The Korean Immigrant and Michigan Farm Boy Who Taught Americans How to Cook Chow Mein

In 1922, two college classmates in Detroit — a Korean immigrant named Ilhan New and an American named Wally Smith — founded La Choy, a company that mass-produced Chinese food products. One hundred years later, to Chinese Americans the brand is “synonymous with cultural inauthenticity, even appropriation.” But, as Cathy Erway explores for Taste, the complete story of their partnership and the history of the company is complex.

These experiences might encapsulate what La Choy was to many: simultaneously a starting point for some and a stopgap or substitute for others. If you didn’t know Chinese food, well, here was a brand that could give you your first, if whitewashed, glimpse into that world to start learning more. And if you did, well, here was something that could maybe hold you over—or inspire you to give your cooking your own American spin. Maybe there was something to admire about the audacity to do things a little differently, to figure out another way of seeing your cultural heritage, to try something new.

Source: Taste
Published: May 3, 2022
Length: 21 minutes (5,275 words)
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