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

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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 take out in Hoboken + a brief history of the cuisine.

    chinese food 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 With the passing of the Immigration Act of 1965 — which repealed restrictions on East Asian immigrants — an influx of Chinese immigrants arrived in America, many of whom came from regions in China other than Guangdong,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 {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.

    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 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 an 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 in Hoboken + Jersey City

    After chatting with Chinese residents and students living in Hoboken and Jersey, we’ve put together a few popular take-out + delivery places in Hoboken and Jersey City.

     

    Keming {1006 Washington Street, Hoboken}

    keming hoboken

    A Sichuan restaurant with a large menu, be sure to get their “House Specials” if you love spicy food. And for those who prefer milder tastes, try their dim sum and regular stir-fries. 

    Rice Shop {304 Washington Street, Hoboken}

    This is a no-frills Hoboken establishment popular among students for quick meals. Try their appetizers, Singapore curry noodles, and fish dishes.

    Chef Tan {558 Washington Boulevard, Jersey City}

    This is a very exciting new addition to the Jersey City Asian food scene. Spicy food lovers can’t get enough of their Chongqing Style fried chicken and griddle dishes.

    Shanghai Best {95 Montgomery Street, Jersey City}

    As the name suggests, Shanghai cuisine is their specialty. Get the soup dumplings for a real burst of flavor, and for more adventurous eaters, try the fish head stew.

    East Flour {103 Christopher Columbus Drive, Jersey City}

    east flour jersey city

    {Photo credit: @eastflour}

    This cozy, small eatery sells a few quick + hearty Chinese breakfast foods. People love their wonton and purple rice congee,  and they also have regular sandwiches as well.

    Taste of North China {75 Montgomery Street, Jersey City}

    This is a relatively rare find in this area featuring a lot of hearty Northern Chinese staple food and meat dishes. Their dumplings are a must-try dish when you visit. 

    What is your go-to order or Chinese food spot in Hoboken or Jersey City? Let us know in the comments below! 

    Did you know: We started a podcast about all things news and lifestyle in Hoboken + Jersey City! Listen to the latest episode of Tea on the Hudson here and subscribe.

    We release new episodes every Tuesday!


    Written by:

    Yiwei was born and raised in China. She has lived extensively in Beijing and Hong Kong, before finally settling down in New York. She moved to Hoboken after a few years in Westchester and immediately felt at home here. Two years ago, she left her job at an investment bank to travel the world and explore her interests, and has since then taken on a few freelancing gigs in career coaching, college admission consulting, and writing. When she is not wandering wildly in the streets of Europe, Asia, or Latin America, she can be found sipping an espresso in one of Hoboken's coffee shops or trying out restaurants in Hoboken and Jersey City area.


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