David R. Chan is a third-generation American who has eaten at 7,000 Chinese restaurants and counting. He maintains a spreadsheet of each of his culinary conquests — a document he began in the early 90s, when he bought his first home computer. "When I entered the workforce in the 1970s, that coincided with the rise of what we think of as authentic Chinese food in North America," Chan told the LA Weekly Squid Ink blog. "As such, my goal was to try every authentic Chinese restaurant in the Los Angeles area at least once." He has extended his list to New York, San Francisco, and thousands of restaurants beyond. Still, Chan admits, he can't use chopsticks.
Over the past two centuries, the Chinese community and its cuisine have endured several forms of discrimination. The Chinese exclusion laws of the late 1880s left Chinese food in America exclusively Cantonese for over a century. Housing discrimination restricted Chinese Americans to a limited number of neighborhoods, affecting the geographic distribution of authentic Chinese restaurants to this date. And twentieth-century protests by labor unions threatened the very existence of Chinese food in the U.S.(more…)
As bad as the pandemic has been, we’ve all needed to look for small silver linings along the way. In my case, it’s been the rediscovery of the mid-20th century Toishanese/Cantonese favorite, pressed almond duck.(more…)
In May, I painted a rather pessimistic picture of the early effect of the coronavirus pandemic on Chinese restaurants in the United States. A combination of xenophobia, prescient caution in the Chinese-American community about dining out, as well as a high concentration of mom-and-pop enterprises, the Chinese restaurant industry seemed to be perilously close to wide-scale collapse.
Los Angeles Chinatown looked particularly stark. In April, a good two-thirds of the Chinese restaurants had shuttered. The restaurants that remained opened for take-out only significantly pared their food offerings. For example, only a handful of dim sum varieties were available at the two remaining eateries, Tian’s Dim Sum and Keung Kee. These establishments were likely the least-known in Chinatown, until Ocean Seafood and Golden Dragon closed, eventually followed by Won Kok Restaurant, Long’s Family Pastry, Lucky Deli, CBS Seafood, ABC Seafood (which remained open for steam tray but not dim sum), and others.(more…)
Even in good times, a restaurant operation can expect a net profit of about 3% on sales. Employee wages are often 25 percent or more of restaurant costs, so it doesn’t take much of a decline in restaurant revenue in such a low-margin industry to trigger labor cutbacks.
But Chinese restaurants have been hit by a triple whammy during this pandemic. Not only have they been buffeted by the general economic disaster, but they have suffered additionally for serving Chinese food. COVID-19 originated in China, and from the beginning has been associated with unfortunate terms such as “Chinese virus” and “kung flu.” Immediately as the virus spread through China, business at Chinese restaurants in the United States, and indeed throughout the world, began to sink — even before the rest of the world economy and other types of restaurants became impacted.(more…)
A few years ago, I discussed the merits of ordering dim sum from a menu versus serving dim sum from heated carts. I argued that menu-driven dim sum is more conducive to creating new and better dishes, because offerings would not have to wheel around the dining room.
Carts have been dishing out longtime favorites like steamed barbecue pork buns, har gow, siu mai, cheung fun (rice noodle rolls), pineapple buns, turnip cake squares, lotus leaf sticky rice, and many others since arriving on the dim sum scene in the 1960s and 70s.
But America’s dim sum palaces are innovating all kinds of new, non-traditional dim sum items. Here are five ways they’re changing our expectations of Chinese brunch.(more…)
Since my first article for Menuism in 2012, I always wanted to discuss the difference between Chinese fusion and authentic Chinese food. I’ve heard traditionalists say they hate Chinese fusion since it means messing with a revered cuisine. But as I’ve often said, Chinese food in the United States continues to evolve into new and better forms. So, what’s fusion and what’s evolution?
A common definition of fusion cuisine is the introduction of nontraditional ingredients into a particular cuisine. On its face, this definition seems to be relatively straightforward to determine when a particular dish should be classified as Chinese fusion. Adding truffles to siu mai or foie gras to har gow would seemingly be classified as Chinese fusion. But when you see well-established dim sum restaurants serving these dishes, isn’t this just part of the continuous evolution of Chinese food?(more…)
In the past decade, Chinese dining in the United States popularized “Mainlander food,” or non-Cantonese regional cuisines. The Mainland moniker distinguished it from food from Hong Kong and Taiwan. But Mainland food largely excluded Cantonese cuisine, even though Canton (now known as Guangzhou) sits squarely on the Chinese mainland.(more…)
When my thoughts turn to my favorite Chinese dishes over the decades, my tastes seem to evolve just as Chinese food in America has.
Five years ago, I wrote a Menuism article about why I generally did not eat at Chinese restaurants in the United States that were more than 20 years old. My reason for this 20-year rule was that Chinese food in America was evolving at a surprisingly rapid rate, with diners and chefs endlessly looking for that next more delicious, more innovative Chinese food creation. Because innovation is more likely to come from new players, and because existing successful Chinese restaurants are likely to stick with what works, I decided that after 20 years, most Chinese restaurants are behind the curve.(more…)
With something in the neighborhood of 50,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States, Chinese food is one of the most popular types of ethnic food here. Indeed, Chinese restaurants outnumber the 14,000 McDonalds locations, and even the top five fast food outlets combined. Towns with as few as 1,000 residents sport a Chinese restaurant.
The popularity of Chinese food in the United States is a testament to the popularity of the food itself. But when you consider all of the obstacles that had to be overcome, from the Chinese Exclusion Act to racial discrimination, from boycotts to legislation backed by labor unions, the endurance of Chinese food is also stunning.(more…)