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Food History Podcasts

Chop Suey City: A History of Chinese Food in New York

EPISODE 328 New Yorkers eat a LOT of Chinese food and have enjoyed Chinese cuisine – either in a restaurant or as takeout – for well over 130 years. Chinese food entered the regular diet of the city LONG before the bagel, the hot dog and even pizza.

In this episode, Greg explores the history of Chinese food in New York — from the first Mott Street eateries in Manhattan’s Chinatown to the sleek 20th century eateries of Midtown.

We have one particular dish to thank for the mainstreaming of Chinese food — chop suey. By the 1920s, chop suey had taken New York by storm, the cuisine perfect for the Jazz Age.

Through the next several decades, Chinese food would be transformed into something truly American and the Chinese dining experience would incorporate neon signs, fabulous cocktails and even glamorous floor shows in the 1940s.

FEATURING: The Port Arthur Restaurant, the Chinese Tuxedo, Ruby Foo’s Den, Tao, Lucky Cheng’s and that place known as ‘Szechuan Valley’.

PLUS: The love affair between Chinese food and Jewish New Yorkers.

To get this episode, simply stream or download it from your favorite podcast player.

Or listen to it straight from here: CHOP SUEY CITY: A HISTORY OF CHINESE FOOD IN NEW YORK

The Chinese Tuxedo on Doyers Street, 1901. (check out a detailed version of this photo over at Shorpy)
An early photograph of the Port Arthur on Mott Street (courtesy Library of Congress)
New York Public Library
Interior of a Chinatown restaurant, 1905. Labeled as ‘the Chinese Delmonico’s’, perhaps the Port Arthur. (Byron Company/Museum of the City of New York)
Edward Hopper / Chop Suey (1929)
The glamorous interior of Ruby Foo’s Den (via Restauranting Through History)
Via the Daily News (Newspapers.com)
Taken in Chinatown, 1950, for Look Magazine by Robert Offergeld (Courtesy Museum of the City of New York)

Inside Bernstein-on-Essex in the 1970s:

FURTHER LISTENING

After listening to Chop Suey City, check out these past Bowery Boys episodes on subjects featured in the latest show.


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6 replies on “Chop Suey City: A History of Chinese Food in New York”

Thanks for all you do, another fine job. I’m a “suburbanite” now, but when I’m in town I’d always be sure to stop by Wo Hop. In the 80’s my place was Linn’s Garden on Pell, then to Mulberry St. to buy fireworks.
I can’t believe I missed real estate values in my beloved Alphabet City… not that I had capital 🙁 I don’t recognize the place anymore. Perhaps an episode on crime in the alphabet would be too dark. I remember open air market dope dealing and understand drugs and prostitution under Monk Eastman in the early 20th century was a thing as well… Dog and cock fighting, murder and mayhem.
I never knew it was a German enclave, so thanks for that episode and the Slocum.
Anyway, keep up the great work gentlemen. It certainly helps with the darkness and I appreciate what you do!

I went to Lin’s gardens on Bayard street after hours cause they were open all night….. we were in Brooklyn college and organizing protests against the Vietnam war….
sometimes 4 am in the morning after mimeographing a leaflet.

I just started listening to your wonderful podcast after it was recommended to me by a friend here in Japan.
I am an ex-pat native New York City boy who’s been living in Tokyo for 16 years, one city exchanged for another. New York City that I grew up in is long gone and your podcast is by turns joyfully nostalgic, evocative, and very painful.
This was a particularly joyful episode dealing with what had become one of my favorite neighborhood in New York City before I left in 2003.
I love the clip from the Louis Armstrong song but I can’t believe that you left out this song dedicated to your subject, https://youtu.be/bPwiqmv6Xeo
And this song about my Jewish experience and love of Chinese food, https://youtu.be/f556RXvLVZw
My best wishes for everyone in New York City and in Chinatown, the national emergency in Japan it’s just been lifted and things in Tokyo are slowly returning to normal. Stay healthy and stay happy.
Tracy

I listened to this podcast about 2 weeks ago, but thought I’d mention that Nathan’s Coney at Island and others that opened after that, used to have chow main on a hamburger bun for less than $2.00…maybe it was chop suey? I just couldn’t understand it, but this info explains it. It was a “thing”. They no longer have it on their list of offerings. I saw it as far back as approx the 1994-6 era.

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