Scene at one crossroad in Chinatown.
Photo by: Christian Liang
New York has a long history of Chinese settlement, mostly from the province of Guangdong and Fujian, giving birth to the infamous Chinatown depicted in movies, in the lower Manhattan area. Later, the vibrant settlement were joined by people from Taiwan, Hunan, Shanghai, Szechuan and other Asian communities that are not a part of political China. The Chinese soon set up their mark in Flushing, Queens what is considered today as the second Chinatown in New York City, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn the third largest Chinese settlement.
The term "Chinese" in everyday conversation to an American usually refers to Chinese food. However, due to popularization of convenient neighborhood Chinese take-outs, most are led to believe that what it is, is just plain chow mein, or to give the regular American more credibility, General Tso's Chicken, Yat Gaw Mein, Moo Goo Gai Pan to name a few. The myth of Chinese Cuisine in America stands still; take out food is Chinese food. However, that is far from the truth. Chinese food in New York, for the most part resemble authentic cuisine from the mainland. In fact in most parts of the world where a large ethnic Chinese group is present, the same is to be said. Taste rarely deviates, as food products are imported from China, with the exception of some fresh produce, seafood and meats.
As opposed to "How are you?." the first thing a Chinese would say to an acquaintance on encounter is "Chi le ma?" (Had your meal yet?). Cuisine is definitely a big part of the people's culture. It is only justice to inform a city with 10 million in population, whom growingly are getting more acquainted with choices of authentic ethnic eats.
While I am very tempted to get into detail of China's agriculture and food habits in a historical and ethnographic perspective, this project has it's focus on the choices of authentic Chinese eats in New York. For those interested, here are the two works I found to be very informative.
For design purposes, and to better acquaint the reader to the Chinese culture, I introduce some of the 50,000 Chinese character text(without pinyin strokes) related to food and eating. Do however note that I am not literate in written Chinese.
I had used the published resources provided by the New York Public Library System, and the Queensborough Library System and to my dismay, all but few documentation on the subject of New York's Chinatown and/or Chinese food habits are either lost, or due from anywhere since 1967 to 1997.
In addition, during the time of conducted research, the Chatham Square Branch (NYPL), which houses most of the sources on Asian-American studies was closed for renovation. Unable to use all intended sources, I hope you will bear with my limitation for this project.
Even with the scarce amount of spoken Mandarin and Cantonese I have, most of the native speakers loved the fact I could at least communicate with them. One distinct experienced I had at one of the fishmarkets in Flushing, was a Taiwanese fishmonger asking me what fish I'd like to buy in Mandarin. Naturally, I couldn't answer "bass" in Mandarin, hence the start of a rather interesting faltering speech on my part. A Taiwanese noodle shop called Lai Fong (also in Flushing) was nice enough to let me take a few pictures of the food I ordered.
However, for every thrill, ten other dissapointments followed. I had requested in person to interview some restauranteurs in Chinatown, but was coldy rejected. At one market where I liberally took pictures with Chris' SLR camera literally drew the owner to come out from his boxed office to tell me off. At slightly better encounters I heard and saw chuckles behind my back, perhaps at my curiousity. Well, I don't blame them as I look Chinese, and was analyzing the foodstuff as if I've never seen it in my life before.
In these few months, I had learned the Chinese in Chinatown and Flushing behave differently. The Flushing community is by far, friendlier and more polite to customers than that of Manhattan's Chinatown. As well, Chinatown inhabitants seem to be completely ignorant of the choice to speak English, whereas Flushing Chinese tended to be more mingly with other ethnic cultures.
This web site attempts to depict the thesis statement "Chinese Food in New York goes Beyond a Common Take-out Menu in the Aspects of Taste, Authenticity, and Variety."
Have you had your meal?
Copyright (C) of Jacqueline Miao, 1998. All Rights Reserved.