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Fan and Tsai: Intracommunity Variation in Plant-Based Food Consumption at the Market Street Chinatown, San Jose, California

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Most archaeobotanical research on Chinese immigrant communities in North America has relied on aggregate, site-wide data sets. The question of foodways variability within Chinese immigrant communities has been relatively neglected. An intrasite comparative approach is used here to investigate differences in plant-food consumption between residents of merchant households and those of tenement buildings in the Market Street Chinatown, a major urban Chinese immigrant community in San Jose, California, from 1866 to 1887. Residents of both household types consumed a nutritious diet rich in vegetables and fresh fruits; however, some merchant households consumed greater varieties of cereal grains, while residents of some working-class tenements consumed a wider range of legumes, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. These class-based differences were not consistent, however, suggesting that specific occupation, more than class position, may have influenced access to or preference for certain plant foods.
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143
Linda Scott Cummings
Barbara L. Voss
Connie Young Yu
Peter Kováčik
Kathryn Puseman
Chad Yost
Ryan Kennedy
Megan S. Kane
Fan and Tsai: Intracommunity
Variation in Plant-Based Food
Consumption at the Market
Street Chinatown, San Jose,
California
ABSTRACT
Most archaeobotanical research on Chinese immigrant com-
munities in North America has relied on aggregate, site-wide
data sets. The question of foodways variability within Chinese
immigrant communities has been relatively neglected. An
intrasite comparative approach is used here to investigate
differences in plant-food consumption between residents of
merchant households and those of tenement buildings in the
Market Street Chinatown, a major urban Chinese immigrant
community in San Jose, California, from 1866 to 1887.
Residents of both household types consumed a nutritious diet
rich in vegetables and fresh fruits; however, some merchant
households consumed greater varieties of cereal grains, while
residents of some working-class tenements consumed a wider
range of legumes, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. These class-
based differences were not consistent, however, suggesting
that specic occupation, more than class position, may have
inuenced access to or preference for certain plant foods.
Introduction
Since the beginning of archaeological studies
of overseas Chinese sites, researchers have used
archaeobotanical methods to recover and identify
plant remains that provide information about the
Chinese immigrants’ foodways. Initially focused
on developing species lists, these studies have
since broadened to consider topics as diverse
as trans-Pacic food shipments, development of
local agriculture, medicinal practices, and dietary
changes in response to local environmental and
cultural inuences.
Most archaeobotanical studies of overseas Chi-
nese sites have focused on aggregate, site-wide
Historical Archaeology, 2014, 48(2):143–172.
Permission to reprint required.
Accepted for publication 28 August 2013.
data sets, and, as a result, the question of
foodways variability within Chinese immigrant
communities has been relatively neglected––but
see Xia (2001) for an important exception.
This study presents an intrasite analysis of data
from a recent archaeobotanical study of the
Market Street Chinatown, an overseas Chinese
community in downtown San Jose, California,
from 1866 to 1887. This analysis focuses on
food-related taxa in order to characterize the
distribution of plant ingredients in the diets of
the Market Street Chinatown’s residents.
This intrasite, comparative approach breaks
from the tendency in historical archaeology to
emphasize divisions between ethnic and racial
groups, and instead asks whether archaeobotanical
evidence can lend new perspectives on intracom-
munity dynamics. Results indicate that all residents
of the Market Street Chinatown shared a diet rich
in a variety of plant-food ingredients. Locally
grown produce and some wild plant foods typical
of local habitats dominate a nutritious diet rich
in fruits and vegetables. However, there are some
interesting dietary differences that correspond to
primary food categories—fan and tsai—in south-
ern Chinese cuisine. Some merchant households
enjoyed greater variety in the fan, or cereal grain,
component of their diet, while some residents of
working-class tenements consumed a wider range
of legumes, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, which are
ingredients used in the avorful tsai dishes served
as accompaniments to fan.
The Archaeobotany of Chinese Immigrant
and Chinese American Sites
Emigration from southeast China during the
last few centuries has been one of the most
important population movements in modern his-
tory. This migration had particular demographic
impact on the North American West from the
1850s onward, as Chinese immigrants joined
others from Europe, Latin America, eastern
North America, and other parts of Asia in pur-
suing new economic opportunities in the rapidly
developing territories opened up to settlement
by U.S. and Canadian expansion. Most Chi-
nese immigrants in the North American West
144 HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY 48(2)
came from Guangdong Province in southern
China, especially the villages of the Pearl River
delta region near the port city of Guangzhou
(Canton). The language, culture, and cuisine in
most 19th-century Chinese immigrant communi-
ties was thus distinctly Cantonese (Pan 1999;
Hsu 2000; Cassel 2002; Voss and Allen 2008).
Archaeological sites associated with Chi-
nese immigration to western North America
have been the subject of archaeobotanical
analysis since the 1960s. During these last
ve decades, archaeobotanical recovery tech-
niques have varied widely by both project
and analyst. Initially, archaeologists recovered
macrobotanical specimens by screening soils
during eld excavations, a method that mostly
recovered only large seeds and nutshells. The
1980s through the 2000s saw continued use
of onsite screening, with some projects turn-
ing to otation techniques to recover smaller
macrobotanical specimens. Studies from these
eras often recovered seeds or pits from large
grains (such as maize), plant foods commonly
eaten as vegetables (bean, squash, cucumber,
pepper, tomato, eggplant, and some melons),
and fruits (peach/nectarine, prune/plum/apricot,
cherry, grape, jujube, olive, juniper, lychee, and
g), and nutshells (almond, peanut, coconut,
chestnut, walnut, pecan, and gingko biloba)
(Honeysett 1982; Kent et al. 1987; Green-
wood 1996; Hirn and Honeysett 1997; Kautz
and Risse 2006; Puseman and Dexter 2006).
Increasingly, systematic recovery of botanical
specimens through otation and microscopic
techniques (pollen, phytoliths, and starch) has
become more common (Honeysett and Schulz
1984; Cummings et al. 1998; Puseman 2002;
Cummings and Puseman 2005; Puseman et al.
2008; Cummings 2009; Miller 2010; Popper
and Martin 2010; Smith 2010). These methods
expanded knowledge of plant use to include
a much wider range of plant foods, as well
as medicinal plants, weedy and ornamental
plants, wood species represented by charcoal,
plants likely incorporated into animal feed, and
wind- and water-born pollen from surrounding
ecosystems.
The robust archaeobotancial evidence pro-
duced by these techniques has enabled archae-
ologists studying Chinese immigrant and
Chinese American sites to move beyond mere
taxonomic lists of archaeobotanical specimens
to interpretive studies. Common research
topics include trans-Pacic food shipments, the
development of local gardens and commercial
agriculture to cater specically to the Chinese
immigrant market, plant use in traditional
Chinese medicine, and dietary change among
Chinese residents of North American towns
and cities. This latter topic, often framed as a
question of Chinese acculturation to European
American foodways, is particularly prevalent.
Typically, researchers interpret the continuation
of a traditional Cantonese diet through evi-
dence for the presence of imported preserved
plant foods from Asia; use of locally grown
fresh vegetables of Asian/Chinese origin, such
as bitter melon, winter melon, and Chinese
cabbage; and substitution of other locally avail-
able and similar foods for traditional Cantonese
foods (Honeysett 1982; Greenwood 1996:133;
Hirn and Honeysett 1997; Xia 2001; Cummings
and Puseman 2005). Other studies have argued
that Chinese residents’ adoption of plant ingre-
dients that were typical of European American
diets provides evidence of culture change and a
lack of dietary isolation (Kent et al. 1987:188).
Popper and Martin (2010) added a diachronic
component to this focus on acculturation. Com-
paring the results of macrobotanical analysis of
the San Bernardino Chinatown to assemblages
from earlier Chinatowns in Woodland and Sac-
ramento, the authors concluded that “this San
Bernardino Chinatown was more acculturated”
(Popper and Martin 2010:D.55) because none
of the Chinese foods found at the other sites
was identied in the San Bernardino samples.
This analysis of archaeobotanical data from
the Market Street Chinatown in San Jose,
California, differs from most previous archaeo-
botanical work on Chinese immigrant contexts
by focusing on the similarities and differences
in dietary practices within the Chinatown
itself. Rather than asking whether the diet of
Market Street Chinatown residents represents
acculturation to the food practices of their non-
Chinese neighbors, this study uses an intrasite,
comparative approach to evaluate ubiquity and
variability in plant-food consumption among
the Market Street Chinatown residents. To
the extent possible, plant foods are discussed
according to culturally meaningful categories
that relate to the conventional use of these
ingredients in Cantonese cuisine.
145
LINDA SCOTT CUMMINGS, et al.Fan and Tsai
Market Street Chinatown,
San Jose, California
San Jose, California, was a major center
of Chinese immigration to the United States
from the 1860s onward, and the Market Street
Chinatown—located in downtown San Jose on
Block 1—was the demographic, economic, and
cultural center for Chinese residents throughout
the region (Figures 1 and 2).
History
The city of San Jose, at the southern end of
the San Francisco Bay, is located within the
lower riparian corridor of the Guadalupe River,
a rich ecological formation that crosses grassy
woodlands, chaparral, and bay marshlands.
Local plant communities, especially grasses,
acorns, and root vegetables, such as soaproot,
were intensively managed by Native Californian
FIGURE 1. Locations of historic Chinatowns in San Jose, California. Developed from Yu (2001:xii). (Cartography
by 360Geographics, 2013.)
146 HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY 48(2)
communities prior to colonization. Under Span-
ish colonial rule, the landscape was rapidly
transformed through the 1777 founding of the
Pueblo of San José and the subsequent intro-
duction and rapid expansion of wheat and corn
farming and cattle ranching. The urbanization
of the lower Guadalupe River intensied with
the United States annexation of California in
1848; San Jose became California’s rst state
capital (1850–1851), and the rapidly grow-
ing city became a center of regional industry
and commerce. The Guadalupe River corridor,
the southern San Francisco Bay shore and
marshlands, and surrounding areas were further
altered during the 1850s–1890s through the
rapid expansion of resource-extraction industries
FIGURE 2. Market Street Chinatown excavation projects and archaeological features, Block 1, San Jose, California;
adapted from Kane (2011:maps A.9,10). (Cartography by 360Geographics, 2013.)
147
LINDA SCOTT CUMMINGS, et al.Fan and Tsai
(mining, lumber, commercial fishing), the
growth of manufacturing, and the replacement
of subsistence agriculture and ranching with
labor-intensive cash crops, particularly orchard
fruits, berries, and vegetables (Thompson &
West 1876; Hornbeck and Fuller 1983; Moratto
1984; Arbuckle 1986; Blackburn and Anderson
1993; Allen and Hylkema 2002).
San Jose’s rapid environmental transforma-
tion and urbanization is fully intertwined with
the formation of historical Chinese communi-
ties, as Chinese residents were recruited to the
area to participate in the diverse industrial and
agricultural economy. The history of San Jose’s
Chinese communities is primarily known through
historical studies (Hom 1971; Laffey 1993, 1994;
Yu 2001) and through extensive oral-history
research conducted by Connie Young Yu. While
San Jose had many Chinese residents from the
1850s onward, the rst Chinatown formed in
1866, when three Chinese entrepreneurs—Ah
Toy, Ah Charley, and Ah Lee—erected build-
ings on Block 1 at the southeast corner of
Market and San Fernando streets. By 1869, the
Market Street Chinatown consisted of at least
eight buildings, including new buildings owned
by Sim Lee, Ah Ling, and Long Kee. These
included a hotel, four stores, two employment
ofces, and tenement housing. A re burned the
Market Street Chinatown in January 1870. Most
residents temporarily relocated to a riverfront
area only three blocks away. Rebuilding began
immediately, with Ung Fook, acting for Li Po
Tai, constructing four multistory brick buildings
on the northwest corner of Block 1, an area
that became known as the “Brick Chinatown.”
Ung Fook and several other companies, includ-
ing Wy Kee & Co. and Quong Hi Moh & Co.,
leased land and erected wooden buildings on the
remaining available lots of Block 1, incorporat-
ing existing adobe and brick buildings into the
new neighborhood, which became known as
the “Wood Chinatown” (Laffey 1993:5–25; Yu
2001:19–24).
The Market Street Chinatown quickly became
a dense urban neighborhood, combining resi-
dences, commercial activity, entertainment, light
manufacturing, and religious worship within a
compact space (Figure 3). Most buildings were
aligned along Ah Toy Alley, a north/south trend-
ing street through the middle of the block, or
along one of the unnamed east/west passageways
that spurred off Ah Toy Alley. By 1884, the
Market Street Chinatown included about 20
tenement buildings; numerous mercantile and
grocery stores, restaurants, gambling houses, and
brothels; businesses, such as barbers, butchers,
employment ofces, scribes, pharmacists, and
doctors; and small-scale manufactories producing
boots, cigars, dry goods, carriages, and furniture.
It also housed a pork-roasting furnace, a temple,
and a Chinese opera theater (Laffey 1993:15–24,
1994; Yu 2001:21–24).
Tragically, the Market Street Chinatown pro-
vided little protection from anti-Chinese vio-
lence. On 4 May 1887, a few months after San
Jose hosted a statewide anti-Chinese convention,
arson destroyed the Market Street Chinatown.
Despite open pressure to leave the region, the
former residents of the Market Street China-
town established two new communities—the
Heinlenville Chinatown and the Woolen Mills
Chinatown—in nearby neighborhoods of San
Jose (Yu 2001).
Demography and Household Composition
Documentary sources provide only a partial
glimpse of the Market Street Chinatown popu-
lation. The 1870 census recorded 532 residents
of the Market Street Chinatown. In 1880, only
330 residents were recorded, a decline that is
at odds with the rapid expansion of the Chi-
natown’s businesses and tenements throughout
the 1870s. Local historians––e.g., Laffey (1993)
and Yu (2001)––agree that both gures are gross
undercounts of the actual population, which was
more likely in the low thousands. In addition to
permanent residents, the Market Street China-
town was a home base for an additional 2,000
to 3,000 Chinese who were working in agricul-
ture, industry, mining, and domestic service in
the surrounding area, and who relocated to the
Chinatown between jobs and during festivals.
The 1880 census does provide some indication
of the age and gender prole of the community.
The census recorded 116 households consisting
of 294 men, 48 women, and 8 children. This
latter number seems especially low, since school
censuses from the mid-1870s indicate there
were over 100 Chinese children in area schools
(Laffey 1993:27).
While census data are suggestive, family
documents and oral histories provide a more
148 HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY 48(2)
FIGURE 3. Detail of 1884 Sanborn map showing the Market Street Chinatown and the approximate location of soil samples
analyzed for this study. (Cartography by 360 Geographics, map image provided by History San José.)
149
LINDA SCOTT CUMMINGS, et al.Fan and Tsai
comprehensive picture of social life and house-
hold composition (Yu 2001). Most residents of
the Market Street Chinatown lived in one of
two settings: tenements and stores. Tenement
buildings were densely packed rooming houses
with residential units leased to groups of men
that worked as laborers, both within and out-
side the Market Street Chinatown. To date, no
documentary or oral-history evidence has been
found that indicates how residents of the Market
Street Chinatown tenements arranged their daily
meals. Studies of other 19th-century U.S. Chi-
nese immigrant communities have found that
some tenements offered inexpensive meal plans
(Xia 2001), and that, in other cases, groups of
Chinese immigrant men living together would
pool resources to hire a cook (Van Buren 2008).
Regardless of how meals were prepared, the
archaeological features adjacent to the Market
Street Chinatown tenements are rich with food-
related artifacts (ceramic and glass dishes, food
and beverage containers) and food remains
(animal bone, eggshell, marine shell, and plant
specimens documenting the culinary practices of
the tenements’ residents.
In contrast, stores and other professional
establishments combined both commercial and
residential functions. Merchants and profession-
als were typically the more prosperous resi-
dents of the community. Under the restrictive
provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act, only
merchants and professionals were allowed to
sponsor family members for immigration (Lee
2003). Consequently, store households were
typically headed by an adult male merchant-
class proprietor and included his adult female
and male relatives, children of both sexes, and
adult male employees. Stores also functioned
as headquarters of extended family networks
linked through both kinship and home villages,
and thus served as important home bases for
working men living away from their families
(Yu 2001:61). Oral history indicates that stores
often provided meals that were shared by the
proprietor, his family members, and employees.
Like the features associated with tenement hous-
ing, the archaeological features near the Market
Street Chinatown stores contain primarily food-
related artifacts and refuse.
These two household types—tenements and
stores—are the primary categories used for the
intrasite comparative analysis presented in this
study. It is important, however, to emphasize
that some individuals moved in and out of
these household types during the courses of
their lives. For example, Young Soong Quong
(named Yung Wah Gok on his passport) arrived
at the Market Street Chinatown in 1881 as an
11-year-old laborer. He rst lived in a Market
Street Chinatown store, where he swept oors
and served customers, but then moved out of
the Chinatown to work as a houseboy for a
white dentist and his family. After the dentist
family moved to the East Coast two years later,
Soong Quong moved back and forth between
the Market Street Chinatown and short-term jobs
in agriculture and brick making. After the 1887
re, Soong Quong entered a partnership to lease
land for growing strawberries, and then at age
19 moved to San Francisco to work in a hotel.
At age 21, he returned to his home village in
China to marry, but as a laborer he could not
bring his wife back to California because of the
Chinese Exclusion Act. He returned to San Jose
in 1892 and became a partner in a kinsman’s
store, Kwong Wo Chan, in the Heinlenville
Chinatown, eventually purchasing the rest of
the business in 1907. In 1908, Young Soong
Quong’s new status as a full-edged merchant
nally allowed him to sponsor the immigration
of his wife after 16 years of separation (Yu
2001:66–68).
Young Soong Quong’s history demonstrates
that studies such as this capture only a brief
snapshot of the history of San Jose’s Chinese
communities. It also illustrates the physical and
social mobility of some residents of San Jose’s
Chinatowns, as well as the tight interconnec-
tion among occupation, class, gender, age, and
household composition there.
Archaeology
From 1985 through 1988, Archaeological
Resource Services (ARS), a private-sector cul-
tural resource management rm under contract
to the Redevelopment Agency of San Jose,
excavated at the site of the Market Street
Chinatown. ARS archaeologists identied and
excavated 63 archaeological features, nearly all
of which were subterranean pits originally used
for waste disposal. Historical research, archaeo-
logical analysis, parisitology, and the absence
of dedicated privy or cesspool features indicate
150 HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY 48(2)
that trash and human waste were disposed of
together in most of these archaeological features
(Roop 1988; Roop and Flynn 1993; Laffey
1994; Voss 2012; Voss and Kane 2012; Puse-
man et al. 2013). For archaeobotanical research,
this is signicant because plant remains may
have been deposited both as refuse from food
preparation and consumption, and as undigested
plant parts contained in human waste.
During excavation, ARS archaeologists col-
lected bulk soil samples from some of these
archaeological features. In 2010–2011, these soil
samples were cataloged and assessed by the
Market Street Chinatown Archaeology Project
(MSCAP), a community-based research and edu-
cation program formed through the partnership of
Stanford University, History San José, Chinese
Historical and Cultural Project, and Environ-
mental Science Associates (Voss 2004; Voss et
al. [2013]). The assessment found that ARS had
collected 135 soil samples; these were taken from
31 of the 63 features. The soil samples range
in weight from 0.142 to 20.5 kg. ARS archae-
ologists recounted that these soil samples were
collected during preliminary screening of soils
by holding a bag or bucket underneath a 1/4 or
1/8 in. screen. However, many of the bulk soil
samples contain artifacts and gravels larger than
1/4 in., suggesting that some soil may have been
collected prior to screening (Voss et al. 2012).
In 2011 and 2012, MSCAP partnered with
the PaleoResearch Institute in conducting a pilot
study to evaluate the archaeobotanical research
value of these soil samples. Voss, Kane, and
Kennedy selected 10 soil samples to represent
a range of archaeological and historical contexts
(Figure 3, Table 1). Five samples are from two
large, multi-celled, wood-lined pits—Feature
85-31/18 (Samples 8 and 9) and Feature 86-36/5
(Samples 1, 2, and 3). A sixth soil sample ana-
lyzed was from a smaller wood-lined feature
(Feature 86-36/7, Sample 6) that was originally
interpreted by ARS archaeologists as a cistern,
although artifact analysis indicates that the
feature’s contents are similar to those of other
trash pits. The remaining four soil samples
were selected from unlined trash pits—Feature
86-36/6 (Sample 4), Feature 85-31/6 (Sample
5), Feature 85-31/11 (Sample 7), and Feature
85-31/28 (Sample 10).
Along with feature type, the historical con-
texts represented by the soil samples vary.
Sample 4 is the only soil sample associated
with the “Brick Chinatown” in the northwest
corner of the block. Analysis of Sample 4
showed minimal food-related macrobotanical,
pollen, and phytolith results. Instead, recovered
botanical specimens from Sample 4 seem to
represent commercial activity, especially packing
material, such as rice straw. For this reason,
data from Sample 4 play a small role in the
analyses presented below.
The remaining nine samples are from archaeo-
logical features in the Wood Chinatown, an area
covering most of the western side of Block 1.
Four soil samples (Samples 1, 2, 3, and 6) are
from features located in a semi-open mixed-use
area on the north of the block to the east of
Ah Toy Alley. The 1884 Sanborn map (Figure
3) shows that this area included pork-roasting
furnaces, laundries, sheds, and tenement hous-
ing (Sanborn Map Company 1884). Similarly,
one soil sample (Sample 7) was selected from
a feature at the southern extent of the Wood
Chinatown, located in a narrow passageway
lined with tenement housing. The archaeobotani-
cal specimens from Samples 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7
most likely represent the foodways of working-
class men.
Three soil samples (Samples 5, 8, and 9)
were analyzed from features in a different semi-
open area located in the center of the block,
also to the east of Ah Toy Alley. This area
was at the rear of several stores, most of which
were in wood buildings, although one store,
most likely the Tuck Wo grocery store, was in
an adobe building that had survived from the
Mexican era (Laffey 1994:7). The stores in this
area were historically considered the commercial
heart of the Wood Chinatown. Additionally, one
soil sample (Sample 10) was selected from the
western edge of the Wood Chinatown, along a
rear passageway between store buildings that
fronted on Ah Toy Alley. Since stores served
as residences for the store owner, his family,
and the store employees, the archaeobotanical
specimens in Samples 5, 8, 9, and 10 most
likely represent the foodways of a mixed-gender,
mixed-age, and mixed-class population.
Unfortunately, the Market Street Chinatown
collection does not contain any offsite (con-
trol) soil samples that could be used to assess
background environmental conditions. This
factor contributed to the decision to focus on
151
LINDA SCOTT CUMMINGS, et al.Fan and Tsai
TABLE 1
MARKET STREET CHINATOWN SOIL SAMPLES SELECTED FOR ARCHAEOBOTANCIAL ANALYSIS
Soil Level/
Sample No. Catalog No. Feature No. Layer Feature Type Demographic Context
1 86-36/5-1884 86-36/5 4 Multi-celled wood-lined pit Tenement
2 86-36/5-1886 86-36/5 6 Multi-celled wood-lined pit Tenement
3 86-36/5-1887 86-36/5 8 Multi-celled wood-lined pit Tenement
4 86-36/6-303 86-36/6 2 Unlined pit Merchant/professional
5 85-31/6-214 86-31/6 2 Unlined pit Merchant/professional
6 86-36/7-1034 86-36/7 3 Wood-lined pit, possible cistern Tenement
7 85-31/11-102 85-31/11 N/A Unlined pit Tenement
8 85-31/18-914 85-31/18 2 Multi-celled wood-lined pit Merchant/professional
9 85-31/18-916 85-31/18 3 Multi-celled wood-lined pit Merchant/professional
10 85-31/28-113 85-31/28 N/A Unlined pit Merchant/professional
intrasite comparative analysis, because it can
be reasonably assumed that all the archaeo-
logical features in this small area would have
formed under the same conditions. However,
as discussed in greater detail in the section
“Other Possible Food Taxa,” the absence of
control soil samples makes it difcult to inter-
pret evidence of wild or weedy taxa that might
have occurred in the surrounding environment.
While offsite control soil samples could not
be obtained for this pilot study, obtaining
such samples—perhaps from coring in nearby
areas—is a possibility for future research.
Archaeobotanical Extraction
and Identication
The PaleoResearch Institute conducted
archaeobotanical extraction and identification
from December 2011 to May 2012. The meth-
ods used are summarized here. Full detailed
accounts of methods and a full discussion of
all identied taxa, including medicinal plants
and other nonfood plants, are documented in
a comprehensive technical report (Puseman
et al. 2013). Specic sampling protocols and
processing techniques were used to recover
macrobotanical, phytolith, and pollen specimens.
In all cases, archaeobotanical specimens were
identied to the taxa with the highest level of
condence. Wherever possible, specimens were
identied to species, however, in many cases
only genus or family could be conclusively
determined. The ambiguity present in identica-
tion of archaeobotanical samples can result both
from morphological similarity among taxa and
from pre- and post-depositional transformations
of the specimens’ taxa-specic attributes.
To recover macrobotanical samples, up to 2.0
L of soil were removed from each soil sample
for otation. For two samples (Samples 3 and
4), a lesser amount of soil was used (1.5 and
0.8 L, respectively) because the original bulk
soil sample was less than 2.0 L. Consequently,
for the purposes of intrasite comparative analy-
sis, the resulting specimen counts have been
converted to density calculations (specimens/
liter). Flotation followed the general procedures
outlined by Matthews (1979). Briefly, each
sample was added to approximately 3 gal. of
water and then stirred until a strong vortex
formed. Floating material (light fraction) was
poured through a 150 μm mesh sieve. More
water was added, and the process was repeated
a minimum of five times until all floating
material was removed from the samples. The
material that remained in the bottom of the
bucket (heavy fraction) was poured through a
0.5 mm mesh screen. Both light and heavy
fractions were dried. The light fractions were
then weighed and initially passed through a
series of graduated screens to sort the remains.
152 HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY 48(2)
After charcoal was removed, analyzed, and
weighed, the remaining material was scanned
under a binocular stereo microscope at 10–70×
magnication for identication. Heavy fractions
were scanned at 2× magnication to screen for
the presence of additional botanical remains.
Macrobotanical remains were all identied using
manuals and by comparison with modern and
archaeological references.
Pollen grains were recovered from soil sam-
ples using a chemical-extraction technique
based on otation with sodium polytungstate.
The volume of the soils subjected to chemical
extraction was determined by the consistency
and composition of the soil sample. The selected
soil volume was prepared through a series of
steps that added a tracer for total pollen concen-
tration calculation and removed large particles,
calcium carbonates, clays, and moisture. The
sample was then mixed with sodium polytung-
state and centrifuged at 1,500 rpm for 10 min.
to separate organic from inorganic remains. This
process was repeated as necessary to recover
as much organic material, including pollen, as
possible. The supernatant containing the organic
fraction was then centrifuged again to separate
any remaining silica from the organics, after
which the organic material was concentrated in
a centrifuge tube. Each sample was treated with
hydrouoric acid to remove remaining clay par-
ticles and then subjected to acetolysis to remove
extraneous organics. After extracting pollen, a
light microscope was used to count the pollen
at a 500× magnication. Pollen preservation in
the samples was generally excellent, providing
a rich data source. Using comparative reference
material, pollen specimens were identified to
family, genus, and, where possible, species.
Phytolith extraction used a method based on
heavy-liquid otation. The volume of the soils
was determined by the consistency and com-
position of the soil sample. The selected soil
volume was prepared through a series of steps
that removed large particles, calcium carbon-
ates, organic fractions, and clays. The silt- and
sand-sized fractions were then dried, mixed with
sodium polytungstate, and centrifuged to sepa-
rate the phytoliths, which will oat, from the
inorganic silica fraction, which typically does
not. However, because many silt-sized inorganic
silicates were observed in the light fraction, the
samples were again dried under vacuum and
then mixed with potassium cadmium iodide to
concentrate the phytolith fraction further. The
extracted phytoliths were then examined under
a light microscope at a 500× magnication. An
initial count of 200 taxonomically signicant
phytoliths was first conducted, followed by
a scan of the remainder of the slide for rare
phytolith types of ecological and economic
signicance.
Categorization of Food-Related Plants
This study focuses on those taxa most likely
related to foodways, including food procurement,
distribution, preparation, consumption, digestion,
and disposal. In several cases, specimens could
only be identied to genera or families con-
taining both edible and nonedible species and
subspecies. Each identied taxon was reviewed
in relationship to its local environmental and
historical context to assess whether it were more
likely deposited through food-related activities
or through other processes. Analysts considered
the part of the plant represented and degree
of burning. For example, wood charcoal from
a cherry tree likely represents nonfood eco-
nomic activity—burning wood for fuel—while
an unburned cherry pit likely represents food
consumption. For pollen analysis, each plant’s
pollen-dispersal methods (windborne, animal/
insect pollinated, and self-pollinating) were
also considered to assess whether the pollen
specimens most likely represent background
environmental conditions or food-related activity.
The historical differences in dietary prefer-
ences among Chinese and European American
residents of 19th-century San Jose further com-
plicate the question of which plants were used
as food. This intrasite comparative analysis con-
siders many plant taxa that were used in 19th-
century Cantonese and/or Chinese immigrant
cuisine, but not typically eaten by European
Americans at that time. Another challenge is the
common use of plants for both food and medi-
cine in 19th-century Europe, North America,
and China. While medicinal uses are sometimes
noted in this study, a complete analysis of the
medicinal/therapeutic use of plants at the Market
Street Chinatown warrants separate consideration
and is not systematically addressed here.
There is an inherent subjectivity to the delin-
eation of food-related and non-food-related
153
LINDA SCOTT CUMMINGS, et al.Fan and Tsai
archaeobotanical specimens in research of this
type. While some cases are quite clear, others
are ambiguous, and assessment is on a case-by-
case basis. Since the same criteria are used in
interpretation of all 10 soil samples, any errors
in this assessment should not affect the valid-
ity of the intrasite comparison presented here.
A category of “other possible food taxa” is
included to consider further those plant taxa that
may represent culinary activity or ornamental/
weedy plants.
For purposes of analysis, we have further
separated food-related taxa into broad categories
related to dietary components: cereal grains,
legumes, fruits and vegetables, and other pos-
sible edibles. These components correspond
to the Cantonese dietary categories of fan
(starches) and tsai (legumes, vegetables, fruits,
nuts, meats, and seasoning). In Cantonese cui-
sine, foods are further grouped according to
flavors (bland, bitter, sweet, sour, hot, salty,
etc.), with meals typically composed to achieve
a balance of avors. Starchy bland grains (fan)
provide a contrast for the more avorful tsai
dishes. In daily meals, fan typically forms the
base of the meal, while tsai is seen more as an
accompaniment. This relationship is sometimes
inverted for special occasions, such as religious
celebrations and banquets (Chang 1977:6–7, 10;
Simoons 1991:15–26).
While taxonomic identication of archaeobo-
tanical specimens supports this broad classica-
tion, it is far more difcult to determine how
specic plant foods were prepared. The part of
the plant represented, whether the specimen is
charred, and morphological changes to the speci-
men may all provide some indications of how
the food was harvested, processed, prepared, and
consumed, and these attributes are discussed on
a case-by-case basis.
Intrasite Comparative Analysis
Because this study focuses on intrasite com-
parison, a number of the factors inuencing the
deposition and preservation of archaeobotanical
specimens can be assumed to be constant across
the 10 soil samples. For example, a diet rich in
apples may produce a few dozen apple seeds
per kilo of apples consumed, while a diet rich
in raspberries will produce thousands of rasp-
berry seeds per kilo. Similarly, some seeds and
other plant parts are durable and typically pre-
serve well, while others decay rapidly; and some
plant parts are typically broken down completely
by digestion, while others pass through the
digestive system intact. These taphonomic fac-
tors can be reasonably assumed to be constant
across the site, however.
As noted above, the Market Street Chinatown
collection does not contain “control” (offsite)
soil samples that would document background
environmental conditions. The issue of back-
ground environmental conditions is particularly
pertinent for wild taxa, especially those that
reproduce through wind-borne pollen. These
were examined on a case-by-case basis to assess
whether botanical specimens most likely rep-
resent background environmental conditions or
food-related activity. Unless historical informa-
tion suggested otherwise, ubiquity of wild taxa
across the 10 samples was a strong indication
that background environmental conditions were
a likely cause of the distribution.
Factors that might have inuenced archaeo-
botanical preservation and recovery also appear
constant across the 10 samples. All of the
samples selected for analysis came from sub-
terranean pits used for waste disposal. Analysis
conducted to date suggests that most pits were
likely used to dispose of both human waste and
household refuse. While these subterranean pits
varied considerably in size, form, and degree
of formality (e.g., wood-lined vs. unlined),
archaeobotanists at the PaleoResearch Institute
did not identify any differences in plant part
preservation among the samples: archaeobotani-
cal preservation is excellent in all 10 samples.
While the 10 soil samples appear comparable
from all available indicators, it is not pos-
sible to know the degree to which excavation
methods and soil sample collection techniques
may have affected archaeobotanical recovery.
This study relies primarily on presence/absence
measures to mitigate against both possible
biases introduced by taphonomy and by exca-
vation/sample collection methods. Tables 2–4
list whether a given food-related taxon were
observed in a soil sample, and if so, by which
specimen type (macrobotanical, pollen, and
phytolith). This presence/absence analysis is
the basis for assessments of taxa ubiquity and
rarity throughout the analyzed soil samples. For
the purposes of this study, taxa identied in at
154 HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY 48(2)
least 6 of the 10 samples are considered ubiqui-
tous. Those taxa identied in only one to three
samples are considered rare. Finally, those taxa
present in four to ve samples are considered
neither ubiquitous nor rare.
When relevant, density of specimens is also
discussed to give additional texture to the pres-
ence/absence and rarity/ubiquity assessments.
Likewise, discussion of plant parts recovered
and whether they are charred helps to assess
how residents prepared and consumed the plants.
For example, recovery of dendriform phytoliths
from cereal glumes indicates the consumption of
whole-grain foods, such as whole-wheat bread.
Fan
Cereal grains (Table 2) include grasses that
were commonly cultivated for human consump-
tion, primarily wheat, rye, oats, barley, millet,
maize, rice, and sorghum. Chinese consumers
would typically view cereal grains as fan, with
the possible exception of fresh corn, which is
discussed below in further detail.
Cereal grain pollen and phytoliths were
recovered from each of the 10 samples. Seven
specic cereal grain taxa were identied: Zea
mays (corn), Oryza/Oryza sativa (rice), Sorghum
bicolor (sorghum), Hordeum (barley), Hordeum
pusillum (little barley), Setaria (millet), and
Triticum (wheat). Cerealia pollen, present in all
10 samples, represents a group of specic Old
World grass species cultigens—wheat, barley,
rye, oats, millet, and sorghum—for which the
pollen is very similar. Dendriform-grass phyto-
liths, representing both wheat and barley, were
also present in all 10 samples. The abundance
of Triticum (wheat) phytolith specimens through-
out most samples suggests that much of the
Cerealia pollen and the dendriform-grass phy-
toliths are also derived from wheat.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Oryza/Oryza sativa
(rice) was both ubiquitous and abundant, with
phytoliths present in all 10 samples, pollen in
6 samples, and macrobotanical caryopses (seeds)
and inflorescence parts (floret, floret callus,
and awn—all part of the glume structure) in 6
samples also. Rice glume phytoliths and macro-
botanical inorescence parts could indicate the
consumption of brown (unrened) rice. How-
ever, the presence of Oryza bilobate phytoliths,
representing rice leaves, in all 10 samples most
likely indicates a nonfood use of the rice plant,
since typically the leaves of the rice plant are
not considered consumables. The archaeobotani-
cal record thus appears to represent both food
consumption of rice grains and the use of rice
straw, perhaps as a packing material.
Wheat and corn are not typically associated with
the common diet of 19th-century southern China
(Simoons 1991:54–58). However, wheat was used
in southern China when available, and beginning
in the 1870s, California exported large quantities
of wheat to China, increasing the role of wheat
in the Cantonese diet (Meissner 1997–1998).
Wheat (Triticum) is represented most strongly by
phytoliths in eight samples, with macrobotanical
specimens of caryopses (seeds) found only in
Sample 10 (2.0/L). As noted, the widespread
presence of wheat phytoliths suggests that much
of the Cerealia pollen and the dendriform-grass
phytoliths, recovered from all 10 samples, derived
from wheat. The ubiquity of wheat phytoliths and
Cerealia pollen, combined with the rarity of wheat
macrobotanical specimens, indicate that wheat was
being obtained as our and may have been used
to make breads, buns, dumplings, and noodles.
While wheat phytoliths are ubiquitous, they are
found in only small quantities throughout the 10
samples, suggesting the use of white our rather
than whole-wheat our.
Zea mays (maize, corn) was not typically
consumed in southern China in the late 19th
century, but it was widely available throughout
the U.S. West. In the San Jose area, maize had
been a staple crop since the Spanish colonial
period. Its widespread presence in the archaeo-
botanical samples indicates broad adoption of
this locally available food by residents of the
Market Street Chinatown. Zea mays is repre-
sented by phytoliths in six samples, by pollen
in seven samples, and by macrobotanical speci-
mens in two samples, yielding evidence of Zea
mays in a combined total of eight samples.
The widespread presence of corn phytoliths and
pollen, and the near absence of macrobotanical
specimens suggest consumption of maize as
ground our. Whether ground commercially or
at home, corn flour typically contains small
amounts of pollen and phytoliths that would
ultimately pass through the digestive tract or
be discarded in kitchen trash containing raw or
cooked corn our. In addition to being used in
breads, noodles, and dumplings, ground corn
155
LINDA SCOTT CUMMINGS, et al.Fan and Tsai
TABLE 2
PRESENCE/ABSENCE OF PLANT FOODS TYPICALLY PREPARED AS FAN
Soil Sample Number
Scientic Name Common Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ubiquity
Cerealia Cereal type PoPh PoPh PoPh PoPh PoPh PoPh PoPh PoPh PoPh MaPoPh 10
Dendriform—grass Wheat/barley Ph Ph Ph Ph Ph Ph Ph Ph Ph
Ph
10
Hordeum Barley — — — — Ma 1
Hordeum pusillum Little barley — — — — Ma 1
Oryza Rice MaPh
Ph
MaPoPh
Ph
MaPoPh PoPh PoPh MaPoPh MaPh MaPoPh 10
Setaria Bristlegrass, millet — — — — Ma — — — — 1
Sorghum bicolor Sorghum — — — Ma — — — 1
Triticum Wheat Ph Ph
Ph
Ph — Ph Ph
Ph
MaPh
8
Zea mays Maize (corn) PoPh PoPh — MaPoPh
Ph
MaPoPh Po PoPh Po
8
Number of taxa per sample 5 5 4 3 7 4 5 7 5 5
Key: Ma=macrobotanical specimen; Po=pollen specimen; Ph=phytolith specimen.
156 HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY 48(2)
our can serve as a thickener for sauces or be
boiled to make porridges, a common preparation
for grains in 19th-century southern China.
While maize was most commonly consumed
as ground corn flour, two samples—Sample
5 and Sample 7—yielded whole corn kernels
and other macrobotanical remains. Sample 5,
taken from an ash lens in an unlined trash pit,
contained a single corn kernel (0.5/L). Sample
7 yielded an incredibly high density of charred
Zea mays macrobotanical remains (256.5/L),
including kernels, glumes, cupules, and cob
fragments. This assemblage suggests consump-
tion of fresh corn on the cob.
The macrobotanical analysis revealed evidence
of Hordeum (barley) and Hordeum pusillum (little
barley) rachillas in Sample 8, and Setaria (millet)
caryopses and Sorghum bicolor (sorghum) flo-
rets in Sample 5. Cerealia pollen found in these
samples might also derive from these taxa. None
of these taxa were represented by phytoliths. Both
Sample 5 and Sample 8 are from features in the
central semi-open area adjacent to the cluster of
merchant buildings. These less common grains
occur only in small densities (0.5/L–1.0/L), sug-
gesting that these rarer grains were not a routine
part of the diet of most residents of the Market
Street Chinatown. Instead, barley, millet, and
sorghum may have added variety to the fan
component of the meals consumed by wealthier
merchants and their households. Barley, sorghum,
and millet were all used in 19th-century southern
China to make porridges and savory cakes. Millet,
in particular, was the base for a steamed cake
avored with jujubes (Simoons 1991), and both
millet and jujubes were identied in Sample 5.
Overall, the archaeobotanical results indi-
cate that while rice was a primary staple, it
was widely supplemented across all social and
economic contexts by wheat and corn. Both
wheat and corn were predominantly consumed
as flour rather than the whole grain. Barley,
sorghum, and millet grains were only found in
association with stores, where they may have
been consumed by the merchants’ households
or processed into prepared our-based foods that
were sold to customers.
Tsai
The remaining identified plant foods—veg-
etables, fruits, and nuts—would have typically
been prepared as parts of dishes that formed the
tsai component of the Cantonese diet. For the
purposes of comparative analysis, these plants
are grouped into several related subcategories:
legumes (Fabaceae), mustard family (Brassica-
ceae), squash/gourd family (Cucurbitaceae), rose
family (Rosaceae), other vegetables, and other
fruits and nuts (Table 3).
Fabaceae (Legumes)
Fabaceae are legumes that have been iden-
tified to varying levels of specificity in the
pollen, phytolith, and macrobotanical records.
Fabaceae recovered from these samples include
both weedy taxa and cultivated plants. Faba-
ceae that are typically eaten may be consumed
in their green form (seeds in the pod), or the
seeds may be removed from the pods and
cooked. Legume seeds can be dried for long-
term storage, then rehydrated and cooked in
boiling water. Legumes are especially central to
many Asian cuisines, including that of southern
China. Peapods, green beans, and other fresh
legumes are eaten as vegetables. Soybeans are
eaten whole or processed into soy milk, tofu
(bean curd), and soy sauce. Some legumes
are fermented for use in sauces. They are also
ground to a paste and sweetened as a lling for
dumplings and pastries. Bean sprouts are grown
by soaking the legume seeds and allowing them
to germinate; however, since bean sprouts do
not produce pollen, seedpods, or seeds, bean-
sprout consumption is difcult to discern in the
archaeobotanical record, except as represented
through discarded seeds that failed to sprout.
Fabaceae (legumes) were represented by
pollen in ve samples, by phytoliths indicating
edible beans in only two samples, and by mac-
robotanical specimens (seeds and pods) in nine
samples (Table 3). Only Sample 9 lacked any
evidence of legumes. The macrobotanical den-
sity is relatively low for all legumes, typically
ranging from 0.3/L to 2.5/L. One exception
to this pattern is a high density of Phaseolus
specimens in Sample 7 (14.5/L). Low recovery
of legume phytolith evidence is not unexpected,
since legumes only produce silicied hairs on
the pods, many of which are so lightly silicied
that they easily succumb to dissolution.
Legumes identied through this study include
several typically grown for consumption of their
157
LINDA SCOTT CUMMINGS, et al.Fan and Tsai
TABLE 3
PRESENCE/ABSENCE OF TAXA TYPICALLY PREPARED IN TSAI DISHES
Soil Sample Number
Scientic Name Common Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ubiquity
Fabaceae Bean family MaPo Ma MaPo Ma Ma 5
Canavalia Jack bean, sword bean,
horsebean Po — — — — — 1
Melilotus Sweet clover — — — — Ma — — — 1
Medicago sativa Alfalfa Ma — — — — — — 1
Phaseolus Common bean, e.g, Po — — — — MaPh Ph — 3
Pisum Pea Po — — — — — 1
Trifolium Clover Ma Ma Ma — Ma — 4
Trifolium pratense Red clover Po — — — Po — — Po 3
Vicia-type Broad bean, fava bean,
horsebean — — Po — — — — — 1
Pisum/Glycine Pea/soybean — — Ma — — 1
Brassicaceae Mustard family Po Po Po Po Po Po Po Po Po Po 10
Cucurbitaceae Cucumber, gourd, melon,
or pumpkin family Ma Ma Ma Ma Ma Ma 6
Benincasa hispida Winter melon, e.g. –- Ma Ma Ma 3
Cucurbita Squash, pumpkin, gourd Ma Ma Ma Ma 4
Cucurbita maxima
type Kabocha, e.g. Ma 1
Momordica Balsam pear, bitter melon — Po Ma Ma Ma Ma Ma Ma 7
Citrullus lanatus
(Citrullus vulgaris) Watermelon — — — — Ma 1
158 HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY 48(2)
TABLE 3 (CONTINUED)
PRESENCE/ABSENCE OF TAXA TYPICALLY PREPARED IN TSAI DISHES
Soil Sample Number
Scientic Name Common Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ubiquity
Rosaceae Rose family — — Po — — 1
Rosaceae—striate
(includes Purshia,
Prunus, Coleogyne,
Crataegus, Malus,
and Pyrus) Rose family — — Po — Po — Po 3
Rubus Raspberry, blackberry, etc. Ma Ma Ma — Ma Ma Ma Ma Ma Ma 9
Fragaria Strawberry MaPo MaPo — Po Ma Ma MaPo Ma MaPo 8
Sorbus Mountain ash, dogberry Ma 1
Prunus dulcis Almond — — — — Ma 1
Solanum lycopersicum Tomato Ma Ma — Ma Ma Ma Ma 6
Physalis Tomatillo, ground cherry Ma Ma Ma 3
Solanum melongena Eggplant — — Ma — — 1
Bambusoideae Bamboo subfamily Ma — — Ma — — 2
Opuntia Prickly pear cactus, cholla Ma 1
Ficus Fig Ma Ma — Ma Ma — Ma Ma Ma 7
Sambucus Elderberry Ma Ma — Ma Ma Ma Ma Ma 7
Vitis Grape Ma — Ma — — Ma Ma Ma 5
Ziziphus zizyphus Common jujube — — Ma — — Ma 2
Juglans Walnut — — — — — — Ma MaPo 2
Diospyros Persimmon — — — — Ma 1
Gaylussacia Huckleberry — — Ma — — 1
Rhus Sumac — — Ma — — — 1
Number of taxa per sample 7 14 15 3 19 8 15 12 9 13
Key: Ma=macrobotanical specimen; Po=pollen specimen; Ph=phytolith specimen.
159
LINDA SCOTT CUMMINGS, et al.Fan and Tsai
seeds, such as Canavalia (jack bean/sword bean/
horsebean), Glycine (soybean), Phaseolus (New
World beans, e.g., lima bean, common bean,
navy bean), Pisum (peas), and Vicia-type beans
(broad beans, e.g., fava beans). Phaseolus (New
World beans) were represented in one sample
by pollen, two samples by phytoliths, and one
sample by seeds. The presence of Phaseolus
pollen and phytoliths may indicate the marketing
and consumption of eld-fresh beans in pods.
The only Phaseolus seeds were found in Sample
7, with a relatively high density of 14.5/L.
Canavalia (jack bean/sword bean/horsebean),
Glycine (soybean), and Vicia-type beans (broad
beans) were rare, each identied in only one
sample in low densities. There were no appar-
ent patterns in the distribution of these rare taxa
across the samples.
Several legumes are typically grown for
consumption of their sprouts, leaves, stems,
and other non-seed parts, such as the Trifolium
genus (clover) that includes Trifolium pratense
(red clover), and Melilotus (sweet clover) and
Medicago sativa (alfalfa). Taken together, these
taxa are represented by seeds in ve samples
and by red-clover pollen in three samples. The
seeds, stems, leaves, and flowers of clover
plants are edible and are used for both food
and medicine in southern China, and clover
seeds can also be used to grow sprouts. Clover
and alfalfa are also commonly used for live-
stock forage. Clover is bee pollinated and is
a common plant source for honeybees, so the
red-clover pollen may have been consumed
incidentally with honey.
Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)
Brassicaceae (mustard family) plants, repre-
sented by pollen, were present in each of the
10 soil samples and were consistently the larg-
est number of edible-plant pollen grains in each
sample (10–50 pollen specimens/cc of analyzed
sediment) (Puseman et al. 2013:40). Brassica-
ceae consists of 375 genera and 3,200 species
of herbs, and some small shrubs. Brassicaceae
plants may be weedy on the landscape and are
also cultigens. In general, most are edible, and
wild and weedy plants are commonly collected
for food, with diverse parts—roots, stems,
leaves, buds, owers, and seeds—having culi-
nary uses. Young leaves of this plant family are
especially rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, and C,
and can be eaten raw or boiled as greens. Cul-
tigens in this family include broccoli, cabbage,
kale, cauliflower, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts,
turnip, white mustard, watercress, garden cress,
and horseradish. Many wild taxa are collected
and eaten as eld greens (Britton and Brown
1970:146; Hedrick 1972:100; Kirk 1975:37;
Peterson 1977:26; Zomlefer 1994:125–129).
The high density of Brassicaceae pollen
is evidence of a diet rich in mustard-family
plants among residents of the Market Street
Chinatown. Brassicaceae plants are used espe-
cially widely in Cantonese cuisine, with leafy
greens, flowering heads (e.g., broccoli), and
roots cooked as vegetables, and ground mustard
seeds used in condiments and sauces. Some
cultigens may have been raised onsite in small
garden plots, while others were likely obtained
from truck gardens and farms in the surrounding
area. The prominence of Brassicaceae plants in
the community’s diet is further conrmed by a
newspaper account published a little over a year
after re destroyed the Market Street Chinatown:
A bountiful crop of mustard is growing in the ruins
of old Chinatown. ... The portion of the town used as
alleys or passages between the buildings is the only
part in which the mustard grows. This is probably due
to the fact that the Chinese made a practice of clean-
ing mustard seed in sheets spread in the alleys (San
Jose Evening News 1888).
Cucurbitaceae (Gourd/Melon/Cucumber/
Pumpkin Family)
Members of the Cucurbitaceae family were
represented almost entirely by seeds, although
Momordica (bitter melon) pollen exists in
Sample 2. Cucurbitaceae seeds occur in eight
samples, with no specimens present in Samples
1 and 4. Many seeds could only be identied to
family level. Those seeds that could be identi-
ed to more specic taxa represent Cucurbita
(gourd/pumpkin/squash), Cucurbita maxima–type
(e.g., winter squash, Japanese squash, kabocha,
sweet esh pumpkin, sweet esh squash, giant
pumpkin), Citrullus lanatus (watermelon), Ben-
incasa hispida (Chinese winter melon), and
Momordica (bitter melon).
The most ubiquitous Cucurbitaceae taxon is
Momordica (bitter melon, also foo qua in Can-
tonese), which was present in seven samples.
160 HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY 48(2)
Momordica is a genus that contains about 45
species native to Asia and Africa. Bitter melon
is especially prevalent in Cantonese culinary
traditions, and the fruit of the plant can be
stuffed and baked, pickled, deep fried, stir fried,
or simmered (Cantwell et al. 1996). With the
exception of the Brick Chinatown, Momordica
seeds occur in all sampled areas of the Market
Street Chinatown. Similar to the Brassicaceae
plants, it appears that bitter melon was a wide-
spread component of the diet eaten throughout
Market Street Chinatown.
Other members of the Cucurbitaceae family
exhibited more uneven distributions. Cucur-
bita (gourd/pumpkin/squash) seeds occurred in
Samples 2, 3, 5, and 10. Cucurbita specimens
in Sample 3 included seeds identifiable to
Cucurbita maxima–type, which includes larger
winter squashes, pumpkins, kabocha, and Japa-
nese squash.
Citrullus lanatus (watermelon), which would
have been eaten as a fruit because of its sweet-
ness, occurred only in Sample 7.
Benincasa hispida (hairy gourd, mo gua
in Cantonese, when young; Chinese winter
melon, tung qua in Cantonese, when mature)
was identied in Samples 2, 3, and 7, with a
particularly high density (100.5/L) in Sample
2. Chinese winter melon is a species native
to Japan and Java that has been cultivated in
China for several millennia. When mature, the
winter melon is as large as a watermelon. The
bland-avored melon esh is typically stir-fried
or used to make winter-melon soup, although
it is also pickled and candied. The seeds are
also edible and can be cooked or baked, and
the leaves of the young plant can be eaten as
greens (Cantwell et al. 1996).
The three samples containing Chinese winter-
melon specimens are from areas dominated
by tenement housing. Initially this finding
was somewhat surprising, since documentary
accounts describe winter-melon soup, made
with mushrooms, meat, and dried shrimp, as a
delicacy featured in elegant banquets and on
feast days (Simoons 1991:154–156). In these
dramatic presentations, the esh of the melon
is carefully removed from the rind, which is
then carved with elegant patterns and used as
a serving bowl for the soup. However, oral his-
tories collected among former residents of San
Jose’s historic Chinatowns document the use of
winter melon as an important everyday food.
Winter melon was easily grown in Santa Clara
County’s rich agricultural valleys, and residents
of San Jose’s historic Chinatowns sliced and
cooked the melon flesh as a vegetable and
also boiled winter melon into a simple broth
(tung gua swei) for drinking like tea; this
broth was considered to have health-promoting
qualities, providing protection against colds and
inuenza. Preserved and candied winter melon,
along with preserved ginger, dried plums,
sugared coconut, and lotus and melon seeds,
were also served as traditional treats during
the Lunar New Year.
In summary, Cucurbitaceae seeds were
broadly distributed throughout the soil sam-
ples, indicating that these plants were widely
consumed by residents of the Market Street
Chinatown. Momordica (bitter melon) was
ubiquitous, indicating that this melon may have
been a community staple. There was consid-
erable variability in the distribution of other
Cucurbitaceae taxa, which were mostly (but not
exclusively) present in samples associated with
working-class contexts.
Rosaceae (Rose Family)
Rosaceae (rose family) consists of thousands
of species of trees, shrubs, and herbs, includ-
ing apple, pear, plum, cherry, apricot, peach,
blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, and almond,
in addition to ornamental rose ower bushes,
which also have medicinal and food value. In
Cantonese cuisine, most Rosaceae foods would
have been consumed as fruits because of their
sweetness. Almonds, a notable exception, were
(like other nut meats) eaten as snacks and treats.
Pollen identiable only to the Rosaceae level
occurred in 6 of the 10 samples. Because many
Rosaceae species are self-pollinating or insect
pollinated, the pollen found in these subter-
ranean features most likely originated in trace
amounts of pollen remaining on fruit skins dis-
carded during food preparation or ingested and
passed through the digestive system.
Several Rosaceae taxa were represented by
macrobotanical as well as pollen specimens.
Rubus (blackberry, raspberry) is represented only
by seeds (Rubus pollen was not observed) and
is present in nine samples. Especially high den-
sities of Rubus seeds were present in Sample 2
161
LINDA SCOTT CUMMINGS, et al.Fan and Tsai
(1,452.0/L), Sample 3 (492.0/L), and Sample 9
(909.5/L). All the Rubus seeds were uncharred,
which is common because raspberries and black-
berries are typically consumed whole (whether
fresh or cooked) and the seeds pass through the
digestive tract. In some preparations, the fruit is
boiled into a liquid and strained to remove the
uncharred seeds, which are then discarded. In
archaeological deposits, it is also possible that
the seeds were present as a result of discarding
uneaten fruits.
Fragaria (strawberry) is represented by
pollen and seeds in a total of eight soil
samples. Seeds, nearly all uncharred, occur in
seven samples, with a particularly high density
in Sample 3 (692.0/L). As with the Rubus
seeds, strawberry fruits are typically consumed
with their seeds, which then pass through
the digestive tract. Uncharred seeds are also
removed and discarded during preparation of
strained compotes and jellies. Seeds might also
enter the archaeological record through discard-
ing of spoiled or surplus fruit. Fragaria pollen
occurs in ve samples, suggesting consumption
of raw berries, although cooked berry dishes
also may retain traces of pollen. Strawberries
were not widely known in China, and Market
Street Chinatown residents typically referred
to strawberries as “ground fruit.” Strawber-
ries have particular historical signicance to
the Market Street Chinatown because of the
important role that Chinese residents played
in the development of strawberry agriculture
in Santa Clara County, initially through farm
work, and, since the 1860s, by leasing land or
sharecropping to grow strawberries and other
“row” berries (Yu 2001:66).
In addition to Rubus and Fragaria, Sample 7
included macrobotanical specimens of two addi-
tional Rosaceae taxa: Sorbus (dogberry) seeds
and Prunus dulcis (almond) shell.
Overall, the widespread distribution of Rosa-
ceae pollen and the common presence of Rubus
and Fragaria seeds in most of the analyzed soil
samples suggest that Market Street Chinatown
residents shared a diet rich in fresh fruit. The
presence of two additional Rosaceae taxa in
Sample 7, which was collected from an unlined
pit near working-class tenements, supports the
theory that those depositing their trash in this
pit ate a wider variety of plant foods than many
other residents.
Other Vegetables
Several other plants typically consumed as
vegetables also occur in the 10 soil samples.
The most ubiquitous is Solanum lycopersicum
(tomato), represented by seeds in six soil
samples that come from a wide range of feature
types and social/historical contexts. Tomatoes are
native to the Americas, but were introduced into
China in the 16th century (Simoons 1991:167–
168). However, they were not typical of the
Cantonese diet in the 19th century. Today, a
tomato and beef stir-fry dish is popular in Can-
tonese home-style restaurants, suggesting one
possible preparation. The highest concentrations
of tomato seeds were in Sample 2 (64.0/L) and
Sample 3 (19.33/L), both located in a semi-open
mixed-use area in the northern part of the block.
Physalis (wild ground cherry) seeds occurred
in Samples 2, 3, and 8. Physalis is a genus rep-
resenting wild ground cherries, a few of which
are grown for food. Possible species include
P. ixocarpa (tomatillo) and P. pruinosa (cape
gooseberry), both typically grown for food, and
P. alkekengi (bladder cherry, Chinese lanterns),
typically grown as an ornamental (Kirk 1975).
Several other taxa that likely represent veg-
etables were rare, occurring in low densities
in three or fewer samples. One seed of Sola-
num melongena (eggplant) was recovered from
Sample 5. Bambusoideae (bamboo family) is
represented in Samples 1 and 5 by charred mac-
robotanical stem fragments. Bambusoideae plants
have multiple uses, with the seeds and shoots
cooked as vegetables, and the woody stems or
culms used as raw materials for a wide range
of objects and architectural elements. Live plants
also serve as ornamentals.
Finally, Opuntia seeds (prickly pear cactus)
occurred in Sample 9 (4.0/L). Their presence
suggests consumption of the fruit. The paddle-
shaped cactus leaves might also have been
consumed, but would not have left seeds behind.
Prickly pear is a food traditional to the diet
of San Jose’s earlier Spanish colonial/Mexican
population, as well as to more recent Mexican
immigrants in the mid- and late 19th century.
The Market Street Chinatown was built on the
site of the Spanish colonial/Mexican Pueblo de
San José, and it is possible that prickly pear
plants continued to grow there after the forma-
tion of the Market Street Chinatown. While it
162 HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY 48(2)
is intriguing to think about the possibility that
residents of the Market Street Chinatown may
have experimented with this Mexican American
food, it does not appear that prickly pear con-
sumption was widespread.
Other Fruits and Nuts
Several other fruits are represented only by
macrobotanical remains. Ficus (g) seeds occur
in seven samples, with high densities in Sample
2 (120.0/L) and Sample 3 (196.0/L). Figs were
not typically part of the Cantonese diet, but oral
history indicates that residents of the Market
Street Chinatown quickly learned to like this
fruit, which grew throughout Santa Clara County
in orchards and on shade trees.
Sambucus (elderberry) seeds also occurred in
seven soil samples in relatively low densities
(0.5–1.33/L). Because of their unpleasant taste
and odor when fresh, elderberries are typically
dried and then reconstituted. Dried elderberries
can be used as a lling for pastries, to sweeten
and avor stews, and for various other culinary
uses. The juice of the raw berries can also be
fermented to make wine. Elderberries and other
parts of the elderberry plant also have medici-
nal uses in both European American and Chi-
nese traditional medicine (Kirk 1975; Peterson
1977:172; Angier 1978:113–117).
Vitis (grape) seeds are present in ve samples,
with high densities in Sample 3 (87.66/L) and
Sample 9 (142/L). Both wild and domesticated
grapes are eaten fresh as fruit, dried as raisins,
baked into pastries, boiled into preserves and
sauces, juiced for beverages, and fermented for
making wine and distilled liquors. The large seeds
(3–5 mm diameter) are typically removed during
cooking and juicing, so the presence of grape
seeds suggests the acquisition of fresh grapes or
dried raisins, either to be eaten directly or to be
deseeded prior to use in other preparations.
Chinese dates, walnuts, persimmons, huckle-
berry, and sumac occur in some samples, but
were generally rare. Seeds of Ziziphus zizyphus
(jujube or Chinese date), an Asiatic species,
were identified in Samples 5 and 8. Dates
are a popular snack in southern China, and
so their rarity in this assemblage is somewhat
surprising. As discussed in the following sec-
tion, Areacaceae (palm family) phytoliths and
pollen were found in several samples and could
represent dates. If dates were commonly eaten
at the Market Street Chinatown, perhaps the
date pits were typically removed before con-
sumers acquired them. Juglans (walnut) nutshell
fragments were found in Samples 7 and 10,
with Juglans pollen also found in Sample 10.
A Diospyros (persimmon) seed was recovered
from Sample 7, and Gaylussacia (huckleberry)
seeds from Sample 5. Finally, Rhus (sumac)
seeds were recovered from Sample 4. This wild
taxon produces small, hairy red fruits that can
be eaten raw or boiled to make a lemonade-like
drink. Sumac berries also have astringent and
antiseptic properties in European American folk
medicine (Kirk 1975:116; Peterson 1977:186;
Brill and Dean 1994:115–119).
Together, these data indicate the shared con-
sumption of the fruits of g, elderberry, and
grape across the community, with greater taxon
diversity (jujube, walnut, persimmon, huckle-
berry, and sumac) found in Samples 5, 7, 8,
and 10.
Citrus Specimens
Citrus is a genus of owering plants within
the Rutaceae family, including oranges, lemons,
limes, and grapefruits. The absence of Citrus
specimens in the Market Street Chinatown
soil samples is particularly noteworthy because
citrus fruits play an important role in Can-
tonese cuisine, both as an ingredient to avor
cooked dishes and as fruits that are eaten fresh;
they are also important to Chinese traditional
medicine. Citrus pollen is rarely recovered
archaeologically, and citrus fruits do not pro-
duce phytoliths, so seeds and rinds would be
the most likely elements to represent citrus in
the archaeological record. Given the excellent
preservation of botanical remains in the 10
analyzed soil samples, the absence of Citrus
specimens may indicate that, surprisingly, Citrus
fruits were not a signicant component of the
Market Street Chinatown residents’ diets.
Other Possible Food Taxa
Oral history indicates that as recently as the
early 20th century, Chinese American residents
of San Jose gathered wild plants, especially
mushrooms, to augment their diet. Although
mushrooms were not identified in this study,
163
LINDA SCOTT CUMMINGS, et al.Fan and Tsai
there are several other undomesticated taxa that
could indicate culinary practices, but which also
may represent ornamental or weedy plants, or
plants represented by ambient pollen (Table 4).
Portulaca (purslane) was represented by
seeds in six soil samples. Portulaca is a weedy
annual with eshy leaves and small black seeds
that is a nutritious wild edible; the whole plant
is cooked or eaten raw like spinach. Portulaca
is found in temperate and tropical regions
throughout the world, including California, and
historically was gathered in southern China
both as a food and for medicinal purposes.
It is also commonly found as a weed in gar-
dens, elds, and open strips of land in urban
areas (Kirk 1975:46; Peterson 1977:72; Reid
1987:102, 1995).
Malva (mallow, cheeseweed) occurred in
seven samples, including as pollen in ve sam-
ples and charred macrobotanical specimens in
three samples. Most macrobotanical specimens
are seeds, but Sample 7 also included fruit
fragments and whole and fragmented mericarps
(fruit segments). Malva are biennial or annual
plants that were introduced from Europe and
Asia primarily as ornamentals and are now
found throughout the United States as weeds.
The young stems and leaves can be cooked and
eaten like spinach, and the cheese-shaped disks
of the young fruits can be eaten raw (Britton
and Brown 1970:514–516; Kirk 1975:27; Peter-
son 1977:108; Muenscher 1987:311–313).
Cheno-am (Chenopodiaceae family and Ama-
ranthus) pollen was also detected in all 10
soil samples, along with macrobotanical endo-
sperm specimens in Sample 8. Additionally,
charred and uncharred Chenopodium seeds were
recovered in four samples. Cheno-ams are a
botanical group representing the Chenopodiaceae
(goosefoot) family and the genus Amaranthus
(amaranth, pigweed). These consist of annual
or perennial herbs and shrubs representing a
wide range of weedy, ornamental, wild edible,
and cultivated taxa. The Chenopodiaceae family
includes edible food plants such as beets, chard,
spinach, and other edible greens, while the
genus Amaranthus includes the edible seed-
plant amaranth. Chenopodium (goosefoot) is an
annual weed, the seeds of which can be distilled
into an oil used as a medicine against parasites
(roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms) and
intestinal amoeba (Foster and Duke 1990:216).
Erodium (laree, storksbill) was represented
by pollen in six samples and by charred seeds
in Sample 7. Erodium are wild plants often used
as forage for livestock, but young plants can
also be used in salads or cooked as potherbs
(Kirk 1975:29; Muenscher 1987:292–294).
Polygonaceae (buckwheat family), including
Rumex (dock), was represented by pollen in
four samples and by seeds in two samples. This
family contains over 1,000 species; the young
leaves and stems of several wild species of
Polygonum (smartweed, knotweed) and Rumex
(dock) are edible raw or boiled as greens (Peter-
son 1977:116,154).
Phytoliths from Arecaceae (palm family)
occurred in six soil samples, and pollen in one
sample. This taxon is comprised of about 212
genera of trees, sub-shrubs, or vines; palms are
used as ornamental plants and for their ber; for
building and thatching, and making baskets and
mats; and for their edible fruits and oil content
(Hickey and King 1981). Dates, a palm fruit,
might be one source of these specimens.
Agave (agave) pollen was identied in seven
soil samples. Agave plants are perennial, succu-
lent plants with a rosette of thick, eshy leaves
tipped with a sharp point. In North America,
agave plants’ natural range is Mexico and the
southwestern U.S. Additionally, agave plants
are typically pollinated by bats, insects, and
birds, reducing the likelihood that the Agave
pollen represents environmental conditions (Coe
1994:78,84,94). The presence of Agave pollen
in many of the Market Street Chinatown soil
samples was initially puzzling, since the pollen
would indicate use of the Agave ower, rather
than the nectar or sap, which is typically col-
lected as a sweetener and for production of
tequila. However, due to their similar appear-
ance and culinary properties, residents of the
Market Street Chinatown possibly used dried
agave flowers as a substitute for dried day-
lily owers (or “golden needles”), which are
used in southern Chinese cuisine as a avoring
for soups and stir-fry dishes, such as mu shu
(Simoons 1991:409–410).
Typha angustifolia–type (narrow-leaved cattail)
pollen was identied in all 10 samples. Typha
are perennial wild marsh or aquatic plants that
have edible roots, shoots, stalks, and pollen. In
southern China, a similar cattail species (Typha
latifolia) is gathered as food, with the shoots
164 HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY 48(2)
TABLE 4
PRESENCE/ABSENCE OF OTHER POSSIBLE EDIBLES
Soil Sample No.
Scientic Name Common Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ubiquity
Portulaca Purslane Ma Ma — Ma Ma Ma Ma 6
Malva Mallow, cheeseweed — MaPo — — Po Ma MaPo Po Po 6
Cheno-am Includes goosefoot and
amaranth families Po Po Po Po Po Po Po MaPo Po Po 10
Chenopodium Goosefoot, pigweed Ma Ma Ma — Ma 4
Erodium Storksbill, laree Po Po Po MaPo Po Po 6
Polygonaceae/
Polygonum—triangular Smartweed, knotweed Po Po Po Ma Po 5
Rumex Dock, sorrel — — — — Ma 1
Calandrinia Calandrinia, red maids Ma Ma Ma Ma 4
Leonurus Motherwort Ma — — — Ma — — 2
Lepidium Peppergrass — — — — — — Ma 1
Lamiaceae Mint family — — — — Ma 1
Arecaceae Palm family Ph Ph Ph — PoPh Ph Ph 6
Typha angustifolia type Cattail Po — — Po Po Po — Po 5
Low spine Includes ragweed, cocklebur,
sumpweed Po Po — Po — — — Po 4
High spine Includes aster, rabbitbrush,
snakeweed, sunower, etc. Po Po Po Po Po Po Po Po Po Po 10
Rhamnaceae Buckthorn Po Po Po Po Po Po Po Po Po 9
Agave type Similar to agave Po Po Po Po Po Po Po 7
Liguliorae Chicory tribe, includes dandelion
and chicory Po Po Po Po Po — Po Po — Po 8
Sapindaceae Soapberry family Po Po Po — — — — Po Po Po 6
Lonicera Honeysuckle — Po Po — Po — — Po Po 5
Key: Ma=macrobotanical specimen; Po=pollen specimen; Ph=phytolith specimen.
165
LINDA SCOTT CUMMINGS, et al.Fan and Tsai
TABLE 4 (CONTINUED)
PRESENCE/ABSENCE OF OTHER POSSIBLE EDIBLES
Soil Sample No.
Scientic Name Common Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ubiquity
Onagraceae Evening primrose family — — Po — Po Po — Po 4
Papaveraceae Poppy family Po — — — — — 1
Sagittaria Arrowhead — — — — Po — — — 1
Cleome Beeweed, spiderower Po
Tribulus — — — — — Po 1
Eriogonum Wild buckwheat — — Po — — — — — — 1
Number of taxa per sample 8 13 14 6 12 9 15 13 8 17
Key: Ma=macrobotanical specimen; Po=pollen specimen; Ph=phytolith specimen.
166 HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY 48(2)
used as a pickled or steamed vegetable, and
the pollen mixed with honey and eaten (Reid
1987:134, 1995:76). Cattails are wind pollinated,
and the ubiquitous pollen in these samples
could also reect environmental dispersal rather
than culinary activity. However, the widespread
presence of Typha angustifolia–type pollen in
the soil samples might suggest that residents
of the Market Street Chinatown were gathering
and consuming wild cattails from local marshy
environments near the Guadalupe River or the
shore of San Francisco Bay.
Like Typha, several other botanical families
represented by pollen in multiple samples pose
challenges for archaeological interpretation, not
only because the families include both edible
and nonedible species, but also because the
plants in these families are often wind polli-
nated. Pollen from the Rhamnaceae (buckthorn)
family was found in 9 of the 10 samples.
Ziziphus zizyphus (jujube or Chinese date) is a
member of the Rhamnaceae family; however,
given the likelihood that jujubes were shipped
to the Market Street Chinatown in dried or pre-
served form from China, it seems more likely
that the Rhamnaceae pollen represents nonfood
plants in the local environment. Ligulioreae
(also syn. Cichorioideae) pollen occurred in
seven soil samples. A subfamily of Asteraceae
(sunower family), Ligulioreae includes let-
tuces, chicory, dandelions, and other wild and
cultivated edible plants. Sapindaceae (soapberry
or lychee family) is represented by pollen in six
samples. Lonicera (huckleberry) pollen occurred
in ve samples; some of these shrubs and vines
produce owers and berries that are edible and
can be eaten raw, dried, or made into sauces,
jellies, and jams, or used in Chinese traditional
medicine (Reid 1995:139–140,190).
Alongside these more abundant taxa,
Calandrinia (calandrinia, red maids), Leonurus
(motherwort), Lepidium (pepper grass), and
Lamicaceae (mint family) are taxa with poten-
tially edible species that are represented by
only small numbers of specimens in one to four
soil samples, most of which were in Sample 7.
Similarly, Eriogonum (wild buckwheat), Onagra-
ceae (evening primrose family), Papaveraceae
(poppy family), Sagittaria (arrowhead), and
Cleome (beeweed, spiderower) are also taxa
with edible species represented by pollen in four
or fewer samples.
While most of these data are suggestive
rather than conclusive, the most interesting
possibility indicated by this analysis is that
residents of the Market Street Chinatown may
have been gathering some wild foods, such as
cattail and purslane, for widespread incorpora-
tion into their diets, as well as substituting
New World taxa, such as agave, for Asian
ingredients that may have been difficult to
obtain in the United States.
Discussion
This intracommunity comparative analysis
indicates a strong dietary foundation shared
by residents of the Market Street Chinatown.
Fan, the starchy, cereal component of the diet,
included not only rice, but also wheat and corn.
The prevalence of rice was expected because
both boiled rice grains and rice our have long
been central staples of Cantonese cuisine. The
phytolith record suggests consumption of white
rice, since glume phytoliths that would indicate
brown-rice consumption are rare in the samples.
At the Market Street Chinatown, it appears that
both wheat and corn were obtained primarily as
our. Wheat our was mostly rened (white)
flour, suggesting that residents incorporated
wheat into their diets as breads, buns, noodles,
and dumplings. Similarly, ground corn our may
have been used in breads, buns, and dumplings,
or as a thickener for stews and sauces. Corn
our cooked in stock or water can also be used
to make a thick porridge, perhaps analogous to
congee dishes made from slow-cooked rice.
Market Street Chinatown’s residents also
shared a wide range of plant ingredients in the
more avorful tsai component of the diet. Fresh
mustard-family (Brassicaceae) vegetables appear
to have been dietary staples; their ubiquity was
demonstrated through high pollen concentrations
in all 10 of the analyzed soil samples. These
could have been eaten both as greens and veg-
etables, and in spicy condiments prepared with
ground dried mustard seeds. Cucurbitaceae were
also widely consumed, especially bitter melon
(Momordica). Tomatoes were also abundant,
along with fresh fruits—raspberries/blackberries,
strawberries, gs, and grapes. Residents might
have gathered wild-growing plants such as purs-
lane, mallow, and cattail to augment cultivated
food sources. Dried elderberries and dried agave
167
LINDA SCOTT CUMMINGS, et al.Fan and Tsai
owers may have been used as seasonings and
avorings, with the latter possibly used as a
substitute for dried lily owers.
In sum, the Market Street Chinatown residents
shared a diet rich in nutritious grains, vitamin-
rich greens and vegetables, bitter melon, and
fresh fruits. The ubiquity of these plant foods
among both tenement and merchant households
may indicate only subtle dietary differences
between merchant/professionals and laborers in
the Market Street Chinatown. While this archae-
ological finding is surprising, it is supported
by oral-history research, which documents the
interconnections between merchants and agricul-
tural workers in San Jose’s historic Chinatowns.
Most merchants also served as labor contractors,
arranging jobs for kinfolk and members of their
district associations in farms throughout Santa
Clara County. In turn, merchants relied on
agricultural workers to supply fresh produce to
the stores. The interrelated bonds of kinship and
economic interdependence between merchants
and laborers may have fostered a common diet.
Additionally, the agricultural abundance of the
Santa Clara County region may have contributed
to widespread access to a range of fresh ingre-
dients. Fresh vegetables and fruits, including
Chinese vegetables, like bok choy, long beans,
squashes, and bitter melon, were easily grown
in the rich valley soil. Some fruits, such as
peaches (which were prized as symbols of lon-
gevity), were costly in Guangdong but season-
ally abundant in Santa Clara County.
It is possible that there may have been dietary
distinctions that cannot be reconstructed from
archaeobotanical evidence alone, such as how
the plant foods were prepared; the ratio of fan
to tsai in daily meals; the types, quantity, and
quantity of meat included in tsai dishes; the
volume of food consumed per person or per
household; and the intra-household distribution
of food. Information about these aspects of food
practices may be developed through current and
future research on faunal remains and food-
associated artifacts.
While typical meals eaten across the Market
Street Chinatown were crafted from similar,
rather than different, plant-based ingredients,
there is also variability in the distribution of
some plant foods. The distribution of some
taxa, such as legumes, ground cherries, bamboo,
and walnuts, does not appear to correspond to
any particular feature type or social/historical
context. The distribution of other non-ubiquitous
taxa points to possible differences in dietary
access to particular vegetable foods. The
merchant-associated deposits represented by
Samples 5, 8, and 9, all located in the semi-
open yard area adjacent to the adobe structure,
contained several rare taxa. Barley, little barley,
millet, and sorghum only occurred in these three
samples, perhaps suggesting that merchants
enjoyed greater variety in the fan component
of their diet than working-class residents
did. Cereal grains and flours were typically
purchased as bulk commodities, and it may
be that merchants were in a better financial
position to augment their households’ diets by
purchasing a wider variety of grains. Eggplant,
prickly pear, jujube, and huckleberry were also
only identied in merchant-associated deposits.
Jujube would indicate an imported, dried food
from Asia, while prickly pear might indicate
the presence of historical vegetation originally
planted near the adobe building.
Surprisingly, the greatest variety in tsai dietary
composition was found in tenement-associated
features. Chinese winter melon only occurred in
Samples 2, 3, and 7. Sample 7 was taken from
Feature 85-31/11, an unlined pit located in a
passageway lined with tenement housing. Sample
7 was the only sample to yield a substantial
density of corn kernels and cob parts, suggesting
consumption of fresh corn on the cob. Dogberry,
almonds, persimmon, and walnuts were also iden-
tied in Sample 7 only. Phaseolus seeds (beans)
were limited to Sample 7, although Phaseolus
phytoliths or pollen were also noted in Samples
8 and 2. Sample 7 also had the highest density
of Chinese winter-melon seeds.
These findings suggest that some working-
class residents living in tenement housing in
the Market Street Chinatown enjoyed more
plant-food variety in the tsai component of their
diets than did residents of mercantile areas.
Since historical accounts suggest that tenement
residents had limited economic resources, this
nding warrants further exploration. The dif-
ference in tsai-associated plant foods between
tenement-associated soil samples in the northern
and southern parts of the block suggests that
occupation, more than class status alone, cre-
ated opportunities to consume plant foods that
were not typical of the Market Street Chinatown
168 HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY 48(2)
diet. Tenement-associated Samples 1, 2, 3, and
6 were located in the north-central portion of
Block 1, in a multi-use area that included a
pork-roasting furnace and small-scale manufac-
tories. Other than the prevalence of Chinese
winter melon, working-class residents of this
area appear to have shared common plant-based
ingredients with the rest of their neighbors on
the block. In contrast, Sample 7 is associated
with tenement housing in the southern area of
the block. The nearest businesses located near
this row of tenements are several stores (includ-
ing the Tuck Wo grocery store), a restaurant,
and a plant nursery. While Sample 7 is clearly
associated with the tenement housing, it is pos-
sible that if some of the tenements’ residents
worked in these nearby businesses, they could
have brought home surplus plant foods from
their places of employment to augment their
diets. Tenement residents may have also been
more price sensitive in their food purchases,
leading them to experiment with a wider variety
of seasonally priced or discounted produce than
their more prosperous merchant neighbors.
Conclusion
Intrasite, comparative analysis of archaeobo-
tanical remains has revealed both continuity and
variability in plant-food consumption practices
within the Market Street Chinatown. This ana-
lytic approach demonstrates that it is possible
to move away from acculturation methodologies
that emphasize Chinese immigrant adaptation
or resistance to European American lifeways.
Instead, the intrasite comparative approach used
in this study draws attention to the complex
cultural, political, class, and gendered dynamics
within early Chinese immigrant communities in
the North American West.
The results indicate that Market Street China-
town residents shared a common base of plant
ingredients in their diets, including starchy fan
foods (rice, wheat, and corn) avored by tsai
dishes rich in fresh vegetables, and snacks of
fruits and nuts. Dietary differences within the
community were subtle, with some merchant
households apparently having access to a wider
variety of grain foods, and some tenement
residents enjoying a richer variety of fruits and
vegetables. These differences were not consis-
tent, however, suggesting that occupation more
than class position may have inuenced access
to or preference for certain plant foods.
These differences aside, the similarities in
plant-food ingredients used across the com-
munity are striking, despite the signicant dif-
ferences in class and household composition
that were further heightened by immigration
restrictions. Ongoing analyses of other food-
related assemblages—such as terrestrial and
marine faunal bone, shell, and glass and ceramic
vessels used in food storage, preparation, and
serving—will help researchers evaluate whether
the pattern shown by plant foods represents the
overall diet, or whether social distinctions and
class/gender differences were heightened in other
aspects of culinary practices.
If the pattern observed in the plant-food com-
ponent of the diet is echoed in other aspects of
foodways, this nding may be signicant for
understanding the role of quotidian practices
in the face of legal restrictions and widespread
discrimination. Could similarity in diet across
class and household differences be one of the
cornerstones of the strong Chinese American
identities that formed in the midst of the anti-
Chinese movement? John C. Young, son of
Young Soong Quong, recalled that food shar-
ing had both social and spiritual signicance in
San Jose’s Chinatowns (Yu 2001:57–58). At his
father’s store, single men and merchant families
from the same district in China ate together on
Lunar New Years Eve, sharing the specialties
of the season, a tradition repeated at other stores
and district association headquarters. Similarly,
during a prominent religious festival, Da Jui,
everyone in attendance shared a special wok-
cooked vegetarian dish pronounced jai. Blessed
by Taoist monks, the dish included mushrooms,
bok choy, bamboo shoots, tofu, ginkgo nuts, and
oyster sauce, combining fresh local vegetables
with dried and preserved delicacies from China.
This tasty dish cleansed the body and the spirit,
and brought blessings to all who ate it. As the
living shared this delicacy, a pan of the vegetar-
ian dish was always placed on the street as an
offering to hungry ghosts.
Acknowledgments
The Market Street Chinatown Archaeol-
ogy Project, <http://marketstreet.stanford.edu>,
is a community-based collaboration among
169
LINDA SCOTT CUMMINGS, et al.Fan and Tsai
researchers and educators at Stanford University,
History San José, the Chinese Historical and
Cultural Project, and Environmental Science
Associates. Program support and funding for
the Market Street Chinatown Archaeology Proj-
ect have been generously provided by History
San José, the San Jose Redevelopment Agency,
the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project,
and several Stanford University programs. We
especially thank Anita Kwock, past president
of Chinese Historical and Cultural Project,
and Ken Middlebrook, collections manager at
History San José, for facilitating and authoriz-
ing this research. Funding for the soil-sample
assessment and archaeobotanical research in this
article was provided in part through research
grants from the Stanford University Lang Fund
for Environmental Anthropology and the Insti-
tute for Research in the Social Sciences, and
by generous in-kind support and funding from
the PaleoResearch Institute. We are grateful to
Landis Bennett and Kat Bennett for assistance
with preparing maps and gures; to Suzanne
Fox and Guido Pezzarossi for editorial assis-
tance; to Rebecca Allen, Douglas Ross, Chris
Merritt, and an anonymous reviewer for sug-
gestions that greatly strengthened this article.
The opinions expressed in this article and any
errors of fact or reasoning are wholly our own
and do not reect the policy or practice of any
of the project organizations or project funders.
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sTAnfoRd univeRsiTy
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... The ethnogenesis of past foodways is observable through multiple lines of archaeological evidence. Indirect methods of observing dietary changes include faunal and ethnobotanical based analyses (Cummings et al. 2014;Deitler 2007). While these have the advantage of revealing the details of what was consumed as part of the menu, they cannot reveal dietary variation on an individual level or provide direct evidence of long-term dietary practices. ...
... In general, however, many reports from the 1970s and 1980s suggest that overseas Chinese in California during the mid-to-late 1800s maintained Chinese food preferences, medicines, tableware, food containers, and cookware. However, they also adapted to the local food supplies and would find ways to prepare favored Chinese dishes using other locally available goods, such as corn flour or different cuts of meats (Cummings et al. 2014;Langenwalter 1980;Praetzellis and Praetzellis 1982;Rusco 1979). The degree of reliance on locally available goods, however, is debated. ...
... Plants with both C 3 and C 4 photosynthetic pathways were found in the archaeobotanical collection, including rice, wheat, corn, barley, little barley, sorghum, and millet. Rice, wheat, and corn were all very common throughout the assemblage, while sorghum, barley, and millet were found in small amounts (Cummings et al. 2014). ...
Thesis
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... If the meal included soup or porridge, this was typically served first into diners' individual bowls. After this was eaten, some rice or grain was served into the same bowl, with small bites of vegetables and meats from prepared dishes added to the diners' bowls throughout the meal (Chang 1977;Anderson 1988;Simoons 1991;Cummings et al. 2014;Kennedy 2016). ...
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