NYPL Exhibitions

Chinese Takeout

Chinatown was filled with restaurants by 1901, and there were dozens more Chinese restaurants above 14th Street. The food quickly developed a following among New Yorkers from all over the city, who loved the unfamiliar flavors and bargain prices, and almost from the beginning, they wanted to take it home. “Few Bohemian gatherings are complete without a pail of chop suey, brought, fresh and hot, from Chinatown,” noted the New York Tribune in 1903. But according to Jennifer 8. Lee’s’s Fortune Cookie Chronicles, home delivery of Chinese takeout as we know it today—free and ubiquitous—was only a dream until 1976, when Empire Szechuan Gourmet, at Broadway and 97th Street, began distributing menus in nearby apartment buildings and offering free delivery. Once other Chinese restaurants saw the success of this innovation, they jumped on board, and soon a table strewn with white cartons, paper-wrapped chopsticks, and plastic packets of soy sauce became a recognizable motif of home life in New York.