Why Do Whites Accept Japanese and Thai Cuisine More Than Other Asian Cuisine?

About a month ago I introduce two of my very white colleagues at work the experience of eating Chinese Hot Pot at the Top Gun Hot Pot in Burnaby. In that post, I wrote about my curiosity why despite them being Canadians living in a cities (Vancouver and Toronto) with a lot of visible Asians, that they still have very little experience in enjoying authentic Asian food.


Below is a comment that a reader of Chowtimes wrote in response to my question. Dyn’s comments has to be the mother of all comments for length (Thanks Dyn!). I thought it deserved to be elevated to a post on it’s own and perhaps some of you could also chip in with your two cents on this. Here is Dyn’s comments in its entirety:

I myself love every Asian cuisine I’ve tried (Japanese, Cantonese, Szechuan, Vietnamese, Korean, Shanghai, Punjabi, Pakistani, Lebanese, Syrian, South Indian…) – East and West Asian, that is. However, to answer your questions based on my own experiences and those of friends (and those I’ve tried to convince to try book-tripe!):

First, reasons why people are unnerved:

1. Media scaremongering.
There’s the recall freak-outs all the time, plus every bad comedy involving Asia inevitably has the Asian character eating something uncommon or gross to the western palette.

2. Unfamiliarity.
Organ meats are classically foods of the poor, and since most Westerners have had the privilege of being relatively wealthy (and developing cheap, processed food early on), those foods are not appealing to the young. On a related note, those of us who are the children of the baby-boomers or the grandchildren or children of those who lived through the Great Depression had to hear, growing up, terror stories about organ meats and a number of other things, so that adds to the issue. Also, alot of Northern European cuisine that came over with our ancestors was very, very bland, so to many the pungent smells of Asian cuisine are as offputting to Westerners (at first) as the smell of cooking pork is to alot of Asians (I seem to recall reading that there’s a word in some Chinese dialects for the smell of boiled pork?)

3. Looking Silly
Chopsticks are a bit of a learning curve, and people worry about making a fool of themselves, especially when thinking of…

4. Price
it’s not immediately evident to alot of Westerners that that $20 they see is for a family to share the dish, as Western restaurants (beyond some Amish ones in the Eastern US) are not communal in nature. Most Westerners do not realize that 3 dishes for a family of 4 with rice comes to an economical $10-15 per person most of the time, and possibly much less. Those who do know this will tend to want to go in groups and might not want to look silly per #3.

And now the issues that are not so much the people’s fault:

5. Translations
It can be a bit frightening to have a poorly-translated or badly translated menu, especially for would-be new folks. To their credit, most Asian restaurants do indeed endeavor to provide a translation for at least some of the dishes (see #7), but half the time they seem to be using a dictionary from the 1800s. An example of this would be, let’s say, “Yue Choy with Doufu and Fish Maw In Soup.” Let’s say this is a plausible dish. Some might get “Doufu” is “tofu”, but very few will know “yue choy” (which could easily and correctly be called “mild mustard greens” or “Chinese broccoli”) and even fewer will know what a maw is, and for those that do? Maw gives a very poor idea of what the cut/type of fish actually involved is. Similarly bad are one-off’s like “in sauce” or “in spicy soup with noodle” – what sauce? You have more than one, surely? Which soup base? Enough experiences like this can put someone off, especially if the menu doesn’t try and be descriptive. Worst-case, they’ll order a “safe” western dish, which may very well be poorly cooked and leave a bad taste in their mouths, so to speak – a local Westernized Chinese food place near me has lovely authentic Chinese food available (with names like above!), Westernized Chinese food, and hamburgers – anyone foolish enough to order their hamburgers will never return!

6. Hygiene
This comes down to two issues: first of all, the cleanliness. Asian restaurants seem to have a … much, much lower standard of cleanliness than Western ones. This is even worse if the restaurant seems to be mostly “for” Asians. Hideous bathrooms, cracked china, ingredients improperly stored (visibly!), overflowing garbage, unkempt staff – these things keep people away. Secondly, some hygiene issues are cultural ones: smell and lighting. These last two aren’t something that really need to be ‘fixed’, but they do create a barrier to entry: in the same way the strong smells of some meats (lamb, pork under some circumstances) are offensive to Asians, Western noses may associate some strong Asian smells (particularly fermented products like belacan, bean pastes, Asian pickles) with unsavory things – sewage and putrescence. I personally adore the smells of fermentation, and my friends do as well, but the first time I took some of them out it was cause for hesitation on their parts. Things like broken-down fish tanks with one lonely, sickly grey fish don’t do wonders for confidence.

7. Service & Racism
Besides the lower standard of service in Asian restaurants (the ‘trying to look efficient’ thing, as one famous blogger put it), I can think of forms of behaviour that can come across as more than a little bigoted to Westerners. Non-English menus and special boards are common examples of this. I cannot fault Salade des Fruits downtown for having their signage almost exclusively in French, as French is a national language of Canada. Nor do I fault restaurants serving authentic cuisine geared towards a community for having the name of their restaurant in large script and then in Western script below. That is all understandable. That said, it looks very uninviting when one enters a restaurant and sees that everything on the wall and the chalkboard is in hastily-scrawled Chinese or Korean. Coupled with the low service standard, most are loathe to ask the waitress or waiter to translate, and in general it sends the message that it is not “for” Westerners or indeed people who are not of the Han (??) persuasion. Even worse is when only a few dishes are translated, which can send the message that the untranslated things are not “for” mere ?? or mat sellahs.

The other subtle form of this is commonly encountered in restaurants with spicy cuisine: the person will be asked how spicy the food ought to be (this is nice!), but will never receive it as spicy as requested. This latter one is understandable but can be irritating, especially with repeat customers: one South Indian restaurant I eat at, the father will happily make my curries spicy by Indian standards, but the son is obstinate, and condemns me to curry that is more akin to that of Japan than the Hindustan. This makes those “in the know” (and the adventurous) feel like children and is patronizing.

So why do people fear Japan and Thailand less? There’s a few reasons I can think of.

1. Sushi, second only to westernized Chinese food, has been in the West for a good while now.

2. These two cuisines tend to use fewer pungent ingredients than other Asian cuisines and are thus seen as less threatening by many. I myself use Japanese, Thai and Korean as “stepping stones” before taking people out for real, regional Chinese food.

3. Japanese people have a culture which is superficially similar to ours in many ways while still being exotic. Coupled with generally good language skills, this feels welcoming and is still “something new.”

4. Preconceptions and Stereotypes – The Japanese and Thai both have fairly good stereotypes working for them. I commonly hear the word “gentle” applied to the Thai, for example. Malaysians and Indonesians would benefit as well if people were more “aware” of those countries and cuisines – the Roman alphabet helps reduce the barrier subconsciously for many.

5. Generally, both these groups (Koreans as well) tend to seem to either possess or be more willing to adopt Western standards of cleanliness, and also to avoid the linguistic barrier I mentioned earlier – I have never entered a Thai restaurant with any signage solely in Thai, Ichiro in Richmond, despite catering to a huge number of Japanese has no more than one or two signs in Japanese (2 out of 20 means people will ask for the translation if curious!), and most Korean restaurants tend to sit somewhere in the middle.

Bottom line – less of a learning curve, and these people (and thus their cuisines and cultural spaces!) seem more welcoming to outsiders. Stepping into a space without familiar faces, plastered with handwritten signs in a foreign language, amidst strange new smells and the din of a foreign language can be ‘too much’ for a lot of people, especially without a “guide.”

Hope this sheds some light on it, and that I haven’t offended anyone with my frankness; this is a wholly subjective matter and I realize it may seem a bit odd, in the same way my delicious tripe and brisket soup might repulse someone who has grown up on chicken noodle.

Anyone had any thoughts on what Dyn said?

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  1. ladybug

    My experience of living in California for many years is that Thai food and Japanese food are the most popular Asian cuisines among non Asians.

    You would see white people (and non Asian races) dining happily in a “hole in the wall” Thai restaurant all the time. So, I don’t think other ethnic cuisines being less popular among whites is because of stereotypes or whatever. I really think it’s the matter of taste palette. There’s nothing glamorous about dining in a “hole in the wall” restaurant, Thai food or not. You can let your stereotypes about hygiene (and anything else) run wild. Why do they still go and they are regular? Because they really like the food. I think Thai food really hits the sweet spot of Americans’ taste palette. Many Americans like their food acidic and sweet. Thai food is exactly like that – sweet, sour, spicy, and savory.

    I don’t believe Japanese food being popular among whites is also the result of stereotypes either. Because there’s a lot of mom and pop Japanese restaurants with no fancy decor (rather ugly) in California, and they have a lot of non Asian customers as regular. Most non Asian customers feel that Japanese food is lighter and healthier. In California, people are willing to give it a try if you tell them it’s healthy. They will see if it’s palatable, if it is, they will come back. Their palettes are more trainable because they are willing to at least try it once.

    I am sure stereotypes affect a few people but not majority of them. In the end, it still comes down to taste and palette.

    PS: Don’t get me wrong. Sure, there are nicely decorated Thai and Japanese restaurants in California as well. But people might go there for another reason, ambiance (being romantic and anything else), so we are not using those as examples.

  2. Jonnek

    IMHO Chinese food is already accepted by the Caucasian people. It may not be the kind of hard core Chinese food such as chicken feet, pork intestine, pork blood but it is Chinese food nevertheless.

    I agree with the other commenter that it’s hard to decipher the Chinese menu. I’m part Chinese myself but I just shake my head when I come across some weird menu. Some examples – Beggar’s Chicken, Drunken Chicken, 8 Treasures and this one I just saw in Sunway Restaurant’s menu – Dead Man’s Coffin. What the heck is that??

    I also hate it when going to a Chinese restaurant and you see the walls plastered with specials written in Chinese. You feel like you’re missing out if you order from their regular menu.

    And don’t forget that typically Chinese servers in a Chinese restaurant are not very accomodating. They seem to be always in a hurry eventhough there are just 1 or 2 other tables occupied. Obviously, newcomers to Chinese cuisine will not be able to get any help from these servers in choosing their dishes.

    Anyway compare to other Asian ethnic cuisines the Chinese cuisine is generally more mainstream. I’m talking about Filipino, Malaysian and Burmese food to name a few.

    1. Tim

      The dish Dead Man’s Coffin is called the same thing in Chinese. I didn’t know what it was the first time I had it either.

  3. Mary

    I like this post – it got me thinkiing. I would agree with all Dyn’s comments. Would it be shocking for some people to know that it is not uncommon for Japanese restaurants in Vancouver to be run by Chinese people? It’s actually very common. So if people are stereotyping and thinking that they’ll go out to a Japanese restaurant because it’s cleaner and the service is better, their preconceived notions may be wrong.

    I also want to add that I think a lot of “white people” still think of Chinese food as greasy, fried, goopy, and MSG-laden (spring rolls, sweet and sour pork, honey garlic ribs, fried rice, chow mein). And as a result, Chinese food is not considered a classy or sophisticated food. It’s often a food that “white people” associate with take-out or fast-food and not a food that they go out to enjoy with friends to socialize. And since dining is often a social event, Chinese restaurants don’t make the cut. Of course, authentic Chinese food can be very sophisticated but “white people” can’t be blamed for not knowing better because Chinese restaurants with authentic food don’t tend to market themselves towards them.

  4. K

    while i agree with Dyn on some points, i have to disagree on others. i do, however, agree about the points made about stereotypes. i will focus my discussion on chinese food because it is a “foreign” cuisine that has one of the longest histories in North America.

    i believe that some non-Asians reluctance toward “different” Asian food stems from a culinary xenophobia that took root in the late 1800s. how many of us have heard urban myths of a some (usually Chinese) restaurants serving their unknowing customers rat or cat? these urban myths surely came from somewhere, and we need look no further than the institutionalized demonizing of the Other that began when North Americans began fearing the “Yellow Peril.” if you depict a culture as “disgusting,” then in a way, you de-humanize them. See Jennifer 8 Lee’s article (there is a great chapter in her book that discusses culinary xenophobia) and Jeff Yang’s astute article. http://www.fortunecookiechronicles.com/blog/2007/07/15/wp-culinary-xenophobia-a-taste-of-racism-in-the-chinese-food-scare/

    also, in north america, chinese food has not been associated with affluence. Sushi, however, and the appreciation of it, has become associated with refined tastes. it’s true there are mom and pop shops, but they have only been able to sprout because it became trendy to eat sushi in the late early 1990s. For more, please read the “Sushi Economy” by Issenberg.

  5. Simon

    ALways enjoyed your blog and have made a few trips to the places you, Suanne and the boys reviewed.

    Here is what I think about Dyn’s comments and your topic:

    This is the main reason – the media (tv, print, radio and internet). In regards to food, the media tend to show only a portion of the story; the parts that are good for ratings. I lost count on how many times I’ve seen, heard or read snippets of a story. This leaves the audience to paint their own picture.

    Take Survivors…, there was an episode a few seasons ago where an asian woman was eating the inerds of a chicken. She was enjoying the food and made comments regarding how good it was. Cutting to the next scene, a caucasian male made faces and commented how disgusting it was.

    After that episode, a few of my collegues were talking about it. Some has never tried eating organs, some were curious while others agreed it looked disgusting. Again, the media left a picture for us to paint.

    My job takes me throughout North America and other exotic locales…, everywhere I go, I make it a point to visit Chinatown or something close to it. Recently I was in Honolulu and ventured into Chinatown with a collegue who loves Chinese food (he is French Canadian). We found a place that serves dim sum for $1.88 each. He was very excited because no one else he had worked with, wanted to go into Chinatown for food (safety, cleaniness and strange food were the constant reasons). He ordered 15 items and ate everything from haw gaw to tripe but stopped at chickent feet. It wasn’t the texture, taste or smell…, it was the item itself. He could not get past the idea of eating feet. Visual is part of eating as well.

    I am not sure if price is really an issue in this case. While in NYC, 5 of us ventured onto Canal street and they agreed on dining in Little Italy. I myself was on a budget and walked to Chinatown instead. We met afterwards and while my meal came to less than $8 (noodles, extra meat, drink), their meal cost about $20 for the pasta alone. One of the ladies said she should’ve came with me instead as she felt her dinner was not good and over priced. Others did not feel the same as the general consensus to avoid Chinatown was due to the smell and cleaniness.

    Sometimes, it is a perception that the more you pay, the better it is.

    Another coworker prefers Mexican food over any other cuisine; he is caucasian.

    I just think people have preferences and some are limited by their own issues towards other culture’s cuisines.

    Yes, the translation is a bit of an issue. Trying to decipher western names to chinese food is hard enough but without pictures, it is a tougher task. Sometimes I think it would be better for any business if pictures can be shown along with the description of the item but that would be extra cost and sometimes, the end product is a disappointment compared to the picture.

    It would be ideal to just leave out the translation and write the item as it sounds. A few short words including the ingredients would solve most problems.

    I think sushi and other Japanese food is a bit more favoured than other Asian cuisine is that people can see the preparation (something like Hon’s). If we can see something being done in front of us, then we tend to accept it.

    Don’t mean to ramble on and on but as an Asian who loves Chinese food first and everything else second, it is troublesome to see and hear the prejudice towards food as created by the media and others. I approach it with a grain of salt and I’ll let my senses decide.

    I go in with an open mind and stomach as I truly do love food. I try to eat something local wherever I am…, there are so many wonderful food all over the world waiting to be enjoyed for the first time. Why limit yourself?

  6. zud

    i think the biggest turn-off for chinese food is language barrier and lack of service in alot (not all) chinese restaurants. sometimes we get japanese servers with bad english but they try really hard and are often still smiley and gracious. in thai places english is not usually a problem.

    if i ask “what is dead mans coffin” to the chinese server they look at me blankly or roll their eyes. this doesn’t happen in a philipino, middle eastern, eastern european, latin restaurant etc..

    white ppl expect service, no question about it. when white ppl go to eat, they are there for food but also for experience and a nice atmosphere. whereas chinese ppl can more easily forgo service b/c they accept they are paying a lower price and they are there primarily for the food.

    1. Ed Lau

      You’re right about the language barrier. Despite being Chinese, I can’t read the language and can only speak it so I have a hard time ordering at many Chinese restaurants that do not offer an English menu.

      I seldom find that to be true for Japanese restaurants here (although no one speaks English in Japan…) as they usually have English menus. I guess Chinese restaurants know that there is a good number of Chinese people in Vancouver and don’t need the business of anyone that can’t read Chinese.

  7. etranger

    I eat at a lot of different restaurants from many nationalities. The comment that resonates the most from Dyn’s letter is cleanliness and upkeep. I have eaten at many,many Chinese restaurants where I am often the only “round eye”.

    It seems that some Chinese restauranteurs don’t really understand the Western mindset regarding cleanliness and upkeep. I think culturally, we expect that if a restaurant is successful and open over time, some money should be spent to keep the interior painted, the rug or floor clean and not threadbare or cracked, the artwork exchanged once in awhile or to hang art instead of just food supply calendars. It shows a caring on the surface that hopefully reflects a caring in the kitchen for food safety and quality preparation. When we use the bathroom, we don’t expect to see a dirty (not just busy) kitchen as we walk by, and we hope the bathroom is actually clean. A lot of times it isn’t, bringing to mind “highway gas station bathroom”. It sends a clear message, and it isn’t a good message.

    I was recently in a dim sum place which had a sign outside “All plates $3.00”. After we ordered, the waiter said that the owner told him that the special was already over for the day. I’m sure this is because we were not Chinese. There was no time on the sign. Later that same day as we ate our not-$3-a-plate food, we saw a mouse walk across the back of the dining room. Not run, but walk. Uh, I haven’t been back. It’s too bad, because the server really was nice and tried to help intercede with the owner.

    I have many favorite Chinese restaurants which are clean and where I’ve gotten to know the owners on a first name basis. They help me choose what to eat, and tell me how to eat it. The grungy ones really are doing their own culture a great disservice, as their motivation to score a dollar on their patrons clearly outweighs their desire to feed people well.

    By contrast, Thai restaurants are usually beautifully decorated and even Japanese teriyaki houses are clean. I think the perception stated about Thai being gentle is funny, as most but not all of the Thai I have met have been somewhat martial. Certainly the schools and society are regimented.

    Regarding the more unusual foods, we just don’t have any experience with them. That’s one reason I like your blog. I can see through your photos and writings what is good about something I don’t understand. I’ve learned a lot from Suanne’s community cooking posts when they are about Pacific Rim ingredients, too.

  8. Giorgio Moroser

    All y’all just hanging out with the wrong folk. With the world virtually (in a literal sense) at one’s fingertips, there’s no good reason for this anymore.

    Dyn’s ‘explanations’ all seem to avoid expressly mentioning the issue of race, apart from her complaint about non-English menus. To wit:

    1) Scaremongering: blame the media all you want. But there’s no shortage of stories in the media about factory farming and its indirect consequences (e coli poisoning and the like), and I don’t see any shortage of people at McDonalds. Is Dyn hinting at the “yellow peril”?

    2) Unfamiliarity: I’m reading Dyn’s explanation as basically “I’m not eating poor people shit.” (And yet the only street food we can get are hot dogs: explain.) I’ll accept this if the same people avoid haggis, black pudding, etc., but if they’re munching down on frog legs at Le Crocodile, then we’re talking RACE.

    3) Looking silly: I don’t think I’ve met a single person that is embarrassed about their lack of chopstick skills, particularly as every Chinese restaurant I’ve been to offers a fork to every non-Asian person reflexively. I don’t buy this as a legit excuse.

    4) Price: the number one reason why Chinese restaurants are popular in every rural or metropolitan area of North America is price. Everyone assumes (usually correctly) that getting Chinese is the cheap option. So I don’t buy that excuse either.

    5 and 7) Translation, Service and Racism: The menu issue, well, is an issue. It’s true that Chinese restaurants are much more prone to have one menu in English and another in Chinese, and to have dishes that have poorly translated items.

    The former is a poor assumption on the part of Chinese restaurants that non-Asian people aren’t interested in authentic Chinese food. That type of stereotyping means you’re keeping a large market out of getting some sort of gastronomic experience which in turn begets blog topics like this.

    The latter, though, sounds like a rehash of “learn our language better.” Many of the items that are complained about are named in mysterious ways because there’s a history and story behind that particular dish, and a more literal translation would spurn menus that are overly long and complicated to read (see, for example, that episode of Big Chef/Little Chef where people complain when Heston Blumenthal tries to explain too much on the breakfast menu). You don’t see too many complaints when a menu reads “sous vide” or “confit” (or, heck, “foam” for that matter). Would you expect a Mexican restaurant to break down the components of a mole sauce, or an Italian restaurant to get into the details of what osso bucco is?

    If the server is giving you grief when you ask for an explanation, well, that’s just poor service. Poor service is unfortunately something that Chinese restaurants are infamous for (there’s a universal truth to that Seinfeld episode). Would I avoid a restaurant notorious for bad service? Sure. Would I write off the cuisine of an entire ethnic group? Probably not.

    6) Hygiene: Fair enough – you got Chinese restaurants on that one. But there’s a lot of clean Chinese restaurants out there (Kirin, Sun Sui Wah, etc etc) that buck that trend. Again: would one dirty restaurant make you avoid the cuisine of an entire ethnic group? If that were the case, anyone that watches Kitchen Nightmares would never be able to eat out again.

    All of these excuses dance around the issue of race, but then Dyn’s explanation as to why Japanese and Thai restaurants are so popular don’t. I read that part of the post as saying: “Japanese and Thai people assimilate more, so we like them more.” Back to model minority myths.

  9. JChong

    Am Chinese but only speak bits of Toishanese. Cannot read/write Chinese at all. So yes, ordering in primarily English.

    Would agree the hygiene standard or perception plus brusque service of some (not all) Chinese restaurants can be a barrier for some folks. However in small North American towns and cities, a Chinese restaurant might have at least civil/friendly service. I was raised in a small ontario city with family members and some friends in Chinese restaurant businesses in same city.

    When I am with someone unfamiliar with Chinese cuisine in a restaurant I do also tell them, that home cooked Chinese meals are different: often less fattier/oily, more steamed dishes that may not be found often on restaurant menus, etc. More healthier since more time can be spent on the dish. For good friends, it IS useful to expose them to also another side of Chinese cuisine.

    It can’t be all greasy, fattening and bad: I’m 94 lbs., 5’l” @ 50 yrs. old. (but I cycle alot for many years and now). My diet was 80% Chinese until I left home @ 22yrs. Now it’s 40% Asian.

    For those who love Chinese food and eat much of it, at least do this: cook some home-cooked Chinese cuisine meals for your good/close friends so they get a well-rounded perspective, eat healthy Chinese food often. Help others find healthy choices in Chinese restaurants. It’s all possible. Especially in Metro Vancouver with alot of restaurant competition.

    I also explain to people that Chinese cuisine is like French cuisine: a long history of gastronomy, technique and highly influential to other neighbouring cuisines…that it affected Japanesse and Thai cuisine. Some of their dishes reflect…Chinese cooking technique.

    There are some excellent foodie on Chinese cuisine history and technique books that are great fun reading.

  10. Brian

    I have to applaud Dyn. His comments cover very much the feelings I have experienced. Only one more comment I might add is that many Western caucasians find being called “Whites” to be as offensive as if we were to call a Japanese person a “J**” or a Chinese person a “C***”.

    1. noreen

      I agree with this comment – “whites” is a rude term. Otherwise, I find this blog quite interesting.

  11. Jame

    I find it interesting that calling tripe “delicious”, is perceived to be a “free pass” to punch all you want at an ethnic cuisine/group.

    Being able to eat tripe or other “unfamiliar” or otherwise “gross” items does not earn the medal as being “worldly” and “non-discriminitory” in your “frankness”. However, I applaud your use of the wideky-accepted “sandwich” method in giving us “constructive” feedback on the topic.

    In any case, I still think that some of the remarks (the filling in the sandwich) made in Dyn’s post were rather offensive and accusational. In terms of the “mysterious papers” on the walls, I have yet to find one thing on the wall that is not in the menu. It is very common for restaurants in some parts of Asia to have particular recommended items in the menu, restated on their walls. It is part of a cultural decor in restaurants that are trying to run a more cafe/diner type business.

    I do agree about the poor service found in most of the restaurants. One point I find crucial to point out, is that I receive the same curt, abrupt service, even when I appear Chinese, and can speak, write and read Chinese. I have received the same “eye-rolling” when I ask too many questions or ask for substitutions in my dishes. So I really don’t think there is a racial aspect to this at all. On the otherhand, I am by no means advocating this to be acceptable behaviour.

    In response to Brian’s comment about offensiveness, I have been called a C***k, growing up in Canada. In addition to some very interesting songs sang to me, that I can still remember the tunes to. I can bet with my life that I would much rather be called “yellow” than a “C***k” anyday. What is interesting, is in my conversations with other “colored” individuals, we actually find it funny that it is only “caucasians” that gasp and mind this “color-typing” the most, when most of us don’t really care. Perhaps, we have been called far worse things than a color, so it is not a big deal. But if it is an issue, I will be more mindful in the future.

    I remember eating a ham and lettuce sandwich in the school cafeteria when I was little, and have people come up to me asking me if I was eating raw fish, when they can clearly see it was anything but. It is sad to hear so many of these assumptions about Chinese food still exists after so many years. While I am not out any mission trying to convert others taste palettes, it would be nice to see less judgemental opinions and assumptions and people willing to let down the guards about “us” and “them”.

    I have heard many a times, even at the least English speaking restaurants, how happy and proud a Chinese person is, to see a non-Chinese appreciate their food.

    In terms of hygiene, while there are the grubbier restaurants, there are very nice, high-end Chinese restaurants as well. And that also applies to other different ethnic cuisines too. “You get what you pay for” is right! If you are going to go to a 10 cent chicken wing special pub, you should not be surprised to find the service, and deco to be dollar store quality too.

    I disagree that Japanese culture is more “westernized” than other asian cultures, as Hong Kong has been colonized by the UK for a number of years and is by far, much more westernized. Yet, Chinese food is still such a creepy thing for people to accept.

    I think being unfamiliar, and perhaps a bit overly egocentic with our N. American values, may also be the culprit. I watched an interesting video of some American girls trying Vegemite for the first time while visiting Austrailia on youtube recently, and I was quite offended by their reactions and comments. (and I am not an Aussie)


  12. Yellow Man

    To response to Brian says on November 14, 2009 at 2:08pm

    Hey brother, there are different levels of offensive. For example, if an asian guy call you a “white” guy, you can call him as a “yellow” guy, to get even. I accept anybody calls me a Yellow guy, because I accept the fact that my skin is Yellow, however, I am proud of myself as a yellow guy, and I think you should be proud of your skin color too.

    If you call me a “C***k”, I will find it is too extreme for you to do get back at me like that, because I don’t call you as “something else”. “Fairness” is the only word we ask for, for example, if I throw you a punch, you should not get back at me with 10 punches.

    I am more than happy to openly dicuss more with you about these, so does speak “Racism” topics, because I belive that living in Canada, a multi-cultural country, we should discuss them more openly in order for us to understand each other culture and values. Once we get rid of this “barrier” then we will naturally respect each other culture and belives.

  13. Andrew

    As an Alberta born and raised Canadian black guy, having settled into Richmond into the past few months, I figured I’d toss in my few cents for a different perspective on the issue.

    Typically, I can’t stand the race card being played–99 times out of 100, especially in Canada, it’s being used as an excuse or a scapegoat for broader or unrelated issues. But when it comes to hitting up chinese cuisine…hoo-boy, different story.

    Help with menu translations? Expect an irritable, “why the hell are you here,” glare the entire time. Help explaining the order, or getting suggestions on a menu? Nonexistent. In at least 40-50% of my chinese dinning experiences, my waiters or waitresses spoke virtually no English and seemed to be quite offended that I would expect her to. Q: “What kind of flavor would you say this dish has?” A: “Yes.” Oy.

    I understand that–especially the older generation–has major racism issues towards blacks (little old ladies still frequently cross the street when I walk by dressed in business casual), but seeing it so frequently somewhere that is earning a living in part from my patronage would be hilarious if it wasn’t so ubiquitous.

    Comparing the above to my experiences in Thai, Filipino, or Japanese restaurants? Night and day. Friendly, helpful service, warm, inviting–no comparison.

    So yes, the exoticness factor is a major issue–the thought of eating intestines or congealed blood has a kneejerk repulsion factor for me–but I think the attitude and atmosphere is by far the #1 issue. If a restaurant wants to do everything in it’s power to tell me they don’t need my business, I’ll gladly oblige them.

  14. John Thompson

    I am a little taken aback that this became such a ‘controversial’ post in the first place. Nobody seems to have directly actually challenged the central premise in the first place…. Is it, in fact, accurate to say that ‘whites’ *really* accept Japanese and Thai cuisine over other Asian cuisines??

    Did the originator of the question arrive at his (or her) conclusion on the basis of an actual study, or on reliance upon any properly collected data? Or is it, as I would suspect, nothing more than a half-baked impression?

    What is meant by the term ‘whites’, for example? Is the originator of the question meaning to refer to Europeans possibly? If so… then why not say so? Presumably this person would be including, say, Macedonians in such a generalization about Europeans but is this person thereby implicitly excluding persons of, say, Turkish origin?

    I am of Scots-Irish heritage, so I suppose that, in the eyes of the person who asked the original (and racist) question, I am therefore a ‘white’.

    As a ‘white’, I personally love Korean and Japanese Cuisine but, in contrast to the racist generalization, I’m just not terribly keen on Thai food. That’s not a value judgment, by any means, I just don’t enjoy a palate so heavily featuring Cilantro, Galangal and lemon-grass. Possibly, in the eyes of the originator of the question, I am not, therefore, actually a ‘white’!

    Let’s be honest… if I (as a ‘white’ person) made such a broad generalization about ‘blacks’… would not most people instantly discredit my view as racist?

    John Thompson (Iqaluit, Nunavut)

  15. grayelf

    Lots of food for thought here (sorry for the bad pun). I remember when there were no Thai restaurants and the only Japanese ones were in Japantown in Vancouver. I also remember that both those cuisines swept over the Lower Mainland as the next big thing in food. To me, both sushi/Japanese and Thai started as “trendy” foods. Chinese cuisine in all its myriad styles and regional presentations arrived via a different route. I have been eating dim sum since I was a very small child, back when Chinatown was booming. Westernized/Cantonized food did not figure prominently for me but I was aware of its existence. I wonder if the seeming acceptance of Thai and Japanese has more to do with how it was introduced and by whom than it does with lack of accessibility (if you go to many Thai or Japanese restos and know what to ask for, you will find a wealth of “off menu” options that are more exotic).

    As to whether the original premise of Ben’s post, that whites prefer some cuisines to others, is racist, I suppose it is, in a sense. Maybe it would have seemed less so had he used a term like “Westerners” — the colour ID thing seems to be a hot button, certainly among upper middle class whites anyway (I am one of these BTW). I’ve met Ben a bunch of times and I find it hard to believe that he meant to be racist. I think he’s interested in a phenomenon that he has observed anecdotally in his many dining out experiences and wanted to throw it out for discussion.

    Finally (lest I ramble on even more), I’ve never encountered the kind of discriminatory service issues that have been described by some respondents as a white female. The closest I’ve come is when a genuinely concerned server will pause, stammer a little and then burst out with “White people don’t like that” when I order something a bit unusual. This has happened to me in non-Asian restaurants too BTW, and I always assume it’s to avoid my disappointment as a diner (and any other unpleasant possible sequelae, such as asking for my money back). If I order something and don’t like it, that’s my own damn fault :-). I did once have a guy at a local Canto place insist that I would love a particular dish that turned out to be sweet and sour but that sort of behaviour seems to be less and less prevalent, thankfully.

    1. You might have hit the nail on its head, grayelf — the restaurant wanting the diner to avoid disappointment and thus steering them to dishes that are more “accepted.” It’s such a hassle, not to mention a loss, when people send back a dish they don’t like. It might be more apt to say ethnic restaurants are afraid of this type of behaviour from North Americans regardless of colour or ethnicity — that is, people who grew up in the West with all its entitlements, perceived or real.

    2. DylanK

      I think you’re pretty accurate here, regarding who/when introduced different cuisines.

      To me, it seems like… the function of, say, a regional Chinese restaurant is just different from the function of the average Japanese or Thai place. Lots of my favorite regional Chinese places, there just isn’t any awareness that anybody but Chinese people will dig it.

      On the discriminatory service thing… it might weird you out to be warned about ordering weird stuff in a Chinese restaurant, but, like grayelf said, there’s a reason for it. I mean, I was eating in Hot Luck today and a dude at a table beside me, asked, “Hey, is this a Chinese restaurant?” And… while I was eating pork head and cucumber salad at a Dongbei restaurant in Burnaby, the waitress was being mystified by a takeout order for lemon chicken. It was like someone trying to order a gin and tonic at Moe’s. “Lemon… and chicken? Do those mix?”

  16. Jimmy L

    Dislike certain type of food basically is more a custom rather then racist. Try foreign food or strange type of food is more of an adventure for many of us. I personally dislike to eat some of the items served in the Chinese restaurants, like sea cucumber; pig intestine and blood; inside any part of the cow; in fact it takes me long time for my friend to convince me to eat chicken feet, but once I try, I like and I order that dish every time I go eat Dim Sum.

    “Dyn’s” column appears to have some racism tendency based on what he outlined in 2 and 3. Japanese food only becomes popular in the Western Countries and among some Chinese after the Second World War. Where as Chinese food has been popular for over 50 years or more in Western Countries and Canada.

    I agree with “Jame and Giorgio Mooser “remarks in their column.

    Traditional Chinese Food only comes in Canada within the last 20 or more years. Prior to that most of the westerner order from Chinese restaurants such as Chicken Chow Mein; Sweet and Sour Sparerib or Pork; Choy Suey; deep fried Prawn; Other than those they very seldom venture into something difference. These are not real Chinese food, no Chinese order Choy Suey. All these modified Chinese food is specific designed to suite the westerner’s taste which were invented and originated from San Francisco, just like the Fortune Cookies. Anyway within the last 30 years after flood of Chinese migrated into Canada from Hong Kong and south East Asia, that’s why so many Chinese Restaurants opened serving Cantonese cousin. Lately within the last 15 years to now, a lot of them from Mainland China and Taiwan, that’s why so many difference type of Chinese Food Restaurants spring up in Richmond and Vancouver.

    I remember back in the 60 and early 70, there is no Dim Sum serve in Vancouver; we have to go to Seattle for Dim Sum. Now they have to come here for that because we serve the best.

    I believe Ben has good sincere intention to raise the subject for discussion. Generally speaking in the Chinese society, “White” often refer to Westerners in a simply term, it just like the term used for English and Scottish as “Englishmen and Scotchman” by the westerner themselves. Without any prejudiced or discriminatory intended.

    As far as westerners like less Chinese food then Japanese or Thai, it’s the major fault of the Chinese restaurants business itself; they don’t promote their business and often provide very poor services, not only to the westerners but also to the Chinese customers. Generally speaking some of them are very bad, not up to the Western standard. They don’t deserve our business, that’s why we should only cater those provides a clean place; good food and good service.

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