2016.037.033 Oral History Interview with Wenbin Yuan
This oral history focuses on the culinary practice of Wenbin Yuan, a home cook of Shanxi food residing in Wisconsin. Yuan recounts his experiences growing up during the Cultural Revolution, under the strict rationing of food supplies by the Chinese government. Yuans family worked in railroad construction and manufacturing, and consists of himself and his two younger siblings. In his youth, Yuan described his diet as extremely simplistic, based on starch products like corn flour, sorghum flour, and state-designated home-grown vegetable crops like potato, tomato, and green onion. Sugar, meat, oil, and wheat flour were limited luxuries. Yuan describes his style of cooking as a typical Shanxi diet based on noodles, demonstrating several representative methods of dough-making, cutting, and seasoning. He recounts memorable meals from childhood, including regional New Years foods like za hui cai and his first restaurant experience at the Moscow Restaurant in Beijing. Yuan remembers, of his arrival to the United States a student, being amazed the variety of food available. On the topic of Chinese food in the US, Yuan feels that the current landscape of Americanized Chinese restaurants still cater to majority American audiences, with tastes he finds too greasy, starchy, and sweet. At the same time, however, Yuan is optimistic that regional cuisines and more authentic Chinese foods like dumpling and baozi are becoming more accepted by the mainstream. Asked about his thoughts on food and immigration, Yuan emphasizes the cultural/ethnic diversity within China, and thus the multiplicity of Chinese cooking, as well as the many differences between different “waves” of Chinese immigrants to the US. Yuan envisions the future with a continual increase in Chinese professionals and business investors coming to the United States, bringing with them an increasingly normalized view of “authentic” Chinese foods.

0:00 - Introduction, memories of food in childhood, rationed foods, the process of cooking with limited time.

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6:38 - Riding the bike to school, helping to cook meals, special meals during rationing, dumplings and New Years meal za hui cai.

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13:24 - The lean and healthy foods in childhood, difference in taste from China and America, how American and Chinese food is changing, eating at a buffet in America, his parents and their professions.

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18:58 - Memorable meals, difference of eating in restaurants and his childhood at home, noodles as his style of cooking, the process of cooking a dish, Shanxi is his cooking style.

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25:11 - The essential ingredients used for cooking, Americans changing taste towards Chinese food, different regions and time periods of Chinese immigration, more regions of china represented in cuisine, the variety of Chinese food.

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36:39 - Knife cut noodles as a legacy, the process of making knife cut noodles, mom and wife as the biggest culinary influences, his wife and how they met, Americans understanding Chinese food.

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44:02 - Food playing a role in Chinese immigration, favorite foods, comfort food, different types of noodles, process of how to make noodles.

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53:48 - The future of Chinese food in America, different regional Chinese foods, what makes Chinese American food, immigration of Chinese, diversity of Chinese food.

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