Since I wrote about Living on $18 Dollars a Week in the 1930s, I thought this menu from a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, dated February 17, 1939, would be appropriate. There are some surprises in addition to the prices; not least is that the cafe featured “Good Music and Dancing Every Evening.” That makes the seventy-five cent, nine course prix fixe American menu with steak or leg of lamb quite a bargain! The Chinese menu, which cost ten cents more, included crab and abalone, which may explain why it was more expensive.
The Chinese dinner is clearly aimed at non-Chinese customers (diners from Shanghai might be disappointed), and it was very clever to include an American menu, since 1939 was the year of the World’s Fair in San Francisco, and many tourists who had never eaten Chinese food could be expected. The group of six people whose names were written at the top of this menu included some visitors from Tennessee, probably being “shown the town” by the two San Francisco residents whose names I recognize.
Chinese Menu from New Shanghai Cafe, 1939
Menu of American Dinner Offered at New Shanghai Cafe, 1939
That’s a lot of food for 75 cents.
The 1939 World’s Fair on Treasure Island
According to Wikipedia, the Golden Gate International Exposition — as the Fair was officially known –opened from February 18, 1939, through October 29, 1939, and [again] from May 25, 1940, through September 29, 1940.” Here is a picture of my grandmother (left) and other footsore visitors resting in front of the gigantic statue of “Pacifica” in 1940.
You can read more about the history of the New Shanghai Cafe and other 1940s nightclubs and restaurants in San Francisco’s Chinatown in this illustrated article by Harley Spiller at Gastronomica.