Research file

The History of Chinese Food in the UK
When Chinese communities were first established in London and Liverpool in the late 19th century, no one expected Chinese cuisine to become one of the most popular food in the UK nowadays – more than a hundred years after the first recorded Chinese restaurant opened in Piccadilly Circus of London in 1908 (British Chinese Food Culture, 2011).

In 17th century, tea had become the first food massively imported from China to the western world, which changed the drinking habits and culture of the United Kingdom – will be discussed in the following chapters. Yet not until the 1880s, when the Chinese groceries and eating houses were founded in Liverpool and London, with their customers and mainly Chinese seamen, dockworkers and students. Meanwhile, the first Chinatown in the UK was formed in Limehouse in London by many Chinese sailors settled around the area (Anon., 1884). In 1884, Chinese food was presented at the International Health Exhibition in South Kensington, London, which was the first time Chinese food was introduced to the British public (British Museum, 2008). After the First World War, Chinese chef Chong Sung, from Guangzhou, brought cumquats, ginger, rice-puddings, vermicelli, lychees and mushrooms to London in the 1920s (Roberts, 2002, p156-157). In 1930s, Regional dishes of Ningbo, Fuzhou, Hainan, Shantou and Shanghai were served by retired Chinese seamen in Liverpool (Roberts, 2002, p159). In 1939, Jean Sterling introduced simple recipes of some “typical dishes from China” on BBC broadcast.

In early 1950s, after the Second World War, some of the former Nationalist Chinese embassy staff remained in Britain and changed to the catering industry after the Communist revolution, extended the regional dishes (Roberts, 2002, p170-171). In 1957 to 1958, Chinese restaurants established a three-course meal pattern to meet the British tastes and custom. Lotus House, ran by John Koon, at Bayswater, London became the first Chinese takeaway in the UK in 1958 (Edwards, 2008). In the late 1950s, Char Siu (roast pork), sweet and sour dishes, and egg foo yung (omelettes) first appear on Chinese menus. In 1963, Mr. Kuo from Beijing opened his restaurant Kuo Yuan in North West London and began to serve Peking duck for the first time in the Britain. Soon it became famous because of a visit by Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon. This made his restaurant and Chinese food more popular among the British citizens (Rayner, 2002). In 1970s, the phrase ‘Hong Kong style’ emerged to indicate a modified Cantonese cuisine that combined ‘exotic or expensive ingredients and western catering’. At the same time, Chinese food recipes first appeared in women’s magazines in the UK. Large food shops and supermarkets and mainstream manufacturers began to develop this market (Roberts, 2002, p200). By the mid-1970s, even small towns had Chinese restaurants, or at least a Chinese takeaway (Mason, 2004, p163). In the 1980s, regional Chinese dishes increased – mainly Pekinese and other north Chinese-style dishes. Supermarkets started to sell convenience food, as crispy Wontons were supplied to Marks & Spencer by Amoy. Manchester’s Yang Sing became the first ethnic restaurant to win the coveted Good Food Guide restaurant of the year award in 1983 (Roberts, 2002, p181). In 1990s, the expensive Chinese restaurants started to serve lobster, monkfish and vegetarian set, in order to suit the growing economy and the increasing number of vegetarians. Westminster College founded the school of Chinese cookery (Roberts, 2002, p181). In 1993, the sale of Chinese food had increased 20%, capering to the former year, ranking as the second most popular ethnic food – after the Indian food. When it came to the new century, Singaporean and Malaysian foods were also included in Chinese food as ‘ragionality’ replaced ‘authenticity’ as a selling point (Roberts, 2002, p202). In this period, 65 percent of the British households owned a wok, which is considered one of the most important thing in Chinese culinary (British Chinese Food Culture, 2011). There were about 5,410 Chinese restaurants by 2010, Chinese food becomes the most favorite cuisine in the UK, beating Indian, British, Italian and Thai (Mail Online, 2010).

The History of Western Food in China
In China, most people do not have a clear idea of British cuisine or French cuisine. Instead, all the ‘European cuisines’ are considered as Western food. The reason for this situation is that when the Western food were brought into China over a hundred years ago, the Chinese could not distinguish British cuisine from French or Russian cuisine (Zhang, 2013). The first recorded Western restaurant in China is called Tai Ping Koon Restaurant, opened in Guangzhou in 1860. In the 1870s, a few Western restaurants were founded in Shanghai, which had become popular among the foreigners and the Chinese upper class. In 1863, John Innocent, a British pastor established Astor Hotel in British concession in Tianjin, which is considered the most historical hotel in China (Starwood Hotels, 2013). In 1901, retired German soldier Albert Kiessling opened a restaurant named by his own in Tianjin. The Kiessling Restaurant, served German and French cuisine alongside bakery, soon opened up the local market and became famous. In the 1930s to 1940s, Western restaurants were very popular in the big coastal cities in China. There were hundreds of western restaurants in Shanghai by then. And it was not only for the upper level, but also enjoyed by the middle class. Western cuisine was a ‘fashion’ to the Shanghai citizens at that time. Meanwhile, the situation in Beijing was quite different. As the Western restaurants were extremely expensive in the capital, few ordinary people could afford it. The customers were usually from the royal family of China by then (Zhang, 2013). In 1935, an Italian and his French wife opened Chez Revere restaurant in Shanghai, serving French cuisine. The place is known as Red House Restaurant (Chinese ‘红房子’) now, and remains the most famous Western restaurant in the city.

Tai Ping Koon Restaurant

After the People Republic of China founded in 1949, the development of Western cuisine had stopped for a long while. Only a few restaurants in Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou were still running. But due to the relationship between China and Soviet Union, some Russian restaurants were opened in Beijing, with the most famous one named Moscow Restaurant, opened in 1954 (BJEXPO, 2013). From then to the Chinese economic reform, western cuisine had been developing slowly in China. In 1983, the famous French fashion designer Pierre Cardin opened a Maxim’s de Paris restaurant in Beijing, which was a luxury one in China at that time (Sina, 2008). The western fast food entered Chinese market several years later. KFC opened its first restaurant in the capital of China – Beijing in 1987. People were queuing long outside the shop, not for the fast food, but for Western food (Research and Markets, 2011). Three years later, McDonald’s launched in Shenzhen in South China (Liu, 2008). Both KFC and McDonald’s are successful in China. KFC had more than 3,000 restaurants by the end of 2010; McDonald’s had announced to increase their stores by 1,000 at the same time, due to the growing need for their food (Research and Markets, 2011).

Hong Kong – the Connection between the UK and China
The Britain first raised their flag on Hong Kong Island in 1841. Since then, Hong Kong has been growing fast in economy and many other aspects (China Highlights, 2013). Tea was brought to the UK in 1662 by the Royal Family and soon became popular among the upper class by then (, 2006). In the early 19th century, Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford was the first person to lead the custom of ‘afternoon tea’ by inviting several friends to enjoy tea with bread and butter, and cakes. This became a noble lifestyle in the United Kingdom since then (British Food, 2013). The British people brought their habit to Hong Kong when they arrived there. The upper class continued to have British afternoon tea, which was expensive by that time. The work class were not able to afford it, but they could have traditional ‘dim sum’ for afternoon tea time. In the 1950s, the immigrants from Hong Kong to the UK grew rapidly due to the establishment of The People’s Republic of China (Mason, 2004, p163). They came from the other side of the planet and brought their food here as well. Actually, before they came over, the Chinese restaurants in the UK were mostly Cantonese, because of the large percentage of Chinese immigrants are from Canton (Guangdong) Province, which is also considered as the origin of most population of Hong Kong. The arrival of the new immigrants had made more Cantonese restaurants opened in the UK. So the most influential Chinese cuisine in Britain was, and still is Cantonese cuisine. Hong Kong plays an important role in communicating the two countries, and is expected to contribute more in the future.

The Future and the Opportunities
While Chinese food has become the most popular food in the UK – even over Indian and British food, do people know what exactly Chinese food is? In Chinese tradition, there are four main cuisines, including “Lu” (food from the Shandong area), “Yang” (food from the Jiangsu area), “Chuan” (known as “Szechuan”, from the Sichuan area) and “Yue” (known as “Cantonese”, from the Guangdong area). As Cantonese food is popular among the British folks and Szechuan food is becoming well-known, the other two cuisines are not easily to be found all over the UK (Oughton, 2012). Even the Cantonese and Szechuan food are not cooked exactly the same way as they are in China. In many of the Chinese restaurants in Britain, there are two different versions of menu, Chinese and English. The difference is not just the languages but the dishes. In the Chinese menu, there are usually proper Chinese dishes in plenty of different cuisines; when in the English menu, you can only see the dishes they believe suit the British taste. The fact is, they give the Chinese menu to Chinese customers and give the English menu to non-Chinese ones (Chow, 2012). This “tradition” among the Chinese restaurants has been decades and still exists. The reason for this situation could be the customers’ lack knowledge of the Chinese cuisine or something else. But as there are more people travel and live in China from the other parts of the world, this “tradition” can be removed. Adam Sadler, British, worked in Shanghai for 10 months, fell in love with dumplings and Sichuan food. “I’m a massive fan of jiaozi (dumplings). Xiaolongbao is my favorite. But you can’t get good xiaolongbao in the UK,” said the young financier when he dined in a Cantonese restaurant in central London. “Now I’ve lived in China. I’ve come back to London. I don’t like British-Chinese food. I prefer the authentic Chinese food. I like hot pot as well. Sichuan hot pot is amazing.” (Duan, 2013) In the future, with the better knowledge of Chinese cuisine, British people will be more interested in authentic Chinese food. The potential market of it is even larger than before.

The demand of western food in China is increasing rapidly, according to the statistics (Bankman and Alivisatos, 2013). Tesco has more than one hundred stores across China, which has overtaken the US as the biggest grocery shopping nation on the planet. The M&S manager of China, Stephen Rayfield, reports big sales of frozen salmon or cod fillets, ready-made frozen curries, chocolate-chip cookies and porridge oats (Poulter, 2012). M&S has four fashion-and-food stores in Shanghai after opening the first one, measuring 5,000 square metres, in 2008. It intends to focus on what is the world’s fastest growing city with a population of 20million and an increasing wealthy middle class that keen on Western brands. The M&S in Shanghai sold about 17,000 packs of crisps and nuts in the first quarter of 2012, more than double the level the year before, as well as 35,000 pieces of frozen fish, which was increased by 26 per cent (Poulter, 2012). According to the research, there are 14,000 Western restaurants in China by 2004 (Zhang, 2013). Similarly to the situation of Chinese cuisine in the UK, only 3,200 of them are authentic Western restaurants. The potential in the world’s largest population of 1.4 billion is obviously huge.

Traditional Food of the Great Britain
The full British breakfast may include black pudding, baked beans, fried bread, sausages, bacon and eggs (British Food, 2013). Before tea was introduced in the 17th century, the British had two meals, breakfast and dinner. The breakfast had ale, bread and beef (EW Graphics, 2013).

There is nothing more British than fish and chips (Castlelow, 2013). Chips were first brought to the Britain from France in the 18th century. The populace later had found fried fish and chips made a very tasty combination and so was the born of fish and chips.

Traditional Chinese Dishes
Mapo tofu is also known as stir-fried Tofu in hot sauce (British Chinese Food Culture, 2013). It origins from Chengdu in Sichuan province. The original method of cooking mapo tofu is to stir-fry small pieces of tofu together with mince beef. And beef was replaced by pork to suit the taste of the people do not eat beef. It is a popular dish in China, Taiwan Korea and Japan.

Scrambled egg with tomato is a traditional everyday Chinese dish loved by numerous of people. The origin of the dish is not recorded clearly. But it is tasty and saucy, and different from many other Chinese dishes, it does not have a strong smell. So it is widely accepted in a lot of other countries.

The address of the project’s photo blog is And as an agreement, an online video is put on instead of a hard copy of QuickTime file.

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Chinese Cuisine vs. Western Cuisine

Wenbin tasting Fish & Chips cooked by Reon.

He likes the food and surprised by chef Reon for it is the first time he cooked it. Wenbin is going back to China after 4 years study in the UK, although British food is not his favorite, he is willing to introduce western cuisine for his Chinese friends.

Chinese Cuisine vs. Western Cuisine

Salvado eating English breakfast cooked by Wenbin.

He enjoys the food. And his advice for the Chinese students study in England is to try more western food and learn the culture in this way, instead of always going to the Chinese stores and restaurants.

Chinese Cuisine vs. Western Cuisine

Reon tasting Mapo Tofu made by Salvado.

He said it is cooked properly in the authentic Chinese style. He also wants to introduce more authentic Chinese food of all different kinds of cuisines to his western friends.