Mother of Chinese Cuisine in America Cecilia Chiang Passes Away at 100

Mother of Chinese Cuisine in America Cecilia Chiang Passes Away at 100
Ryan General
By Ryan General
October 29, 2020
Cecilia Chiang, the culinary legend who brought authentic Chinese food to the U.S., has passed away at age 100. 
End of an era: Chiang died of natural causes at her home in San Francisco on Wednesday morning, as confirmed by her granddaughter Siena Chiang, the New York Times reported. 
  • In the early ’60s, she opened her renowned San Francisco restaurant, the Mandarin, where Chinese dishes such as potstickers, hot rice soup, and Chongqing-style spicy dry-shredded beef, and many others, were served to American diners for the first time.
  • Chiang’s efforts in introducing a variety of new authentic Chinese food to American taste buds have made her among the most influential figures in Bay Area food culture, according to SF Chronicle
  • Born from an affluent family in Shanghai and raised in a Ming-era palace in Beijing, Chiang brought with her the dishes she was accustomed to growing up.
  • The dining style of the affluent society in Beijing is called “Mandarin cooking” and includes local dishes and regional cuisines from Sichuan, Shanghai and Canton.
  • “They think chop suey is the only thing we have in China,” she was quoted by NPR as saying. “What a shame.”
 
Chiang’s journey: Her life’s work, which became an important part of the history of Chinese culture in San Francisco, has been documented in her book “The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco” and featured in filmmaker Wayne Wang’s documentary “Soul of a Banquet.”
  • Before Chiang’s arrival in the U.S., she fled her home twice due to war and political turmoil.
  • In 1937, she and her older sister fled Shanghai to escape the Japanese during World War II and a decade later, Chiang and her family moved to Tokyo during the Chinese Communist Revolution.
  • When she ended up in the U.S. in 1959, she was surprised to learn that most Americans considered chop suey to be the epitome of Chinese cuisine.
  • Chiang was able to change that a couple of years later with the opening of the Mandarin on Polk Street before moving on to Ghirardelli Square, near Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Through the years, Chiang became highly revered in the food community and was known as the matriarch of Chinese cuisine in America.
 
Featured Image Screenshots via James Beard Foundation
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