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It wasn't until after World War II that Asian cuisines (notably Chinese, Japanese and Polynesian) piqued the interest of mainstream America.Sylvia Lovegren's Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads [Mac Millan: New York] 1995 describes America's 20th century Asian food fads.Americans not used to such economy were often dismayed by what they found in their rice bowl...Most of these eateries were primitive in design and atmosphere...The Cantonese readily absorbed these cosmopolitan influences and, being great travelers themselves, soon emigrated to Europe and America.They were the first to establish Chinese restaurants ouside their own country and to make Chinese cooking known to the West.
In many authentic Asian restaurants, there were two menus: one for people of Asian descent and another for tourists. "When Europe began trading with the Orient, the seaport of Canton became the gateway to the West.Better restaurants gained fame on San Francisco's Grant Avenue, on or near New York's Mott Street, in Los Angeles, and every other American city of consequence, and the developing tastes for genuine Chinese food resulted in a vogue for home delivery of such easily portable items as egg rolls and chicken chow mein in paper buckets.But it wasn't until after World War II that Americans began consciously to augment their Oriental kitchen repertoires by attending classes in Chinese cooking and avidly sampling new tastes that became available in restaurants specializing in Mandarin, Hunan, Fukien, and Szechwan dishes in addition to those from Canton.In the 1960s Polynesian theme restaurants and tiki bars were all the rage.While Chinese food was introduced to America in the mid-19th century, Vietnamese (Japanese, Thai, etc.) cuisine was generally unknown to mainstream American diners until the 1970s.