If ordering Chinese takeout, spending an evening at an authentic Chinese restaurant, or just consuming Chinese food in general are some of your favorite things to do (it sure is for me!) you have one person to thank – Buwei Yang Chao. Unknown to most, Chao was the woman who bought authentic Chinese food to the U.S.
Chao was born in the Nanjing, China in 1889. At a young age, she went to Japan to study to become a doctor. Only there did she start developing an interest in cooking. After graduating, she returned to China where she met Yuen Ren Chao, a linguist and the two married in 1921. The couple moved to the United States in 1938. There, Chao began asking how dishes were prepared and with what methods and ingredients. Without even trying, she had gathered an astonishing number of Chinese dish recipes.
In 1945, Buwei Yang Chao’s book, How to Cook and Eat in Chinese was published, and it was truly a milestone for both the Chinese-American community. It was the first to offer authentic Chinese cuisine in the states. Terms such as ‘stir-fry’ and ‘pot sticker’ originate from Chao’s book. Her dim sum recipes have shaped the way Westerners prepare and eat Chinese food.
Although Chao passed away in 1981, her legacy lives on. As a Chinese-American, I’m especially grateful for what she did because I not only can enjoy authentic Chinese restaurants with food reminiscent of my mother’s cooking, this is also a huge step towards cultural representation in the states. So the next time you are craving some authentic Chinese, you can thank Chao for her contribution.