Evolution of Chinese Noodles in NYC: A Tale of Immigration and Adaptation (Dylan Frank

Evolution of Chinese Noodles in NYC: A Tale of Immigration and Adaptation

By Dylan Z. Frank

From Lanzhou la mian to Sichuan dandan noodles and Beijing zhajiangmian to Fujianese ban mian, New York City is now home to a proliferation of different types of Chinese noodles across its three largest Chinatowns (Exhibit A). According to 2012 Census Estimates[1], New York City has an estimated Chinese population of 573,388, making it the largest metropolitan Chinese diaspora population in the world of any city outside of Asia. While it was Chinese immigration that first brought different types of Chinese noodles to New York City, media, the desire for novelty, and growing consumer acceptance of ethnic foods in America have also helped to propel the evolution and spread of Chinese noodle dishes far beyond NYC’s Chinatowns.

The story of Chinese noodles in New York City arose from immigration and the need for Chinese immigrants to make a living in their new country. Chinese immigration to NYC can largely be separated into four main waves: Cantonese (Late 1840s-1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, 1943-1950s (limited numbers), 1965-1980s), Taiwanese (1970s), Fujianese (1980s-Present), and Chinese from all parts of Mainland China (late 1960s-Present). Each of these waves of Chinese immigration brought different types of Chinese noodle dishes to NYC.

The first wave of Chinese immigration to the United States consisted predominately of working-class males from Guangdong (or “Canton”) Province who emigrated to the West Coast during the mid-1800s. The 1849 San Francisco Gold Rush and the 1863-1869 construction of the first Transcontinental Railroad were two events that provided Cantonese Chinese immigrants with an opportunity to escape from widespread poverty and political unrest caused by the Taiping Rebellion[2] back home, and this initial wave of Cantonese immigration to the West Coast continued on until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Since Chinese immigrants to the West Coast often faced extreme anti-Chinese sentiment and employment discrimination upon coming to the States, many found themselves needing to establish businesses where they could be self-employed, including Chinese restaurants. These early Chinese restaurants cooked an Americanized version of Cantonese cuisine that catered to local tastes, with chop suey (translation: “odds and ends”) becoming the most popular dish. After the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, this version of Americanized Chinese food spread from the West Coast to New York City and eventually gave way to the invention of chow mein, the first Chinese noodle dish to emerge in NYC’s Chinese restaurants on a large scale.

According to Deh-Ta Hsiung’s book Food of China, “Chow Mein” is a romanization of the Taishanese word chāu-mèing, which means stir-fried noodles[3]. It first emerged in New York’s Mott Street Chinatown in the 1880s and coexisted alongside chop suey on many of NYC’s American-Chinese restaurant menus. While in some ways chow mein is similar to versions of stir-fried noodle dishes from Guangdong Province in China, its composition was modified to better suit American tastes and ingredient availability. For example, chow mein’s ingredients are effectively the same as chop suey’s except for the fact that chow mein is a noodle dish. The ingredients of chow mein that overlap with chop suey include onions, celery, and a sweet-tasting brown sauce made from a combination of soy sauce and corn syrup that was designed to suit the American palate[4]. In the below image of chow mein from Big Wong, one of Manhattan Chinatown’s oldest restaurants, we can see “Beef Chow Mein” pictured (Exhibit B). For this particular dish, most vegetables have been removed, possibly to better suit the tastes of Western consumers. Outside of chow mein and lo mein (the steamed version of chow mein), other types of Cantonese Chinese noodle dishes one can find in NYC Chinatowns included wonton mian and Clay Pot Noodles (pictured, Exhibit C). Cantonese also sometimes enjoy topping their noodles with BBQ roasted meats such as pork, chicken, or duck.

While the first wave of Chinese immigration to NYC was almost exclusively Cantonese, changes in immigration policies brought on by Lyndon B. Johnson’s Administration (mainly the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965) led to a sharp increase in permitted Chinese immigration and fueled the arrival of a second wave of Chinese immigrants[5]. According to Time Magazine, this “liberalization of American immigration policy” led to the emergence of new types of Chinese cuisines in the United States from “areas like Hunan, Sichuan, Taipei and Shanghai.” Many Chinese who came to the States at this time were fleeing the Cultural Revolution, particularly so in the cases of individuals from Hong Kong and Taiwan who especially feared the PRC’s Communist government. Such changes in immigration policy allowed for the pace of Chinese immigration to the United States to further quicken and thus diversified the Chinese food offerings available in NYC’s Chinatowns. Additionally, U.S. President Richard Nixon’s opening of diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China in 1972, helped to further accelerate this second wave of Chinese immigration to United States while creating a renaissance for authentic Chinese food in large U.S. cities such as NYC[6].

Chinese immigrants who came from Taiwan to NYC in the 1970s were predominately middle-class and for this reason they did not fit in with the largely working-class Cantonese inhabitants of Manhattan Chinatown. As a result, the Taiwanese immigrants chose to establish a middle-class Mandarin-speaking Chinatown in Flushing, Queens, NY. Upon coming to the United States, Taiwanese people brought noodle dishes such as Taiwanese beef noodle soup (pictured, Exhibit D) to New York, thus further influencing NYC’s culinary fabric. (Notably, this noodle soup dish was first created by the Hui Muslim minority, who also created Lanzhou’s famous beef noodle soup with hand-pulled noodles). At the same time as these new Taiwanese immigrants, wealthier Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong began coming to the United States as well. Their arrival led to a linguistic and culinary shift in Manhattan’s Chinatown towards different types of Cantonese Chinese noodle dishes in Chinatown beyond Chow Mein, including Hong Kong Crispy Seafood Noodles (pictured, Exhibit E).

Following the Nixon Administration’s easing of diplomatic ties with China, many more wealthy and highly educated Chinese came to the United States, particularly so after the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976. When these new immigrants started coming to the US, they brought their traditional foods with them. As examples, Sichuan and Hunan cuisines appeared in the United States during this time period and noodle dishes such as Sichuan’s dandan mian (Exhibit F) eventually became a staple food of Chinese Sichuan restaurants in NYC. Additionally, Chinese immigrants from large cities such as Shanghai also brought their own regional cuisines with them to New York City, which included noodle dishes such as Chinese Oil Noodles with Scallions, or Cong You Ban Mian (Exhibit G).

The third concentrated wave of Chinese immigration occurred in the 1980s and 1990s and consisted of poor Chinese immigrants from Fujian Province, many of whom came via illegal means. Since these new Fujianese immigrants did not speak Cantonese (and hence did not fit in culturally with the Cantonese residents of Manhattan’s Chinatown), many of them found themselves settling on the Eastern periphery of Chinatown in the East Broadway area. Chinese immigrants from Fujian brought with them different types of noodles that had not previously been available in the United States, such as ban mian, a cold noodle dish consisting of wheat noodles in a sauce made of soy sauce and peanut butter, the latter being a highly unusual ingredient in Chinese cuisine (pictured, Exhibit H). Although Guangdong and Fujian are located next to each other, the types of noodles dishes that Fujianese immigrants brought to NYC were extremely different from their Cantonese counterparts. Fujianese immigrants later began moving to Sunset Park, Brooklyn in the early 2000s, which before had originally been established as a Cantonese ethnic enclave. Other types of Chinese immigrants who later moved to Sunset Park have included some people from Yunnan in more recent years, as evidenced by the establishment of a Yunnanese restaurant in this neighborhood called “Yun Nan Flavor Garden” (Exhibit I).

Comprising the currently continuing fourth wave of Chinese immigration to the US are a larger number of Mandarin-speaking Northern Chinese people who are currently entering into NYC through both legal and illegal means. According to a 2016 article in NPR titled “Leaving China’s North, Immigrants Redefine Chinese In New York,” NYC’s Chinatowns are becoming increasingly Mandarin-speaking. Because the Southern parts of China have become more economically developed than the Northern ones, much of today’s Chinese immigration stems from Northern cities[7]. Noodle dishes they have introduced include zhajiangmian from Beijing, Xinjiang da pan ji with latiaomian, hand-pulled noodles from Lanzhou, and knife-cut noodles from Xi’an, Shaanxi, China, a Northern-Central region of China. In particular, noodles from Xi’an, Shaanxi have taken New York City by storm over the last decade through the advent of Xi’an Famous Foods, a now 13-restaurant chain that began as a single underground stall in Flushing’s Golden Mall food court in late 2005.

From chow mein to Shaanxi noodles, Chinese noodles have emerged in NYC alongside these four major waves of immigration, and they have also further evolved in response to changing consumer preferences. In recent years, increased accessibility to ethnic foods and consumers’ growing desire for authentic ethnic dining experiences has driven the commercialization of authentic Chinese noodles across NYC. Xi’an Famous Foods is a fine illustration of this development: Through the growth of Xi’an Famous Foods, we can see how the Chinese noodle landscape has changed in NYC as a result of these trends. The restaurant chain’s success has stemmed not only from offering a high quality product that was different from anything else in NYC, but also from the fact that the restaurant’s young owner, Jason Wang, has been able to effectively leverage social media marketing to grow awareness and demand for the chain.

Xi’an Famous Foods specializes in Shaanxi cuisine from the city of Xi’an in Western China. The flavors of Shaanxi cuisine are sour, spicy, and salty. During an interview about Chinese noodles in NYC, Dawn Hu, a now 55-year old Chinese immigrant from Beijing who came to the United States 35 years ago, mentioned that she would never have expected Shaanxi cuisine to arrive in the US, nor for such a restaurant to become a prominent citywide chain[8]. Much of the appeal and growing popularity of Chinese noodles in NYC is from the experience that comes with eating them. “You’re not going to see any of this in Chinatown in Manhattan or in Brooklyn. This is a Queens thing”, according to David Shi, owner of the original Xi’an Famous Foods, Flushing, Queens, NY, when he was interviewed by the recently-deceased globetrotting Travel Channel food critic Anthony Bourdain in 2009.

Before Bourdain paid a visit to Xi’an Famous Foods in Flushing’s Golden Mall during his tour of Queens, NY in 2008, Zhang Meijie, a now 61-year old Chinese woman from Shandong who came to the United States in 1997, had never seen a white person inside the Golden Mall. In a recent interview, Zhang told me that she has lived in Forest Hills, Queens, for 21 years with 12 other members of her family. She told me that she visits the Golden Mall “sometimes” for “chi de dong xi” (things to eat). The first time Zhang saw a white person in the Golden Mall was eight years ago, and since that time she has noticed that white people have started going to the Golden Mall much more often. Zhang told me that she thought it was natural that Westerners wanted to explore the Chinese food scene because they want to experience new tastes, and for this reason she was not surprised to see them there. As of three years ago there have been even more white people coming to Flushing, from her perspective[9]. While the Golden Mall might not seem like the most likely eatery pick for a Westerner (it’s subterranean, dirty by Western standards, and impossible to find unless you speak Chinese or you’re particularly in the know), Anthony Bourdain did much to glamorize the practice of urban ethnic food exploration through his highly popular Travel Channel show No Reservations. Xi’an Famous Foods was arguably one of the largest beneficiaries of Bourdain’s show.

Xi’an Famous Foods’ menu consists mostly of noodle dishes that are sour and spicy in taste, two elements that are not necessarily common in typical American cuisine. For example, noodle dishes at Xi’an Famous Foods such as the “Spicy Cumin Lamb Noodles” (孜然羊肉干扯面; Zī rán yángròu gān chě miàn) that I ate at Xi’an Famous Foods’ Manhattan Chinatown location contain large amounts of bright red chili oil, an ingredient not found in American food (pictured, Exhibit J). True to what the owner Jason Wang said, the restaurant added Sichuan peppercorns to the chili oil, creating a spicy and numbing effect. As someone who is half-Chinese (but not Western Chinese), I would not have personally expected the flavors within that noodle dish to be popular with those who are unacquainted, yet the taste was strangely addictive. Having also tried other menu items at Xi’an Famous Foods at four different NYC locations over the course of two years (Manhattan Chinatown, Flushing original in the Golden Mall (now closed), Upper West Side, and Upper East Side), it is notable that the flavors of the menu items that Xi’an Famous Foods sells are consistent across each branch: Other than asking patrons if they’d like to withhold chili oil for some dishes, no accommodations are made by Xi’an Famous Foods for their dishes to better suit the Western palate.

In a YouTube video on Xi’an Famous Foods that was published by Business Insider, Andrew Coe, a Chinese food historian, remarks that “generations of Chinese restauranteurs” used to make their food “bland to American tastes” when they chose to expand outside of Chinatowns. Owner Jason Wang agreed with Coe’s comment, remarking that “the timing [was] right” for Chinese restaurants like Xi’an Famous Foods to showcase their authenticity instead of watering down their flavors to better align with the American palate. In the same YouTube video, Wang also mentions how his restaurant also chose to add Sichuan peppercorns to some of its dishes, which are not used in traditional Western cuisines and also have a mouth-numbing effect (called mala in Chinese)[10]. While the use of ingredients such as Sichuan peppercorns attest to how much of a radical departure Xi’an Famous Foods’ Chinese dishes are from Western culinary norms, it was precisely these elements of difference within Xi’an Famous Foods’ menu items that helped to propel the business to its current level of success (now a thriving chain of 13 stores spread across the three boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn)[11].

On Saturday, June 30th, 2018, Jason Wang opened Xi’an Famous Foods’ 13th store in the West Village, near West 4th Street. According to the real estate sales website Streeteasy.com, the West Village is “the perfect neighborhood for people who like the finer things in life – think lovely window boxes, well-curated bookshops and sophisticated company – but without the fuss or ostentation.[12]” The mere presence of Xi’an Famous Foods in a neighborhood such as the West Village defies all expectations of where a Chinese restaurant of that nature might be placed and highlights the significant extent to which American views on ethnic foods have evolved since the days of chow mein’s emergence in Manhattan Chinatown. To take advantage of word of mouth and social media marketing, Wang ran a promotion offering a free dish to each person who came to the new storefront on opening day and showed on their smartphone that they shared a promotional post about the new Xi’an Famous Foods location’s opening.

Well over a hundred years ago, on Nov 15, 1903, The New York Times ran an article called “Chop Suey Resorts: Chinese Dish Now Served in Many Parts of the City” that detailed the emergence of a new type of Chinese food called chop suey in Chinatown, as well as the customs surrounding the ordering of the dish. While chop suey was fundamentally different from Western foods, the author of the piece wrote that “A dish of chop suey is as digestible again as a broiled lobster or a welsh rabbit,” and this example showcases the role that print media played in helping to spread awareness and acceptability of Chinese ethnic cuisine nearly since it first arrived in NYC[13]. While dishes such as Shaanxi noodles, chop suey, chow mein, and others aforementioned were brought to the NYC area by immigrants, it was changing social sentiment and growing audiences for these foods that influenced their composition and geographic spread. Hence, the Chinese noodle narrative of NYC with regards to the types of noodle dishes available both past and present has evolved throughout history as shaped both by the successive waves of Chinese immigrants settling across the city, as well as the evolving preferences of discerning New York eaters.

Additional Works Consulted:

Lin, Jan. “Reconstructing Chinatown: Ethnic Enclave, Global Change.” Vol. 2 Edition: NED – New Edition (1998).

Kenneth J. Guest. ”From Mott Street to East Broadway: Fuzhounese Immigrants and the Revitalization of New York’s Chinatown.” Journal of Chinese Overseas. Vol. 7 No. 2. Liu Hong and Zhou Min. Singapore: Brill, 2011. 24-44.

Rude, Emelyn. “Chinese Food in America: A Very Brief History.” Time, Time, 8 Feb. 2016.

Liu, Haiming, and Huping Ling. “From Canton Restaurant to Panda Express: A History of Chinese Food in the United States.” Rutgers University Press, 2015. JSTOR.

Staff, Eater. “The Making of Manhattan’s Chinatown | MOFAD City.” Eater, Eater, 17 Aug. 2016.

“Menu.” The Macaulay Messenger, The Arts in New York City, macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/beemanneighborhoods/timelinehistory/.

Business Insider. “How a Son Turned His Dad’s Food Stall into the No. 2 Chinese Restaurant in the US.” YouTube, YouTube, 5 Feb. 2016

“Feature: Chinese Immigration.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service”.

Zong, Jie, et al. “Chinese Immigrants in the United States.” Migrationpolicy.org, 13 June 2018.

“Chinese Immigration and the Transcontinental Railroad.” US Citizenship, www.uscitizenship.info/Chinese-immigration-and-the-Transcontinental-railroad/.

Society, Eric Fish Asia. “How Chinese Food Got Hip in America.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 9 Mar. 2016.

Staff, Eater. “The Ultimate New York City Chinese Food Glossary.” Eater NY, Eater NY, 1 Nov. 2011, ny.eater.com/2011/11/1/6645205/the-ultimate-new-york-city-chinese-food-glossary.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Taiping Rebellion.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 July 2017, www.britannica.com/event/Taiping-Rebellion.

Footnotes from Paper:

[1] Data Access and Dissemination Systems (DADS). “Results.” American FactFinder, 5 Oct. 2010, factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_12_1YR_DP05.

[2] Informational Footnote: The Taiping Rebellion was a peasant rebellion in Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces against the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty that took place from 1850-1864.

[3] Hsiung, Deh-Ta & Simonds, Nina (2005). Food of China. Murdoch Books. p. 239.

[4] “Chow Mein, an American Classic.” Appetite for China, 17 July 2009.

[5] “U.S. Immigration Legislation: 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (Hart-Cellar Act).” U.S. Immigration Legislation: 1940 Naturalization Act.

[6] Rude, Emelyn. “Chinese Food in America: A Very Brief History.” Time, Time, 8 Feb. 2016, time.com/4211871/chinese-food-history/.

[7] Wang, Hansi Lo. “Leaving China’s North, Immigrants Redefine Chinese In New York.” NPR, NPR, 26 Jan. 2016.

[8] Interview with Dawn Hu. Conducted 6/24/18.

[9] Interview with Zhang Meijie. Conducted on 6/28/18.

[10] https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=3C3nz108IIU

[11] “Xi’an Famous Foods Website.” Xi’an Famous Foods, www.xianfoods.com/.

[12] “At A Glace: West Village.” Streeteasy.com, streeteasy.com/neighborhoods/west-village/.

[13] “Chop Suey Resorts: Chinese Dish Now Served in Many Parts of the City.” New York City Chinatown > Newspaper Articles, nychinatown.org/articles/nytimes19031115.html.

Evolution of Chinese Noodles in NYC: A Tale of Immigration and Adaptation – Exhibition

Exhibit A: Map of New York City’s five boroughs. NYC’s three main Chinatowns are outlined.

Exhibit B: Beef Chow Mien at Big Wong Cantonese Restaurant (Photo Credit: Danielle K./Yelp)

Exhibit C: Clay Pot Pearl Noodles Soup煲汤珍珠面条汤 Bāotāng zhēnzhū miàntiáo tang at Nyonya in Manhattan Chinatown

Exhibit D: Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup 台湾牛肉汤面 Táiwān niúròu tāngmiàn at Taiwan Pork Chop House in Manhattan Chinatown (Source: Eric J./Yelp)

Exhibit E: Hong Kong Crispy Seafood Noodles 香港脆皮海鲜面 Xiānggǎng cuì pí hǎixiān miàn at Nyonya in Manhattan Chinatown.

Exhibit F: Sichuanese Dan Dan Noodles from Chengdu Heaven in Flushing, Queens, NY (Photo Credit: LY L./Yelp).

Exhibit G: Wheat Noodles with Peanut Butter Sauce (拌面; Mixed Noodles) at Shu Jiao Fuzhou Cuisine Restaurant on 118 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002 (Photo Credit: Anna C./Yelp).

Exhibit H: Shanghainese Oil and Scallion Cold Noodles葱油拌面Cong You Ban Mian  at 456 Shanghai Cuisine in Manhattan Chinatown (Nina C./Yelp).

Exhibit I: Yun Nan Flavor Garden’s #11: Rice Noodles w/Crispy Meat Sauce (Source: Hui Meen O./Yelp) Sunset Park, Chinatown, Brooklyn.

Exhibit J: Xi’an Famous Foods’ “N1: Spicy Cumin Lamb Noodles” 孜然羊肉干扯面 Zī rán yángròu gān chě miàn at the Bayard Street location of the restaurant mini-chain in Manhattan Chinatown, New York, NY.



Guo Tie (er) in Steam

Dylan Frank

Guo Tie (er) in Steam

When my mother made jiaozi (dumplings) touched with oil,

She would cover them first in a veil of steam.

With a light touch she would flip each one

Until each side had turned golden.

As they crackled and sizzled the house would know

She watched the jiaozi so they cooked to gold

Then she would say “chi fan chi fan

Kuai dian er lai – Food is getting cold!”

Golden like yuan bao (golden ingots) but crisp like leaves

What took hours to make gone in seconds

Big plates of jiaozi shared with my entire family

When I left that afternoon, I knew I’d be home soon.


*Author’s note: “Chi fan chi fai // Kuai dian er lai” means “eat food eat food, come quickly”.

*Author’s note 2: Yuan bao Golden Ingot: https://www.fengshuiweb.co.uk/history-of-the-yuanbao-wealth-ingot/

1. What piece did you choose to imitate?

I chose to imitate Hong Junju’s “Noodles in Broth” by turning my memories of the potstickers my mother makes into a poem: “Guo Tie (er) in Steam.”

Notes: In Chinese, guo tie means “Potstickers.” Potstickers are pan-fried dumplings crispy on the bottom. The crust is obtained by placing cold dumplings in a very hot pan with a layer of sizzling oil. When the oil begins to smoke, it is then time to add the dumplings to the pan. When the dumplings begin to stick to the pan, they end up developing a crunchy film because of the oil, and small amounts of water can be used strategically to create steam, hence allowing the cook to obtain an even more substantial golden crust.

While steam may not be traditionally associated with making guo tie, this is a trick that my mother uses to make them crispy all the way around. I am not quite sure how widespread this practice is, but the sizzling sound that the water makes as it shifts to vapor always let me know, growing up, that guo tie was in my near future. My mother always holds the pan lid in one hand and a small glass in the other when she adds the water in small amounts to create the golden film around the jiaozi. Thinking about the sizzle of the oil and the sound of the water turning into steam always reminds me of the comfort of home. I have also been unable to successfully replicate this tactic on my own without waterlogging the guo tie (er).

2. Why did you choose this piece?

I chose to imitate “Noodles in Broth” because I appreciated how it managed to take a fairly nuanced cooking and dining experience and artfully represent it to the reader in just 12 lines. In doing so, it managed to present in vivid detail the author’s feelings surrounding the dish while making the reader (in this case, myself) feel that he could be in the moment with the author as Chef Cui prepared his dish.

With “Guo Tie (er) in Steam,” I spoke to the audience about a personal memory and family tradition: Potstickers before farewells. While this meal that inspired this poem happened the day I left for freshman year of Emory, multiple jiaozi dinners similar to this one have been had to commemorate new journeys. I thought that I could best represent this memory by imitating the form and style of Hong Junju’s “Noodles in Broth,” which is why I chose to model my piece after his (as opposed to another author’s).

3. What did you learn about the culture of the original author through imitating his or her style?

While I was trying to imitate Hong Junju’s poem, I realized that his precision with language is extremely noteworthy. Notably, I found it quite difficult to write a poem that fit within the same stylistic guidelines while also conveying the personal meaning I was trying to capture. Even when translated from Chinese to English the beauty of Hong Junju’s writing still remains. In trying to imitate Hong’s “Noodles in Broth,” I also gained a more nuanced understanding of the poem and also a deeper comprehension of the Chinese cultural traditions that were important to Hong. I realized, for example, how he managed to incorporate multiple traditional Chinese themes in his writing. For example, when describing the process of making bing, he used an analogy that equated the noodles with “autumn silk”. This metaphor both spoke to the seasonality inherent in Chinese cuisine as well as traditional Chinese objects like silk. Hong also spoke about the experience of dining from a sensory perspective in the language that he used through descriptions of dining with friends (“We would gulp them down all at once”) and also of how consuming the noodles personally affected him (After two bowls in a row, // A smile would come to the lips, the body would relax). I felt that these lines spoke to the author’s underlying feelings regarding the dining experience in a more subtle way. In writing “Guo Tie (er) in Steam” I also hoped to relay my feelings on the ritual of eating potstickers together as a family before one of us goes on a long journey in an understated way.

4. What did you learn about your own culture while writing?

Writing this poem allowed me to further realize how Chinese food and cultural traditions often go hand-in-hand. For example, the familial aspect of Chinese cuisine: the most elaborate dishes we eat at home are usually consumed as a family. Moreover, in the brainstorming process for “Guo Tie (er) in Steam,” I thought back to some of the class lectures and readings that we had on Chinese food. Furthermore, through writing this poem, I took the time to both outline and analyze the connections between my Chinese culture and my dining experiences in a highly intentional way. This deliberate process of thinking, analyzing, and writing allowed me to produce a poem with both personal meaning and cultural relevance. Thus, through the process of writing this poem, I further realized how cuisine and family are connected in Chinese culture. Additionally, through the process of reflection required of me to write this poem, I also ended up gaining a stronger sense of pride in my Chinese-American identity.

5. Is there cultural DNA embedded in the piece you read and in your piece? How does this DNA manifest in the texts?

Both my piece and Hong Junju’s explored traditional Chinese themes to relay a food preparation and dining experience. In “Noodles in Broth,” Hong incorporated Chinese cultural DNA through descriptors such as “filter the tea infusion through silk” and “In long strings / White like autumn silk.” Hong’s descriptions of “silk” (invented by China, symbolizing luxury, simplicity, and elegance), and “autumn” (which reflects seasonality) are both deeply symbolic within Chinese culture. Lastly, in describing the process of the bing being “steeped in tea,” Hong Junju further relayed cultural DNA to his audience since tea is part of many Chinese meals. For the dish that Hong described, tea was an essential component.

In “Guo Tie (er) in Steam” I embedded cultural DNA through the strategic use of certain language devices. For example, my mother is from Beijing and she often uses the speech particle “er” at the end of certain sentences. The “er” sound, many Chinese joke, is extremely typical of Mandarin speakers from certain parts of Northern China. I therefore decided that I could more fully capture the experience of eating potstickers using the speech particle “er” in my title to more fully capture the experience. Moreover, talking about yuan bao (golden ingots) and using my mother’s universal meal announcement (which is always said in both English and Chinese so that all in my household may understand)  further speak to how the experience of eating fried potstickers, for me, relates to my identity as a Chinese-American. Lastly, the attention to detail required to execute the jiaozi on my mother’s part, as well as the emphasis on family when consuming them (i.e. we try to eat jiaozi at the table together as a family of four) further relate back to traditional Chinese cultural symbolism and hence represent cultural DNA within my poem.


Homemade Jiaozi
My mother making jiaozi for me
Golden Ingot Source:https://www.fengshuiweb.co.uk/history-of-the-yuanbao-wealth-ingot/


Potstickers (Guo Tie)

Noodles: Evolving and Changing

Dylan Frank

The noodle is both global and multidimensional: Noodles are consumed across diverse geographies and also represent symbolically far more than the sum of their physical parts. In countries where noodles are consumed, differences in ingredient make-up, form, and styles of preparation have contributed to the formation of regional and national identities. For example, when individuals living in a given geography choose to consume noodles, they often prefer to do so in ways similar to those living around them. In this way, the preparation and consumption of noodles by different groups of people further contributes to the noodle’s effect of establishing group identities. Moreover, noodles in countries around the world are still continuously evolving with the advent of new technologies, increased prominence of globalization, and constantly changing definitions of modern lifestyles. In the cases of China, Italy, and the United States, geography, industrialization, and migration are three factors that have played a sizable role in each country’s noodle narrative. In addition to examining these three aforementioned factors, there are other prominent ones that I hope to examine in greater depth on a country-by-country basis.

China: For the Chinese case, tradition and symbolism have also played an especially prominent role in the evolution of the noodle over time.

While the noodle is enjoyed across China, the ways noodles are prepared can differ greatly by geographic region or even city. According to Na Zhang’s article Noodles, Traditionally and Today, Chinese noodles originated in the Han Dynasty more than 4,000 years ago and also serve to “reflect the cultural traditions and customs of China” (Zhang, 1). Moreover, the noodle increased in popularity in China after the Industrial Revolution – for the Chinese case specifically, the advent of modern machinery in China allowed the noodle to transition from “a traditional handicraft industry to mass production” (Zhang, 1). Moreover, in the case of certain types of Chinese noodle dishes migration has played an especially prominent role in their origination and execution: Lanzhou la mian, or “Lanzhou handmade noodles” serve as an example of a situation where migration (in this case, Islamic migration across the Silk Road) directly gave way to a new type of dish. The trait that I seek to examine in further detail for the Chinese case is “cultural symbolism.”

While many Chinese noodle dishes have longstanding historical origins and traditions surrounding them, some dishes have stayed the same over time while others have kept similarities but changed. Notably, Saozi noodles are one dish that has changed little. According to A Bite of China, in the Chinese city of Qishan, Shaanxi, Saozi noodles have a 3000 year-old history and come with their unique noodle narrative. Notably, many Chinese noodle dishes also have their origins in folklore as well: According to Na Zhang, Saozi noodles are also called ashamed son noodles, a name that is likely based on a story as well. Moreover, the five main ingredients of Saozi noodles are imbued with deep symbolism: Fungus is “Black,” tofu is “White,” yellow eggs are “wealth,” red carrots are “prosperous life,” and lastly garlic sprouts symbolize “vitality.”

By contrast, dandan noodles also embody many cultural traditions but have arguably experienced a greater evolution than Saozi noodles with regards to how they are prepared and served. For example, while “dandan” used to refer only to the fact that street vendors carried the ingredients to assemble these noodles around on bamboo poles in Chengdu, the recipe for them has now become more-or-less standardized worldwide. Additionally, the ways of serving dandan noodles have changed greatly: Instead of just having them on street corners, dandan noodles can now be found in restaurants throughout China and around the world. In this way, dandan noodles serve as an example of a Chinese noodle dish with historical symbolism that has changed with modern times. In summary, the Chinese noodle narrative is both stagnant and changing: While some dishes remain the same since their origination, others have changed over time from their historical origins.

Italy: Shape and functionality are especially important in the Italian case with regards to the evolution of the noodle.

Like China, noodles in Italy change based off of local tastes and ingredient availability and are altogether extremely diverse.

The history of pasta in Italy goes back thousands of years. In doing so, it also reflects the influences of invasions and regional geographies. For example, the article “History of Pasta” from Life in Italy notes that Italian pasta on the island of Sicily might often contain ingredients such as “raisins,” thus serving as an example of how the Middle Eastern influence of invasions can be seen in Italy’s food. Moreover, in thinking about the regional geographies, the pasta that is enjoyed can differ significantly by Italian region or state. This is because of two main considerations: 1) Invasion, and the migration associated with it; 2) The presence of micro-climates in Italy.

Historically, Italy started with a type of pasta that was oven-baked. However, Arab and Chinese influences also helped shape Italy’s culinary noodle narrative. German and French influences impacted Italian pasta as well. Moreover, microclimates and provincial geographies even further influence the differences in the different types of noodles consumed throughout Italy. For example, those from Emilia-Romagna may serve their pasta with a “cream sauces or a simple sauce of butter and sage,” yet in the Piedmont region of Northwest Italy, pasta may be served “with a butter sauce” and “covered with slices of decadent local black truffles.” While Italian regions can differ greatly by language, geography, and culture, one can say that they are all arguably unified by their love of good cuisine, specifically pasta. Immigration as well has greatly shaped Italian food culture, particularly with regards to the example of Porto Palazzo, a market neighborhood in Turin, Italy where people from all over the world have set up ethnic restaurants and shops in coexistence with the local Italian population. Additionally, with regards to industrialization, one must consider that Italians rarely make pasta fresca (fresh pasta) anymore at home. The advent of the pasta machine, as well as the prominence of commercial dried pasta, have made it so that time-strapped modern Italians no longer see the need. Continuing on the trend of industrialization in Italy, both machinery and the importation of wheat have also helped shape Italy’s noodle narrative immensely.

The importance of shape is arguably the key differentiating element within the Italian noodle narrative. For example, according to Things and Ideas, “form leads to different flavor” and “there is no form without substance, and no substance without form” (Things and Ideas, 11). For example, different shapes have different capabilities with regards to their intended purposes (i.e. one might hold sauce better, be suited to specific preparations, etc.).. Additionally, different shapes of noodles in Italian cuisine also hit the eater’s taste buds in different ways. In doing so, they thus trigger different sensory reactions (i.e: a thin spaghetti noodle will hit the tongue in a different way than a thick rigatoni or spiraled fusilli). While certain shapes of pasta in Italy have been obtained through the advent of machines, others have been made by hand for centuries. Even if the materials comprising the noodles in Italy are the same (i.e. flour, water, eggs (sometimes), other ingredients (occasionally)), the fact that form influences taste and function to such a high degree is possibly unique to Italian cuisine.

Interestingly, for the Italian case, different shapes of pasta can also reflect identities. For example, the Neapolitans are often referred to by other Italians as the “macaroni eaters,” thus showcasing how something as simple as the shape of a pasta can become a social identifier. Others shapes of Italian pasta have stories as well (another example, manicotti,  came about through the Italian-American community). Thus, the Italian noodle narrative is influenced by shape, form, and function as well as the aforementioned factors of geography, migration, and industrialization.

United States: For the United States, the evolution of the noodle has also been prominently influenced by adoptions of foreign culinary traditions and innovations in processed food.

American cuisine is influenced by cultures from around the world. This is true in the case of noodles as well: An “American” noodle narrative has evolved greatly over time and contains influences from around the globe. A quick Google search for “American Noodles” reveals photos of different types of noodles from around the world. In the case of the United States, American cuisine was heavily influenced not only by the indigenous peoples of the US but also by individuals who came to the US as immigrants who brought their food traditions with them. If one might choose to go to a recipe website (such as this one, which I consulted: https://www.yummly.com/recipes/american-noodles), one can see a list of “American” noodle recipes with two distinctively “American” things: 1) Highly processed foods; 2) Global influences. Additionally, even popular American pasta dishes such as “mac and cheese” are actually influenced by other cuisines (in this example, British food). Lastly, American fast-food adaptations of noodles also play off of global cuisines, including those of China (ex: Panda Express, your neighborhood take-out joint, etc.) and Italy (Olive Garden, Maggiano’s Little Italy, Carraba’s Italian Grill, etc.).

Notably, like China and Italy, regional differences in American cuisine do still exist (ex: you may find a Cajun-influenced pasta in Louisiana or a shellfish-heavy version in New England), but for the realm of noodles they’re arguably far less significant. Yet, within the context of industrialization, the American noodle narrative has arguably been shaped even more so than China’s or Italy’s. For example, with regards to considering American processed food, the example of Kraft Mac and Cheese comes to mind. With its fluorescent orange cheese powder and numerous preservatives, the product has been engineered to fit a busy American lifestyle that values convenience and budget-conscientiousness. While China and Italy both have processed noodles as well, this invention in my mind was uniquely American. (Note: China specifically has many forms of highly processed foods, including noodles, yet the traditions associated with Chinese noodles form a more iconic part of a “Chinese noodle narrative” cultural identity than processed ones have).

Noodles in 1 Image: Globe

Noodles in a Single Image: Globe

Image Source: https://www.replogleglobestore.com/hastings-globe-by-replogle-p/31509.htm


Food and Identity: Blog #1

Jiao zi shou le! Fan hao le! Kuai lai! Fan liang le, fan liang le! Xi shou, xi shou. Kuai lai kuai lai!

(Dumplings are ready! Food is ready! Come quickly! Food will be cold, food will be cold! Wash your hands, wash your hands. Come quickly come quickly!).

This rallying cry (which changes based on whichever item is being served) means that dinner is ready, and my mother takes pride in cooking traditional Chinese foods for her family members at least once per week. In my family, conversing around the dinner table is ritual – and growing up in a multicultural household, Chinese foods have always held a special significance to me. For example, we eat dumplings (jiao zi) in my family the day before each person’s birthday, and longevity noodles (chang shou mian) on the day of the actual birthday. While the dumplings we eat vary by season (cabbage, chives, zucchini, pumpkin, Chinese long beans, etc.), the filling is usually pork or shrimp in combination with the seasonal vegetable. The noodles, however, do not vary by season: Birthday longevity noodles are always the same – in my family, chang shou mian is always served in the form of zhajiang mian (noodles with pork and fermented soybean paste) – a Beijing specialty. Another new tradition in my family is eating a specific set of foods whenever I come home from Emory. These dishes include the following: hong shao pai gu (red-braised spare ribs with white rice), qing chao bai cai with you dou fu (stir-fried baby bok choy with deep-fried golden tofu),  and chao ou, which is the stir-fried root of the lotus flower. We also eat qie zi (eggplant) in many different forms, since Chinese preparations of eggplants (stir-fried, braised, stuffed with minced pork, steamed) actually comprise many of my favorite foods. Hong shao pai gu and qie zi (eggplant) dishes are both extremely popular in Northern China, respectively, but the other two dishes are Southern. Being that my mother is from Beijing (and very proudly so, she will never let me forget that), I find it funny that she always prepares the same Northern Chinese main dish (hong shao pai gu) for me whenever come home. Whenever I ate Chinese outside of the home in restaurants, however, it was usually Southern Chinese cuisine. I think that my mother chooses to make hong shao pai gu the main dish because it’s distinctly Northern Chinese – hong shao pai gu is always the main dish, supported by many different type of qie zi, and the two Southern entrees are always the sides. I believe that the two Southern dishes represent a concession on my mother’s part – if she had everything her way, she’d rather be making tu dou si (er) (stir-fried shredded potatoes) and xi hong shi chao ji dan (scrambed eggs with tomatoes) instead of these two Southern vegetarian entrees (Note: The “er” 儿 sound is extremely prominent in Northern China at the end of certain words in spoken Mandarin Chinese). My mother gives in wisely, however, knowing that her ability to stop my family from enjoying the rest of China’s cuisine outside of the North would be like trying to contain a waterfall with buckets – she also compromises on her menu items slightly because she loves me.

I eat these Chinese foods because they are lovingly prepared for me by my mother and they also represent home. While my mom taught me how to make some of them, they always turn out better when we cook together or she makes them for me by herself. My mother is extremely kind, loving, and detail-oriented – her grandmother taught her how to make some of these dishes – and because my twin brother lacks interest in cooking, I seem to her “only hope” (she has told me this before) to pass on the family’s recipes. Recipes in my family are not written down but have been passed down from generations cooking together. And while I try my best to replicate what she’s taught me when I cook by myself, it is her eye for detail and years of experience with cooking that allow her to create some of the best food I’ve ever tasted. She is a true master and artist in the kitchen: I hope to one day reach the level of her talents.

In Atlanta, I’ve had the experience of eating foods from around the world. Atlanta is also home to many other types of cuisines as well. Some cuisines I have particularly enjoyed in Atlanta include the following: Indian, Korean, Thai, Cuban, Mexican Ethiopian, Jamaican,  Italian, and Chinese. In Atlanta, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting many different types of restaurants with some of my friends from these backgrounds at Emory. With regards to Indian cuisine specifically, my cousin lives in Atlanta and he married into an Indian family (that lives in Atlanta as well) – like my mother’s family, they have passed down their family recipes through generations also. For the Lakshmipathy family, three generations of Lakshmipathys live in the Atlanta, GA area, all within 10-15 minutes of each other. When I go to Kala and Pathy’s house (the parents of my cousin’s fiancé), I eat dosa, biryani, idlis, and sambar – and while I’ve never told my mother this (and never would), I think that Kala, my cousin’s mother-in-law, cooks some of the best food that I’ve ever tasted (definitely rivaling my mother’s). In addition to my experiences with eating Indian food in Atlanta at the Lakshmipathy houshold, the Korean food that I’ve tasted in Atlanta has also been better than any Korean food I’ve ever had in NYC,. Additionally, the Thai food at Little Bangkok in Atlanta exceeds that of my neighborhood Thai restaurant in quality and authenticity by tenfold. Moreover, La Fonda de Latina (Cuban/Mexican) is where I most often order takeout from. I sometimes order takeout from Desta (Ethiopian), Embilta (Ethiopian), or Nyamminz and Jamminz (Jamaican) as well. Additionally, with regards to Jamaican food, there’s a Jamaican restaurant in Sweet Auburn called Mangoes that some friends recently took me to as well – the interior is lively, decorated with flags from all over the Caribbean, and the food is awesome (especially the oxtails, which they seem to have made fresh, since we had to wait for an hour after we ordered them). With regards to Italian food in Atlanta, while I’ve not yet had the opportunity to try as many restaurants as I would have liked to have, I do enjoy dining on the pizza from Antico. And lastly, while the other cuisines I’ve tried within Atlanta are largely on par with NYC’s versions (if not better), the Chinese food is Atlanta is unfortunately not. While Atlanta has good Chinese food, New York City has the most Chinese people of any city outside of China, so given that the food is likely some of the best Chinese food outside of China as well. As much as I have tried to find many of Chinese foods from home that I enjoy eating on a regular basis, many of them are (unfortunately) either not as good as (and/or more expensive than) the versions of the same items that I can eat in NYC. For example, the one time I ordered hong shao pai gu in a restaurant, the portion was small and the taste was not as good as my mother’s – it also made me miss home. Lastly, certain Chinese foods that I enjoy eating in NYC on a regular basis don’t exist at all on restaurant menus in Atlanta.

Photos of Foods:

(From Top –> Bottom)

1) Dumplings 饺子 (Consumed throughout China)

2) Dosa (Southern Indian)

3) Idli w/Sambar (Southern Indian)

4) Red-Braised Pork Spare Ribs 红烧排骨 (Northern Chinese)

5) Stir-fried Baby Bok Choy with Deep-Fried Golden Tofu 清炒白菜和油豆腐 (Southern Chinese)

6) Stir-fried Lotus Root 炒藕 (Note: While Lotus Roots are grown and eaten throughout China, especially in winter time in soup preparations, much of the crop is grown in the South. The far North of China is not temperate enough for the lotus flowers to grow).

7) Noodles with Pork and Fermented Soybean Paste 炸酱面 (Beijing/Northern Chinese dish)

8) Stir-fried Shredded Potatoes 土豆丝儿

9) Stir-fried Eggs with Tomatoes 西红柿炒鸡蛋 (Note: This dish is actually enjoyed throughout China to my knowledge, but my mother insists that it’s Northern Chinese. It’s also her favorite dish).