Chinese Restaurants Flower Following Diplomatic Thaw

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Chinese Restaurants Flower Following Diplomatic Thaw


Menus; Chinese food


1972 New York Times article that talks about the rise of Chinese cuisine's popularity after Nixon's visit to Peking, China.


Ralph Blumenthal


page 33 of Jul 27, 1972 New York Times article


New York Times




Copyright New York Times Company Jul 27, 1972






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Where Mama Goldberg's kosher restaurant once served matzoh ball soup on Second Avenue, the Flower Drum Restaurant now serves NixonChou banquets at $10 a head.

Some Current Favorites

Each Chinese restaurant has its own specialties. But here, according to a spot check of restaurateurs in the city, are six well‐liked dishes, most of which have gained popularity as New Yorkers moved from the long‐favored Cantonese style to the more exotic Chinese cuisines.


‐ching kao‐ya (Peking Mo‐shu‐jou (shredded pork with rice pancake).


Hunan yang‐jou (tangy, Chiang‐pao niu‐jou (beef spicy, sliced leg of lamb, hu in hoisin — brown bean —nan‐style). sauce).


Kan‐hsiau lung‐hsia (hot, Tien‐suan yu (sweet‐sour

spicy lobster, Szechuan‐style). whole fish, Mandarin‐style) duck).

The coffee shop in Lincoln Towers was resurrected this year as the Golden Buddha, the former Brass Rail on East 40th Street has found a new life as the Peking Park and, near the Greenwich Village corner of Bleecker and MacDougal Streets, a window sign announces “Another New York's Famous Szechuan Taste Opening Soon.”

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From strange, hybrid LatinChinese luncheonettes to lacquered emporiums seemingly inspired by a warlord's dream of paradise, the proliferation of Chinese restaurants here these days is hard to miss.

Trend Centered Here

The reasons cited are manifold: a growing Chinese population in the city following the easing of immigration quotas in 1965; increasingly eclectic tastes of Americans in the jet age; the fascination with President Nixon's trip to Peking, and the new mainland Chinese presence at the United Nations. Or it may simply be the generally lower prices for Chinese food.

The phenomenon seems primarily, but not exclusively, limited to New York City, where about 70,000 of the nation's more than 435,000 Chinese live.

Elsewhere, particularly on the West Coast, where more than half of the ChineseAmerican population has settled, some Chinese restaurateurs report a surge of interest since the President's trip in February.

In Los Angeles, for example, bartenders say they are getting more orders for mai tai, the potent wheat liquor with which the Nixon party and its Chinese hosts toasted each other.

Chicago, with 300 or so Chinese restaurants, seems one cuisine step behind New York, enjoying an increase of Mandarin restaurants but not yet a Szechuan boom.

“When we opened,” said Susan Sih, co‐owner of Chicago's Dragon Inn, “I couldn't give away a Peking duck. And then President Nixon went to China. He's been the greatest salesman for Peking duck. Now many people want it.”

1,700 Estimated in Area

While there are no accurate figures, the Chinese‐American Restaurant Association, representing several hundred traditional Cantonese establishments in New York, mostly in Chinatown, estimates there are now up to 1,200 Chinese restaurants in the city and adjacent Long Island, with another 500 to 600 in New Jersey and Connecticut.

Furthermore, it estimates, in the last five years the number has grown in the city by about 300—or an average of about one opening a week—and the current rate is now put at 100 openings a year. Some will undoubtedly fail, but the bulk will probably succeed.

Yet, despite the boom, the inner workings of the Chinese restaurants remain a mystery to many of their patrons.

Who really owns the restaurants? Why do the chefs wield such enormous power? And why are the new “hot” cuisines so popular?

Contrary to some rumors, Chinese restaurants here—to judge from a dozen or so surveyed in recent weeks—are not owned by Hong Kong millionaires or racketeers.

Rather, the owners of the non‐chain establishments are local Chinese of moderate means who have each amassed, say, $10,000 by running a laundry or working for other restaurants and who then join in a partnership.

Opening a restaurant can cost, perhaps $75,000 or as much as $500,000, which is put together by bank loans and contractors’ credit. The relatively few chain restaurants, on the other hand, are big business.

The peregrinations of Tsung Ting Wang are rather typical of many Chinese restaurant owners.

I As a child, he began working with his father in a Shanghai kitchen. He then moved on to restaurants in Chungking, Szechuan Province, Hong Kong and finally Tokyo, where, by this time, he was master chef. There he was hired to cook for the Taiwanese ambassador.

He followed the ambassador to Washington, and, in 1965, when the diplomat retired, Mr. Wang stayed behind. With $40,000 in savings, he came to New York where he became one of the founders of the Shun Lee Dynasty at Second Avenue and 48th Street. When partners started the Shun Lee Palace at 155 East 55th Street, Mr. Wang took a share.

Last spring, Mr. Wang set up a new restaurant, the Hunam at 845 Second Avenue, by buying out a defunct Chinese restaurant there, bringing in two chefs from Asia and lending them the money to take it over as owners.

In the Palace kitchen, Mr. Wang himself still juggles the sizzling woks, or deep slopesided frying pans, and supervises the lesser cooks.

As for mobster influence, an expert in the fight against organized crime said he has found no evidence to suggest any wholesale penetration of Chinese restaurants as there is, for example, in the night club field.

“They'd close their restaurant first,” said a Caucasian attorney who knows many of the smaller owners.

With the restaurant boom, master chefs such as Mr. Wang are so much in demand that proprietors are compelled to give them shares in the restaurant to keep them from being hired away by competitors.

Some of the owners give the chefs a flat 2 per cent or more of the profits in addition to their monthly salaries of about $1,000, while others offer their chefs partnerships.

‘Raid’ by Competitors

On a trip to the Far East two and a half years ago, Jerry Chang, owner of Shanghai East at 1059 Third Avenue, interviewed 75 prospective chefs and cooks. He ended up sponsoring five for immigration here to work in his restaurant. Of those, two were quickly “raided” by competitors once they got here.

“Because of the limited supply, we can only cut each others’ throats,” said Peter Lee, proprietor of the Flower Drum at 856 Second Avenue.

Thus, as Michael Tong, a partner in the Palace, put it: “Sometime the chef gets angry with the owner; the owner never gets angry with the chef.”

The chef famine is so bad that the Chinese Restaurant Association is considering plans for a training program to graduate up to 400 Chinese restaurant workers annually.

While the chefs are generally legal immigrants here, some of the lesser kitchen workers have cloudier status.

According to Immigration officials, 533 Hong Kong and Taiwanese crewmen deserted their ships here in the year ended May 31. Agents apprehended 238 in about the same period.

“Suddenly hot food is in fashion,” said Mr. Chang of Shanghai East. “Chinese people don't know why.”

One Leads to Next

“Manhattanites are very sophisticated,” suggested Mr. Lee of the Flower Drum who claimed—along with some of his fellow restaurateurs—to have originated the copy of, the Nixon‐Chou banquet. “Once you leave behind Cantonese food, you can only go on to try others.”

Whatever the reason, Szechuan cuisine, named after the wild western Chinese province that developed the hot, spicy style, is now the rage. Even restaurants of other cuisines—the dominant Cantonese with its generally bland steamed and sauteed fare, the more delicate fried meats and seafood of Mandarin and Shanghai kitchens and the strange Latin‐Chinese hybrid — feel compelled these days to list some Szechuan specialties on the menu.

And Latin‐Chinese?

A representative dinner, as sampled the other day at the Miramar, a small Formicatabled restaurant at 286 Broadway, Brooklyn, opened with fried bananas and fresh avocado, moved on to barbecued spareribs and lobster Cantonese and saffron rice and concluded with strong espresso coffee.

The owner of the restaurant in the Williamsburg section, Charles Chung, came from Venezuela eight months ago and his Chinese cook is a Cuban exile from Havana.

Few Chinese look on such fare favorably.

And where does the craze go from here? “Oh, we have many dishes we haven't introduced yet to American people,” said Gregory Chang, an owner of the Szechuan Restaurant at 2536 Broadway, at 95th Street.

He added: “Fish heads, oh yes. We have many things but not ready yet.”

Original Format





Ralph Blumenthal, “Chinese Restaurants Flower Following Diplomatic Thaw,” Intro to Digital Humanities Fall 2018, accessed July 25, 2021,

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