The Chinese American Museum of Chicago (CAMOC) kicks off a new exhibition with its Era of Opulence: Chinese Fine Dining mini-exhibit opening Saturday, April 24 at 11:00am, and running through September 26, 2021. The main exhibition called Chinese Cuisine in America: Stories, Struggles and Successes is scheduled for opening next year in late February 2022.
The new exhibition next year will delve into the unique, historical aspects of the Chinese diaspora told through the successful acculturation of Chinese cuisine in America. Chinese Americans achieved successes despite early targeted legislative, legal and labor union barriers, and even media scrutiny. Starting with the extraordinary popularity of chop suey to more authentic regional cuisines and delicacies, the exhibit explores the proliferation of Chinese restaurants in the United States. The exhibition also acknowledges the plight of the current pandemic which has taken its toll on the restaurant industry, especially Chinese restaurants, along with drawing parallels to the recent rise in hate crimes against the Asian community.
To whet your appetite, this mini-exhibit Era of Opulence: Chinese Fine Dining will focus on local area exquisite Chinese restaurants. It will highlight the immigrant struggles spurred on by the Long Depression (1873 -1896) leading to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and the success story of restaurateur, Chin F. Foin. In 1906, Foin with two non- Chinese partners, Baohuanghui (Emperor Protection Association) backing and a string of restaurants, reportedly invested $100,000 (worth nearly $3 million today) in King Joy Lo, which was considered the most upscale Chinese restaurant at the time complete with a live orchestra and dance floor. Early 20th century artifacts from the Museum’s collection such as King Joy Lo’s menu and lacquer food basket will be on display. Louis Armstrong’s miles tone “Cornet Chop Suey” and Margaret Johnson’s “Who’ll Chop Your Chop Suey (When I’m Gone)” will transport the visitor back to that era.
The second mini-exhibit will explore mid-twentieth century Chinese restaurants in October 2021.