Nixon in China, the groundbreaking modern opera by John Adams that is playing through July 3 at the San Francisco Opera, features a scene at the end of Act One that re-enacts a banquet held to greet President and Mrs. Nixon on that February day in 1972 when they landed in Beijing. To call attention to the significance of the meal, Michael Bauer penned a piece of food-related dramaturgy for the program, saying that the nine-course meal served to the Nixons — featuring bamboo shoots and egg-white consommé, shark fin, mushrooms and mustard greens; and both fried and stewed prawns which weren’t typical in Beijing but were served because “the Chinese had heard that Americans like shrimp” — helped to open America’s eyes to Chinese cuisine they didn’t know existed.
Bauer comments that while the menu doesn’t sound so extraordinary now, it was nonetheless a “world apart from the crab rangoon, chop suey, and sweet-and-sour pork that had defined Chinese food in America.” And he asserts that the trip helped popularize spicier Sichuan and Hunan cuisines in America.
The only thing he doesn’t mention is The Mandarin in San Francisco, the high-end Chinese restaurant opened by Cecilia Chiang in San Francisco in 1968. As Bauer wrote himself last year, “Chiang is credited with introducing many specialties to Northern California and the United States, including hot-and-sour soup, pot stickers, Peking duck and sizzling rice soup, among others.”
Anyhow, that’s your food/opera world overlap update for the day.
Related: At the Mandarin, Cecilia Chiang changed Chinese food [Between Meals/Scoop]