How Food, Culture, and Class Shape the Story of Asian Dallas

With over twenty-five different Asian ethnic groups calling Dallas home, the image of the “Big D” as the land of cowboy steaks and barbecue brisket obscures the reality of its emergence as a thriving Asian food scene. Bon Appetit magazine, naming Dallas its 2019 “Restaurant City of the Year,” cited the vibrant food landscape in the city’s immigrant communities as a key factor in the decision to spotlight its restaurants. In fact, Dallas-Fort Worth’s Asian population reflects the highest growth rate of any group, increasing by 76 percent between 2000 and 2010. The growth is even more notable in Dallas’s suburbs, with the U.S. Census Bureau recording a 161 percent increase in Collin County’s Asian population in the same decade. These immigrant communities reflect the changing face of Texas’s largest metropolitan area and offer a unique opportunity to explore how Asian immigrants, through their establishment of restaurants and food markets, have both shaped and been shaped by the particular economic and social history of Dallas.

Restaurants and groceries played an important part in integrating a diverse group of Asian immigrants into the economic and social landscape of Dallas. Arriving after the civil rights struggles of the Black, Latinx, and Jewish communities in Dallas, Asian refugees and immigrants were uniquely situated to build community through food related business ventures that capitalized on their status as outsiders to Dallas’s social and economic landscape. Asian “micro-towns” grew out of a practical need for produce and groceries and a psychological desire for a sense of community and taste of home. In addition, the growth of Dallas’s Asian population coincided with an explosion of interest, both locally and nationally, in eating and cooking “global” foods, opening up opportunities for building economic, social, and political capital both among, and between groups. The “Digging In” Project, supported by a Mellon/ACLS Fellowship, analyzes the ways that restaurants and Asian food markets shaped the development of Asian communities in Dallas by using oral history and archival research to document the stories of immigrant entrepreneurs and explore interactions between food, culture, and class in Asian immigrant communities in Dallas.

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