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Mar 21, 2012 01:30 PM

Why Do So Many Chinese Restaurants have "Fuleen" in Their Name and What Does It Mean? [moved from General Chowhounding]

New York hounds are familiar with Fuleen Restaurant on Division Street, one of the better seafood restaurants in Chinatown. An internet search also pulls up many other "Fuleen" Restaurants in the eastern half of the United States, as well as its phonetic equivalent, "Fulin". (Also, Fully Bakery in Elmhurst.) The puzzle is that the word Fuleen only seems to be associated with Chinese restaurants in the eastern United States. I have figured out that all of these Fuleen/Fulin restaurants are probably owned by people originally from Fujian Province in China. But what does Fuleen really mean? This name has only popped up in the last decade or two. My best guess is that it's the English language phonetic equivalent to something. Any ideas?

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  1. Well I was hoping my half-remembered Chinese would help, but it really doesn't. But I may as well tell you what I figured out.

    Looking up Fuleen restaurant, it's written 富臨 (Mandarin pronunciation "fùlín", and a Google search for the phrase is turning up a Cantonese pronunciation of "foolum" or "fulam").

    It's not the same as the "fu" in Fujian and Fuzhou -- they're two different characters, and they're different tones in Mandarin. They may well be pronounced even less similarly in Hokkienese/Fujianese.

    I can't identify what the meaning of the compound is. "Fù" means 'wealthy, abundant' and "lín" means 'descend or approach' but I have not found any clear meaning for them as a compound. It's apparently used for restaurants in China, possibly all owned by one single group (the "Foo Lum Group") which appears to own several restaurants in Hong Kong (where Cantonese is spoken, hence their use of the Cantonese pronunciation). But I can't find any connection between them and any American restaurants. Then again, they don't have an English-language page.

    Hopefully someone who reads Chinese will happen along and maybe this will be a useful starting point?

    10 Replies
    1. re: Exy00

      Thanks for your analysis. I should point out that there have been many (Americanized) Chinese restaurants over the years using the name "Fu Lin", with the Lin pronounced like in Lincoln. Perhaps the "ee" sound reflects the Fujianese pronunciation. Note that there are few Fujianese living in California or west of the Mississippi River, so you don't see "Fuleen" out this way.

      1. re: Chandavkl

        I think I was unclear. The "Fuleen" (or "Fùlín") pronunciation is the Mandarin pronunciation (Mandarin is the Chinese dialect with by far the largest number of speakers. Most people from Fujian are likely to speak Mandarin as well. Certainly I have overheard lots of Mandarin spoken by restaurant employees, and from what I understand odds are most of them are from Fujian.)

        I don't have any reference works for Fujian Chinese (sometimes "Hokkienese") and I couldn't find anything online so I don't know how they'd pronounce it, but if I had to guess, I'm guessing the spelling "Fuleen" is based on the Mandarin pronunciation, not Fujianese. That's just on the basis that Fujianese and Mandarin usually sound really different, so it would be a surprising coincidence if the word was pronounced so similarly in those two dialects.

        1. re: Exy00

          Well, at least you tracked it down for me even if we don't have the complete phonetic story. It's just odd to see the term Fuleen pop up kind of all of a sudden (well, since the 1990s) throughout the eastern, midwest and southern US, and nowhere's else in the world.

          1. re: Exy00

            That Min dialect in "Fujian" (old name Fukien) you refer to is usually said to be "Hokkien" (not "Hokkienese") by folks who speak it; and "Fook Keen (Wa)" by Cantonese speakers.

        2. re: Exy00

          The Chinese phrase 富臨 basically means a combo of joy, happiness and fortune (not sure there is one word in English that encapsulates all three words, and if there is, it escapes me).

          It's sort of a superstitious habit, or manner, sort of like how many Chinese restaurants or markets have a 6 or 8 in the name.

            1. re: huiray

              No, that's a bad Google translation.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                I did not use Google. I suggested a possible word that I thought might cover the meanings. Why would you assume that I am incompetent?

                When I think of "sayings" that are propitious, seek to convey good wishes, seek to call up good fortune for the intended recipients of same, I think of the phrase "felicitous sayings" in English.

                American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd Edition, 1996:

                1a. Great happiness, bliss.
                1b. An instance of great happiness.
                2.A cause or source of happiness.
                3a. An appropriate and pleasing manner or style.
                3b. An instance of appropriate and pleasing manner or style.
                4. Good fortune (archaic).

                1. Admirably suited; apt.
                2. Exhibiting an agreeably appropriate manner or style.
                3. Marked by happiness or good fortune.

                If you disagree with the suggestion of "felicity", just say so.

                1. re: huiray


                  No one said you were incompetent.

                  I just said that the Google translation was a poor one.


            2. re: ipsedixit

              富臨 is not a phrase. It's just a name.

          1. Only a guess, as I do not live in NYC, but in Phoenix, there are many (and I mean MANY) Mexican restaurants, that end in " ___ bertos." Filabertos, Ambertos, etc. Many comment on that oddity. The truth is that a restauranteur wanted to differentiate, yet link, his Mexican restaurants, so came up with about 50 names, all ending in "___ bertos." People notice.


            1. It is merely a common name for a business. Like Acme, Atlas or Tri-State.

              "Fu" = rich, wealthy
              "Lin" = approach, come

              "Fu" is also a character commonly used in male names.

              1 Reply
              1. re: scoopG

                Thanks. It was a puzzle because this name in its present form had only recently appeared and only in Fujianese-American areas of influence. I didn't give the name a second thought when Fuleen in NY Chinatown opened several years ago. It was only a year ago when I walked into Fuleen Palace in Howard Beach which serves Americanized Chinese food that I started to wonder, then found listings of other Fuleens in other states in points connected by bus to East Broadway. Finally seeing variations Chen Fulin Kwok in Brooklyn Chinatown and Fully Bakery in Elmhurst, the question started to drive me crazy!

              2. wonder if it is an east coast thing.... and depending on where in china the owners originated. never seen it in Honolulu, don't remember seeing it in SanFrancisco growing up. (oops just re-read Chandavkl's post)

                5 Replies
                1. re: KaimukiMan

                  Might as well expand the point. East Broadway in NY Chinatown is connected by a Chinese bus network to cities all over the eastern, southern and midwestern states to ferry Fujianese workers between Manhattan Chinatown and their jobs, often restaurant jobs. (And Fujianese workers like to hang out in New York Chinatown on their days off.) Fujianese seem to own the lion's share of Chinese restaurants in these states. Fujianese are also often undocumented, which prevents most of them from taking alternative forms of transportation. There are no buses running from Manhattan Chinatown to California, hence not a lot of Chinese out here.

                  1. re: Chandavkl

                    Plenty of Fujian in the upper Midwest though! The current internal Chinese migratory pattern (East to West) is the reverse of the mainly Cantonese one of West to East that started over 160 years ago. Yes, there are plenty of long distance Chinese bus companies that currently operate between NYC, Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Wilmington, DE and more. Who knows what the next connecting legs are on the 2010's version of "underground railway." Further aiding the connectivity are the Chinese employment agencies that dot Eldridge and Forsyth street - this is where the Chinese restaurant in Des Moines or Decatur call when they need a new cook (in short order? :)

                    (There are the short haul Chinese buses that jut between Manhattan's Chinatown to Flushing or Sunset Park and more. Below is Manhattan Chinatown to Flushing bus that costs $2.75 one way. As soon as one departs another pulls in!)

                    1. re: scoopG

                      It's amazing where the established bus routes run. Walked by a place last week that runs regular routes to Raleigh, NC and Charleston, SC. Remember another one a while back specifically to Youngstown, OH. Finally got to ride the Chinatown/Flushing bus last month and it was a real adventure. I'm still trying to figure out how to distinguish the buses. When I tried coming back to Chinatown from Flushing, there were a whole string of buses parked (41st, I think). Had to peek into three buses until I found the one to take me back to Manhattan.

                      1. re: Chandavkl

                        Look for this sign on the side of the bus:

                        法拉盛 ---- -唐人街

                        Fǎlāshèng ---- Tángrénjiē
                        Flushing-----Manhattan's Chinatown

                        1. re: scoopG

                          Thanks scoopG! We stayed in Flushing this time and correctly picked the correct bus parked on 41st Ave.

                2. This site never ceases to be interesting. I can't say that I've EVER seen a Chinese restaurant with that word in its name. And that's over a LOT of years and a LOT of Chinese restaurants.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Midlife

                    Yeah, there's like two Fujianese restaurants in California (Foo Chow in Los Angeles and Liu Xiang Yuan in San Gabriel) so unless something drastically changes we won't see any Fuleen/Fulin/Fully places out our way. On the other hand there's actually a chain of restaurants with that name in Tennessee and Alabama.

                    1. re: Midlife

                      Same goes for me, and I have traveled to "Chinatown" in many cities, on both the Mainland, and Hawai`i. An oddity to me too.


                      1. re: Midlife

                        Yeah, I can't ever recall seeing many "Fuleen" named Chinese restaurant either.

                        I think it's definitely geographic specific.