Envisioning The American Dream

The Occidental Oriental


Vintage Ad Chun King American Chinese Food 1957

My Mom was one smart cookie…fortune cookie that is.

When my mid-century Mom wanted to go exotic..she’d go Oriental and thanks to Chun King canned chow mein it was cantoneasy !

Like many mid-century housewives, when she wanted to add some exotic glamor appeal to our family meals, a trip to the Orient was as nearby as her electric can opener.

Oriental Express

Go Chinese tonight for a quick change of pace with real glamor appeal

Confucius say: When family tire of tuna noodle casserole, bore with hum drum meatloaf wake up family taste buds with trip to exotic Orient right in comfort of your suburban split level.

Serving Oriental was a real walkee on the wild side according to this Chun King ad:

Vintage ad Chun King 1957

“For something to surprise…to thrill your family or guests, switch your thinking completely.”
“Forget about little twists in ordinary, everyday kinds of foods. Put yourself in an Oriental mood.”
“Here’s your new idea….Chun King Chicken Chow Mein. Wake your family up with a complete menu change and its only about 30 cents per person.”

Best part was- no rickshaw needed for this taste treat!

La Choy Makes Chinese Food Swing American

Vintage La Choy ad 1955

The granddaddy of American Chinese Food was La Choy who promised You could perform oriental magic with their Dinner in a package for a real Cantonese feast!

Vintage la Choy American Chinese Food ad 1955

La Choy founded in 1922 beat Chun King by over 2 decades. The company had capitalized on the growing fascination America had with the Orient including an entirely new cuisine.

Vintage La Choy ad 1953 For those daring you could prepare your own Chow Mein using La Choy ingredients

Chef La Choy say: Speciar occasion You no wolly!

” Your Turn for bridge lunch? Serve la Choy Chop Suey! As a pleasant change from the usual party dishes give the girls savory La Choy Cop Suey. It’s bound to be a crowd pleaser!”

Chow Mein Challenged

Vintage ad 1955

In advertisements we would never see today, these American Chinese food companies ran ad campaigns that were sorely in need of Steven Colberts now shuttered satirical Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation of Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.

Egg Foo Yung On Their Face

Chock full of Asian stereotypes and pidgin English, the ads barely raised an eyebrow.

That’s how the fortune cookie crumbles, a nonplussed, non pc public shrugged!

No Speekee Engrish

Vintage ad 1948

Mid century Americans had a real ten for the exotic as long as it was on their terms. Next to hot dogs and coca cola nothing was more American than a plate of chow mein or a bowl of chop suey.

In the great American melting wok nothing was more red white and blue than a divider pak can of Chun King Chow Mein, the American Chinese food company founded by the son of Italian immigrants

The post war pioneer of foreign ethnic food Jeno Paulucci ( of Jenos pizza roll fame) founded Chun King in 1947.

With Six You Get Egg Roll

Vintage Saturday Evening Post Cover 1/12/52 Illustration by Alajalov .”Here are 3 grades of chopstickers” the copy explaining the cover art begins. “The female tyro is about to knit one wad of chow mein and purl 2. The sailor considers himself quite a man with chopsticks and lets hope they don’t slip and toss against the lady’s face. As for that chap who was practically born with chopsticks in his mouth, he is thinking Do I ask the guy if he can drink tea with chopsticks or just let the bush leaguer get away with this?”


At the time, going oriental meant eating out in a Chinese restaurant. In those days American homemakers only contact with mysterious East might be a thrilling trip to Chinatown.

Going out for Chinese food, sophisticated young moderns could eat such an exotic dinner secure in the belief that they were getting something excitingly foreign yet completely familiar. Seated in the dark red banquette, fumbling with chopsticks they could choose strange-sounding delectables-  one from column A  two from column B.

Like much of our so-called foreign cookery at the time, Chinese food would not have been recognizable in the country of its assumed origin. Along with a lack of availability of popular Chinese ingredients here in the US they also needed to adapt the food to make it palatable to Americans.

Chop Suey for the Suburbs

“Solving that problems of getting variety in your family meals- savory Chinese Chop Suey is one good answer. Try it on the head of the house tonight then be prepared for compliments by the male!”

After WWII post war Americans were primed to chow down on chop suey in the comforts of their own homes and Jeno Paulucci saw the possibility of a huge market of convenience foods.

With borrowed money and the purchase of 25 pounds of bean sprouts, he began production in a converted WWII Quonset hut in Duluth Minnesota.

“And if you’re thinking that no chow mein fixed at home can come up to the fine Cantonese restaurant kind, then you don’t know a thing about the Chun King Divider-Pak way,” boasted the early ads.

Ciao Mein

Vintage American Chines Food Ads 1950’s

Authenticity was not the point. Ease and convenience with a heavy dose of familiarity

Ignoring Ancient Chinese Secret, Pauluucci, came up with his own chop suey recipe by canning his sprouts and adding bits of celery, pimentos and an authentic Italian herb mixture suggested by his Italian mother.

Years later at a ceremonial dinner for National Italian American Foundation in 1976 President Gerald Ford remarking on the success of Chun King ,the royalty of American Oriental food,commented : “What could be more American than a business built on a good Italian recipe for chop suey?”

Surprise the Occidental is Oriental

Vintage Chun King American Chinese Food Ad 1950s

The thought of Chinese food in your own home was thrilling

‘In fine Oriental restaurants and now at home-you feel the romance of food.” began one ad.
” The most romantic place in town to eat is where the food is Oriental. And tonight at home you can enjoy foods as delicious as those in fine Cantonese restaurants. Give your family a Chun King meal.

“Now, right in your own home- and with very little work- you can treat your family to a complete oriental meal,” they gush incredulously. “An exotic authentic meal such as you could only have enjoyed at a fine Oriental restaurant.”

“Because of Chun Kings exclusive Divider Pack, the interesting flavors contrasting textures and bright colors that make Oriental foods so distinctive are protected for you. Combine the contents of both cans heat for 15 minutes and your chow mein is ready.”

“You can do it because some store near you has Chun Kings delicious American Oriental foods..

Me So Busy You So Lucky

Vintage Chun King Ad 1957


Of course with the pace of modern life speeding up you could be just too darn tired to open the divider pack cans, Chun King came to the harried housewife’s rescue with their frozen entrees making dinner snap!

Have a Cantoneasy Kitchen Holiday

Vintage ads Chun King Frozen Dinners 1957

Hop in your Rickshaw and head to your latest supermarket and stock up on Chun King Frozen Foods

“A Complete Oriental meal all  ready to pop in the oven! Just like a fine Cantonese restaurant…an Oriental meal with no work for you”
“One picture is worth 1000 words say Chinese proverb. Doesn’t this new Chun King Cantonese Dinner look good?”

Spoon Fed Stereotypes

To end the exotic oriental meal, Mom always served us Jell-O.

Unlike poor Chinese baby in Jello commercial who tried using chopsticks to eat the jello his “mother bling him” we used “great western invention” the spoon, confirming that racist stereotypes can be spoon fed too!


© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.