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Cuisine of the Chinese at Market Street Chinatown (San Jose, California): using cookbooks to interpret archaeological plant and animal remains

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Archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological remains from Market Street Chinatown, San Jose, California, show that 19th century Chinese migrants ate a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, poultry, and fish. Most of the migrants came from southern China, an area with a well-developed Cantonese cuisine. This article explores how cookbooks can help us interpret the dishes, meals, and activities represented by the remains. 20th-century English-language Chinese cookbooks present guidelines related to meal planning, ingredients, flavours, cooking methods, and dining customs. These culinary principals cannot be applied uncritically to the Market Street Chinatown assemblage. But they help us connect remains from trash pits to food on the table and help us compensate for uneven data stemming from the differential preservation of various plant and animal taxa. Cookbooks indicate that grains are severely underrepresented in the macrofloral record at the site, as are vegetables compared to meat. Recipes show how ingredients could be combined and prepared, and suggest how Euro-American foods were adopted, providing an understanding of daily cooking and dining in 19th century California Chinatowns.

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This research was conducted as part of the Market Street Chinatown Archaeology Project, a community-based research and education collaboration between Stanford University, Chinese Historical and Cultural Project, History San José, and Environmental Science Associates. This project is funded in part by Stanford University, History San José and the City of San José Redevelopment Agency in cooperation with the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project and Environmental Science Associates. Support for the archaeobotanical research was provided by the Lang Fund for Environmental Anthropology (Department of Anthropology, Stanford University), the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and the Fiske Center of the University of Massachusetts Boston. I am grateful to Maxine Chan, Megan Kane, Naomi Grace Riddiford, Heather Trigg, Julie Powers, Gene Anderson, and the reviewers for their assistance. My particular thanks to Barbara Voss for inviting me to work on the Market Street Chinatown macroremains and to Ryan Kennedy for his permission to use the faunal data he analysed.

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Correspondence to Virginia S. Popper.

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Communicated by C. White.

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Popper, V.S. Cuisine of the Chinese at Market Street Chinatown (San Jose, California): using cookbooks to interpret archaeological plant and animal remains. Veget Hist Archaeobot 28, 347–355 (2019).

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