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The Boston Globe

Food & dining

An evolution in Chinese food in eastern Mass.

Kowloon is famous for its Polynesian dishes.

As Chinese New Year approaches — the Year of the Snake begins on Feb. 10 — it’s a good time to look back on how different things are now. Boston has had Chinese restaurants since the late 1800s, most located in Chinatown and catering almost exclusively to the Chinese population; non-Chinese customers went to places that served chop suey and chow mein. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, fueled by Hawaii’s statehood in 1959, the Lower 48 fell in love with all things Polynesian or from the South Seas. Chinese restaurateurs were quick to notice the trend, and so added to their menu tropical drinks and dishes laced with sweet-and-sour sauce and plenty of pineapple. Restaurants were remodeled to add a festive, Polynesian touch. Although far removed from Chinese culture, the tiki craze helped make Chinese food — or more accurately, hybrid Chinese-American food — accessible to the wider public.

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