MOFAD Lab Launched CHOW - The History of Chinese Restaurants in America

Posted by OmarTarakiNiodeFoundation
28 December 2016 | blogpost

The Museum of Food and Drink, MOFAD Lab, in Brooklyn, New York launched a new show called CHOW: Making the Chinese American Restaurant.

The newly opened exhibition celebrates the beginning and the evolution of Chinese restaurants in the United States, as well as traces the 170 years history of Chinese restaurants in the country that now numbered more than 50,000. This exhibition is also meant to spark conversations about food culture, immigration, and the meaning of being an American.

Karida Niode of Omar Niode Foundation wrote about her visit to the exhibition, which although it is very cold in New York, was never empty of visitors.

Chinese Wall

Entering MOFAD Lab, visitors to CHOW can directly see a "Chinese Wall" made of thousands of Chinese restaurants’ take out boxes, an illustration of its popularity.

According to existing documentations, the Canton Restaurant in San Francisco, is the first Chinese restaurant in the United States. Similar restaurants grew rapidly along with the number of Chinese immigrants who worked in the gold mines, railways and road constructions. Because jobs then became scarce due to immigration policy, immigrants opened various types of businesses, but the American Chinese restaurants rapidly grew and changed the cultural landscape and authentic foods in the United States.

Wok Hei

Menu Time Machine is a display of American Chinese restaurants menus since the early 1900s until 2016. By studying thousands of these menus we can trace the evolution of cuisines from time to time through the colorful, beautiful and intricate menus. The varieties of menus displayed come from the collection of Andrew Coe, a culinary historian and the author of American Chop Suey history.

Another display is about the secret of sauces in Chinese food (kung pao, General Tso, Sichuan, Hunan etc.). There is also an exhibition about the use of wok to stir-fry dishes using big fire by throwing and rotating motions to produce a smoky flavor called wok hei.

CHOW features two parts of interactive tasting. The first is a station for cooking demonstrations of American Chinese cuisines by famous chef with a different menu each month. Examples are shrimp with honey and walnut with tofu and crab sauce. The second is a machine that makes fortune cookies.

Making Fortune Cookies

The interactive tastings, particularly the fortune cookies machine is crowded with visitors, especially because they can taste warm fortune cookies fresh from the conveyor belt, read the messages in the cookies and also take home some cookies in takeout boxes. Interestingly, the messages inside the fortune cookies at the CHOW exhibition are messages from different parts of the world collected by MOFAD Lab.