Home Food + Drink A Guide To + History of Chinese Takeout in Hoboken + Jersey City

A Guide To + History of Chinese Takeout in Hoboken + Jersey City

by Yiwei Gu
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When walking the streets of Hoboken, among the trendy fast-casual eateries popping up around town, you’ll notice several old, no-frills Chinese takeout restaurants. Many of them have been around for more than 20 years and are still busy filling delivery or pick-up orders from locals in the neighborhood every day. If you ask an owner of one of these restaurants what the most popular menu item is, the answer is always “General Tso’s chicken” — an “American” favorite.

General Tso’s chicken has become synonymous with Chinese takeout, but it’s largely an American invention and is not frequently ordered by native Chinese customers, especially the younger ones, according to one of those aforementioned owners.  We did a little digging into the history of American Chinese food. It’s a story of immigration, politics, and cultural integration that is still unfolding today. Here’s a brief history of Chinese takeout in town and our top must-order-from spots. Read on for a guide to Chinese takeout in Hoboken + Jersey City and a brief history of the cuisine.

chinese food takeout history guide hoboken jersey city

A Brief History

The first wave of Chinese immigrants came to America during the California Gold Rush. The majority of them were impoverished peasants from the Cantonese area on China’s south coast. Many of them ended up in the restaurant business, selling dishes loosely based on traditional Cantonese recipes, but adapted to the tastes of American customers, such as lo mein and egg rolls. The most typical American-Chinese food from that era was chop suey, made of meat and eggs, stir-fried with vegetables, served over rice, and is based on a Cantonese peasant dish made with miscellaneous leftovers. In the 1920s, New York foodies and bohemians started a “chop suey craze” and Chinese food was considered the most exciting ethnic food at that time.

In the 1960s and 1970s, two historical events marked another wave of change in American Chinese food. With the passing of the Immigration Act of 1965 — which repealed restrictions on East Asian immigrants — an influx of Chinese immigrants arrived in America, many of whom came from regions in China other than Guangdong, bringing their hometown flavors to their adopted country. During President Nixon’s “ice-breaking” visit to China in 1972, the state banquet was broadcast live globally, which immediately kindled the public’s curiosity for “authentic” Chinese food.

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It was during this time that General Tso’s chicken came to the food scene. A Taiwanese chef originally from Hunan Province invented the dish in the 1950s, naming it after his hometown hero Zuo Zongtang, a 19th-century general. The dish made its way to New York in the 1970s, just in time for the rekindled Chinese food fervor. Chefs at prominent Chinese restaurants added their own spins to the “original” Taiwanese recipe, crisping the batter and intensifying the flavor, making it more palatable to American tastes. From there, the dish took off.

Chinese Takeout Locally

Today, the food at our typical neighborhood Chinese takeout still echoes the legacy from that era. Yes, stir-fries and fried rice are eaten in China, but the American takeout renderings are sweeter, saltier, boneless, and heavily deep-fried, for example, think of sesame chicken. And many common Chinese-takeout ingredients are not widely consumed in China. Broccoli, for dishes like broccoli with beef, is not native to Asia and only started to appear in Chinese farmers’ markets after the 2000s. Fortune cookies, a Californian invention, are pretty much unheard of in China.

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This does not mean Chinese natives have completely renounced Chinese takeout food altogether. On busy weekday nights, at many Hoboken Chinese takeout spots, there is always a small but steady stream of Chinese students from Stevens. “The food is nothing fancy, but sometimes it suffices for a quick and inexpensive dinner, especially when you are starving,” they told The Hoboken Girl.

And the Chinese proprietors of these restaurants have also made changes to meet the evolving market demand. They enlarged and renovated the space and expanded the menu to incorporate Japanese or Thai dishes as well, catering to the taste of a wider clientele. But more changes are still on the way. In the past 10 years, an increasing number of Chinese investors, students, and high-skilled workers have moved to America. With disposable incomes and picky palates, they tend to seek out authentic dining experiences closer to what they had at home. As a result, new restaurants have opened up around town featuring a wide variety of regional cuisines, previously uncommon in America.

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Where to Get Chinese Takeout


Chen’s Kitchen | 301 Jackson Street #2

Must-try Dish: General Tso’s chicken

Green Garden | 1202 Washington Street

Must-try Dish: Wonton soup

Keming | 1006 Washington Street

keming hoboken chinese

Must-try Dish: Dim sum

Low-Fatt-Chow | 720 Monroe Street, Suite 103

lo-fatt-chow hoboken

Must-try Dish: Sweet and sour chicken

Number 1 | 642 Washington Street

Must-try Dish: Chicken and broccoli

Precious Chinese + Japanese Cuisine | 128 Washington Street

Must-try Dish: Sichuan pork

Rice Shop | 304 Washington Street #4842

Must-try Dish: Peking duck

Jersey City

Chef Tan | 558 Washington Boulevard

Must-try Dish: Chongqing-style fried chicken

China Garden | 553 West Side Avenue

Must-try Dish: Kung Pao Chicken

East Flour | 103 Christopher Columbus Drive

Must-try Dish: Wonton and purple rice congee

Garden State Chinese Restaurant | 287 Central Avenue

Must-try Dish: Spring rolls

Great Wall | 426 Grand Street

Must-try Dish: Orange chicken

Hunan House | 382 Summit Avenue

Must-try Dish: Miso soup

Jade House | 586 West Side Avenue

Must-try Dish: Beef Chao

Kay’s Spring Garden | 473 Central Avenue

Must-try Dish: Fried wontons

New Hong Kong | 161 Monticello Avenue

Must-try Dish: Black pepper beef

Old Peking | 746 Montgomery Street

Must-try Dish: Noodles with shrimp

Taste of North China | 75 Montgomery Street

Must-try Dish: Honey garlic chicken

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