chain migration, labor, and familial obligation” that all went back to identity surrounding cuisine.[11] Much like for women who were able to create their own spaces through cookbooks, the physical space to practice cuisine is important. In Krishnendu Ray’s book The Migrants Table: Meals and Memories in Bengali-American Household, Ray looked at the creation of those spaces and how that defines social identity. Having a space to practice their cuisine, Asian immigrants and migrants looked towards restaurants as a necessity. Restaurants were able to fill the need for space and brought together those of similar of same identity without the interruption of others. Siu’s article on food trucks can be used to look at what happens when that space is movable and invites others into it.[12] ‘Twenty-First-Century Food Trucks; Mobility, Social Media, and Urban Hipness’ looked at the emergence of food trucks and the rising popularity of them. The food sold in the trucks were specialized fusion of foods. Compared to the food sold in the Chinatown restaurants it was less about a distinction between two types of customers and instead bringing new food options and creations to the customers.[13]

For immigrants that moved to new places, nationalistic ideals depended on the person and differed from American nationalistic ideas.  Some of the Asian immigrants, had or formed stronger ones while in America but they were less about being patriotic of the nation and more critical of it and wanted a change. Smaller, less intense forms of nationalism could be seen in the refusal, or slow movement to, accept the new mainstream culture of the United States. In having not given up their whole identity they were able to still claim part of their culture and mixed in with Americans. Nationalism through food was seen in the large quantity of those who partook in the food practices. This was discussed in Jingfeng Xia’s dissertation of Chinese in Tuscan, though the paper was focused more on the social and economic identity of the Chinese migrants and their business it can also be seen through a nationalist viewpoint. Nationalism through food and cuisine is less intense than nationalism centered on a nation. Instead of the governmental focus it is a cultural focus on identity. This is important to note, and what other authors examine but do not go in-depth too, cultural nationalism is more of an identity pride than patriotism. An image of this can be seen in Coe’s early chapters of interaction between the early American merchants and Chinese citizens in the port towns. Compared to the American version of nationalism both home and abroad, the Americans were always ready to proclaim they did everything for the nation and the influence and prestige over China and the Chinese citizens. The Chinese citizens, though there were few accounts from them, were more concerned with class based worries but ultimately focuses on the emperors wishes. Abroad the Chinese immigrants did not bring with them nationalistic ideals the same way the early Americans did. Their main concern was in labor and familial support.[14]

This is the type of nationalism portrayed in much of the literature that deals in the early immigration of Asian immigrants to the United States. Seen also in the work by Mendelson on early immigration, the focus was on livelihood. As a counterpoint it could be seen instead them not having brought a nationalistic ideal with them, they instead adopted the cultural nationalism of the United States. This possibility is shown in the works by Padoongpatt, and Siu. It was not the patriotic actions or ideas but the movement and interest towards them that were shown in the works Padoongpatt looks at the cross cultural interpretation of Chinese food. In looking at the cookbooks as a way to spread interest and Chinese cuisine to others the same as American patriotism. The Chinese migrants were grateful and expressive of being Chinese migrants that they wanted to be able to spread it to other people and show pride in themselves. Through Padgoonpatt’s article this can be seen to have been effective because it reached white middle class America.[15] This is interesting because it bypasses race and gender. Race was a large issue in all of the works previously mentioned and the inclusion of a heavily racial practice showed the expansion of nationalistic ideals. In Siu’s article, this is the better example of the two. The economic and social nationalism towards entrepreneurship through both Chinese restaurants and non-Asian interest in Asian cuisine.[16] To look at the reactions of those groups to nationalism was a way to show how it had affected both groups and the ways it was interpreted. Nationalistic themes in Padgoonpatt and Siu’s work show how the reaction was different class, gender, and time wise. For those who did not accept the nationalistic ideas of the United States or showed them through their nation of origin transnationalism was used to both stay connected to their homes, while participating in the new mainstream culture they lived in.

Transnationalism was shown mostly by migrants who did not stay in America long term but moved back to their countries after the work dried up or they had saved and sent enough money back to families. Those who did stay though still had connections back home. Either in the form of families, wives and children, as they were making new ones in the United States. Or they stayed so they could help to facilitate other friends and family to the United States.[17] Lee’s article examination of a singular migrants decisions in whether they should stay in the United States. For those who decided to stay it was difficult decision to do because of those they felt they had to support back in their own home and the people who helped them get to the United States in the first place. Other works also look at this immigrant dilemma and the issues that it caused them. Solt’s work shows trans nationalistic themes through how the expansion of the popularity of ramen helped to encourage positive reactions to Japan in America. Instead of an immigrant, the immigration of food to new places can help ready the new nation. Transnationalism in Solt’s work was best seen in the popularity of ramen in American as compared to other ethnic cuisine in America at the time. Another work by Yong, Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America examines the marginalization and exploitation of Chinese Americans and their food. They fight this though by ‘transplanting, preserving, and promoting’ their own cuisine through generations. As opposed to Solt’s work that looks at the popularity of ramen, Japanese food, in America, Yong looks at the popularity chop suey, Chinese food, in America. The popularity of the two ethnic food in America had much to do with the time they were introduced. Ramen was introduced to the American public after Chinese cuisine and after Americans were already sort of familiar with other ethnic cuisine at the time. When Chinese food was introduced the requesting prejudice against the Chinese and their food made the popularity of Chinese cuisine difficult for it. Chinese food did grow in popularity but it was much later and scattered around the United States. But with Japanese food and Solt’s work the popularity in the United States it was much easier for the food because of requesting ethnic food and the way the food was introduced to the United States. Within the nation the involvement of transnationalism in other places. Shown in Rachel Laudan’s The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii’s Culinary Heritage looks at the reaction to the same foods in other areas of American instead of coast to coast. Looking at how Asian cuisine is treated outside the mainland of the United States also shows the uniqueness of the treatment of the food. The treatment of Asian cuisine in the mainland United States versus the islands of Hawaii show how institutionalized prejudice and social concerns can have on the economic feelings of food.

The connections between the authors is seen in what their main themes and sources were. Dividing the authors in two groups; early Asian immigration and Asian American interaction in the United States. The authors who wrote mainly on the immigration of Asians looked at the ways in which the early arrivals tried to do the best with what they had and in maneuvering the racial tensions in the places they lived. For the authors that wrote about the immigration period to the United States, the focus on the West coast was prominent in the works. The reason for this can be seen in the available sources on Asian immigration and geographically. The works that did include other regions were Coe and Lee. Including the other areas of migration after they had immigrated to the United States is just as important to better show the full and complete history of the people. Other ways in which the authors wrote about Asian immigration have to deal with the focus on community. In all of the works, the authors talked about or referenced Chinatowns and the familial aspects of the immigrant group. In the beginning years of immigrant, mostly for work, the immigrants would form their own communities, due to racism from white and sometimes Mexican-Americans. While the forming of communities is not anything different than other immigrant groups, the interesting thing here is the social response to these communities. Compared to white ethnic communities, who actively tried to assimilate into the American culture, Asian immigrants were more inwardly focused. Chinatowns in the writing is present throughout all of the articles and books because of the significance of these areas to specifically Chinese immigrants. In Chen’s Chop Suey, USA, he writes about the creation and expansion of these Chinatowns as a source of identity to their culture and cuisine. This is mirrored in Lee and Coe’s writing also, showing the importance of these areas as starting points for restaurants and other business, but also a place of discrimination and fetishism from non-Chinese, white Americans. Another huge writing point is race. Race played a huge role in the lives of the Asian American immigrants no matter when they arrived and where. The response to their arrival did not differ much whether it was the West or East coast. Race is not straightforwardly written out in any of the works though, but merely implied and an agreed upon occurrence. Since race was not particularly discussed in the works, some authors did point it out as a big issue for the immigrants and how it affected them socially and economically.

Comparing the works of different authors, Lee and Liu and Lin, to look at the regional differences in the immigration experience and how the authors write about it. Lee writes about the immigrant experience of one immigrant man, Chin Shuck Wing, to the United States and his life in New York as a laborer. While Liu and Lin write about Chinese resultant businesses in Southern California. These works are worth examining side-by-side because of the historical context and the ways in which each is written and what they are written about. Lee looks at the singular journey of an immigrant in New York and Shuck Wing’s life there. Compared to Liu and Lin who look at the collective histories in a specific location too. The historical context of Shuck Wing’s life on the West coast is also examined in Coe’s book when he looks at the Chinese businesses in New York and the well-off artist who would travel down to the Chinatowns to ‘slum’ for the night. Also by only looking at one person, Lee was better able to examine the hardships an immigrant would have to face. For Liu and Lin, their article looks at the community of businesses and how the historical context of California shaped that. California was a major immigration point for Asian immigrants to live and find work. The racial tensions from their presence there did not subside for many decades from the open violence and discrimination to a more simmering dislike. Comparing the reaction to Chinese food and Chinese immigrant from each coast due to racial, social, and economic differences.

Critiques of the books and articles include the extreme focus on the West coast, Chinese immigrants, and not a broader focus on singular stories. Much of the literature on Asian migration focused on the West coast of the United States. Only a few of the writings did not do so or tried to include the East coast and islands. Moving forward, a better focus on the other areas of Asian migration would better help to expand the history. It is easy to only want to write about West coast due to the historical significance of the area, but in doing so, authors are ignoring other stories that could be equally compelling to learn from and help to answer any questions. Another issue with the literature that stems from the focus on the West coast was the large amount of Chinese center histories. This was seen due to the large historical significance of Chinese immigrants in the West coast with labor. Another reason had to do with the time. Before World War II, much of the immigration from Asian was Chinese immigrants looking for work and wages to either send back or make a living on. These turn into long-term stays and creations of Chinatowns. Post-World War II though, the numbers rose in Asian immigration from other areas, most notably Japan. The historical focus on Japanese in the West coast does not appear until after the war and with the internment camps, which were scattered across the United States and not just the West coast. Another issue with the focus on Chinese is the generalization of Chinese immigration. After the Hart Cellar Act, more immigrants from the surrounding areas of China also started to immigrate to the United States. The generalization of Asian immigrants and then the denial of some of their stories is a major issue. Lastly the focus on only groups of immigrants and not on singular people. In the works there were few personal accounts or histories, the stories were all generalized and told from the group perspective. This may seem like an obvious occurrence due to the lack to personal accounts the hardships of founding person to person histories, but including some form of personal story can help in showing the importance or validating an experience.

Asian cuisine had changed and continues to change the United States society and culture. By studying the introduction of Asian and Asiana American cuisine in the United States historians were able to look at the underlying themes and involvement of food in history. Through the food historians were able to see the global, economically and socially, movement of ideas and markets from East to West. They were also able to show how race and gender play a huge part in identity formation and ways in which identity is formed outside of a person’s culture. Lastly, the effect of transnationalism and the broad spectrum of which it exits on. The authors showed the importance of food studies and how it can show the social relationships of different cultures.

[1] Andrew Coe, Chop Suey: a Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 34-35.

[2] Theodore C. Bestor, “How Sushi Went Global,” The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating: A Reader, ed. James L. Watson and Melissa L. Caldwell (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publications, 2005), 55-57.

[3] George Solt, The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze (CA: University of California Press, 2014), 9.

[4] Yong Chen, “Recreating the Chinese American Home through Cookbook Writing,” Social Research 81, no.2 (2014): 491-492.

[5] Ibid., 493-495.

[6] Ibid., 497.

[7] Coe, Chop Suey, 156-157.

[8] Mark Padoongpatt, “Oriental Cookery: Devouring Asian and Pacific Cuisine during the Cold War,” Eating Asian American; A Food Studies Reader, ed. Robert Ji-Song Ku and Marin F. Manalansan IV and Anita Mannur (NY: New York University Press, 2013), 189-190.

[9] Haiming Liu and Lianlian Lin, “Food, Culinary Identity, and Transnational Culture: Chinese Restaurant Business in Southern California,” Journal of Asian American Studies 12, no.2 (2009): 137.

[10] Ibid., 138-139.

[11] Heather Lee, “A Life of Cooking for Others: The Work and Migration Experiences of a Chinese Restaurant Worker in New York City, 1920-1946,” Eating Asian American; A Food Studies Reader, ed. Robert Ji-Song Ku and Martin F. Manalansan IV and Anita Mannur (NY: New York University Press, 2013), 55.

[12] Lok Siu, “Twenty-First-Century Food Trucks; Mobility, Social Media, and Urban Hipness,” Eating Asian American; A Food Studies Reader, ed. Robert Ji-Song Ku and Martin F. Manalansan IV and Anita Mannur (NY: New York University Press, 2013), 236.

[13] Ibid., 232.

[14] Coe, Chop Suey, 107-108.

[15] Padoongpatt,”Oriental Cookery,” 200-203.

[16] Siu, “Twenty-First-Century Food Trucks,” 239-240.

[17] Lee, “A Lifetime of Cooking for Others,” 55-57.

Bestor, Theodore C., “How Sushi Went Global.” In The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating: A Reader, edited by James L. Watson and Melissa L. Caldwell, 13-21. Blackwell Readers in Anthropology: 8. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2005.

Chen, Yong. “Recreating the Chinese American Home through Cookbook Writing.” Social Research 81, no. 2 (2014): 489-501.

Chen, Yong. Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America. NY; Columbia University Press, 2014.

Coe, Andrew. Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States. NY; Oxford University Press, 2009.

Laudan, Rachel. The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii’s Culinary Heritage. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1996.

Lee, Heather R., “A Life of Cooking for Others: The Work and Migration Experiences of a Chinese Restaurant Worker in New York City, 1920-1946.” In Eating Asian American edited by Robert Ji-Song Ku and Martin F. Manalansan IV and Anita Mannur, 53-72. New York: New York University Press, 2013.

Liu, Haiming, and Lianlian Lin. “Food, Culinary Identity, and Transnational Culture: Chinese Restaurant Business in Southern California.” Journal of Asian American Studies 12, no. 2 (2009): 135-62.

Mendelson, Anne. Chow Chop Suey: Food and the Chinese American Journey. NY: Columbia University Press, 2016.

Padoongpatt, Mark. “Oriental Cookery: Devouring Asian and Pacific Cuisine during the Cold War.” In Eating Asian American edited by Robert Ji-Song Ku and Martin F. Manalansan IV and Anita Mannur, 186-207. New York: New York University Press, 2013.

Ray, Krishnendu. The Migrants Table: Meals And Memories In Bengali-American Households. PA: Temple University Press, 2004.

Solt, George. The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze. CA: University of California Press, 2014.

Siu, Lok. “Twenty-First-Century Food Trucks; Mobility, Social Media, and Urban Hipness.” In Eating Asian American edited by Robert Ji-Song Ku and Martin F. Manalansan IV and Anita Mannur, 231-244. New York: New York University Press, 2013.

Xia, Jingfeng. “Foodways and Their Significance to Ethnic Integration: An Ethnoarchaeological and Historical Archaeological Survey of the Chinese in Tucson, Arizona.” PhD diss., University of Arizona, 2001.

Xu, Wenying. Eating Identities: Reading Food in Asian American Literature. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008.

Zhang, Jie. “Transplanting Identity: A Study of Chinese Immigrants and the Chinese Restaurant Business.” PhD diss., Southern Illinois University, 1999.