History of Chinese Bistros and Takeaways in Britain

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Chinese Restaurant or Takeaway

A Chinese restaurant or takeaway is a facility that serves Chinese cuisine outside China. Chinese takeouts (United States and Canada) or Chinese takeaways (United Kingdom and Commonwealth) are likewise discovered either as elements of eat-in facilities or as separate establishments, and serve a take out variation of Chinese food.


Most of the early Chinese shown up as seamen, after the treaties of Nanking in 1842 and Peking in 1860 opened up China to British trade. The 1991 Census put the number of Chinese in Britain at 156,938.

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The first wave of Chinese immigrants who showed up in the 2nd half of the 19th Century, followed China's defeat in the Opium Wars and, just like the lascars, were primarily seamen. They jumped ship in Britain and cleared up in the port cities of Liverpool, Cardiff and London and as the new century dawned, the movement away from the docks to the cities into first laundries then catering started. The earliest arrivals were often related to the East India Company and cleared up in the East End in general and Limehouse in particular by 1880's.

By 1913 there were thirty shops and cafes for Chinese individuals in Pennyfield and Limehouse Causeway although this 'mini boom' was to decline rapidly by the 1930's as shipping dropped.

By the 1950's the Chinese neighborhood started to concentrate on Soho in London for the theater trade and when diplomatic relations standardised in 1950, several Mandarin speaking previous diplomats opened Peking-style bistros.

This motion ongoinged and by the 1960's Soho had actually become London's Chinatown and the flow outward to the suburbs and in other places started where expenses were much less expensive. The first Chinese restaurants in London were opened by Charlie Cheung in the East End however, more notably, by Chung Koon, a former ship's chef on the Red Funnel Line who had settled in London and wed an English lady. He opened the extremely clever Maxim's in Soho in 1908 and quickly after, The Cathay in Glasshouse Street which became a Japanese establishment in 1996 which Koon would have disliked.

Despite the fact that, there were fewer than 5000 Chinese in Britain up until the War and it was not up until after the Second World War that Chinese food gained any real popularity fostered by American servicemen taking English girls to The Cathay supported by returning British servicemen with a taste for Oriental food acquired during abroad postings. It is stated that even General de Gaulle needed to seek The Cathay to obtain far from an Anglo-Saxon diet.

Such was the demand for his food that John Koon then did the un-heard of and introduced the first ever Chinese takeaway in London's Queensway and followed it up by convincing Billy Butlin to open a Chinese kitchen in every Butlins Holiday Camp with an easy menu of Chicken Chop Suey and Chips. The Chinese rapidly took on the takeaway principle as well as the British love for fish and chips and quickly the majority of little villages and towns had their Chinese takeaway which doubled as a fish and chip shop.

Britain had no history of colonial contact in China and Japan except for Hong Kong, a lot of the post battle impact was from America up until the Commonwealth Immigration Act in 1962 presented the 'voucher system'. The boom in demand in Britain for eating in restaurants was fuelled by the new-found consumer wealth in the Middle Class and Chinese food spread all over Britain till today there are over 7600 outlets turning over � 1.7 billion a year and the Chinese population has actually grown to 157,000.

The innovation can be found in 1951 when the British government finally acknowledged Mao's communist regime. The decision left the personnel of the Chinese Embassy, concerned as functionaries of the now defunct Nationalist government, with an issue. They could not return to China, however they also required new jobs. Catering was the escape. The embassy kitchens had chefs. The diplomats - among them one Kenneth Lo - were a resourceful lot. Together they went to work.

It had not been until the late 1950s and the arrival of the Hong Kong Emporium on London's Rupert Street that better components ended up being available in Britain. In 1963 the now communist Chinese Embassy once again provided the business a boost when a group of Chinese restaurateurs managed to convince the ambassador's chef, a Mr Kuo from Beijing, to defect. They set him up with his own bistro, the Kuo Yuan in North West London, and it soon became a big hit, not least because he was serving the first Pekinese dishes Britain had actually ever seen, consisting of Peking Duck.

In the south, Choy's in Kings Road, London SW3 was one of the pioneers, opening in 1937 and Old Friends in Commercial Road, E14 opened in the 1950's followed by Good Friends in Salmon Lane E14 in 1962 and Young Friends E14 in the late 1960's. Poon & Co in WC2 also opened in the late 1960's and Empire Palace in Chelmsford in Essex goes back to 1963.

In 1968, a beauty parlor designer called Michael Chow opened Mr Chow in Knightsbridge, quickly frequented by the likes of Mick Jagger, Marlene Dietrich and the Beatles, Chinese food was finally established as a staple of British life.

In the Midlands and North, The New Happy Gathering in Station Street was the first Cantonese to open in Birmingham in 1970 and Ping On in Deanhaugh Street is the earliest Chinese restaurant in Edinburgh.

There could have been a brand-new surge of immigration from Hong Kong in 1997 when it was handed back to China, with 50,000 families being entitled to move to Britain but the increase was very little although a significant flow of investment funds was evident.

Today there is a huge range of Chinese restaurants for the general public to take pleasure in from the basic Hong Kong style that has actually been successful for many years, to the clever, modern-day bistros opening in Britain's cities.

One of the cities is Brighton, where you can discover an excellent Chinese Takeaway

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