researching Chinese restaurant menus from 1960's LA
- Claire Raffel
I am a graduate student at UCLA writing a paper on a historic Chinese menu from the LA Public Library's menu collection. The menu is from 1965, from New Moon restaurant on San Pedro. I am trying to find out more information about this restaurant in particular, but also the history of the Chinese restaurant in LA, and in general, the phenomenon of the Chinese restaurant menu: how to interpret it on many levels, literary, socially, historically, institutionally, and of course, culinarily.
Some of the questions I am trying to answer about this menu/restaurant are:
1. (If you were from LA in the 60's) Who exactly was the restaurant catering to? Who was the intended clientele?
2. The food seems fairly "Americanized"...i.e. their famous Chinese Chicken Salad, and Sweet and Sour Chicken Sticks. However, one of the primary questions I have about this and other seemingly Americanized Chinese restaurants is: how authentic is the food really? Are these dishes based on traditional Chinese preparations and only changed for the American palate (especially that of the 1965 restaurant goer who would not have been exposed to the range of ethnic food that abounds today)? Or are they entirely made up for an American audience?
3. Was there another all-Chinese menu for the restaurant? Is that common practice? (It certainly is an urban myth.) If so, how would the food differ?
I would truly appreciate any thoughts you have on these questions, or other ideas you have about Chinese restaurants in America, the idea of authenticity in ethnic restaurants, ethnic restaurant menus, or whatever else comes to mind regarding this topic.
I am new to this website, so thank you in advance for your thoughts!
p.s. I have included the URL for the menu for further reference on menu items that people may want to weigh in on.
Thanks for the very interesting post and link.
One thing that comes to mind is that 1965 -- according to Calvin Trillin and others -- is a very important year for American restaurants, because that was the year the immigration laws were expanded to allow many more immigrants from places like China, thus allowing more authentic cuisines to enter the US and flourish.
If I were you, I'd post a 'heads up' posting on the LA board, complete with a link to your post. I'm sure you'll get more hits.
There are multiple google hits re: "American Chinese food"... many very interesting. In fact I remember once reading a blog of a woman who spent her time photographing American Chinese restaurants (and their menus) from locations all over the country.
Ditto with the other posters, but I also remember a post here on chowhound from a woman who had done a a graduate (?) or conference thesis on the connection between Jews and Chinese food in NYC. As I recall, there was some good history on the evolution of some the dishes you're researching. It was very interesting and informative...hope you can retreive in here. Maybe someone will have a more specific link/thread for you.
I used to eat lunch, quite often, at New Moon, back in the late 60's and early 70's. There was also another Chinese resto on the same street, whose name escapes me. I think it's been discused here, though I think it closed or moved long ago. Hopefully someone will post and jog my memory. Very similar food and clientele, though I recall that the second one was frequented by a lot of police detectives and other government employee, while New Moon was the choice of a lot of garment area people.
The crowd I remember was almost totally Caucasian, as this was before the SoCal poulation growth had really included as many immigrants from Asia, or even from Mexico & Central America, as it reflects today.
I don't recall ever knowing of another menu. I may be wrong, but I don't think the Chinese population of LA frequented this place at any time of day. Chinatown was pretty much it back then. Monterey Park, and the other San Gabriel Valley areas certainly weren't Asian population centers then.
I used to travel to Hong Kong and Taiwan a lot in those years, and the food at New Moon was most definitely for an American audience. Much more like New York 'Chinese' food that anything authentic. Cantonese would be the only regional cuisine that would even come close to it.
What went on in the evening I can't comment on, but I doubt it would have been much different.
There were two restaurants down the street from New Moon. They were Man Fook Low and Paul's Kitchen. Man Fook Low was THE PLACE for alleged authentic Chinese food. First I ever learned of dim sum was there in 1959. You want to research truly Americanized Chines food check out leads on Ah Fong's on Sunset and Laurel.
re: Hugh Lipton
Thanks for that. I ate at both Man Fook Low and Paul's Kitchen many times baxk in the same time frame. Just a bit of memory fog. Later became a fan of Yang Chow, on Broadway, which opened in the later 70's I think.
Ah Fong also had a branch on Beverly Drive in BH. Someone here confirmed my recollection of the exact location a while back. I was never aware of the other locations they had.
As I recall, Man Fook Low and Yang Chow were both much more 'authentic'.
When I was a kid in the 60's our family used to drive from Brentwood to downtown to eat at Man Fook Low. I don't really remember specific dishes other than maybe sweet & sour pork. Then in the mid-70's after my folks got divorced and each remarried, my stepdad liked Paul's Kitchen better than Man Fook Low, so we went to Paul's Kitchen. It pissed me off. I always thought my stepdad wanted to one-up my dad in the Chinese food dept. I didn't want to like Paul's Kitchen. But never in all those trips downtown did we go to New Moon and I'd never heard of it until I started reading about it here.
I loved Man FooK Low in L.A. I worked in Vernon 1975-93 and after discovering the restaurant often ate there and also brought many of their dim sum (espcially the Shui mai dumplings 35 cents each ) back to work, sometimes as many as 100 at a time. Great with hot mustard. The Takeout lady at the front was very stingy with Napkins and forks - Also loved the bar-b-cued pork from the Chinese butcher shop a few doors down. Now both sadly gone.
I used be a waiter at a Chinese restaurant in Chicago catering to mostly Jewish clientele in the 60's. The New Moon menu is definitely catering to non-Chinese customers. But even chop suey had it's origin from Chinese cooking. So many of these dishes definitely had Chinese origins, but modified to suite the western taste.
All Chinese restaurants have "secret" menus. If you are Chinese you go in and start talking Cantonese, the kitchen usually can fix something more "authentic" for you. I have done it in Chinese restaurants in Rome, Budespesh, and Prague. In fact whenever we encounter Chinese restaurants in strange and unusual places we almost never order from the menu.