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Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge: Chinese Americans and the Power of Stir-Frying

Part of Cooking Up History

In collaboration with the National Museum of American History

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Thursday, September 30, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1L0415
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Grace Young (Photo:Christine Han)

Save when you purchase the Cooking Up History series!

In Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, culinary historian and award-winning cookbook author Grace Young writes of how for centuries the Chinese carried their woks and stir-frying techniques around the globe. In America, beginning around the late-19th century, Chinese immigrants struggled to establish themselves in cities and small towns—from San Francisco to the Mississippi Delta—while contending as well with poverty, discrimination, and to this day, anti-Asian bias.

The ancient technique of stir-frying played an important role in the culinary lives of Chinese migrants and their families, providing comfort and a way to remain faithful to the culinary traditions of their homeland. For many, opening a Chinese restaurant provided their only means of survival. Many immigrant families eked out livelihoods by opening chop suey parlors, where that bland, made-up dish found eager American eaters. 

In conversation with a Smithsonian host, Young—known as "the stir-fry guru" and "wok therapist"— demonstrates her stir-fry expertise as she shares tips on wok mastery for home cooks. She prepares a savory stir-fry of garlicky cabbage and bacon, a dish devised in the 1940s by Lin Ong, who settled with her husband in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1928. Like many Chinese Americans struggling to feed themselves and lacking traditional Chinese ingredients, she improvised a stir-fry with two common American elements to feed her nine children.

Young recounts her own San Francisco family’s unlikely wok story and discusses how the versatile cooking utensil may be facing extinction despite its 2,000-year-old-history. She also covers the work she’s been doing to document the impact of COVID on Manhattan’s Chinatown and her campaign #SaveChineseRestaurants, as well her efforts to support the AAPI community nationwide.

About Cooking Up History

As summer heats up, three dynamic Cooking Up History programs in July, August, and September share fresh insights into American culture past and present through the lens of food.  Presented in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History—home of Julia Child’s kitchen and the FOOD: Transforming the American Table exhibition—each session features a guest chef from places as diverse as New Orleans and Toronto and a Smithsonian host preparing a dish and exploring the history and tradition behind its ingredients, culinary techniques, and enjoyment.

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