Is “Chop Suey” really Chinese? What about the fortune cookie? The history of Chinese food culture in America is a bit like "tsa sui" (in Mandarin or in Cantonese "shap sui"), a stew of ingredients from many sources and culinary traditions. The first Chinese workers to settle in America were anything but homogenous, coming from different regions in China, varied economic classes and diverse cultures.
Sweet and Sour: Chinese American Food from Chinatown to Main Street is a visually exciting, revealing look at the cuisine and cultural traditions brought to America by the earliest Chinese immigrants to America’s West coast, and the ensuing popularization of Chinese food all across the country, from tiny hamlets to major urban centers. The exhibition also details some of the intriguing things people might not know about Chinese food culture and its place in American history. In spite of prejudice and restrictive laws against Asians in the 19th century, close-knit Chinese communities found ways to maintain a food culture rooted in China while adapting to Western culture and tastes. The exhibition tells the story of Chinese food culture as part of the great American story, from the early-19th century to the present.
Sweet and Sour is a collaboration of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Artifacts from the National Museum of American History and other public and private collections will be presented in a fascinating and thought provoking narrative enriched by rarely seen photographs and graphics. This 2,500-3,000 square-foot exhibition will also include vintage signs, documents, and other paper ephemera, cooking and eating utensils, and personal memorabilia. Educational materials and web-based programs developed especially for the project will be made available to museums on the tour.