historicaltimes
An opium den in Chinatown, New York, 1925. The product originated in India, was refined for smoking purposes in China, and arrived in the U.S. via San Francisco. In the 1880s, Dr. H.H. Kane wrote that opium dens were venues “where all nationalities seem indiscriminately mixed.” 
historicaltimes:

American Patrons Smoking Opium in an Opium Den, Chinatown, New York, 1925.

An opium den in Chinatown, New York, 1925. The product originated in India, was refined for smoking purposes in China, and arrived in the U.S. via San Francisco. In the 1880s, Dr. H.H. Kane wrote that opium dens were venues “where all nationalities seem indiscriminately mixed.” 

historicaltimes:

American Patrons Smoking Opium in an Opium Den, Chinatown, New York, 1925.

Are Ethnic Enclaves Bad for Immigrants?
What reasonable New Yorker — or tourist — doesn’t love the city’s ethnic enclaves? 
In addition to being great neighborhoods to visit or eat in, they also serve as important transition zones for millions of immigrants, places where they can ease into America while holding onto aspects of the old country. 
But in certain cases, the level of segregation presents a serious downside: scholars say some ethnic enclaves discourage immigrants from learning English, and prevent them from getting decent jobs or much-needed social services.
Brigitte Waldorf, a scholar at Purdue University, has even helped quantify the enclave effect for immigrants from China and Mexico.
Her research suggested that a 35-year-old woman from China — married, living in the U.S. for five years, earning $25,000 a year, and without a high school degree — had a 28 percent chance of knowing English if she were the only Chinese speaker in a given neighborhood. But if she were to live in a Chinese enclave — say, 10 percent Chinese — the likelihood that she would speak English would drop dramatically: to 13.6 percent.
English, says Waldorf, is “an absolute must in American society in order to be fully integrated.”
Listen to the full Micropolis episode here.

Are Ethnic Enclaves Bad for Immigrants?

What reasonable New Yorker — or tourist — doesn’t love the city’s ethnic enclaves? 

In addition to being great neighborhoods to visit or eat in, they also serve as important transition zones for millions of immigrants, places where they can ease into America while holding onto aspects of the old country. 

But in certain cases, the level of segregation presents a serious downside: scholars say some ethnic enclaves discourage immigrants from learning English, and prevent them from getting decent jobs or much-needed social services.

Brigitte Waldorf, a scholar at Purdue University, has even helped quantify the enclave effect for immigrants from China and Mexico.

Her research suggested that a 35-year-old woman from China — married, living in the U.S. for five years, earning $25,000 a year, and without a high school degree — had a 28 percent chance of knowing English if she were the only Chinese speaker in a given neighborhood. But if she were to live in a Chinese enclave — say, 10 percent Chinese — the likelihood that she would speak English would drop dramatically: to 13.6 percent.

English, says Waldorf, is “an absolute must in American society in order to be fully integrated.”

Listen to the full Micropolis episode here.

Why, in this era of foodie hordes, Instagramming their way across the five boroughs, do some Chinese restaurants in New York City still have double menus?

It’s always mystified me that a business would only list some of its dishes in English and keep others — presumably the best/strangest/most authentic ones — on a separate, Mandarin menu.

So I set out to understand why.

I visited Main St. Imperial, in Flushing, with Andrew Coe, the author of “Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States.” The storefront restaurant, far from the culinary heart of Flushing, is “the best Taiwanese restaurant in New York,” according to Coe.

Among the several dishes we devoured was a smoky, spectacular pile of minced pork, liberally garnished with chives, red chilies and fermented black beans. The dish is one of the restaurant’s most popular, but it’s not on the English-language menu.

Why not?

Could be the name of the dish: “Chives with Fly Heads.”

The fly heads simply refer to those delicious black beans, but perhaps some Asian restaurateurs think that metaphor would soar over the heads of non-Asian diners. Strangely, a slew of “Putz”-based dishes remain on the menu.

For someone like Joe DiStefano, one of the city’s most famous epicures (he hates the term “foodie”), the double menu is a gastronomic hindrance. On his new site, Chopsticks and Marrow, he and readers have discussed the strangest things they’ve ever eaten, from live baby octopus to wittchety grubs.

The mood in this sector of the universe, he says, is intensely competitive: “Have you eaten eyeballs? Have you eaten duck testacles? I have!”

In that context, he argues, a double menu “creates sort of a mediated or watered-down experience for the non-Chinese diner.”

While most of the experts I spoke to say the double menu is disappearing, it still exists on Mott Street, in Manhattan Chinatown. That’s where I met Wendy Chan, author of “New Asian Cuisine” and a consultant to various Asian governments aiming to make their cuisines more popular in America.

"They don’t want their waiters to be spending time chit-chatting with you, to explore option 1, 2, 3, the difference between A, B and C," said Chan of restaurant owners. "They’d rather have you say, ‘Okay, this is what you want, this is what we give you. Hurry up and leave.’"

There’s also the matter of clashing tastes. People raised in Asia, she said, are more likely to eat dark meat than other Americans, or eat a whole fish, with the tail intact and those dead, beady eyes staring at you.

Still, Joe DiStefano figured this was the only international cuisine in New York where a second menu exists. After all, Indian restaurants don’t have a different menu for their Indian customers. But an email from Madeline Leung at RestaurantBaby.com helped reframe the issue. She wrote, somewhat cryptically, “Race and history matter,” and this sentence, “There was a time in America, when it was commonly believed that Chinese people eat rats and dogs.”

That took me back, to the 1984 movie, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” when our hero is served what many American viewers must have presumed was a classic Indian dessert: Chilled monkey brain.

Because there’s nothing better than a food scene, set in an exotic country, to show just how freakish or backward another culture is. It hits us at a primal level, whether it’s Indian food or Chinese. The rumors that Madeline alluded to, about eating rats and dogs, are old (and with dogs, bears some truth), but there are multiple discussion threads on Yahoo.com, right now, of people wondering whether Chinese people eat babies.

Thus, the creation of Chinese-American cuisine — along with the double menu — wasn’t just a culinary development, or a money-making proposition. It was also a kind of political act, one that presented a ‘moderate’ face to outsiders in places like New York, which had enough Chinese immigrants to justify a Chinese-language menu, along with an English menu.

What’s funny is that for some people, like Madeleine Leung, whose parents operated a Chinese restaurant in Detroit, the self-consciousness they developed over decades dies hard.

"One telling thing is that whenever we have friends over," she said, laughing, "we order pizza."

To hear my WNYC radio story, go here.

feetin2worlds

“But you’re one of the most well-known places in New York for dumplings,” I said.
There was a brief silence on the other line, then an incredulous laugh, or a choking sound not unlike a hoarse sob.
“I had no idea,” he almost lamented.
“You don’t know about your reputation online? I asked.
“How can I? I don’t have time to look at the computer. I get home so late, and I wake up so early, I barely have time to sleep. I only sleep five to six hours a day.”
(via The Story Behind Great Taste’s ‘Five Dumplings for a Dollar’ Deal | Feet in 2 Worlds)

I found this really powerful. The city’s food scene: as tantalizing as it is brutal.

“But you’re one of the most well-known places in New York for dumplings,” I said.

There was a brief silence on the other line, then an incredulous laugh, or a choking sound not unlike a hoarse sob.

“I had no idea,” he almost lamented.

“You don’t know about your reputation online? I asked.

“How can I? I don’t have time to look at the computer. I get home so late, and I wake up so early, I barely have time to sleep. I only sleep five to six hours a day.”

(via The Story Behind Great Taste’s ‘Five Dumplings for a Dollar’ Deal | Feet in 2 Worlds)

I found this really powerful. The city’s food scene: as tantalizing as it is brutal.

Biang! The exclamation point is part of the restaurant’s name, and w/ good reason. The food is that good.

The interesting thing about Biang! is that the food, drawn from the Xi’an region of western China, is outrageously cheap. My group of three adults and three kids ate — and ate well — for $32. But as you can see here, they don’t skimp on presentation.

What’s a suave place like this doing across the street from the Flushing public library?

I asked Wendy Chan, a cookbook author and marketing expert who senses “a groundswell of younger, more ambitious” Asian-American “trailblazers,” who “don’t want to play by the old rules” of various Chinatowns.

Biang! is an extension of the Xi’an Famous Foods chain — which has a location on St. Marks in the East Village but whose foodie temple, luring the faithful from far and wide, rests in the gritty, tube-lit basement of the Golden Mall, just a block from Biang!

Unlike that location, which uses paper plates, Biang! is more upscale while somehow keeping most of its dishes in the $5-7 range.

"I love, love, love that they’re bringing these types of restaurants to Flushing," said Chan.

Dishes seen here, as described on the menu:

  • Spicy and tingly lean beef stew with wide hand-ripped noodles
  • Toasted slices of mantou (steamed bun), home-made spicy pork sausage, fried sunny-side-up quail egg on top
  • Slivers of lamb on skewers barbequed over open-flame grill, seasoned with cumin, red chili powder, and proprietary spices
  • Boiled tofu skin skewers, slathered w/spicy fermented tofu sauce, Szechuan bean sauce, sesame paste, garlic, and chili oil
  • Simple cold salad of fiddlehead ferns w/Szechuan pepper oil and black vinegar