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Sweet and Sour

by: John Jung

Yin and Yang Press 2010, Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-615-34545-1

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2011 Issue: 18(3) page(s): 17 and 18

Interested in American-Chinese and Canadian-Chinese restaurants? In this book with no city or state of publication indicated, one can learn where, why, and more about those run by the Chinese at the beginning of the late 19th century. Written by a Professor Emeritus of Psychology from the University of California, Long Beach, this book takes up a challenge once given to the author when he spoke about Chinese grocers in Georgia and other southern states. It is written after a Chinese chap told him he needed to write one about Chinese restaurants.

His response, it is out of my knowledge-base. Never mind, this owner of three Chinese restaurants tells him and offers to help make such a book a reality. However, as the help came with many a directional 'how to' not on his radar, Jung went it alone. Doing so he learned lots and finally did publish this volume subtitled: Life in Chinese Family Restaurants.

The contents are fascinating, particularly about racial prejudice, and difficulties and lonely times for their owners. These owners faced many of these as they served a few Chinese dishes from Guangdong and many western ones, too; and, they served them to their mostly non-Chinese clientele.

Fast disappearing, their restaurants were small places now replaced by franchises, chains, and Chinese from other regions who serve different Chinese cuisines. This book, a memory-lane must-read volume, is about places and lives of the Chinese restaurant owners. It blends archival information, myriads of memories, and historical explorations about early Chinese family-owned family-operated restaurants, most in the south.

Learn about their harsh working conditions, savor the interviews, put yourself in those primary source statements, and see the pictures--most never before seen. Glean contributions the many family members made. Garner the whys of their success. Get deep into the washing of dishes, wiping flatware and tabletops, even stir-frying chop suey and chow mein.

As the broken fortune cookie Chinese proverb before the text says, "Sweet, sour, bitter, and pungent, all must be tasted" and they were. Enjoy the color photographs of eight early restaurant signs on the rear cover. They recall many a defunct eatery first rejected by their non-Chinese small-town neighbors and now missed by them.

Go from cover to cover, then tell your friends to dig into this author's efforts. Soak up little known aspects of the lives of these early Chinese immigrants who managed to get into the country and make a success of their dreams. Learn how they managed to educate their offspring, who as soon as they could, left these tough lives. Though the children are not interviewed (there is a topic we suggest for Jung's next book), do learn why many parents and children left the region. Then read Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton about the lives of Mississippi Delta Chinese grocers. Get a copy of Chinese Laundries, its subtitle: Tickets to Survival on Gold Mountain, and read that, too. Together, they will educate about the tough times these early Chinese immigrants endured as they settled in America's south and elsewhere.

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