Chung Wah Café Menu (Early 1950s)

Scan donated by Andrew Lew (2014.07.24)

Scan donated by Andrew Lew (2014.07.24)

We can recognise on this 1950s menu dishes which remain staples in Chinese restaurants around Australia today. Notice the ‘Chop Suey’: often thought of as an exclusively American-Chinese dish, this menu shows that it was also being served at the Chung Wah Café in Melbourne in the 1950s.

There are numerous stories about its origins, the most likely being anthropologist E.N. Anderson’s belief that was based on a Cantonese dish, ‘tsap seui’ (杂碎), meaning ‘miscellaneous leftovers’.

The Chung Wah Cafe was located at 11 Heffernan Lane in Melbourne’s Chinatown; a site which in fact housed various Chinese cookshops or restaurants since 1891. The faded letters ‘C-H-U’ down the southern side of that now vacant, nondescript brick building, remind us of its former tenant which operated there from 1916 till the 1970s. It is fondly remembered by many, and from accounts was unpretentious, perhaps a little shabby, but served excellent Chinese cooking drawing both Chinese and non-Chinese customers. Standing outside the building today, we can image the atmosphere there 50 years ago, alive with the clatter and smells of a busy Chinese restaurant.

Many early Chinese supported themselves and their families back in China by setting up and working in restaurants like the Chung Wah. Their economic and cultural contributions have paved the way for other migrants who continue to bring new dishes and ingredients to challenge and tantalise Australian palates.

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