Sanding our assholes with 150 grit.

Anybody understand the 'Chinese Restaurant' concept?

Does anybody not find the Chinese restaurant fascinating? And before I move on, the tone of my little post is not derogatory or mean spirited. I really am interested.

I have lived in several different cities and I like Chinese food(not all the time if you are concerned for my health). I find it interesting that the food is basically the same across the US. There are those same soy sauce and mustard packs. Sometimes the same exact menu, the same food, the chairs, same, same. I know there is some association that setups these shop owners, blah, blah.

I just find this the biggest screw you, 'you fat Americans'. A guy from China/Mexico?/Japan?/Asian country comes to this country probably light on the education and money, sets up a small business in a year or so. He/She makes it profitable so that they can hire their friends and family. I don't even think they care that they are selling 'food', but there is such a network for easily setting up these shops, 'Who Cares?'. This guy can setup his own business, doesn't have to work in an office, can probably send his kids to a Ivy League school of his choice. All, he needed was some office space and a half-way clean restaurant.

I guess my question, does this work for most?
Permalink Berlin Brown 
August 20th, 2005
I read somewhere that in the UK there's a Chinese restaurant or takeaway for every 30 Chinese people, so it's small wonder that they all seem alike...
Permalink Mat Hall 
August 20th, 2005
I don't find myself in agreement with your observations. Do you mean lunchtime, fast food, buffet-type restaurants, or do you mean proper sit down dinner type restaurants?

Because round here, there are various different kinds of the lunchtime buffet restaurants, and there is certainly some variety amongst them. And then there are the more formal, sit-down service kinds of restaurant which are entirely different places, with imaginative decor and ambience, and different menus.

So I don't really follow you. You might as well say how easy it is to come to America and set up a hot-dog stand or a burger bar, and how they are all identi-kit businesses. There you might have a point.

By the way, I don't see a particular health problem with eating such food. Some of my favorite lunches are at a nearby Panda Express, with steamed rice and lots of veggies. Wok-fried fast food is likely to be much healthier than a burger with fries.
Permalink Ian Boys 
August 20th, 2005
Actually, I was trying to present a question and rambled on.
What is the process for a person(I am assuming Chinese) that wants to setup a Chinese restaurant? And, how difficult is it?

For example, in my area, a suburb for yuppies there are at least 1-2 chinese restaurants per every shopping center. In a 5-10 mile radius, that is probably 8 restaurants off the top of my head. In addition, I know of 3 malls nearby(about 8-10 miles), I would say 3 per mall = +9. That is 17 restaurants that 'I' know of in at most a 10 mile radius. There are way more fastfood restaurants, but the barrier for setting up a franchise seems pretty steep. I figure a chinese resturant only needs some space to setup a kitchen and the resources from an association to get pre-cooked food and stuff and probably being chinese?

Of those I mentioned, I am talking about the fast-food style chinese food; sweet and sour chicken(breaded fried thing), similar eggrolls.
Permalink Berlin Brown 
August 20th, 2005
I once asked a similar question on a food-related board. Namely, I wondered why "Chinese" takeout places seemed to outnumber even McDonald's outlets in my modestly-sized city, despite the fact that it has a Chinese population percentage down in the rounding error noise. These all seem to be similar in size and execution, even down to the identical backlit waterfall images on the wall and neon signs in the windows. I also wondered about the proliferation of "Chinese" buffets, and how every non-Chinese restaurant that went under was reopened as a Chinese buffet. At the time, I chalked it up to the inherent cheapness of the local population, and that these were convenient covert staging areas for the Chi-Com currency shock troops to be deployed en masse after the coming collapse of the dollar.

Or something.

The rational answer, provided by a member of that board who was a restaurant owner, was that Sysco (the food service supplier) had a whole line of buffet-ready "Chinese" dishes that just needed to be dumped from their freezer bags into hot oil for a few minutes, combined with the accompanying sauces, and placed on the steam table. Instead of buying individual ingredients and following recipes, Sysco was providing, in effect, industrially-sized heat-and-eat meals. The ingredients are low-end, bottom-of-the-barrel stuff, so they're priced cheaply. The cooking skills necessary are minimal, so kitchen overhead is low. The idea of "Chinese" take-out, and now the buffet, is fully integrated into American culture, so the marketing is minimal. Thus, the "Chinese" take-out or buffet is a minimally risky venture that is almost guaranteed to generate a decent profit if managed with even a modest degree of skill.
Permalink Dan Rowan or Dick Martin - your choice 
August 20th, 2005
In short, your original assumption is essentially correct.
Permalink Dan Rowan or Dick Martin - your choice 
August 20th, 2005
a chinese friend of mine who recently moved here (new zealand) decided to open a chinese takeaways in town.

a bunch of other chinese takeaway owners from around town sent him gifts to help him out, starting stock, signs, some labour (painting), a largish food warmer, odd bits of equipment.

most incredible thing Id ever seen in my life.
Permalink Jesus H Christ 
August 20th, 2005
"I find it interesting that the food is basically the same across the US."

I believe you are right on this. I am no expert in food but have had Chinese all over North America - way up in Yukon to all the way down to Mexico border. I have to admit that some Chinese place in Manhattan served really nice decent dishes though.
Permalink Dan Denman 
August 20th, 2005
90% of the worlds soy sauce is made in Walworth, WI (home of Kikoman's). That's right, China imports most of it's soy sauce from the US.
Permalink Joel Coehoorn 
August 20th, 2005
> I have to admit that some Chinese place in Manhattan served really nice decent dishes though.

Grand Sichuan on 9th Avenue is staggeringly good. Sigh...I'd love some of their tea-smoked duck right about now.
Permalink Dan Rowan or Dick Martin - your choice 
August 20th, 2005
"now the buffet, is fully integrated into American culture, so the marketing is minimal. "

I was wondering why I never saw a Chinese restaurant commercial.
Permalink sharkfish 
August 20th, 2005
I speak strictly from my own experience, but I bet you can go to just about any jerk town in the U.S. and find many whose only "ethnic" place is a Chinese joint.
Permalink Dan Rowan or Dick Martin - your choice 
August 20th, 2005
Actually, there used to be a Chinese place in the next town over from me that advertised on local TV, albeit during the 5:00AM news. The owner of the place starred in his own commercials. What he lacked in elocution and vocabulary he more than made up for in pure enthusaism. The place is long gone, so I suppose that means the jury's still out on the ROI on Chinese buffet advertising.
Permalink Dan Rowan or Dick Martin - your choice 
August 20th, 2005
Excellent observation. It really is odd how amazingly pervasive Chinese food joints are, and like some others it seems that every mini-mall (of which there are many) has one or two Chinese restaurants. It probably outnumbers McDonalds about 8:1 (seriously).

Regarding ads, there's a chain in this woods called Mandarin )http://www.mandarinbuffet.com/ ), and they advertise quite effectively. They are a Chinese buffet, and actually are enjoyable disposable food if you go when they're have a shrimp or lobster thing.
Permalink Dennis Forbes 
August 21st, 2005
I'm always amazed when people call Chinese food unhealthy. But then, I guess most poeple aren't ordering steamed vegetables like I am.

The latest craze here is mexican/chinese restaurants, which is great because it offers a bit of variety. You can get tacos, burritos, and lo mein, and even (in some places) hamburgers - from the same place. These are mostly delivery joints with relatively little seating. I suspect the menu of chinese restaurants around the country will be getting a bit broader in the years to come.

A good Indian restaurant, the ony one in the area, closed down about a year ago, but before they did, they broaded their menu and reduced the number of Indian dishes they carried. Even if we showed up and asked for a relatively normal dish, they couldn't make it for us, but they could serve us pasta primvaera. It's a real shame they're gone now (bad location, I suspect) because it really reduces the number of options. But the Thai place (good location) seems to be doing great business.

Anyway, the place around the corner from where I grew up changed hands a number of times. I think they came in on a work visa for a year, saved up a bunch of money, and then went home, handing the keys off to someone else when they were done. The Indians do the same with the news stands. I struck up a conversation with one of the news stand guys a few years ago, and that's how he described it. But he end up spending more and more time here rather than going home, but I think he did eventually.
Permalink MarkTAW 
August 21st, 2005
I go to this place in town that has a market for Indian resturants, small shops and food, absolute best food I have tried. Very hypnotic. The sauce is amazing.
Permalink Berlin Brown 
August 21st, 2005
>>> I was wondering why I never saw a Chinese restaurant commercial.

Do you watch the local Chinese TV stations? There's lots of restaurant ads on Fairchild TV here. Do you _have_ local Chinese TV stations? If not, you're missing out of some "great" night-time soap operas - like the current one about a Korean cooking school. (" " because I don't speak Cantonese... my mother-in-law loves them, though.)

There are so many good Chinese restaurants in Vancouver, of every variety, you aren't stuck with the Sysco-supplied ones. Not to mention awesome Vietnamese options... mmmm Pho
Permalink Ward 
August 21st, 2005
Chinese restaurants are different depending upon the country they're in, American Chinese restaurants are quite close to British ones but there are differences. German and Italian Chinese restaurants are completely different and attuned to the palate of the host nation.

And JHC is right, it isn't an organisation of Tong food suppliers its the Chinese community helping members of that community.
Permalink Simon Lucy 
August 21st, 2005
I remember going to a combination Mexican/Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles when I was about 8 years old, in like 1987. It was called Poncho & Wong's. (Really!). I was excited because I could have an egg roll *and* an enchilada ;-)
Permalink Ryan 
August 21st, 2005
I find the key differentiator between "good" Chinese takeout and "bad" is whether they use real lo-mein noodles, or cheaper spaghetti noodles.

So far as why Chinese restaurants are so consistent across the US, I think Dan or Dick's theory is very likely -- It might be Sysco, or some other restaurant supply house that they all order from.
Permalink example 
August 21st, 2005
FWIW, I was in a chinese restaurant a month or so back, and the guy behind the counter was arguing with some guy over MSG. It went something like this:

"I want no MSG, you do no MSG right?"

"So you want no flavor?"

"No, I want it to taste good, I just don't want it to have MSG."

"Okay, I can do it for you without the sauce, but it won't taste good."

"Can't you do the sauce without the MSG?"

"Yes, but it won't taste good."

"What about the restaurants that say No MSG?"

"Most restaurants put No MSG on their menus, but use it anyway. Here, we give you the option to not use MSG at your request. You want it with no MSG? I can give it to you with no MSG, but it won't taste good."

I ordered my steamed vegetables with MSG on the side and left.

Now, I disagree with the no MSG == no flavor thing, but let that be a warning to you - No MSG doesn't always mean No MSG.
Permalink MarkTAW 
August 21st, 2005
That's crap. It's the oil that really brings out the taste. In China, lots of places use pork oil, it'll kill you at 20 feet, but mmmmmmmm good.
Permalink Ward 
August 21st, 2005
I know it's crap. But that's the conversation I heard/saw.
Permalink MarkTAW 
August 21st, 2005
==I'm always amazed when people call Chinese food unhealthy. But then, I guess most poeple aren't ordering steamed vegetables like I am.==

The chinese food in question is the typical bulletproof-glass takeout place, not buddha bowl vegan veggie delight.

There is nothing healty about fried rice, lo-mein, orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, eggrolls, won-tons, hoisin sauce, MSG, fortune cookies, etc.
Permalink  
August 21st, 2005
Also, mexican chinese sounds good, but the coolest places are the Oakland style "CHINESE FOOD - FRIED CHICKEN - DONUTS" drive ups where you can get every bad for you food in one order, along with a blow job and a knife wound in the parking lot.
Permalink  
August 21st, 2005
Bulletproof glass?

Australia is well set up with chinese restaurants able to supply your sitdown/takaway choice of pork, chicken, beef, fish, prawns or vegetables with one of 20 different sauces or garnishes, steamed boiled or fried with rice/noodles steamed or fried - every shopping strip has at least one. There is a strong similarity in style and presentation of the food with individual flair shown in the "House Specials". Chicken and almonds with steamed rice is pretty reliable. Chilli prawns depends a lot on the prawns :-) MSG is almost a given. The pork *IS* fatty. But on the whole it's cheap and reliable fodder and you don't have to eat the pork or the fried items.

I don't think there's much centralisation of supply - some items (dim sims, crab claws, spring rolls) are obviously bought in frozen but rice is rice, chicken is chicken - and I have never seen one with bulletproof glass, even in the Tai Ping (Sydney Chinatown) which must take $20,000 on an average evening.
Permalink trollop 
August 21st, 2005
There a lot of Chinese places here in Silicon Valley, but most of them are *VERY* Americanized. Just awful. There are a handful of really good authentic places, but you have to look for them.

I've been going to a really authentic Shanghainese place in SF called Old Shanghai Restaurent, located on Geary St. between 15th and 16th. Ave, just north of Golden Gate Park. I've had a lot of bad Shanghainese food here until I went there, and it was just like the food I had in Shanghai 1.5 years ago when I went there on vacation.

I avoid any Chinese place anywhere in or near a shopping mall. For example, any Panda Express or PF Chang's. Then again the yuppies love that crap, and it's more to their taste. Same goes for Japanese - avoid the ones run by Chinese or Koreans.

This reminds me of my ex-girlfriend on LA. She knew the owner of a Chinese place that catered to westerners, mainly because he could make a lot of money. The owner was literally laughing at what the patrons called good Chinese food. The most horrible contraption he came up with and yet sells like hotcakes?

Coca-Cola Chicken!!

No, I'm not making this up. I almost gagged when I heard that. I'll bet he could serve dog food and they wouldn't know the difference. In fact, there was a restaurany many years ago that really made a dish with Alpo dog food, but I forget where it was...
Permalink QADude 
August 21st, 2005
I used to make fun of Chinese/Pizza places, until I found German cities where Chinese/Italian/Turkish takeout places were common.

Incidentally, there's a big ol' Q&A for chef Ferran Adria on a forum (spanning 2 pages), if you've heard of him...
http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showforum=193
Permalink Tayssir John Gabbour 
August 21st, 2005
> The chinese food in question is the typical bulletproof-glass takeout place, not buddha bowl vegan veggie delight. <

The only Chinese places that can't make steamed vegetables are the ones that pre make all their food for the lunch buffet, and even those places typically have a kitchen staff that can steam frikkin vegetables. Seriously, how difficult is it to steam veggies?
Permalink MarkTAW 
August 22nd, 2005
<< I find it interesting that the food is basically the same across the US. >>

there is gwai-lo (white ghost) chinese food, and there is real chinese food.

the gwai stuff you will find in small towns and in areas that don't have many chinese people. why? because the real stuff won't sell. you get the same aweful chicken ball, spring roll, won-ton crap you get anywhere because that's what non-chinese people seem to prefer.

also, i'm not sure how its any different than the fact that most american diners serve the same stuff, mainly breakfast, burgers and the odd deep fried fish...

visit any area that has a significant chinese population and you WILL find variety.
Permalink Kenny 
August 22nd, 2005
If you're anywhere up northwest, Vancouver has some pretty decent chinese restaurants. The only thing I found difficult is that no-one there seems to speak anything but chinese. That includes staff, customers, menus, etc. It also took us a while to get used to the restaurant "script" (waitresses with food trolleys working the tables constantly offering you more courses is the easy descriptions), that was very different from what we are used to .

Around here (western Europe), chinese takeways (and most chines restaurants) do have the same menu, but the preparations and ingredients vary wildly (they do more than just reheat). It is the solo "chef" (most of the time illegal immigrant who has (or is still) learning by trial and error, that defines the "implementation", so places can go from excellent to garbage overnight when the guy (yes, it is always a guy) moves on.
Permalink Just me (Sir to you) 
August 22nd, 2005
Sir,

you've just described Dim Sum, which is as you say, very different from selecting from the 8 page menu enumerating all combinations of ingredients and sauces.

This in not a great Dim Sum link, but it does have some pictures:
http://members.fortunecity.com/8dimsum/

Dim Sum is a Sunday lunch ritual in our town.
Permalink trollop 
August 22nd, 2005
In Hong Kong, they don't use the carts, you get a checklist of what's available and mark down what you want. PITA if you don't read chinese. At least with the carts you can point to the chicken feet. mmmmm chicken feet, high in calcium

(Actually, I hate chicken feet.)

Dim Sum Rule # 1: as long as you pour tea, anything goes. Grab food off the other guy's chopsticks, but be sure to pour the tea.
Permalink Ward 
August 22nd, 2005
You are right trollup, it was Dim-Sum.
Permalink Just me (Sir to you) 
August 23rd, 2005
> also, i'm not sure how its any different than the fact that most american diners serve the same stuff, mainly breakfast, burgers and the odd deep fried fish... <

Aren't "American Diners" actually Greek? I mean... not real Greek, but as Greek as Chinese food is Chinese.
Permalink MarkTAW 
August 23rd, 2005
As I recall, the diners in NJ tended to be Italian (don't know if that's still true today though?).
Permalink Ian Boys 
August 23rd, 2005
Twenty years ago in Brooklyn, New York they had Cuban/Chinese restaurants ... eggrolls and spareribs on one side of the menu; rice and empanadas on the other.

My theory for the similarity in lower-level Chinese restaurants is that they seem to order pre-printed menus from the same few printing houses, complete with built-in mispellings ... just change the name of the restaurant and you're good to go.

Another thought is that many of the restaurants are opened by Chinese people because it's a good business proposition, not by a creative chef driven to open a restaurant ... hence it's easier to just fill in the blanks instead of inventing something new. Most of the cooks in those places are not trained in any kind of professional techniques.

The nearest decent Chinese restaurant is a 25-minute drive for me ... lately I've grown to prefer Indian food over Chinese anyway.
Permalink Dana 
August 23rd, 2005
I drive back to my hometown of Plainville for Chinese. 25-30 minutes and I refuse to go anywhere else.
Permalink muppet 
August 23rd, 2005
I live in a tiny little town (well, an ever expanding sprawl now, but it's not a heaving metropolis by any stretch -- at a guess it has a population of around 20,000) and within a mile of my house I have four Chinese takeaways, a Thai restaurant, a balti house, two pizza places, two Indian takeaways, an Indian restaurant, a kebab shop, three chip shops, two "regular" restaurants, and six pubs. The quality is variable, but expand the radius to about 5 miles and you could probably multiply all those figures by about 30 (and add some new types -- Greek, Cambodian, etc.) so the odds are pretty good that you're no more than 10 minutes away from a pretty good example of any kind of cuisine. Being 25 minutes drive from a decent Chinese is almost incomprehensible!

(At one stage this post had a point, but my bedtime joint kicked in and the talk of food has diverted all my attention to my stomach...)
Permalink Mat Hall 
August 23rd, 2005

This topic was orginally posted to the off-topic forum of the
Joel on Software discussion board.

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