British Chinese Food Timeline 英國中餐歷史年表


British History


Development of Chinese Food in Britain

1672: 1st Anglo-China trade [1]

1799-1815: Napoleonic Wars [3]


17th Century: Tea was the first item of Chinese food to be consumed in quantity in the West. [2:18] The import of Chinese tea has changed the drinking habits of British people.

1851 Census: 78 Chinese in England & Wales



1861 Census: 147 Chinese in England & Wales



1871 Census: 202 Chinese in England & Wales


By 1880s: Chinese groceries and eating houses appeared in London and Liverpool, patronised by Chinese seamen, dockworkers and students. [2:140]


1880s: London's first Chinatown emerged round Limehouse where many Chinese sailors had settled. [4]


1884: Chinese food was introduced to the British public at the International Health Exhibition in South Kensington, London. [5]

1891 Census: 582 Chinese in England & Wales


1896: Li Hongzhng, the most influential diplomat at the time, paid a visit to the UK, other European countries and the US. The visit was associated with the controversial invention of chop suey.



1908: The first recorded Chinese restaurant opened in Glasshouse Street, Piccadilly Circus, London, which was called ‘The Chinese Restaurant’. [6]

Chop suey, fishcakes, black jam cakes and dried "Chinese beetles" were available in Liverpool, and attracted some non-Chinese customers. [2:156]

1911 Census: 1,319 Chinese in England & Wales



1914: Change of Immigration Law [7]



1914-1918: World War One [8]





1919: The Cheung clansmen founded limited-liability company; a group of successful restaurants was under its control. This can be seen as the first step in establishing Chinese restaurant chain. [9]

1921 Census: 2,419 Chinese in England & Wales


1920s: Cumquts, ginger, rice-puddings, vermicelli, lychees, mushrooms, etc. were brought to London by Chong Sung from Canton as poet and aesthete Harold Acton's cook. [2:156-157]

1931 Census: 1,934 Chinese in England & Wales


1930s: Regional dishes of Ningbo, Fuzhou, Hainan, Shantou, Shanghai, etc. were served by ex-Chinese seamen in Liverpool. [2:159]

1938: Start of World War Two [10]


1938: Chop suey, Chow mein and fried rice were popular with students at the Blue Bran, Cambridge due to their low price. [2:157]



1939: Simple recipes for some "typical dishes from China" were introduced on BBC broadcast by Jean Sterling; ingredients were available at Shanghai Emporium, Greek Street, London. [2:158-159]

1940: Start of food rationing [11]



During WWII: The recipe of "Chinese Cake" baked with haricot beans, potatoes, fat boiled bacon, sugar, breadcrumbs and herbs was introduced to Britons. [12]

1945: End of World War Two





1949: Agnes Ingle struck a positive note on Chinese food regarding its preference, style, methods, etc. in a talk on Woman's Hour on the BBC. [2:188]

1951 Census: 12,523 Chinese in England & Wales


Early 1950s: Regional dishes were extended by the former Nationalist Chinese embassy staff who remained in Britain and changed to the catering industry after the Communist revolution. [2:170-171]

1954: End of food rationing





1957 or 1958: three-course meal pattern was established in Chinese restaurants that developed stylised adaptation to suit British tastes and British purses. [2:179-181]



1958: John Koon's Lotus House at Bayswater, London became Britain's first Chinese takeaway. [13]



Lte 1950s: Char siu (roast pork), sweet and sour dishes, and egg foo yung (omelettes) first paper on Chinese menus, sometimes alongside curry dishes and few Western dishes. [2:181]

A wide range of soy sauces and tinned vegetables and fruit was marketed by Amoy. [2:200]

1961 Census: 38,730 Chinese in England & Wales


1960s: Chinese ingredients were more widely available in Liverpool, Birmingham, Bradford, Middlesborough, Leeds, etc. The main importer from China was Biddle Sawyer of Fitzroy Street, London. [2:198-199]

1962: New Immigration Law [14]





1963: Peking Duck was introduced to Britain. Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon endowed Chinese food with fame. [15]

1971 Census: 96,030 Chinese in England & Wales


1970s: Kenneth Lo organised Chinese Gourmet Club. [2:181]

The phrase 'Hong Kong style' emerged to indicate modified Cantonese cuisine that combined 'exotic or expensive ingredients and western catering'. [2:185]

Chinese recipes first appear in women's magazines in Britain. Large food shops and supermarkets and mainstream manufacturers began to develop this market. [2:200-201]



Approx. 1970: Plenty of gingers, bean sprouts, dried citrus peel and soy sauce were taught to be used in the Chinese cooks' basic training. [2:175]



1972: All Chinese ingredients and utensils were said to be obtainable from Loon Fung in Gerrard Street, London. [2:199]

1981 Census: 154,363 Chinese in England & Wales


1980s: Regional Chinese food (notably Pekinese or other North Chinese-style food) increased, whose majority customers were said to be European. [2:181]

Blue Dragon's stir-fry sauces in sachets became its most popular innovation. [2:200]

Convenience foods in the form of prepared meals e.g. Crispy Wontons were supplied to Marks & Spencer by Amoy. [2:200]



1983: Yang Sing in Manchester became the first ethnic restaurant to win the coveted Good Food Guide restaurant of the year award. [2:181]

1984: Sino-British Joint Declaration [16]



1991 Census: 159,936 Chinese in England & Wales


1990s: Lobster, Monkfish and vegetarian set meals were available at more sophisticated and expensive Chinese restaurants, in response to urban development, increasing affluence, greater mobility, and the growth of vegetarianism. [2:181]

The school of Chinese cookery at Westminster College was established; new standards of cooking and presentation of North Chinese food were set. [2:181-182]

Noodles were hailed as the new common food, and Chinese noodle houses began to appear. [2:182]

Ken Hom O.B.E. designed children's menus to promote healthy eating habits from an early age. [2:182]


1993: The sale of Chinese food had a year-on-year increase of 20%, ranking after Indian food as the second most popular ethnic food. Customers developed from using cooking sauces to preparing their exotic meals. [2:202]

1997: Hong Kong Handover [17]  



1999: Britain published two books to explore further the therapeutic and philosophical implications of Chinese eating. [2:196]



Early 2000s: 400 oriental products, including noodles and variety of cooking sauces and bottled sauces, were eventually developed by the Blue Dragon. [2:200]

2001 Census: 247,403 Chinese in England & Wales


2001: A combination of traditional Hakka cuisine and Western ingredients e.g. "Bird's nest and foie gras soup with wolfberry" was available in London. The organic pork was used to attract the organic market. [2:185]

'Regionality' was replacing 'authenticity' as the selling point. Singaporean and Malaysian foods were also included in this context. [2:202]

65% of British households owned a wok. [2:203]


2011: The British Chinese Food Culture oral history project was launched by Ming-Ai (London) Institute, to track the development of Chinese food in the UK.


(Compiled by Jili Xu)