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Rediscovering DC's Earliest Chinese Restaurants

Chinese culture in the nineteenth century was profoundly strange to Americans. The story of how Chinese restaurants developed—transforming a cuisine that was considered strange and disgusting into a veritable American comfort food—is a startling one, fraught with white Americans' racism, cruelty, and insensitivity but matched by great resiliency and adaptability on the part of Chinese immigrants. As Washington's earliest Chinese restaurants gained their footing at the beginning of the 20th century, they spearheaded an enduring presence in the city's culinary culture.
Chinese immigrants began arriving in the United States in significant numbers in the 1850s, when poor farmers and laborers from China’s Pearl River Delta region sailed to San Francisco to join in the California gold rush. Many were employed by the railroads at hard labor, carving new routes through the rocky, unforgiving terrain of the west. Almost all were men, and they faced intense hostility from whites, who…

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