The history of the Chinese takeaway: “Can’t we just take the food home, please?”


When you think of takeaway food, you usually think of convenience. No time to shop, no time to cook, no energy left after an exhausting day at work.

But the history of food delivery tells another story. In Britain, Chinese restaurants became very popular after World War II. One place was so popular that people got tired of waiting for a table. They wanted the food delivered and a new industry was born.

The first Chinese takeaway, The Lotus House, opened by John Koon in London’s Queensway in 1958, proved so popular that punters who were unable to get a table asked whether they could take the food home with them. Ever the entrepreneur, Koon agreed. The London sophisticate was well catered for, then, by the late 1950s, but chicken chow mein had not yet then impinged on the life of the Barnsley housewife or the Lancashire coal miner. That came only when Billy Butlin introduced chop suey and chips to his holiday camps. The odd-couple combination persisted right through to the 1970s, when people became more responsive to Cantonese noodle dishes.

By the early 70s, Chinese restaurants and takeaways had been established all over Britain, and totalled about 1,000. Today, Chinese restaurants are a staple of British towns.

“After the war, I left the merchant navy and, in 1953, settled in east London. England was still a powerful country and it was difficult for foreigners to become naturalised. I got a recommendation from a colonial minister who could speak Chinese. After coming ashore, I worked in catering, at a takeaway restaurant as a chef. At that time, the Chinese community was still located in Poplar, east London. There were only a few Chinese restaurants and grocery stores mixed with some Indian restaurants.

From chow mein and chips to Michelin-starred mu shu pork, Chinese food has become part of British life.

“I am thankful to my wife who, over 30 years, has helped me run the takeaway restaurant and care for the children, always without complaining. I keep my hand in with cooking demonstrations promoting Chinese cuisine, and I do charity and community work.”

Read more about the history of Chinese restaurants in the source articles here and here.

You can order Chinese takeaway via the Hungr app here.