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128 8 • WHO OWNS CULTURE? “With Six You Get Eggroll” In 1968, the movie With Six You Get Eggroll featured a family comedy of a remarried middle-aged white couple with four children. The movie had nothing to do with the Chinese, but the title reflected a common expectation of American customers about Chinese restaurants. Eating out in Chinese was always a bargain . “Just pick up the kids from school, head over to the local Chinatown and order the Number 2 Special.”1 The special would include large portions of egg foo yong, chop suey, moo goo gai pan, and egg drop soup. Back then, a dinner for a family of six at a Chinese restaurant cost less than $15. In the 1960s, Cecelia Chiang was probably the first restaurateur in San Francisco who wanted to introduce authentic Chinese cuisine with a variety of regional flavors.2 She opened her first Mandarin Restaurant on Polk Street in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1962. Born in Beijing and raised in Shanghai, she had tasted many well-known Chinese dishes from various regional cuisines. Her menu listed over 300 items, including sizzling rice soup, smoked tea duck, beggar’s chicken, and Mongolian lamb. But local and tourist customers had consumed chop suey, chow mein, and egg foo yong for decades. When Chiang asked for lamb from butchers in Chinatown, they found her request strange. At that time, even ingredients such as sesame oil or mushrooms had to be imported from Taiwan.3 In the late 1960s, mushrooms from Taiwan were rationed and also in great demand by mainstream grocery stores. While the quota system allowed about 800,000 cases annually, Chinese wholesale trading companies in America were allocated 50,000 cases to supply to Chinese restaurants. As a result, each Chinese restaurant only received 200 to 300 cases of much-needed mushrooms a year. Some Chinese restaurants had to use mushrooms imported from Japan or France. The situation was not improved until the mid-1970s.4 During the first year and a half, the Mandarin Restaurant attracted few customers . It was losing money and close to bankruptcy. Johnny Kan, of the famous Who Owns Culture? 129 Kan’sRestaurantinChinatown,kindlysuggestedtoChiang:“Changeyour cooking style. People are happy with chop suey and pressed duck. Besides, nobody has even heard of pot-stickers.” Chiang’s sister also advised her to close the restaurant.5 But one day Herb Caen, a Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, dropped by and tasted her food. Shortly after Caen declared his discovery of real Chinese food in his column, the Mandarin Restaurant received hundreds of phone calls for reservations. The business took off overnight. Eight years later, the Mandarin Restaurant moved out of Chinatown to Ghirardelli Square and expanded into a 300-seat high-end restaurant. On the evening of its grand opening, a $250-a-person banquet completely sold out.6 No Chinese restaurant in America had ever charged that much. The Mandarin’s golden days began with the banquet. Businessmen, celebrity guests, tourists, and middle-class families all came to eat Chiang’s authentic Chinese food. Her menu did not feature one particular regional flavor but a selection of famous dishes from several regional cuisines. American customers had no difficulty accepting most of them whether the dishes were southern, eastern , northern, or northwestern Chinese, or tasted spicy or sour-sweet. Chiang’s cooking classes had students like Julia Child, James Beard, Alice Waters, Marion Cunningham, Jeremiah Tower, and Danny Kaye.7 For decades, her restaurant was one of the few high-end Chinese restaurants that offered authentic Chinese food. Even after her retirement in 1991, she was still a sought-after restaurant consultant all over the United States. She helped establish many famous restaurants , such as Shanghai 1930.8 But Chiang’s success was a bittersweet story. Her Chinese food could only reach mainstream American customers after Caen’s endorsement. Previous slow business was obviously not a flavor, palate, or culinary issue. Middle- and upper-class American patrons needed to be assured by their own food and cultural critics that it was all right to eat real Chinese food. In 1975, Chiang opened another Mandarin Restaurant in Beverly Hills, California . Her son, Philip Chiang, joined her and eventually took over the management in 1989. In addition to this restaurant, Philip also owned the Mandarette in West Hollywood and the Lucky Duck on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles.9 Philip Chiang faced the similar attitude...


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