What kind of food did they eat?
The workers insisted on eating Chinese food: rice, dried vegetables, dried oysters, dried abalone fish, and some pork and poultry. Much of these foodstuffs came from California sources, such as fresh vegetables. They also drank tea and hot water, and occasionally they drank wine; they also smoked opium. The Irish or white workers were fed mainly meat and potatoes along with whiskey. The Chinese diet and especially the use of boiled water reduced the outbreak of dysentery and other diseases. In order to provide food for the workers, a network of growers, and local Chinese importers established a trans-Pacific supply chain. Food included rice, preserved meats; dried fish, shrimp, and other shellfish; dried legumes; dried noodles, preserved vegetables, dried seaweeds, and teas. Evidence at work sites indicated that the workers ate far more meat – such as chicken and pork deer, along with bear and other game – than they would have back home. The Central Pacific made an arrangement with one of the labor contractors, Sisson, Wallace & Company, who had exclusive right to sell food and other supplies to the Chinese workers. As the work moved through Nevada, the Central Pacific had two train cars labeled “China Store,” from which goods could be purchased. Because the demand for tea was so high, the contractor decided to bypass the middlemen and had their agents in their Hong Kong office purchase the tea directly from growers in China. Food was so important that the Chinese cooks were paid more than unskilled workers. A Chinese physician often accompanied labor teams.
See J. Ryan Kennedy, Sarah Heffner, Virginia Popper, Ryan P. Harrod, and John J. Crandall, “The Health and Well-being of Chinese Railroad Workers,” in Gordon H. Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin, eds., Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental Railroad , Stanford University Press, 2019. See also, Christopher Merritt, Kenneth Cannon, and Michael Polk, “Chinese Workers at Central Pacific Railroad Section Station Camps, 1870-1900.”