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Why do chinese restaurants insist on having "secret" Chinese menus their English-Speaking customers can't decipher?

mwk Jul 6, 2012 09:47 AM

I went to try a new Chinese restaurant here in Boston Chinatown last week. I had heard that the best dishes were on the "secret" chinese only menus on the walls of the restaurant.

I tried my best to get any of the waiters to help me order from those menus. But, they kept insisting that I wouldn't like any of the food. They just did not want to tell me what was being offered off the English menu. I argued the point for a while, and I finally was able to have them suggest one dish which I ordered and it was wonderful (it was a stir fried eel dish with pea tendrils and garlic). But, the fight to get it was off-putting.

One time a few years ago, I went with a group of people to a Chinese restaurant, and one of the people spoke Chinese, so he ordered. The food was wonderful and I've wanted to try doing that again, but I don't have any Chinese friends locally.

Why do these restaurants insist on "hiding" these dishes from the general public? I understand that many or most of their customers are Chinese and it isn't an issue for them. But, what do you do if you are a poor American soul with a love of good Chinese food and a basic lack of Mandarin language competency? Is it really that hard to have another menu with English translations for these? If 5% of their English customers order those dishes, isn't that more business for them anyway?

  1. r
    ricepad Jul 6, 2012 10:01 AM

    It's not so much that they "insist on having a 'secret' Chinese menu" as that they're insisting that you wouldn't like it. Right or wrong, they are making a sweeping generalization that, as a non-Chinese, there are some things that you just would not eat.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ricepad
      Chefpaulo Jul 14, 2012 05:07 PM

      Years ago in Shanghai, I tried to order several dishes off the hotel dinner menu only to have my very young, cute and polite waitress smile and tell me, "You won't like that." "No, you're not getting that." "No, not that one either." I went though about seven before asking, "OK, what will I like?" She immediately pointed to a number of dishes so I relented and let her choose. I ended up with cold fresh-sliced lotus root with orange blossom water, yellow fin tuna and egg drop soup with cilantro, roasted pigeon with orange flavor, spicy shredded chicken on wide rice noodles with peanut sauce, fresh fruit platter and moon cakes. And a few Tsingtaos. I can't complain as all was excellent but I'll always wonder what I was protected from sampling.

    2. f
      ferret Jul 6, 2012 10:07 AM

      "If 5% of their English customers order those dishes, isn't that more business for them anyway?"

      If you're coming there to eat you will order something that's to your liking - so they aren't losing any business. I don't think they're "hiding" anything it's just that there are going to be a number of off-putting options there that detract from what they believe their customer base prefers.

      Our neighbors own a Chinese restaurant and often bring things for us to sample that they don't offer in their restaurant. Some we like and many others just don't suit our palate (either more bitter or pungent than what we're used to). If these were on the menu and someone ordered them, not understanding the flavor profile, they would be very unhappy with their meal, so I get the point of not putting it out there.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ferret
        1sweetpea Jul 6, 2012 10:48 AM

        I want to know and taste most of those items on the non-English menu. It is very frustrating to me that I need to rely on a busy server who may not have an excellent command of the English language to allow me to monopolize their time long enough to get those translations. In my experience, few servers are willing to do that and would simply rather tell you you won't like it or that it's only for Chinese palates. This is unfair and could result in me not returning to that restaurant again.

        I do, however, think that the restaurant owners genuinely believe that non-Chinese diners will be frightened off if they are able to peruse those menus. This may be true for a lot of non-Asian diners, but certainly not all. There will never be any exposure to those regional specialties if they continue to remain hidden and essentially off-limits to most. I have tried to throw caution to the wind and just point at something, but that can backfire if you don't have a clue what you're getting. What if I order a large soup to share with my co-diners, plus a few other dishes and then one mystery dish, and it turns out to be another large soup, or else something not dissimilar to another dish I've ordered (i.e. same protein or same veggies)?

        Sometimes I get a server that's willing to translate a few items from one of the menus, but it's impossible to get through the list before that server is needed elsewhere. Let me say that of those mystery items I've ordered, some were not to my taste. I have no regrets about ordering them though.

        Another pet peeve is the "western" vegetable options on the English menu, versus the fresh produce items available if you ask. Why aren't they listed anywhere, such as on a blackboard? I once ordered a dish from the English menu. It was shrimps and Chinese broccoli (gai laan). It arrived with regular broccoli. I complained and the server told me that the chef thought we wanted it that way. Nobody ever confirmed that with me. For the record, both options were listed separately on the menu. I specifically ordered the one with gai laan. Unacceptable judgement call, and offensive too. I made them fix it. They took the shrimps and plunked them atop the gai laan. Needless to say, I never returned.

        I like the restaurants that list dishes this way: Stir fried squid with vegetable. This forces the customer to ask what the vegetable is. The response is typically the server listing a few options, based on what the kitchen has that day. This has resulted in me getting to order snow pea leaf, ong choy (water spinach), baby bok choy, gai laan, amaranth leaves, etc. Another benefit is it allows the customer to drive the bus, meaning that I can choose to have my squid curried, spicy, with garlic or ginger and green onion, etc. This is closer to what I experienced in mainland China and Hong Kong. People ask what is fresh then ask for whatever they like based on what is available and within their price range.

      2. d
        DeppityDawg Jul 6, 2012 10:43 AM

        This is a recurring complaint. The assumption seems to be that the vast majority of the non-Chinese guests are not interested in these dishes, and I think that is probably correct. Producing an English translation is not as easy as you think, and the effort is likely to backfire: Will it bring them more business, as you believe, or will it instead lead to more people ordering dishes that they don't like and then bad-mouthing the restaurant, or people being put off by seeing strange things on the menu and being afraid to eat anything at all?

        It's unfortunate that the staff continue to discourage you after you have clearly indicated your eagerness and openness, but try to understand their point of view. The vast majority of customers that they deal with all day long are not like you. So look at it as a Chowhound challenge, and you might appreciate the food even more.

        Ordering in a Chinese Restaurant (split from San Francisco board)

        how do you order from the Chinese-only menu?

        What is the Proper Way to Order in a Chinese restaurant to receive a spicy dish?

        3 Replies
        1. re: DeppityDawg
          Ruth Lafler Jul 6, 2012 10:43 PM

          Hey, DD! You want to go another round on this one? :-)

          After re-reading the first of the threads you posted, I'm reminded of one basic point: people who are (or appear to be) Chinese will never understand the frustration of having the food they want routinely hidden from them or denied to them. They just don't. When they walk into a restaurant, no one automatically hands them the American menu. The thing they need to understand is that it doesn't even occur to most Americans that there is another menu they should ask for. Why should it? I'm not aware of any other type of restaurant in America that has two completely different menus and that routinely segregates the clientele by offering one or the other, but not both.

          A while back I took my parents to a restaurant I'd previously only eaten at with Chowhounds. Because I'd only eaten with groups that were ordering off the "real" menu I wasn't even aware that there was an Anglo menu until I started looking for dishes I'd had there before and couldn't find them. Once I inquired about them, the Anglo menu was whisked away and the real menu was provided. Note that both menus are in English so it isn't even an issue of translation -- it's simply about the restaurant making assumptions about its customers. I don't think it's unreasonable to be miffed about being stereotyped!

          What's particularly mystifying to me is why so many Chinese restaurants are missing out on an important marketing angle. There are thousands of generic Chinese-American restaurants out there -- there are probably a dozen within a one-mile radius from my house! If you have something to offer that would make you stand out from the crowd, then why wouldn't you?

          BTW, my "tricks" are still working for me. Recently my sister and I walked into a Chinese restaurant at random. I asked what vegetables they had fresh that day. I don't even remember what I was offered and decided on, but it wasn't the default vegetable the other Anglo diners were getting. The people at the next table actually asked what it was and how to order it.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler
            DeppityDawg Jul 7, 2012 06:57 AM

            I do understand the frustration of non-Chinese speaking customers (and keep in mind that this includes many people who "appear to be Chinese", who in some ways must be the most frustrated group of all). I just don't quite understand all the complaining. In other situations, Chowhounds are eager and proud to go to great lengths for "authentic" chow: pay more, travel farther, speak Spanish/Italian/Russian/etc., interact with uncooperative staff, go to restaurants that are dirty, inaccessible, unwelcoming, … And the fact that they are surrounded by "local" people that didn't have to jump through any hoops to get the same food makes the Chowhounds' achievement all the more satisfying. They don't feel miffed about being stereotyped and treated like an outsider: They crave it!

            The best food in Chinese restaurants sometimes involves obstacles. Some of these obstacles don't exist for Chinese customers, for whatever reason (intentional or not, indifference or malicious racism or lack of resources or whatever). Some true Chowhounds like you, Ruth, look for ways around the obstacles. But so many other posters seem to be reduced to helpless, resentful whining.

            There may be some restaurants that will flat-out refuse to serve certain dishes to non-Chinese customers. That is unacceptable, and such places should be named and shamed. If they just make you work harder to get those dishes, consider it the price of authenticity. (Rest assured, Chinese customers also have to pay a price to enjoy their authentic Chinese experience. Just not at the restaurant.)

          2. re: DeppityDawg
            CindyJ Jul 7, 2012 12:17 PM

            I recently listened to a radio podcast that addressed this issue (sorry, I can't recall which podcast) and offered the same explanation, namely, it is the belief of the owner/management of the restaurant that these Chinese-language menu offerings would not appeal to the majority of non-Chinese customers. That said, the person being interviewed suggested going to the restaurant on an off-peak day, at an off-peak time, when the host/owner could spend some time going over the menu with you, item by item. There are a few of benefits to this approach -- you'll have an opportunity to become familiar with the "secret" menu, you could try the items that sound appealing to you, and you and the owner/host will get to know each other. That bodes well for future visits, too, when that same person might be able to recommend other "off-the-regular-menu" items.

          3. m
            mpjmph Jul 6, 2012 10:49 AM

            On option if you are really curious and committed is to photograph or scan the Chinese menu and post to Chowhound to see if anyone can/will translate for you. There is a run of the mill Americanized Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood, but they have a separate Cantonese menu on their website. I posted on my local board with a link to the menu, and had a translation within 24 hours. If you are already knowledgeable when you show up and order, there is usually less hassle.

            2 Replies
            1. re: mpjmph
              rockandroller1 Jul 6, 2012 11:27 AM

              This is a fantastic idea! The Chinese places by us do not post or give out the "secret" menu to non-Chinese though. Hmm.

              1. re: mpjmph
                fogeylv Jul 6, 2012 11:51 AM

                Along with a translation, try to get the correct pronunciation of the Chinese name, and try ordering it that way.

                (I'm half asian, so I can get away with it. YMMV.)

              2. f
                FattyDumplin Jul 6, 2012 10:55 AM

                I would advise you to be patient. If you like the food and really want to try the "secret" menu, go there a couple times, speak with the staff, ask them for recommendations, try some of the stuff on the normal menu that's not "Americanized". And definitely, if you see stuff on other people's tables that look interesting, ask for it! I'd be willing to bet that once they get to know you a bit, they will be more willing to open up and offer more interesting items.

                I'm Chinese, but am always interested in trying the "secret" stuff at other ethnic restaurants and its generally worked for me. I get it, it's not fair, but I've seen more than my fair share of people asking for special dishes or for things extra spicy, only to send them back and ask for a refund. So, it's not just generalization for the sake of doing so, but because it impacts their P&L to not be selective.

                Hope this helps and best of luck!

                1 Reply
                1. re: FattyDumplin
                  rockycat Jul 24, 2012 09:55 PM

                  I agree with the idea of becoming a regular and becoming friendly with the staff, but it's not a guarantee of anything. Most of the "traditional" Chinese restaurants in our area do the seperate menu thing, so we're used to the procedure. At one Sichuan restaurant, we became friendly with one waitress who had better than average English skills and she would insist on taking our table when we came in. She knew our tastes and always had good recommendations for us. She even modified some dishes for our then very young child, but modified them in a way that Chinese parents would for their own children. It helped give our kid a taste for the real thing. Alas, that restaurant is no more.

                  Another Sichuan restaurant in our area, same story. Except, for some reason, only the female wait staff will serve us the same food as the Chinese patrons get. The young men, all with excellent English skills, insist on bringing us Americanized versions of what we ordered, because "we wouldn't like it otherwise." Funny, we like it just fine when we get it every other time. And yes, we don't return as frequently now as we used to.

                2. Bacardi1 Jul 6, 2012 11:29 AM

                  I've come across this a few times myself, & as a definitely adventurous diner - especially as far as Asian dishes are concerned - I too find it frustrating (& sometimes a bit insulting) that I'm strongly discouraged from the "secret" menu.

                  In fact, just a few weeks ago hubby & I were at a new restaurant that was a "sister" to another authentic Szechaun place we'd dined at. Although the dishes we'd had & enjoyed at the first place were displayed in large photos in the lobby of the 2nd, they weren't on the menu. When I asked if they had "another" menu for the "Szechuan" dishes, a very puzzled-looking waiter finally brought us a one sheet menu of "special" dishes. Even then some of the dishes we wanted were missing. We finally were able to convey what we wanted, & they did make it for us. We DID enjoy the food immensely & complemented the place on them. But it was like pulling teeth to get them. Geesh.

                  1. Kris in Beijing Jul 6, 2012 11:34 AM

                    Forget trying to get the waiters to translate. Does "fish flavoured pork" [and that's the correct translation] really tell you what the dish is?

                    I suggest a heavy use of the online world.
                    First, http://www.pleco.com/ [there's also an app]
                    you can photograph/scan the characters and get a definition.
                    Then use
                    http://www.nciku.com/ [there's also an app]
                    or just regular Google to look up the characters and the English combined. It'd be a good idea to search Google Images.

                    20 Replies
                    1. re: Kris in Beijing
                      ferret Jul 6, 2012 12:09 PM

                      National Lampoon ran a parody Chinese menu many, many years ago. It was funny because it didn't veer too far from actual terms. The ones I can remember are "fish in funny smell" and "twice-abused pork." However most Chinese menu translations work as self-parody.

                      1. re: ferret
                        Bob W Jul 9, 2012 08:54 AM

                        Ah, the 'poon. The advent of spell-check has reduced (somewhat) the entertainment value in Chinese menus. I still collect them, but I rarely bother playing "Find the typo" anymore.

                      2. re: Kris in Beijing
                        fourunder Jul 18, 2012 04:53 AM

                        . Does "fish flavoured pork" [and that's the correct translation] really tell you what the dish is?

                        I don't know if it's the same dish, but many years ago I ordered what was described as Chinese Meatloaf with Dried Salt Cod. When asked how it was prepared, I was told it was steamed with the fish on top. Now I've had Dried Salt Cod, or Baccala, many times before this day......and the dish described sounded very innocuous.

                        Boy, was I wrong. While the Ground Pork Meatloaf was very tasty.....it was swimming in grease and the Dried Salt Cod were Small Steak Cuts with bones that were hard as rocks and inedible due the saltiness for me. Apparently, the fish is not soaked in water to draw out the salt like the Dried Salt Cod fillets how most European recipes are made, which I was used too. A very bad surprise.

                        I was told this was a very common dish served in many Chinese family homes. meat loaf good, dried fish bad.

                        1. re: fourunder
                          jgg13 Jul 18, 2012 05:31 AM

                          I believe that "fish flavored pork" is yu hsiang pork. If so there's no fish whatsoever in it.

                          1. re: jgg13
                            scoopG Jul 18, 2012 05:48 AM

                            One etymology according to Barbara Tropp, is that Yú Xiāng Ròu (渝湘肉) - does not mean "fish flavored pork," which has been widely used on many, if not every translation in menus today. 渝 Yú is an ancient term for the Jialing River in Sichuan and a current abbreviation for the city of Chongqing, as well as for Sichuan itself.

                            湘 Xiāng refers to the Xiang River in Hunan and today has come to also mean Hunan. So the real name of this dish would be "Sichuan-Hunan Pork" - mixing "the piquant flavors for which Sichuan and Hunan are best known" according to Tropp.

                            Because Chinese is full of so many homophones, it is possible semi-literate Chinese restaurant workers rendered 渝湘 Yú Xiāng as 魚香 Yú Xiāng, hence "fish fragrant." Nothing fishy about that!

                            1. re: scoopG
                              Kris in Beijing Jul 18, 2012 08:22 AM

                              Fish-flavoured Pork is the Chinese equivalent of "chicken fried steak"

                              No fish in the 1st, no chicken in the 2nd.

                              Just a "standard seasoning profile for fish," applied to pork.

                              I've seen the deep etymology argument before, but IMHO it "feels" over-thought, Noah Webster trying to explain Justin Wilson : )

                              Edit-- a link

                              1. re: Kris in Beijing
                                jgg13 Jul 18, 2012 09:30 AM

                                I've always heard it described as "in the style of fish" or something along those lines. I've also always figured that wasn't a direct translation but it helps to get the point across better.

                              2. re: scoopG
                                buttertart Jul 19, 2012 02:32 PM

                                I'm firmly in the Barbara Tropp camp myself. If the seasonings were typically usedonly with fish, I could see the other being true. I expect it is a matter of the more common and simpler characters being used and coming to be accepted as correct.

                                1. re: buttertart
                                  scoopG Jul 19, 2012 07:00 PM

                                  I agree. Plus I much prefer her scholarly approach - she knew her stuff (ed tofu)! Is there any other language with more homonyms than Chinese?

                                  1. re: scoopG
                                    buttertart Jul 20, 2012 02:52 PM

                                    East Asian studies at Pton will do that to a person. Re homonyms, not that I know of! Same tones for the substitute characters, right?

                                    1. re: buttertart
                                      scoopG Jul 20, 2012 02:56 PM


                                      1. re: scoopG
                                        huiray Jul 20, 2012 03:07 PM

                                        Aren't the Cantonese pronunciations of "渝湘" and "魚香" slightly different?

                                        I'm inclined to lean a little more towards what Kris in Beijing suggested. Any number of Chinese recipes (e.g. on the web) would contain what seems to be the established "魚香" phrasing, whatever the derivation. It seems a little puzzling that literate folks (not semi-literate waiters) would so readily accept or transmit that phrasing if it was incorrect...

                                        1. re: huiray
                                          raytamsgv Jul 20, 2012 03:51 PM

                                          The first character of both phrases (渝 and 魚) sound the same. The last two are similar except that they have distinctly different starting sounds. The 湘 character has a "S" starting sound. The 香 character has a "H" starting sound.

                                          However, they have the exact same sounds in Mandarin.

                                          For the truly bored, here's a site where you can hear them in Mandarin and Cantonese:

                                          1. re: raytamsgv
                                            huiray Jul 20, 2012 04:05 PM

                                            Yes, thanks, I'm aware of what you say.** Which is why I "asked" scoopG about it. :-) After all, the folks who ran Chinese restaurants in a great deal of the world outside China, and in the USA for that matter, who first drew up these menus putatively written by semi-literate waiters were Cantonese folks speaking Cantonese or Toishan, not Putonghua/Mandarin speakers. In fact, what would the two phrases sound like in Toishan? (I don't speak Toishan)

                                            **Even then, 魚 is pronounced yu2 by itself, certainly in the Cantonese I grew up with...and I think I've heard the combination 魚香 as both yu2heung1 and yu4heung1.

                                            1. re: huiray
                                              buttertart Jul 20, 2012 05:16 PM

                                              To be tedious, Sichuanese is closer to Putonghua than to Toishan.

                                              1. re: huiray
                                                scoopG Jul 20, 2012 05:51 PM

                                                Perhaps the answer lies in an old Crosstalk...or maybe even a contemporary one from the Canadian Da Shan:


                                                Da Shan’s Solo Crosstalk:

                                          2. re: scoopG
                                            buttertart Jul 20, 2012 05:17 PM

                                            I am convinced. Good ole (late lamented) Barbara Tropp. I remember being rather outraged when I first read it, but it definitely makes sense.

                                2. re: fourunder
                                  Stephanie Wong Jul 19, 2012 05:18 PM

                                  Sounds like one of my favorite "peasant" home-style dishes + my non-Chinese hubby loves it too. It's meant to be eaten with lots of steamed rice, and some feel the more fermented the fish is, the better.

                                  The salted fish is meant to be used more as a condiment than the main ingredient. Sometimes the fish is deboned, and mixed into the steamed pork hash.

                                  More "up-scale" Chinese tend to serve a much milder version, if at all, as the smell & flavors have been deemed to be offensive to non-Chinese diners.

                                  1. re: fourunder
                                    huiray Jul 19, 2012 05:39 PM

                                    Hmm, I had missed this until I saw Stephanie Wong's post just now.

                                    Yes, what she said. I've known this dish as a home-style dish (鹹魚蒸豬肉), Cantonese/Hakka version, where the salted dried fish (often pre-soaked briefly to soften it first) is usually deboned and chopped in with the minced pork then the patty steamed (in an enameled metal dish), as Stephanie also mentions as one way of doing it. This is what my mother also made. It is *definitely* eaten with rice, as smallish bites accompanying mouthfuls of boiled or steamed rice. The dish when done should not be "swimming in grease" unless excessively fatty pork was used and/or needlessly extra oil was added.

                                    In your case where the fish (with bones) seems to be on top of the patty, the bones aren't meant to be eaten anyway. :-)

                                    It isn't clear from your post if you had your dish with rice or not?

                                    The quality of the fish also matters and affects the final product. "Bad" salted fish will have a nasty pungent smell and harsher taste, while high quality stuff has a pleasant smell and (less salty) smoother taste. Of course, "pleasant" is in the nose of the smeller. :-)

                                    1. re: huiray
                                      Lau Feb 18, 2013 06:29 PM

                                      this is a common cantonese dish, i ate it growing up. the version described sounds all wrong. it should be a nice minced pork patty thing that has some flavor from the salted fish. it an awesome dish with some right

                                3. ipsedixit Jul 6, 2012 12:10 PM

                                  Because it's almost impossible to translate some of those "secret menu" items into English. And if they did, you probably wouldn't want to order it based on the description.

                                  For example, if you saw "Buddha's Jumps Over The Wall" (or 佛跳牆) on the menu, would you order it?

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: ipsedixit
                                    loodle Jul 7, 2012 02:55 PM

                                    Exactly this. What westerners don't understand is that alot of chinese dishes have very romanticized names. It's not easy translating all the dishes and explaining what they are especially with very foreign/exotic foods (all those different types of fungi, herbs, vegetable greens). And these more interesting ingredients are generally off-putting to westerners except for a few exception such as OP. Would you want to eat coagulated pork blood jello with chives?

                                    1. re: ipsedixit
                                      estnet Jul 7, 2012 07:27 PM

                                      yes I would order Budda Jumps over the Wall and have.... but it WAS printed in English - a.nd I am adventurous, oh yes and ants climbing on a tree (I think that was the name)

                                      1. re: estnet
                                        EWSflash Jul 13, 2012 06:54 PM

                                        Ants climb a tree- I have to find a restaurant that has it, I read about it years ago in Sunset magazine and havent' seen it on a menu since.

                                        1. re: EWSflash
                                          paulj Jul 13, 2012 07:52 PM

                                          I read about Ants climb a Tree years ago in a library Chinese cookbook, and have made it occasionally. Apart from the name, it's actually not that exotic. Certainly no more so than Pocked Marked Ma's Tofu. But I agree, I haven't seen it on a menu. If I did I'd order in an instant, just to see how it compares with my home made version.

                                          Chinese sausage is another item that I see all the time in the grocery, but rarely in a restaurant. I learned about that in my first Chinese cookbook, a little one from Hong Kong.

                                      2. re: ipsedixit
                                        huiray Jul 14, 2012 10:22 AM

                                        I didn't think of this till now :-) although I make it myself and eat it from time to time, and it *is* offered in some "down home" type Chinese restaurants -
                                        "Big Maternal Aunt Marries Off Daughter" (大姨媽嫁女).

                                        [Copy and Google the Chinese phrase...;-) ]

                                        1. re: huiray
                                          RUK Jul 14, 2012 11:50 AM


                                          1. re: RUK
                                            huiray Jul 14, 2012 12:57 PM

                                            Yes, thank you - that illustrates what I meant. :-)

                                      3. K K Jul 6, 2012 12:28 PM

                                        There are some workarounds for this.

                                        1) Offer feedback to management/ownership, or wait until near or after closing hours and see if you can get face time with owners and chef, but not in an intrusive way. State your intentions politely and see if they would be willing to translate the menu or even perhaps add pictures to the walls. Yes some specials could be seasonal, but not always.

                                        2) Find your local chowhound "chowdown" mailing list, or proactively start a group dedicated to trying out the specials (Facebook groups/events for example). Find a Chinese reader/speaker and someone who is fairly knowledgeable about the food on the wall, make a reservation and decide on the dishes. If need be, figure out the banquet style budget (let's say you have 10 folks, that's a good enough sampling for multiple dishes) but do not order from the "banquet" dinner set menu, and do it on a weeknight when the restaurant is less busy. With enough time and experience and talking to owners/chef (if possible) to find out what they can do best, order or pre-order set dishes (particularly ones that take a lot of time/labor to prepare). I've studied what the top bloggers in Hong Kong are doing, and this is how they organize social events...they hold and host dinners for upwards of 130 to 200 people at many mid to high end Cantonese/Chinese seafood restaurants (some even Michelin star) except these are just social eating gatherings and not a wedding dinner, and try to seek out the best dishes, some even off menu. This is great for a number of reasons...networking, a chance to learn and appreciate new food styles and approaches, and of course a chance to brag on social media and blogs.

                                        In some ways one might have to position this kind of request to the restaurant as a means of them getting more exposure and interest, and thus business....would they rather be the go to place for authentic traditional dishes, or whatever the local demographic seemingly prefers?

                                        32 Replies
                                        1. re: K K
                                          limster Jul 8, 2012 06:24 AM

                                          Pre-ordering is a great idea -- best way to access all kinds of specialities that they not normally serve because of ingredients and prep time. Off menu dishes, so long as they are classical, are often fair game at many Chinese places; it can be take a bit of negotiation between patron and chef to work out what the kitchen is able/willing to make and what they're best at. The chowdowns in SF used to work pretty well that way.

                                          1. re: limster
                                            K K Jul 9, 2012 03:56 PM

                                            Well at this rate it is just you and I talking to another... because we are of a similar fold.

                                            The old definition of the chowhound was to ultimately seek out deliciousness in unexpected places. One really has to put forth an effort just to get some of the best a restaurant and chef has to offer, and that is inherently true in upscale Cantonese dining, and even at many Japanese run Japanese restaurants. It shouldn't take a Herculean effort to study blogs locally and abroad, and of tourists from their experiences, in both English (and thus finding blogs that have both English and Chinese) to dig deeper into the dishes, or google translate for example, even if the translation is hideous for the most part. Or printing out web pages of interesting dishes, taking it to the restaurant and ask owner/mgmt/chef, "can you make this?", of course with some knowledge of what the restaurant is potentially capable of.

                                            The other sad thing of note, is that even the media continues to portray this "secret menu" thing, like if you watch Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations: Disappearing Manhattan, where Chris Cheung and Tony eat at this basement dive called Hop Kee. I'm sorry to say, but many of the "phantom menu" dishes from that show look like crap, and even I wouldn't want to eat it. Pan fried flounder, really? The names of the dishes may be "old school Cantonese" but the execution and end result looks so different than what it should be.

                                            So pre-ordering would only work at a place where the restaurant produces good quality of food...it doesn't have to be an expensive high end seafood VIP dim sum restaurant (sometimes those are the worst places to pull this off).

                                            1. re: K K
                                              Ruth Lafler Jul 13, 2012 04:54 PM

                                              So Limster and KK -- how would you feel if you were handed a special dessert menu that omitted the cheese course because "Asians don't like cheese" and you didn't even realize the restaurant offered a cheese course (just as many Chinese restaurants in the US don't have "special" menus most restaurants in the US don't offer cheese courses) until you saw it on other tables.

                                              You'd be cool with that, right? It would be your fault for not researching the restaurant thoroughly beforehand, or not thinking to ask if they'd given you a special menu that omitted something, and not an unpleasant instance of racial profiling, right?

                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                EWSflash Jul 13, 2012 06:55 PM

                                                I needs me a 'like' button, Ruth

                                                1. re: EWSflash
                                                  Ruth Lafler Jul 13, 2012 07:22 PM

                                                  Oh, I forgot the best part: even after you find out about the cheese course, they refuse to let you order it, because they don't think you'll like it. You have to go back at off hours, name a bunch of French cheeses you like, and form a relationship with them!

                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                    ipsedixit Jul 14, 2012 11:55 AM

                                                    While the cheese analogy maybe apt on some levels, it has severe limitations when it comes to "secrete menus" with Chinese (or other ethnic) restaurants.

                                                    The reason why Chinese restaurants will have "secret" menus is because historically they were segregated, ostracized and maybe even ridiculed because of the foods that they ate in their homeland.

                                                    I still remember a story that was told to me about a group of college age kids who were trying to decide what to eat, and when someone suggested Korean, one member of the group said, "Yuck, don't they eat dog?!!"

                                                    This type of reaction to traditional homeland food does not happen with European cuisines in America. So the fact that a cheese course maybe skirted from a Chinese diner is very different than a "secret" Chinese menu item being secreted away from an American diner.

                                                    From the Chinese restaurateur's perspective, opening the Pandora's Box of "secret" menu items exposes the real possibilities of segregation, and perhaps ridicule. Those memories are bad, and very visceral. Perhaps it's not as popularized in the common vernacular as segregation in the South with African-Americans, but believe me, it existed and still exists.

                                                    Now, thing maybe very different (and better) these days -- esp. amongst the Chowhounds -- but like I said somewhere else upthread, very very very few people in the world are Chowhounds.

                                                    1. re: ipsedixit
                                                      Ruth Lafler Jul 14, 2012 03:57 PM

                                                      You know, that's the first reasonable explanation I've seen. I don't think it's valid (a) most places, and (b) as much now as before, but I can understand a deep-rooted feelings that come from past experiences.

                                                      On the other hand, hiding these foods just perpetuates the idea that there's something yucky or shameful about them that requires that they be hidden.

                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                        jumpingmonk Jul 14, 2012 04:59 PM

                                                        It also, in my opinion creates a tendecny to "push even further". I've bumped into quite a few cases where the general opinion of a few (and I am by no means trying to denigrate all, or even most of Chinese resturanteurs) resturuant owners seemed to be that not only would non Chinese patrons not like the more "exotic" ingredianted items of the menu, but that they would balk at ANY item ouside of the "American Classic" menu. For example, there have been a few cases where I have had difficulty at a resturant getting orders of "hong kong style" lo mein (i.e. the steamed kind with the toppings and the bowl of broth on the side) even when it was on the English Language menu, because they assume that any gwai lo who orderd lo mein would only be willing to eat the Northern stir fried version they were familiar with from the neigborhood takeout. Or a funnier version, I used to know a little place where the owner made a really good off menu West Lake soup. One day I said, "you know, if you put this on the menu it would probably sell quite well" to which he replied "Oh I couldn't do that, most non Chinese people would NEVER eat anything with coriander leaves and black mushrooms in it." Internally, I rolled my eyes a little, as next door on one side was a Mexican Resturant (whose speciality was tacos Oxaca style, heavy on the cilantro) and on the other side was a vegatarian place that made HEAVY use of Shittakes.

                                                        1. re: jumpingmonk
                                                          buttertart Jul 15, 2012 04:01 PM

                                                          Like the payoff to that story very much.

                                                        2. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                          Steve Jul 16, 2012 07:29 AM

                                                          The vast majority of non-Chowhounds I know would walk out of a restaurant if they so much as see there are funky items on the menu or specials posted on the wall which disgust them. Imagine your average family with kids walking into a restaurant and spying a sign about braised frog, pig intestines, and rabbit. They'd be out the door in a flash, and that's even before they get to the bull penis.

                                                          1. re: Steve
                                                            chowser Jul 16, 2012 09:07 AM

                                                            That's what I've been trying to explain all along but might be hard for CH to accept that they are not the norm. It turns a good portion of the population off, sadly.

                                                            1. re: Steve
                                                              fourunder Jul 16, 2012 09:16 AM

                                                              Let's not forget.....Cowboy Dick

                                                              1. re: fourunder
                                                                huiray Jul 16, 2012 09:22 AM

                                                                Uhh...do you mean Dick Cheney or that ice cream?


                                                                1. re: huiray
                                                                  fourunder Jul 16, 2012 10:10 AM

                                                                  I cannot seem to recall the blog with the crazy translations....I know it's been posted here by many.....but more along the lines of the ones found in the following links:



                                                                  1. re: fourunder
                                                                    huiray Jul 16, 2012 10:14 AM

                                                                    Ah. Well, mis-translations is a little different from "correct" translations of the terms for offal and the "nasty bits" that USAmericans and other Westerners seem to shy from... :-)

                                                              2. re: Steve
                                                                huiray Jul 16, 2012 09:20 AM


                                                                As a related point - even with something as ubiquitous as Vietnamese Phở, found all over the USA nowadays and something that is no longer an exotic dish, common even - the squeamishness of so many folks to the "full accompaniment" of ingredients is prevalent, where tripe and tendon (e.g.) is avoided or shuddered at.

                                                                1. re: huiray
                                                                  paulj Jul 16, 2012 12:12 PM

                                                                  On food court Vietnamese shop felt the need to warn me that the noodle salad plate that I ordered included shredded pork skin.

                                                                  On the other hand, Korean shops in the Seattle area, don't hide the offal.

                                                                  1. re: huiray
                                                                    ritabwh Sep 11, 2012 11:57 PM

                                                                    great thread. i am thoroughly enjoying it.
                                                                    but for all you non-believers on the anglo-shunning of unfamiliar foods...
                                                                    i lived in montana for 5 years. once for xmas, i made a leg of lamb. 3 out of the 5 invited guests had never had lamb. y'see, in montana, most didn't eat sheep back in the 1970s. the reason was that montana cattle ranchers hated sheep ranchers. eitherway, the local anglos were pretty darned close minded, even on something as innocuos (to me) as a leg of lamb. i understand the "you won't like it" approach by the chinese restranteurs. i am half japanese. lived for many years with the "ewww" and "yuck" responses, and ironically the "you won't like it" from chinese and korean restaurants.

                                                                    1. re: ritabwh
                                                                      huiray Sep 12, 2012 05:22 AM


                                                                      I second your remarks about the lamb-aversion of many "Anglo" folks, at least here in the US. My experience has also been similar. Chowhounds probably eat much more lamb but it was odd how many "ordinary" folks looked askance at me when I mentioned that I was making/made roast lamb, or lamb stew, etc etc.

                                                                      1. re: huiray
                                                                        rockycat Sep 12, 2012 07:38 AM

                                                                        And here I thought it was a regional thing. When I was a kid living in the South, my NY-born mom would have her sister bring us lamb chops when she came to visit. When I moved back South as an adult I still had trouble finding lamb in the stores. When we made a leg of lamb for a neighborhood pot luck we discovered that many of our neighbors had never tried lamb before.

                                                                        1. re: huiray
                                                                          Steve Sep 14, 2012 09:01 AM

                                                                          Thank goodness you didn't mention the goat. That could get you shreiks of horror in some corners.

                                                                        2. re: ritabwh
                                                                          tommy Sep 12, 2012 05:49 AM

                                                                          Keens Chophouse in NYC has been serving what they call mutton chops for probably over 100 years. I suspect their servers don't deny people the opportunity to order it and say "no, you won't like it." They seem to be doing it right, and doing pretty well.

                                                                          I don't think anyone has suggested that not all people like all foods or some don't care for unfamiliar foods. That's really not what this thread is about.

                                                                          1. re: tommy
                                                                            huiray Sep 12, 2012 08:12 AM

                                                                            It's Keen's Steakhouse.
                                                                            Those "mutton Chops" might have been truly mutton once upon a time. In modern times, there is some dispute about whether it is really lamb rather than mutton. :-)

                                                                            BTW, "mutton" in South Asia usually refers to GOAT.

                                                                            With regards to your comment –
                                                                            "I don't think anyone has suggested that not all people like all foods or some don't care for unfamiliar foods. That's really not what this thread is about."
                                                                            – I think the issue of "you won't like it" has been a core element of the discussion on this thread.

                                                                            1. re: huiray
                                                                              tommy Sep 12, 2012 08:14 AM

                                                                              I don't think anyone has suggested that not all people like all foods or some don't care for unfamiliar foods. That's really not what this thread is about.

                                                                              1. re: tommy
                                                                                huiray Sep 12, 2012 08:49 AM

                                                                                I think many posts here have indeed "suggested that not all people like all foods or some don't care for unfamiliar foods".

                                                                                1. re: huiray
                                                                                  tommy Sep 12, 2012 08:54 AM

                                                                                  I believe I tripped over my wording. With respect to ritbabwh's comment "but for all you non-believers on the anglo-shunning of unfamiliar foods", it's hardly a shock that not all people like all foods.

                                                                                  1. re: tommy
                                                                                    ritabwh Sep 13, 2012 10:31 PM

                                                                                    i know chowhounders are more likely to be adventuresome and willing to try the new and unusual. my comment was meant to illustrate that something that many may consider mundane as lamb, is unfamiliar to many. i think the talk about pho, tripe, etc. etc. reminded me of my montana experiences.
                                                                                    when i go to a chinese or korean restaurant and i have to "reveal" that i do not speak chinese or korean, there is a noticeable change in demeanor. nothing rude, just different.

                                                                      2. re: Steve
                                                                        huiray Jul 21, 2012 09:04 PM

                                                                        @Steve: I revisited an older thread and was reminded of this there too. Even Chowhounds don't like such stuff. :-)

                                                                        (Darn, I forgot to cite your post here in one of my posts downthread...http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8573...)

                                                                      3. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                        PenskeFan Sep 13, 2012 01:05 PM

                                                                        I tend to agree with you on a and b, and further disagree that European cuisines are not ostracized or face stigma.
                                                                        I know plenty of Polish, Russian , Ukrainian, Greek or even German dishes that many Americans woudl turn their noses up at, or even make ridicule. Heck I have made fun of some of them myself when I was a kid.

                                                                        1. re: PenskeFan
                                                                          Steve Sep 14, 2012 09:12 AM

                                                                          The French are certainly well known for kidney, liver, sweetbreads (talk about a euphemism!), tripe, snails, frogs legs, snout, etc.

                                                                          Tongue, somehow, gets passed over. Even the French don't eat much tongue.

                                                                          1. re: Steve
                                                                            EWSflash Sep 15, 2012 03:00 PM

                                                                            It's pretty popular in Mexico, though.

                                                                            1. re: EWSflash
                                                                              Steve Sep 15, 2012 05:11 PM

                                                                              Oh yes, I very much enjoy tongue. Bolivian places near me do a good job of it.

                                                        3. t
                                                          thinks too much Jul 6, 2012 12:55 PM

                                                          I have read a book called "Swallowing Clouds" by A Zee. It was a great help to start deciphering menus, since it follows the development of many the characters used in foods. It helped me to identify pork vs chicken vs fish dishes as well as identifying the soup from the dumplings.

                                                          Now I need to own a copy so that I can read it again, as my memory gets fuzzier.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: thinks too much
                                                            paul balbin Jul 6, 2012 01:43 PM

                                                            Thank you so much for this suggestion. My local library has a copy and I am so excited to get to
                                                            study it. Have you seen "The good food of Szechwan" by Delfs?

                                                            1. re: paul balbin
                                                              thinks too much Jul 9, 2012 09:01 AM

                                                              No. Thanks for the suggestion though. Sounds like I'll be ordering something from my library now!

                                                          2. johnb Jul 6, 2012 01:30 PM

                                                            FWIW, if you search "authentic Chinese" just on Chowhound, all boards all years, you get 2,700 hits.

                                                            I think the fundamental problem leading to this issue is that so many Chinese restauranteurs have had Americans order these dishes and not like them, and send them back so the owner loses his revenue, or they've heard about the problem from others -- it's probably a common assumption among these owners that that is what will happen if they offer these dishes to Americans, so they don't. Let's face it -- folks like us are in the vast minority among Chinese restaurant customers, who mostly just want to shovel it in from the buffet.

                                                            Some of the workarounds suggested above are good.

                                                            I seem to recall a previous discussion about a card printed with both English and Chinese, explaining what was truly wanted to the server, that was helpful. Does anyone else remember that?

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: johnb
                                                              Hobbert Jul 6, 2012 01:37 PM

                                                              I recall that discussion. The card was asking for spicy food, but I imagine one could have a card that says something to the effect of "I'd like to try your native dishes. I like squid, eel, etc." or whatever works for you. Maybe handwritten would be better- it shows a bit more initiative that just printing something off the Internet. Interesting discussion, though.

                                                              1. re: Hobbert
                                                                Kris in Beijing Jul 6, 2012 01:48 PM

                                                                Remember-- sourcing ingredients is also an issue. Do you have a seasoning that was hard to obtain that you "keep back" just for the right dish?
                                                                Also-- imagine that you have a meal all planned and when the guests come in, they all say "oh, we'll just have what you have when you're tired and want something quick."

                                                                Here's a site that has a fair number of dishes and descriptions:

                                                                This site's rendering of my example in an earlier comment:
                                                                Fish Flavored Beef Shreds Yu Xiang Niurou Si yoo sshyang nyoh-roh srr 鱼香牛肉丝

                                                            2. jgg13 Jul 6, 2012 01:54 PM

                                                              The problem is that too many people think that just because they dislike something that they have valid grounds for sending food back and/or bad mouthing the place. There's a huge difference between a dish being prepared poorly and people just not understanding what they're ordering. There are a lot of people who fancy themselves adventurous who really aren't when you get down to it, and they're trying to curtail the negatives from that crowd. This is the same reason why it is nearly impossible to get a truly spicy dish at any restaurant - because 99% of the people who ask for "spicy" would walk out in anger if they truly got something spicy.

                                                              To make matters worse, there are people out there who assume they know how a dish should be prepared. I see it all the time on yelp reviews for instance, the "oh their XYZ was a terrible rendition! Whomever is cooking there doesn't know what they're doing!", except that the XYZ is closer to the 'authentic' (for whatever that means) version than typical and *that* is their problem. heck, I've been guilty of that myself.

                                                              11 Replies
                                                              1. re: jgg13
                                                                Kris in Beijing Jul 6, 2012 02:02 PM

                                                                True-- most adventurous eaters will try a 80¢ scorpion-on-a-stick, but will they go for the main dish $12 "伊犁马肉" [see pic below] which is donkey or horse meat? We all have preferences, many of which are the result of exposure.

                                                                I feel the "I want it may way" way about risotto. I know how ~I~ like it, but on every cooking show I see, the chefs/judges disagree [or try to do it in <20 minutes]. I like mine so if you press a spoon down Hard, you get just a bit of broth.

                                                                1. re: jgg13
                                                                  Bacardi1 Jul 6, 2012 02:31 PM

                                                                  I've NEVER sent a dish back simply because I didn't like it. Raw, burnt, or otherwise not as it should be? Yes. Simply because I didn't care for it? Never.

                                                                  That said, frankly I don't even NEED a full translation - just a list of main ingredients, how it's prepared (braised, fried, etc., etc.) & its heat level. That's it. Shouldn't be rocket science to be able to pry that out of a waiter or chef. Honestly, all it comes down to is something like "Pork, vegetables (or not), braised (or whatever), hot (or not hot, whatever). Really - how difficult would that be?

                                                                  One of the most memorable meals I've enjoyed was one listed on a Szechuan restaurant menu simply as "Braised Spicy Fish", with the rest of the description done in Chinese. That was enough for me. Turned out to be FABULOUS large pieces of white fish swimming in an incendiary chili broth ripe with Szechuan peppercorns & a few green vegetables. One of my best meals ever!! And I bet a LOT more folks who enjoy spicy food would have ordered this had there been an English description.

                                                                  You know, if this were in China, I would completely understand it. But if you're a restauranteur here in the U.S., I frankly think it's sort of rude for this kind of separate menu stuff. Go back to China if you don't want to patronize this country's dining folks.

                                                                  1. re: Bacardi1
                                                                    DeppityDawg Jul 7, 2012 05:48 AM

                                                                    Can we avoid the unhelpful "go back to China" rhetoric, please? I'm as concerned about unassimilated immigrants as the next guy, but if they're cooking, I'm eating…

                                                                    Also, look up "patronize" in the dictionary.

                                                                    1. re: DeppityDawg
                                                                      Bacardi1 Jul 7, 2012 09:20 AM

                                                                      I'm sorry. And it's not "rhetoric". I mean what I say. If you're a restauranteur in the U.S., to me it is blatantly rude to have a "secret menu" that non-ethnic diners can either not access at all, or have to literally BEG for. In addition, taking it upon themselves to assume that Americans are so clueless that they couldn't possibly enjoy the oh-so-special dishes is also uber-insulting. I say again - go back to China if you find all American diners so dumbed-down & clueless.

                                                                      I give MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR kudos to the infamous Chinese Chef Peter Chang (do a web search on him if you don't know who I'm talking about), who not only NEVER had a "secret menu", but introduced - & continues to introduce - oh-so-many people to the joys of authentic Szechuan cuisine. And he's making a fortune at it. So, so sad that other Chinese chefs & restaurants don't follow his lead.

                                                                      1. re: Bacardi1
                                                                        fourunder Jul 7, 2012 09:27 AM

                                                                        I say again - go back to China if you find all American diners so dumbed-down & clueless.

                                                                        Excuse me....but who's really being rude here.. If you do not agree with the policies of a restaurant....it's your choice to patronize or not. I go to restaurants where they prepare special items for customers at their request. I have no expectations or beliefs that I am entitled for them to do the same for me.

                                                                        1. re: Bacardi1
                                                                          Hobbert Jul 7, 2012 11:42 AM

                                                                          "I had heard that the best dishes were on the "secret" chinese only menus on the walls of the restaurant."

                                                                          Why are we referring to these dishes/menus as "secret" when the OP clearly says they are posted on the wall? S/he just can't read Chinese. It's not up to the staff to explain each word and the OP ultimately got what they wanted. If you don't care for a restaurant (for any reason)... don't go.

                                                                          1. re: Bacardi1
                                                                            wayne keyser Jul 8, 2012 06:55 AM

                                                                            Yes, Chang had a secret menu. At an early job (how many has he had now?) in Virginia, the restaurant had a menu you had to ask for - I won't call it "secret" since it was delivered without argument, but many of his signature dishes were on the Chinese menu. A group of Chowhounds "ate through the menu" there some years ago, pre-arranged by a fluent speaker of the language, and our monthly meals there were a highlight of my recent life.

                                                                            If you're insulted by a menu aimed solely at those familiar with authentic cookery, you need to put yourself in the shoes of an owner who has seen enough walkouts prompted by Americans' reactions to "Bull P*nis with Vegetables" or "Duck Blood with Tofu". I'd see that selection and choose something else, but Aunt Edna (who wanted to go to IHOP anyway) might very well get up and go.

                                                                            As has already been mentioned, if you're in such a restaurant, it may be that the highlights of a "secret menu" are posted prominently on the wall, in Chinese, on red cards pinned to a board. Now all you have to do is get a server to tell you which ones are the best, and convince the server to order your selection prepared exactly as they would were the server eating it, or else get someone on Chowhound to suggest the best off-menu specials and tell you how to ask for them. It opened a few doors for me to remember to ask for it "ma la" (tingly-spicy-hot). And then get the server to believe you.

                                                                            1. re: wayne keyser
                                                                              Bacardi1 Jul 8, 2012 07:02 AM

                                                                              When he first started out, perhaps. But when he worked for "Taste of China" in Charlottesville, & then ultimately opened his own place (also in Charlottesville, & now in Richmond, VA, & GA as well), the specialized dishes were/are presented along with the regular fare on the menu - offal & all. No need to search it out or beg for it.

                                                                              1. re: Bacardi1
                                                                                wayne keyser Jul 8, 2012 12:24 PM

                                                                                We might consider that Chang is a star, and he knows it - in fact, his whole career for the last several years has been managed to make him a star, and that effort has worked.

                                                                                I guess people will order "odd" dishes from a star that they won't even think of ordering at a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall.

                                                                              2. re: wayne keyser
                                                                                chowser Jul 8, 2012 07:14 AM

                                                                                Thanks for saying that. From personal experience, I have a family member who had all dishes on his menu. It turned people off and his restaurant did terribly. He changed his menu, and over time business turned around. Look at it, not from the view of an adventurous CH but from the average person who is ordering sweet and sour pork who is the norm. Seeing duck tongue turns them off.

                                                                          2. re: Bacardi1
                                                                            jgg13 Jul 8, 2012 07:03 AM

                                                                            You might not have, but many people do and they have no way of knowing which group you belong to.

                                                                        2. bagelman01 Jul 6, 2012 02:35 PM

                                                                          We often have the opposite problem when dining out with our youngest daughter. She was born in China, but has lived in this American Family since she was a few months old. She speaks and reads English only, BUT she is often given a Chinese language menu different from the menu the rest of the table is presented.

                                                                          Of course, she can't read it!

                                                                          She has learned to order the few Chinese dishes she likes in Chinese, but generally avoids speaking with the restaurant employees.

                                                                          The opwner of a Chinese restaurant we frequent asked me why my daughter won't speak to his employees, was it beneath her? I replied that his employees were not from her province and she did not understand their dialect. Was this the truth, Yes, was it the reason, NO, BUT I wouldn't insult the employees or reveal my daughter's English only secret.

                                                                          She wants no part of those 'authentic' Chinese dishes, happier with chicken lo mein or eating steak and salad at an 'American' restaurant. I on the other hand wish I could decipher the 'authentic' menu.

                                                                          1. a
                                                                            Astur Jul 6, 2012 03:23 PM

                                                                            So our of curiosity, to those that do have access to the secret menus, do there tend to be common overlaps? If you can get a few names of those dishes that sound good you could then ask a restaurant outright if they are available to make. That might prompt a server to recommend something if they don't make the dish. Just a thought.

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Astur
                                                                              Kris in Beijing Jul 6, 2012 07:45 PM

                                                                              Did you look through the different menus on these pages?


                                                                              Any Chinese restaurant will be happy to tell you that they don't have a dish/have the ingredients. There will be times when they SAY that because, really, they don't think you'll like the dish for which you are asking so they don't want You to get embarrassed by making a bad choice.

                                                                              1. re: Astur
                                                                                paulj Jul 6, 2012 09:10 PM

                                                                                If the English menu looks like it came out of the Chinese Restaurant Owners Manual (3 ring binder edition), then the secret menu probably does as well.

                                                                                Not all owners are culinary giants. They may be just a few steps up the ladder, so to speak, from the waiter who can barely speak English. With a little capital borrowed from friends and relatives, they have bought an established restaurant, and learned to run it from the Chinese language manual. The manual may even have instructions on how to handle English speakers who think they would like a jelly fish and pork trotter appetizer or the deep Fried Bung Unbplit. (ref. Fortune Cookie Chronicles, Jenifer 8 Lee)

                                                                                1. re: paulj
                                                                                  paulj Jul 6, 2012 09:33 PM


                                                                                  From the 2001 review of one of my local Chinese restaurants

                                                                                  Service, under Lam's direction, is commendable. I appreciated the waiter whose honesty regarding "deep fried bung unbplit" was welcome. "What is it?" I asked. He smiled and shook his head, silently intoning, "You don't want it," while pointing in the vicinity of his intestines, later stopping by to show me the dish before whisking it away to another table.

                                                                                  another account of trying to order this item

                                                                              2. c
                                                                                calliope_nh Jul 6, 2012 09:45 PM

                                                                                Even if they get translated the descriptions might not make sense.
                                                                                One example here is "chicken without sex". Hmmm, says they renamed it in English to be "spring chicken" I am guessing young or virgin chic.

                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                1. re: calliope_nh
                                                                                  Chowrin Jul 7, 2012 01:28 PM

                                                                                  In beijing, a menu translated to english said "tofu served by freckled lady" (if you know sichuan,you know what dish I mean)

                                                                                  1. re: Chowrin
                                                                                    scoopG Jul 7, 2012 02:30 PM

                                                                                    They are being very generous since we all know the lady in question had a pockmarked face!

                                                                                2. f
                                                                                  fourunder Jul 7, 2012 08:50 AM

                                                                                  My experience is most of the *Secret Menu* items are often available in the form of a Chinese Banquet menu. The restaurants in my area have for for 4,6,8 10, and 12 people in mind......from a few dishes to 12+ courses......ranging from $50 - 500.

                                                                                  I suggest you have a look at them, ask about the 12 plus course menu and have them describe the dishes to you. If something interests you, ask for it .

                                                                                  1. s
                                                                                    sr44 Jul 7, 2012 09:52 AM

                                                                                    There's at least one book that attempts to translate wall menus. This is one that turned up on a quick Amazon search: http://www.amazon.com/The-Eaters-Guid...
                                                                                    I've never tried to use one and this one did have its detractors.

                                                                                    9 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: sr44
                                                                                      paulj Jul 7, 2012 02:17 PM

                                                                                      I had this author as a linguistics prof at U of Chicago years ago. The student run Chicago Linguistics Society used to include his guide to Chicago restaurants in their conference packet. He was a chowhound before the internet age.

                                                                                      1. re: paulj
                                                                                        sr44 Jul 7, 2012 05:19 PM

                                                                                        And is it available or has it disappeared into the mists of time?

                                                                                        1. re: sr44
                                                                                          buttertart Jul 7, 2012 05:30 PM

                                                                                          It's available. If you're willing to put a bit of work into it, it's useful.

                                                                                          1. re: buttertart
                                                                                            Bob W Jul 9, 2012 08:56 AM

                                                                                            I have a copy! Yes, it takes work.

                                                                                            1. re: buttertart
                                                                                              jgg13 Jul 9, 2012 02:42 PM

                                                                                              I bought a copy that promptly went to my bookshelf and laziness has seen that it never has been taken down. However my understanding was that they use all traditional characters while typically menus use simplified characters.

                                                                                              1. re: jgg13
                                                                                                scoopG Jul 10, 2012 06:17 AM

                                                                                                Actually, the complex (or traditional) characters are still popular as the Chinese restauranteurs know many of their Chinese patrons that are originally from Taiwan, Hongkong, Singapore etc. will be more familiar with them.

                                                                                                1. re: scoopG
                                                                                                  jgg13 Jul 10, 2012 06:39 AM

                                                                                                  Good point, hadn't considered that direction. I was viewing it purely from the standpoint of translating menus.

                                                                                                  1. re: scoopG
                                                                                                    dpan Jul 10, 2012 06:55 AM

                                                                                                    The only places where I have seen simplified character menus have been Sichuanese restaurants. Almost all of them are owned and staffed by emigres from the Mainland, whereas the traditional Cantonese banquet and dim sum places and noodle/dumpling joints are owned and staffed by people from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

                                                                                                    1. re: dpan
                                                                                                      huiray Jul 10, 2012 07:07 AM

                                                                                                      That seems about right to me too. The staff in Szechuanese restaurants also usually speak only Mandarin/Putonghua. This creates difficulties for me because I speak Cantonese (not Toisan, however, which is still common in many US Chinatowns), what I've retained of it over the years, and they don't - so it usually defaults to English, with whoever is most English-competent in there, when verbal interaction is called for or desired.

                                                                                        2. j
                                                                                          Jambie Jul 7, 2012 11:00 AM

                                                                                          I don't know if this is exactly the same thing that the OP is talking about but we ate in a Chinese Food restaurant recently that had a Chinese menu on the back page translated roughly into English. My husband tried to order from that page and the server told him to please only order from the front part of the menu. She said he would not like the dish he had asked for. It got funnier because he caved and just ordered sweet and sour chicken but when the dish came, it was sweet and sour shrimp so he told the server it wasn't what he ordered. She went to the kitchen and came back with the same dish saying that the kitchen had cooked sweet and sour shrimp so he should eat it! He was a good sport and ate the shrimp.

                                                                                          1. m
                                                                                            mwk Jul 7, 2012 12:24 PM

                                                                                            There are some good suggestions here, especially taking the pictures of the menu signs on the walls and trying for a translation.

                                                                                            What happened in my case was I asked the waiter for a fish dish from something off the chinese menu. At first she kept pointing me to the English menu's seafood section. I said I had come specifically because of the fresh seafood in the tanks in the front of the restaurant. I said I wanted some fresh fish from the tank, however they would normally do it for their Chinese customers. That's how I finally ended up with the Eel dish, which was wonderful.

                                                                                            I don't need a literal translation of the dish's name. Fried Buddha's Tail doesn't help me. Just tell me the main ingredients...it's vegetables stir fried with fish and Chinese sausage...that's all I need to know.

                                                                                            The funniest thing about that night, was after they brought the eel to our table, I saw all the waiters standing off to the opposite side of the dining room, watching us intently as we started eating. They seemed genuinely surprised we loved the dish.

                                                                                            I do find that there are sometimes other Ethnic restaurants which have "secret" menu items as well. But in those cases, the language barrier isn't usually an issue and I can make myself understood to the waiters to bring the dish I want. I just went through that in a Portuguese restaurant a few weeks ago. But everyone spoke English so it wasn't nearly the hassle. Besides, the owner was ecstatic that we wanted to try this dish, and brought it over to the table himself and waited while we took our first bites.

                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: mwk
                                                                                              ratgirlagogo Jul 7, 2012 01:20 PM

                                                                                              "The funniest thing about that night, was after they brought the eel to our table, I saw all the waiters standing off to the opposite side of the dining room, watching us intently as we started eating. They seemed genuinely surprised we loved the dish."

                                                                                              Doesn't this suggest to you that other non-Chinese patrons who insisted on ordering the eel (or the intestines, or the chicken soup with six chicken feet sticking out of it, or the split pig's head, etc. etc.) in the past had NOT loved it? I also assume that since you are a poster here that even if you had not loved the dish that you would have paid for it - but I have seen people angrily send such things back and refuse to pay. And so has the staff at that restaurant. Many times.

                                                                                              1. re: ratgirlagogo
                                                                                                mwk Jul 7, 2012 02:16 PM

                                                                                                Actually no. Because to be honest, I don't see how someone would fight to order something like pig's blood custard and then angrily send it back afterwards. I would imagine that someone like that would not be interested or even be aware that the paper signs on the walls written in Chinese were menu items. Most people I know, go to the Chinese restaurant and get Scallion Pancakes, potstickers, General Gao's Chicken and Hot and Sour Soup.

                                                                                                I can certainly see someone angrily sending something back from the English menu that they ordered (and that is just wrong as well...).

                                                                                                I have actually ordered things in Chinese restaurants that I hated, an example being a dish with bitter melon. I just can't stomach the stuff. But you are correct that I never would have considered not paying for it.

                                                                                                I also think that the number of non-Chinese Americans who come in and even ask about those menu items is very, very small. If someone is interested enough to ask, I think that indicates that the customer is willing to try new tastes and it should be encouraged.

                                                                                                One other thing I wanted to mention. The dish we did have was in no way "weird". It was chunks of eel, stir fried with lots of garlic and ginger, with pea tendrils and watercress. When I did go with the group who had the Chinese speaker, we didn't end up with anything that had whole pig heads, or live snails, or stinky tofu. My problem with a lot of what is on the English menu is that it's sweet...or deep fried...or uses American vegetables instead of Chinese ones.

                                                                                                I still stand by my original thought. It would be great if at least some of these dishes were put into an English menu and offered to people who ask for it.

                                                                                            2. ipsedixit Jul 7, 2012 12:33 PM

                                                                                              Let's understand something.

                                                                                              Restaurant owners, including Chinese ones, are in business to make money, not to scratch your Chowhound itch.

                                                                                              Most folks outside of our little Chowhound community, do not want and do not care for whatever you believe is on those "secret" (or non-English translated) menus.

                                                                                              The risk-reward of letting someone sample a "secret" menu item just doesn't justify the long-term risks or costs.

                                                                                              The risk of letting a customer try one of those "secret" items is that you risk offending that customer, and losing that person forever to Panda Express down the street.

                                                                                              And, believe it or not, most of the world are not Chowhounds. I dare say that Chowhounds probably make up 1% of 1% of the total diners out there in the wild.

                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                                                scoopG Jul 7, 2012 02:38 PM

                                                                                                That's a good point. According to Chinese Restaurant News, there are 46,756 Chinese restaurants in North America. The vast majority of American customers arrive looking for Egg Rolls, Sweet and Sour Pork, Egg Foo Young, Fried Rice etc. and require Sweet 'n Low for their Chinese tea. Once, in Spicy and Tasty restaurant in Flushing, while waiting for take-out a young Caucasian couple walked and asked, "Do you have egg rolls?"

                                                                                                No, the cashier replied and the couple turned around and walked out.

                                                                                                If you are not living near a community where you can readily get "the good stuff" then get to know your local Chinese place, keep asking for what you want and tip well.

                                                                                                1. re: scoopG
                                                                                                  buttertart Jul 7, 2012 05:12 PM

                                                                                                  The "secret" part of this is what gets me. Not secret, just not translated, for the myriad reasons given here.

                                                                                                2. re: ipsedixit
                                                                                                  klyeoh Jul 13, 2012 02:11 AM

                                                                                                  Absolutely agree with you, ipsedixit. Most of my American (not Chinese) friends don't really care too much for the more "exotic" Chinese dishes which I'd order for them to try when we're in Chinese restaurants in the US - they'd much prefer the fried rice, mushu pork & egg rolls variety.

                                                                                                3. c
                                                                                                  Chowrin Jul 7, 2012 01:29 PM

                                                                                                  Never had this problem in Pittsburgh. Even outside the actual city, when the locals discovered there was a chinese only menu, diners translated it, and the owners put up the diner-translated menu.

                                                                                                  1. MsDiPesto Jul 7, 2012 02:50 PM

                                                                                                    I don't understand why the resistance to providing translation. This is like opening up a diner with all the menus in Scottish Gaelic. With a big surly guy in a kilt to say "Och, laddie, ya n'ae like!"

                                                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: MsDiPesto
                                                                                                      Kris in Beijing Jul 7, 2012 03:21 PM

                                                                                                      Because these restaurants aren't staffed by Chinese Linguists.
                                                                                                      When they know of something as "Pock marked grandmother's tofu"-- they don't think of it as anything else.
                                                                                                      Try imagining that you are a non-English speaker, looking at a "standard menu"--
                                                                                                      What would you expect peanut butter to resemble?
                                                                                                      A doughnut?
                                                                                                      What's a Po' Boy?
                                                                                                      Salisbury steak?

                                                                                                      Food-language knowledge is so different from the level needed to communicate.

                                                                                                      Thanks for the softball.
                                                                                                      Who's going to order a sheep's organs with mutton fat mixed with oatmeal?

                                                                                                      1. re: Kris in Beijing
                                                                                                        johnb Jul 7, 2012 06:46 PM

                                                                                                        It sounded pretty good until you got to the oatmeal.

                                                                                                        1. re: johnb
                                                                                                          Kris in Beijing Jul 7, 2012 07:00 PM

                                                                                                          Aye, dee ye ken, 'tis Scots' haggis.

                                                                                                        2. re: Kris in Beijing
                                                                                                          therealdoctorlew Jul 8, 2012 07:31 AM

                                                                                                          Menu fantasy names are not limited to Chinese. What's a Godfather sandwich? Jump in the Mouth? The Imam Fainted? Egg cream? Lion's Head? (Oops, that one was Chinese.) Would you expect coins in silver dollar pancakes?

                                                                                                          1. re: Kris in Beijing
                                                                                                            miriamjo Jul 20, 2012 12:12 PM

                                                                                                            Me! Me! Love Haggis

                                                                                                        3. Veggo Jul 7, 2012 05:44 PM

                                                                                                          For as long as Yale can have Skull and Bones, Chinese restaurants can have secret menus. Turnabout is fair play.

                                                                                                          1. paulj Jul 7, 2012 06:03 PM

                                                                                                            So you have difficulty ordering from the Chinese menu. What then do you order? What are the most 'exotic' Chinese dishes that you like to order, or fix?

                                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: paulj
                                                                                                              mwk Jul 8, 2012 12:41 PM

                                                                                                              My favorite restaurant in Chinatown in Boston has a dish called Taro Root stuffed with Duck. It's bits of roasted duck with Taro root wrapped around it in a ball, and then it's fried, I think. It's served with a sweet dipping sauce.

                                                                                                              My other, more "odd" favorites involve offal. I love tripe soup, or stir fried tripe, brains, kidneys, liver, etc. I also love chicken feet, the kind they serve sometimes at Dim Sum. Any of those strange, Cartilaginous pieces that Chinese people love eating, that most Americans would be turned off with. Rooster combs, another example of something that I would order if I see it on a Dim Sum cart, and the rest of the people at my table will give me a wide berth while I eat it.

                                                                                                              1. re: mwk
                                                                                                                paulj Jul 8, 2012 01:15 PM

                                                                                                                99Ranch grocery has a deli buffet with items I haven't seen on 'normal' Chinese menus. Things like
                                                                                                                stir fried book tripe (chewy and bit hot with dried peppers)
                                                                                                                drop flank stew (flank or diaphram with chewy membrane left on)
                                                                                                                salt and pepper fish - deep fried bony fish, either anchovie size or 'belt fish'

                                                                                                                And over by roast duck stand, there are takeout boxes of pigs, duck, and chicken feet. Also steamed rice packets in bamboo leaves.

                                                                                                            2. Kris in Beijing Jul 7, 2012 06:23 PM

                                                                                                              Okay -- another link.


                                                                                                              Seriously, try this.

                                                                                                              And, a location-specific article about this topic:

                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                              1. re: Kris in Beijing
                                                                                                                mwk Jul 8, 2012 12:35 PM

                                                                                                                I like that first link, how to order Chinese food. Thanks!

                                                                                                              2. limster Jul 8, 2012 06:13 AM

                                                                                                                In the past when I had chowdowns at Chinese places, I would often get a copy of the Chinese menu ahead of time, jot down translations and make a few copies, so that it would facilitate ordering. Some of the places we went to saw our translations and actually requested to keep a copy. That suggests that for these restaurants, either the cost or effort of translation was too much for them. It could be due to the limitations of their English ability as well -- some of the hilarious chinese menu translations online show that they're not great at translation.

                                                                                                                I know chowhounds who started learning a foreign language just to navigate restaurants, so that's one possible solution. Here's one example of a blog recounting those efforts: http://kake.dreamwidth.org/

                                                                                                                I also recall older threads swapping tips on the best food.restaurant dictionaries for various languages; I think a search will pull them up.

                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                1. re: limster
                                                                                                                  buttertart Jul 8, 2012 09:10 AM

                                                                                                                  That blog is quite super.

                                                                                                                2. arktos Jul 8, 2012 12:30 PM

                                                                                                                  Chinese buffets:

                                                                                                                  I've noticed in the buffets that have little signs describing the various dishes, often times, some are in Chinese only. As a non-Chinese, I always make a point of eating those items that (I guess) are only meant for Chinese patrons.

                                                                                                                  1. chowser Jul 8, 2012 02:11 PM

                                                                                                                    Being rude is wrong, and once you ask for the menu/translation, it should be provided, as long as the restaurant isn't crowded. The reason the menu isn't written in English is that it's generally not necessary--few people who don't speak the language are true CH who want to eat off the menu (and it's not 5% or even close). It's definitely worth getting to know a place and getting to be known at a place. Top top it off, you can also order food that's not on any menu. I don't remember my in-laws who are in the business ever ordering off any menu. They chat w/ the staff, owner, etc and get end up w/ better meals than I'll ever get w/out them. When we ordered our rehearsal night banquet, it was a tiny hole in the wall place w/out a secret menu or a banquet menu. We loved the American Chinese food we got there so we spoke with the chef who was very excited to do it. There was some brain storming and we ended up w/ a great dinner that worked for a diverse group of people. Although, that also brings up the question of dividing guests up by "adventurous" eaters and non. Since you liked what you got, go back again and again.

                                                                                                                    The other inequity is that what non-asians order might not be what asians order, even the same dish. We were on vacation, tried a chinese place. My husband said he heard the waitress call back something to the effect of, "Make it the right way, not the way the Americans like." I'm assuming this isn't wide spread and none of the family we have in the business do that (or say they don't when I've asked). At the same time, if you're trying to please the palate of the average customer at your place, you need to know what they like. Don't serve the whole fish with the eyes. Don't serve the quail put together w/ head. Some people get squeamish.

                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                      ipsedixit Jul 8, 2012 08:53 PM

                                                                                                                      The other inequity is that what non-asians order might not be what asians order, even the same dish. We were on vacation, tried a chinese place. My husband said he heard the waitress call back something to the effect of, "Make it the right way, not the way the Americans like." I'm assuming this isn't wide spread and none of the family we have in the business do that (or say they don't when I've asked).

                                                                                                                      Happens all the time.

                                                                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                                                                        huiray Jul 9, 2012 08:43 AM


                                                                                                                        And - not just in the USA. One example: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/828825#7232736

                                                                                                                        In a way the "toning down" of the heat/spiciness of dishes from "traditional" renditions so as to fit the tastes of the *general* USAmerican public is another facet of this phenomenon. Then CHers and CH-chiliheads get all upset at it. Remember this other thread? http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/826545

                                                                                                                    2. b
                                                                                                                      beevod Jul 9, 2012 07:57 AM

                                                                                                                      I find this to be also to be widespread in Greek diners.

                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: beevod
                                                                                                                        ipsedixit Jul 9, 2012 07:59 AM

                                                                                                                        It happens in just about every ethnic restaurant.

                                                                                                                        The "secret" is just more exposed in Chinese restaurants because Chinese restaurants and cuisines have become more popular and part of mainstream dining vernacular.

                                                                                                                        1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                                                                          Veggo Jul 9, 2012 08:11 AM

                                                                                                                          Very true. And for outsiders to break the glass ceiling takes time, familiarity, and the earning of trust. I am pleased to have done so, although to an unknown degree, in Italian, Jewish, Taiwanese, and Mexican environments - restos and homes. It's a crockpot timeline, you can't microwave or Google your way there.

                                                                                                                      2. b
                                                                                                                        Bkeats Jul 9, 2012 09:26 AM

                                                                                                                        I’m agreeing with all the comments that the typical American diner doesn’t want food that’s too ethnic. There is a Thai restaurant that we used to go to quite a bit. The food was spicy and flavorful. A real step up from most Thai places but the place was never busy. Lunch and dinner never saw the place more than ¼ full. Food was great but we were worried about their business. Had not been in a while and then 3 months ago we arrive for lunch and the place is packed. We noted the crowd and ordered. The food comes and we take a few tastes and stop eating. Everything tasted sweet. Overloaded with sweetness, no spice. Didn’t finish our food. The dishes had lost their complexity but the crowds now loved it. We’ve been afraid to go back.

                                                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: Bkeats
                                                                                                                          paulj Jul 9, 2012 10:58 AM

                                                                                                                          The owner of Portland's Pok Pok claims he doesn't alter Thai recipes to suit the American palate, but he does choose menu items that fit. For example he does not include the fermented dishes that are popular in northern Thailand.

                                                                                                                          1. re: paulj
                                                                                                                            huiray Jul 9, 2012 11:41 AM

                                                                                                                            True. Nevertheless, there are various aspects to even that...
                                                                                                                            You may remember this thread in which you also participated: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/851758

                                                                                                                            1. re: paulj
                                                                                                                              biondanonima Jul 9, 2012 11:58 AM

                                                                                                                              I live near Sripraphai in Woodside, NY, which is known for their truly authentic Thai dishes. They don't alter recipes either, but they definitely have different heat levels and will not give a non-Thai person the real deal unless they insist on it. The wait staff there has also tried to steer me away from ordering fermented things, sour curries and the like, telling me that I won't like them. Frustrating, but I try to see it from their perspective - I am the 1%, and they are dealing with the 99% most of the time...

                                                                                                                            2. re: Bkeats
                                                                                                                              mwk Jul 9, 2012 11:19 AM

                                                                                                                              I certainly understand that I'm in the vast minority of people when it comes to wanting to try unique foods. When I was in Japan two years ago, I ordered something which sounded innocuous, "Chicken three ways". First course they served Chicken Katsu, which was delicious. Second course was some sort of marinated, grilled chicken, somewhat like Yakitori. Finally, they bring out the third course, which looked like chicken sashimi; thinly sliced raw chicken breast. I waited a short while, figuring it was shabu shabu and they would bring out the boiling broth. But no, that was it, they were serving me chicken sashimi. My dining companion and I debated what to do with it. But in the end we figured they wouldn't be serving it if safety were an issue, so we ate it. I wouldn't say I'd ever order it on purpose ever again, but it made for a good story to tell.

                                                                                                                              I'm glad that they didn't "Americanize" the dish for me, without my knowledge.

                                                                                                                              I just think people should be proud of their heritage and their delicious food and be anxious to share it, by offering the opportunity to those who show an interest. Sure, hand out the menu with the Egg Rolls and Wonton soup on it, but if I ask for the "real" menu, smile and be happy that someone wants to try your "real" food for a change.

                                                                                                                              1. re: mwk
                                                                                                                                chowser Jul 9, 2012 11:29 AM

                                                                                                                                "if I ask for the "real" menu, smile and be happy that someone wants to try your "real" food for a change."

                                                                                                                                I agree. And, I find that to be the case for the most part. They might smile at the thought but most I've found are happy--as long as it's not super busy. That's why the suggestion above about going when it's empty is a great one.

                                                                                                                            3. m
                                                                                                                              MonMauler Jul 9, 2012 11:35 AM

                                                                                                                              I have run into this issue, and it is frustrating. Fortunately, most places I dine have a multitude of on-the-menu options that I am anxious to try. Also, as I dine out often, I have become familiar with many of the staff at some of my favorite places, and they have clued me in to delicious items not on the traditional menu. While I have noticed this practice to be particularly common at Chinese and other Asian restaurants, it is, by no means, limited to the more exotic (to Americans) restaurants. The three best dishes at one of my favorite Italian restaurants, for example, are not on the standard menu. And these are not exotic items - veal medallions, veal & peppers and the like. Just the other night my date ordered a dish at a restaurant - one she had gotten there before - we looked on the menu, and it wasn't listed. They prepared it, and it was cooked just as she had remembered it, but it wasn't on the menu. Someone must have told her about the dish at this restaurant sometime in the past, just as the sommelier at the Italian place had let me know about the great off-menu items. I don't strive to develop a rapport with the staff in general, but I have found that it often pays dividends when I do. So, if you want to find the best unknown, un-listed dishes at your favorite eatery, develop an amicable relationship with the servers, cooks, FOH, owner, other staff. Let them know what types of food you like. They'll hook you up.

                                                                                                                              1. f
                                                                                                                                fourunder Jul 9, 2012 11:45 AM

                                                                                                                                Here's my take.....if you introduce yourself to ownership or management, become a regular customer and tip appropriately......really you should have no problem ordering anything you desire. If this is a first time in a restaurant , ask them if they have have a separate Chinese Family menu. Tell them you would like to try something from these selections. Give them the beef, pork, poultry or seafood you are in the mood for....and tell them you would like for them to select for you.....they will either pick something very conservative or something very stinky 9 to the nose )......you live by the sword, you die by the sword.

                                                                                                                                1. r
                                                                                                                                  ricepad Jul 9, 2012 12:02 PM

                                                                                                                                  Well, I guess I never realized how pervasive this really is. I mean, all my life, whenever I've walked into a Chinese restaurant, I've assumed they would give me their best stuff. Sometimes, we'd get handed only one menu...the one in Chinese. Often, Mom would just ask the waiter (in Chinese) to make up a menu for us to include a few elements in particular, and sometimes she'd ask what the staff meal was going to be, and order some of that, too.

                                                                                                                                  The only 'secret menu' experience I've ever had was at a hole in the wall joint in an LA suburb that had a daily special posted on the wall in Chinese. Since I read Chinese about as well as I speak Klingon, I had to ask what it was. Eventually, tho, I got to the point where I didn't bother to ask what it was, I'd just order the daily special no matter what. When caucasian co-workers of mine would accompany me, some of them might order the special, too. Sometimes they got it. Other times, the waitress would tell them, "You wouldn't like it", and suggest they order something else. Without question, whenever the waitress told them they wouldn't like it, it turned out to be something they would not have liked.

                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: ricepad
                                                                                                                                    fourunder Jul 9, 2012 12:08 PM

                                                                                                                                    Other times, the waitress would tell them, "You wouldn't like it", and suggest they order something else. Without question, whenever the waitress told them they wouldn't like it, it turned out to be something they would not have liked.

                                                                                                                                    Very true.....and it often happens on the regular menu too.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: ricepad
                                                                                                                                      huiray Jul 9, 2012 12:08 PM

                                                                                                                                      "Without question, whenever the waitress told them they wouldn't like it, it turned out to be something they would not have liked."

                                                                                                                                    2. s
                                                                                                                                      staughton Jul 9, 2012 04:26 PM

                                                                                                                                      I agree that this is annoying (and would add that it would be a case for our courts if another race were profiling its customers...), but having worked in restaurants, I can tell you there is probably a very practical reason for this. Sure, most of us on this site are fairly adventurous and curious and would love to try some of the more daring dishes on the "secret" menu. But, you'd be surprised at all the wanna-be-foodies out there who think they "should" like somehing different and strange, but really can't handle it. This costs a busy restaurant a lot of time and money while customers play culinary roulette at their tables--especiially when they start sending things back because it's "weird" or "gamey" or "has a bad texture". I've been to Thai restaurants in the U.S. where the food was more authentic--and used flavors such as camphor and really hot Thai bird chiles abundantly in their food (just like in Thailand, but rarely in U.S. restaurants)--only to see that Americans had reviewed the dish online to say that it was "off"--when it was definitely not. At least it never was the numerous times I'd had it. I recommend you learn the name of the dish you like (good luck with the Mandarin!! Ni hao ma!! ). I learned the Cantonese names of several types of Chinese greens in SF, CA, and I can tell you, it definitely works.

                                                                                                                                      18 Replies
                                                                                                                                      1. re: staughton
                                                                                                                                        chowser Jul 9, 2012 05:30 PM

                                                                                                                                        It's probably not racial profiling. My caucasian cousins are fluent in Chinese and get by great in Chinese restaurants. As you say, restaurants generally want to make sure customers enjoy their food and not send it back. I just read a review about a Puerto Rican restaurant where the reviewer said the food was terrible and that the gets better Spanish food in his home town in Connecticut. Those are the people who make it tough for restauranteurs.

                                                                                                                                        I agree, it's definitely worth showing a familiarity with the cuisine and that's more important than race. We had a friend who would break out in a little dance when certain dishes showed up at dim sum. They loved him and he got great service.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                          Ruth Lafler Jul 13, 2012 04:42 PM

                                                                                                                                          Sure it's racial profiling. The fact that your friends speak Chinese and can therefore make their wishes known in does not negate the fact that a non-Asian person who walks into many of the restaurants we're discussing gets treated differently than an Asian person until they somehow prove themselves.

                                                                                                                                          There's been a lot said about the difficulties of translating the menus. Fine. I get that the menu might be hard to translate (although amazingly against these apparently Herculean odds some manage) and they're not going to hand me a menu in Chinese.

                                                                                                                                          What this doesn't excuse are the restaurants where the "special" menu IS translated and they STILL won't give it to you unless you know to ask (this has happened to me that I know of at least twice -- who knows how many times it happened that I never knew about before I knew to ask?!).

                                                                                                                                          For most people, it's a case of "they don't know what they don't know" -- it's not common practice in Western-style restaurants to have two sets of menus, and thus they don't know to ask. Is it really so hard to tell a customer that they have a "regular" menu and a "specials" menu?

                                                                                                                                          Limster can go on and on about working hard to seek out deliciousness, but the fact is that he speaks Chinese, he's never been treated like a Gweilo in a Chinese restaurant, and he grew up familiar with the various customs and practices of Chinese restaurants. The same is true for KK, and any other Chinese person posting on this thread. Even if they don't actually speak a word of Chinese, when they walk in the door the staff (who after all don't know they can't speak Chinese) will treat them differently than they would a non-Chinese customer. Thus, they really shouldn't dismiss in the rather patronizing way they do the feelings of the non-Chinese among us since, to be frank, they have no clue what they're talking about.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                            chowser Jul 13, 2012 06:14 PM

                                                                                                                                            FWIW, I'm Asian and have never been given a special menu. I don't speak the language and they know it because the first thing they do when you enter a restaurant is talk to you. Given that non-Asians I know who do speak the language are given it means to me it's not racial but familiarity with the culture. How do you know that every Asian person who walks into a Chinese restaurant is treated differently from a non-Asian? Have you talked to non-Asians who are fluent in Chinese?

                                                                                                                                            But, as I've said all along, I think it's wrong to ask for the special menu and not be given it. And, as I said, the reason it's not always presented is that it can be bad for business. My husband's uncle tried and failed--most people didn't want to see pig blood or duck tongue on their menu. He eventually changed it and business slowly went up. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                              chowser Jul 13, 2012 07:05 PM

                                                                                                                                              I wanted to add that I'm not trying to downplay the frustration that the OP went through, nor others with the same experience. It's wrong when you're making an effort and being thwarted.

                                                                                                                                              I'm just saying 1) it's not necessarily racial. I can't speak for every restaurant and I'm sure there are some that are. I'm speaking from personal experience. Most Asian cooks I know love it when someone outside their culture embraces the food. As I said, that guy who danced and openly showed how excited he was by the food? Great service every time and they made an effort to bring things to him. And, 2) sometimes it's about trying to please your clientele and not offending them so they don't come back and that can mean sterlizing the menu they get. It's an issue, too, with throwing a banquet. Sometimes it's hard to know whether to order an authentic menu, with jelly fish, quail w/ head, whole fish, and turn off friends; or modify the menu for them. It's not easily cut and dry.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                Ruth Lafler Jul 13, 2012 07:59 PM

                                                                                                                                                Are you sure you've *never* been given a special menu? When I ate China Village or Hunan with chowhounds I assumed -- naively -- that the menu we were ordering off (in Chinese and English) was the regular menu. It wasn't until I went back with my family that I realized there were two separate menus.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                                  chowser Jul 14, 2012 03:54 AM

                                                                                                                                                  It's possible but I'd be very surprised. My parents and in-laws, definitely do. I should clarify never when I eat on my own or w/ my husband but when we're out with them, we do. The types of food are so different on the two.

                                                                                                                                              2. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                                limster Jul 13, 2012 07:05 PM

                                                                                                                                                Combining this response with that to your above post.

                                                                                                                                                Do experiences at sushi places like Hama-Ko count? Convincing a place in Portugal that I would eat lamprey stewed in its own blood (found out beforehand that it was in season)? Ordering steak tartare at a polish place here in London (overheard the guys next table ordering it)?

                                                                                                                                                In one modern French restaurant in Boston, there's a whole tier of dishes that never make it to the regular menu. Fesenjen is available at a well loved Persian place here in London, but it's not on the menu and usually requires advance ordering. It takes effort something's to get something delicious. Learning about a culture/cuisine to uncover stuff in various restaurants, and cultivating places over a period of time to get better stuff is part and parcel of chowhounding.

                                                                                                                                                And nowhere was I aiming to patronise, merely providing concrete workarounds that have worked in the past. Different Chinese restaurants may have different reasons for not offering someone their "secret" menu; generalisations can be tricky.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: limster
                                                                                                                                                  Ruth Lafler Jul 13, 2012 07:30 PM

                                                                                                                                                  But how many of those examples were those dishes actually on a secret menu that was given to some customers and not to others, as opposed to knowing how to ask for a special off-menu dish, which would apply to everyone?

                                                                                                                                                  Sure there are work arounds, but before you can work around something you have to know there's something behind the barrier. In areas where there is a large variety of Chinese restaurants people are more sophisticated. But if you're from a part of the country where 99 (I'd say 100, but I suspect there are hidden Chinese menus even in the boondocks) percent of the restaurants are generic Chinese-American restaurants, why would you ask? How many people in Fresno would think to ask for the special Sichuan menu (in English, so no excuses), especially at a restaurant called Hunan that was a generic Chinese-American restaurant until the current chef bought it? I'd eaten there three times with Melanie Wong and until I went in with my parents I had no idea I had to ask for the "real menu" since that was all I'd ever seen!

                                                                                                                                                  I guess it's even more infuriating when it happens in reverse: you go to a restaurant with Chinese friends who get the "real" menu, and then when you go in without them you get handed a menu that you KNOW isn't the real menu!

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                                    limster Jul 13, 2012 07:54 PM

                                                                                                                                                    I choose those diverse examples that covered different aspects of what had been discussed here. Hama-Ko's barriers are well documented, extending to different quality of cuts for different customers even for the same item ordered. The lamprey was on the menu, it was convincing them to serve me that was the barrier. Advance order of the fesenjian became possible only after I went with a regular; I had asked about it on a different occasion.

                                                                                                                                                    Separately it's worth mentioning that many non Chinese chowhounds have successfully ordered off menu at many Chinese places, implying that those dishes are available to anyone who knows about them.

                                                                                                                                                    In some of these situations and others, it is not obvious that there is a barrier or that there are things behind, similar or more secretive than the restaurant in Fresno. Thus it pays to dig deeper regardless of the type of restaurant.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                                      limster Jul 13, 2012 08:17 PM

                                                                                                                                                      Seeing more of your post (post edit?)-- if you think that the majority of Chinese places have hidden menus, then it should logical to ask for them by default. I do that whenever I don't get a Chinese menu.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: limster
                                                                                                                                                        Ruth Lafler Jul 13, 2012 09:55 PM

                                                                                                                                                        No, I said it depends on the region. In the Bay Area I think a substantial number of restaurants have -- let's call them "alternate menus." What I thought I said was that in most parts of the country that don't have a large Chinese population, 99 percent probably don't have alternate menus. But I won't say 100 percent because ... well, they could be there and we wouldn't know about them!

                                                                                                                                                        You also seem to be missing the distinction I'm making between "off menu" and "alternate menu" -- so far you haven't given me a single example of being given an alternate menu with different offerings, at a restaurant that routinely gives different menus to different customers based on racial/ethnic stereotypes. With the possible exception of Hama-Ko (and Omakase is by definition off menu) you've only cited "off menu" items and items that were on the menu but they didn't want to serve to you.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                                          limster Jul 14, 2012 03:01 AM

                                                                                                                                                          The distinction isn't important; at a fundamental level they all represent barriers to eating something that is based on stereotypes. In fact, not being able to order something on the menu represents an even more severe barrier. Nevertheless, I have lost count of the number of times where I've had to ask for the Chinese menu. (BTW, the "alternate" menu at Hama-Ko is asking the wife what is good that day and she recites it; omakase is a separate thing.) And fundamentally, the workarounds are the same - learn the cuisine/culture, cultivate the restaurant. It's worth going on about working to seek out deliciousness because that's how one finds delicious in many types of restaurant, not just Chinese ones in the US.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: limster
                                                                                                                                                            Ruth Lafler Jul 14, 2012 03:59 PM

                                                                                                                                                            I don't know if you're willfully misunderstanding me -- we're both intelligent people, but clearly there's a gap in communication. If you can't see the difference from something that's "secret" or alternative to anyone who doesn't know to ask for it as opposed to one that is freely given to some people without them having to ask but not to others, then I've explained it as clearly, and I'm through with this discussion.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                                              limster Jul 14, 2012 04:19 PM

                                                                                                                                                              Not trying to wilfully misunderstand, just trying to look at things at a more global level, as I was hoping to cover all the different types of barriers that have been mentioned on this thread.

                                                                                                                                                              To simplify and cut through the potential miscommunication, I'll focus on one aspect: that even as an ethic Chinese who speaks Mandarin, I often have to ask for the alternative menu too. Thus, when I suggest workarounds, it's not an attempt to dismiss or patronise, but to share tips that I hope that others folks will find as useful as I have.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                                                staughton Jul 14, 2012 04:51 PM

                                                                                                                                                                OKOKOK. I think I started all this by stating that "it would be a case for our courts if another race were profiling their customers," and I'm not rescinding that comment. NO ******* WAY!! It IS profiling, and even though I find it a little offensive, I gave a very solid reason why they're doing it--and, YES, they ARE doing it. limster, who's either been to law school or has picked up some fantastic devil's advocacy trainiing in the UK, will keep arguing that it's about context and that begging for a secret menu and taking language classes should be required for fully enjoying any ethnic restaurant. That seems to be working for him. Those of us who don't dine out 5 times a week all over the western hemisphere and like to try different places on the few occasions when we do go out probably won't ever establish that kind of rapport with any particular restaurant or chef. And why SHOULD we--just to try a $15.00 plate of food?!?!? I've been told, even after explaining that I was familiar with a dish and had eaten it before, that, still, I "wouldn't like it." And it's not just the Chinese. I've been in Korean restaurants where the Korean customers (I don't care HOW they were identified as such, their nationality/ethnicity was assumed or establshed. PERIOD) got more of a variety of banchan/side-dishes for what I'll assume is the same reason, which is that, in that particular restaurant's experience, too many non-Koreans didn't eat/like the ________ (raw crab or the acorn jelly or the WHATEVER). Fact is: THEY DO IT. And that puts the non-Korean customer who likes Korean food in the awkward position of having to POINT IT OUT and ask for what they gave the other tables. I'd love to see my local greasy spoon diner give Asian people who weren't speaking fluent English a different menu every time they came in, or never put bread and butter on the table "because the 'foreigners' wouldn't like it.".... It would be on 60 Minutes the following week.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: staughton
                                                                                                                                                                  limster Jul 14, 2012 05:34 PM

                                                                                                                                                                  I gave several examples of profiling that I experienced, so I'm certainly not making the argument that profiling doesn't exist. But just because one restaurant profiles doesn't mean that all restaurants do.

                                                                                                                                                                  In terms of solutions, you suggested learning the names of a few vegetables in Cantonese and mentioned that it works. I suggested other approaches that have worked for myself or others.

                                                                                                                                                                  Understanding all sorts of cuisines/cultures and building rapport with restaurants are common approaches used by many chowhounds in BOTH ethnic and non-ethnic restaurants. This site is full of such examples.

                                                                                                                                                        2. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                                                                                                                          buttertart Jul 15, 2012 04:06 PM

                                                                                                                                                          I'm really surprised this happens in SF. It doesn't seem to in NYC, at least at the places we patronize. The menus are bilingual. One of the family rules: never eat at a place that doesn't have the Chinese names for things on their menu.

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: staughton
                                                                                                                                                    Chowrin Jul 10, 2012 04:48 AM

                                                                                                                                                    i saw someone send back strawberry chicken because it "didn't look cooked."
                                                                                                                                                    never ate with that person again.

                                                                                                                                                  3. f
                                                                                                                                                    fourunder Jul 14, 2012 10:17 AM

                                                                                                                                                    Does anyone get upset about the secret menu at McDonald's or In-N-Out.....

                                                                                                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: fourunder
                                                                                                                                                      staughton Jul 14, 2012 11:31 AM

                                                                                                                                                      LOL! Are yu trolling the foodies? My nephew's best friend works at McD's, and there actually IS a secret unwritten menu that involves giant fully-loaded off-menu sandwiches for his friends at the end of the shift. Off-menu. Reminds me of OffWorld in Blade Runner.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: staughton
                                                                                                                                                        huiray Jul 14, 2012 11:39 AM

                                                                                                                                                        Really? Do tell, do tell!! What does one have to say or order or what are the phrases used to sweet-talk the laddies and gals at one's local McD to sample such a thing? :-D

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                          staughton Jul 14, 2012 12:22 PM

                                                                                                                                                          There's no way to ring it up on the computer-register to charge you, so they're not going to make it for the paying customers. I suggest you start hanging out with some McDonald's employees. This is all stolen and counterfeit goods, btw--and it's in a McD's under notoriously BAD management in rural Southern Maryland, so I doubt it's a global phenomenon. This place is a joke throughout the county. The meat or fish patty is ALWAYS 1/3 off the bun, etc., I can count on one hand the times they've gotten my order right--and I've never ordered for more than 3 people.. I only go there a few times a year, but twice they've just completely lost my order and I had to tell them again what it was. As for the secret items, It's just basic stuff that a big, teenage American boy would eat--like a Big Mac made with quarter pounder patties and extra cheese. I mean, REALLY!! Is this the sort of thing you want?!?!?! LOL!! When my nephew told me what his friend makes him, I nearly gagged. And I like McDonalds! Let's open a McD's franchise that only does secret stuff that has to be begged for, and has a doorman who only lets the right people in.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                            jgg13 Jul 15, 2012 08:05 AM


                                                                                                                                                            I've always been too afraid of actually ordering them by name, for fear of looking like a dope.

                                                                                                                                                        2. re: fourunder
                                                                                                                                                          chowser Jul 14, 2012 04:11 PM

                                                                                                                                                          There is a secret menu at Starbucks. Ask the kids. Age discrimination? I'm guessing if an older person orders it, the kids will stop because then it will stop being cool.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                            Chowrin Jul 15, 2012 04:42 PM

                                                                                                                                                            half the starbucks barristas don't know their secret menu.
                                                                                                                                                            it's a cali thing.

                                                                                                                                                        3. t
                                                                                                                                                          timpani_mimi Jul 16, 2012 06:59 AM

                                                                                                                                                          -: "I had heard that the best dishes were on the "secret" chinese only menus on the walls of the restaurant"

                                                                                                                                                          just a question: if the menus are on the walls of the restaurant, how are they secret? why don't you try again, but just point at something and ask what it is then say you want it? is the problem that they dont want to explain it to you or that they insist on not allowing you to order it? kind of sounds like the former. or maybe you can take a picture of the menu and post it here, and we can maybe try to figure it out with you.

                                                                                                                                                          when you say " chinese only" menus, do you mean -"in chinese" (in which case, i suppose you mean mandarin) or for chinese people (like - racially? or chinese-looking). its kind of a loaded question because not all english-speaking customers would not be able to read the chinese menu.

                                                                                                                                                          when you went with the person who spoke chinese (what language was it), what did you end up eating?

                                                                                                                                                          1. keithlb1 Jul 16, 2012 07:53 AM

                                                                                                                                                            I think it is more of a decision based on their culture and belief systems.
                                                                                                                                                            They really don't have the time to spend trying to explain the complexities and nuances of food items that many people in Asian countries know and enjoy on a daily basis. Most Chinese food comes at a very affordable price and most Chinese restaurants worth their salt make money off of selling their specialties to a Chinese, Asian, and... American clientele. In order to be profitable they need to turn tables. Unless the establishment is a big urban style restaurant, the smaller family owned places need to turn and burn. They "usually" are staffed with family members that speak broken english, have little time to explain the obscure items that Americans might cringe at, with the exception of the foodies on these boards, do you really want to deal with the masses in a restaurant that "usually" delivers food and drinks to the table in a very timely fashion, with a lengthy Q&A at every turn? People that dine in restaurants really need to understand what it takes to make a restaurant successful, a lot of blood sweat and tears and long hours. Things just don't happen at a snap of the finger. Family owned restaurants are dying off because the corporate owned places train and staff with huge budgets. I am sure the Chinese places that serve a separate menu would accommodate peoples requests for the special menu if patrons actually had some cultural understanding and food knowledge. Other than that they are within in their right to serve what they want to who they want.

                                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                            1. re: keithlb1
                                                                                                                                                              mwk Jul 16, 2012 02:57 PM

                                                                                                                                                              So basically what you are saying is that Chinese restaurants are in the business only to serve other Chinese people, and woe to the stray Non-Chinese American who happens to wander in?

                                                                                                                                                              As for all this talk about turning people off, so yes, keep another menu with the "authentic" stuff that has been translated and offer it to people who ask. Or mention it on the regular English menu. You don't need to have giant signs talking about bull testicles hanging on the wall if you are afraid it may offend your customers.

                                                                                                                                                              Meanwhile, the items I have managed to obtain from the Chinese menus are not really "odd" at all, which is what annoys me the most. I mean, fish stir fried with watercress? Chinese broccoli instead of American? Spicy hot instead of bland?

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: mwk
                                                                                                                                                                keithlb1 Jul 17, 2012 06:58 AM

                                                                                                                                                                There is a place I go to in Seven Corners Va called Hong Kong Palace where they actually give you 2 menus and have a chinese menu on the wall. I asked about the specials on the wall and they basically said they're on the menu as well.
                                                                                                                                                                Their food is no the prototypical Wonton soup and Orange Chicken type of place so even their Americanized menu has a different blend of flavor and cooking technique. I love it.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: keithlb1
                                                                                                                                                                  Steve Jul 17, 2012 07:39 AM

                                                                                                                                                                  Not all the specials on the wall at Hong Kong Palace are on the menu. Also, the specials change and sometimes they will have them even when they are not posted.

                                                                                                                                                                  Pretty soon everyone will have one of those apps that let you translate everything, like the Pleco app referenced upthread.

                                                                                                                                                                  In Thornton Wilder's Our Town, Mrs Gibbs dreams of one day going to Paris "where they don't speak English and don't even want to." Variety is the spice of life, and I don't mind picking up some language skills if it means I get something good for dinner.

                                                                                                                                                            2. f
                                                                                                                                                              FoodPopulist Jul 17, 2012 08:11 AM

                                                                                                                                                              To order off the "secret menu", you need to know what is on the menu. The example given was "stir fried eel dish with pea tendrils and garlic". To get something like that, the correct way is order is to not even look at the menu and to tell the waiter that you would like some eel and if he has any recommendations.

                                                                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                              1. re: FoodPopulist
                                                                                                                                                                chowser Jul 17, 2012 08:44 AM

                                                                                                                                                                Exactly. They might have fresh pea tendrils, they might not. If you talk to them, you can find out what's best. On top of that, my parents friends have sometimes called ahead and asked to bring their own special ingredients, eg. fresh lobsters (things the restaurant might not carry), to see if they would cook it up for them and to discuss how to do it. If you have a relationship w the restaurant, they comply. I've gone into a place where I'm a regular and said I don't know what I want but wanted vegetables. The owner (Korean) popped back and made me a special chap chae w/ lots of vegetables. It was better than anything I'd had there. This was an American Chinese restaurant. Don't be limited by the menu, special or not.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                  huiray Jul 17, 2012 09:35 AM

                                                                                                                                                                  There is an American-Chinese restaurant here that I used to go to very frequently which also had a Chinese menu - which, in later years, was also published on their website. It's still there, together with their English menu - and many of the items on the Chinese menu are also on the English one.

                                                                                                                                                                  Like you and FP, however, I've also walked in, sat down, then asked them what vegetables they had that day - Chinese-type veggies in particular - and often got stuff done "for me" Chinese-style, such as a plate of Chinese spinach ("por choy") stir-fried with fistfuls of garlic...which I'm sure endeared me (not!) to the surrounding Caucasian diners. [The clientele was always almost wholly Caucasian]. Or get stuff like their "Cantonese pan-fried noodles" with alterations to my specifications (including changing to pan-fried mei fun; or breaking a raw egg on top); or asking them for Chinese-style dish recommendations when I was in an undecided mood and got nice stuff on the whole with some misses, in effect off the Chinese menu. Sometimes the proprietress would offer to me that they had "Ngow Laam" that day (Slow stewed beef brisket with daikon & spices like star anise).

                                                                                                                                                                  One talks to them, make oneself known as a frequent customer, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                  Oh, and of course even with all that Americanized stuff the chef puts out, certain Chinese-type dishes can be made very well by him on request - like his Salt & Pepper Shrimp, which IMO is the best I've eaten in the city. OTOH, some kinds of dishes never come out right from him. He has strengths and weaknesses and certain dishes he does well, just like many other chefs operating within such a widely varied cuisine with many traditions and regional variations. Others have mentioned this aspect elsewhere here too, I think. (There was a change in ownership recently but the old chef is still there)

                                                                                                                                                              2. r
                                                                                                                                                                rohirette Jul 17, 2012 08:27 AM

                                                                                                                                                                Restaurant owners make business decisions. Most aren't there to pander to the hobbies of a tiny percentage of their customer base, if it is likely to impact their bottom line.

                                                                                                                                                                How can anyone not understand that a small business owner has to protect their investment, and that they know how to do that better than you do?

                                                                                                                                                                20 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                1. re: rohirette
                                                                                                                                                                  Kris in Beijing Jul 17, 2012 08:35 AM

                                                                                                                                                                  +1, + DOZENS

                                                                                                                                                                  and is Rohirette as in The Rohirrim?

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: rohirette
                                                                                                                                                                    tommy Jul 17, 2012 08:52 AM

                                                                                                                                                                    How is not providing all of your customers with a list of items that you sell up request "protecting their investment?"

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                      fourunder Jul 17, 2012 09:20 AM

                                                                                                                                                                      Here's a possibility. A Chouwhound thinks they are adventurous and would like to order something authentic that sounds good, or worth trying......once served and eaten, it turns out to something they actually do not like due to some spice or ingredient used to make the dish, e.g., like a casserole clay pot made with a fish heads and stinky tofu.....the casserole comes out and they think it has a funky smell and taste and is all bone and very little meat.....instead chalking it up to experience, they go about telling everyone they know the food is not very good. there based on the one dish.

                                                                                                                                                                      Not everyone is level headed about their experiences. The current thread about when is it appropriate to give a restaurant a second chance illustrates just how difficult it is to please everyone. While it can be argued any dish can be viewed the same....many dishes on the second menu are traditionally prepared with ingredients unfamiliar to most western diners and are an acquired taste.....even something as innocent as pickled vegetables.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: fourunder
                                                                                                                                                                        tommy Jul 17, 2012 09:22 AM

                                                                                                                                                                        A remote possibility. How many times do people send back food when they insist on a chinese menu? Not very often I'm thinking.

                                                                                                                                                                        Here's another possibility. I, and many people I know, don't patronize places that don't let us order what we want. They are clearly not protecting their investment.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                          fourunder Jul 17, 2012 09:33 AM

                                                                                                                                                                          The simple truth is if you happen to venture into one of these restaurants that have a secret Chinese menu.....it's a bonus for them. Their business plan is to cater to Chinese Families.... because they know that's where most of their repeat business will come from.

                                                                                                                                                                          As for the second possibility....that's the beauty of choice.....you can be happy not to patronize and they can be happy not to serve you.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: fourunder
                                                                                                                                                                            tommy Jul 17, 2012 09:38 AM

                                                                                                                                                                            "As for the second possibility....that's the beauty of choice.....you can be happy not to patronize and they can be happy not to serve you."

                                                                                                                                                                            Right. So tell me how that "protects their investment."

                                                                                                                                                                            "Their business plan is to cater to Chinese Families"

                                                                                                                                                                            Is it? Which restaurants are you referring to? There's no money in the masses chowing on beef and broccoli? I think you're wrong there, based on the chinese restaurants I've seen.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                              fourunder Jul 17, 2012 09:49 AM

                                                                                                                                                                              The former Hunan Cottage in Fairfield was one place that followed this model for years quite successfully. Qin Dynasty in Parsippany is also doing quite well using the same model.

                                                                                                                                                                              They protect their investment from potential bad word of mouth criticism on the food....

                                                                                                                                                                              There can be money in Beef and Broccoli.....but there's more money is serving Live/Fresh Sea Foods and Whole Fish to Chinese families who are willing to pay $45+ prices for entrees like:

                                                                                                                                                                              Dried Oysters
                                                                                                                                                                              Dried Scallops
                                                                                                                                                                              Live Prawns
                                                                                                                                                                              Sea Cucumber
                                                                                                                                                                              Sea Urchin
                                                                                                                                                                              Red King Crab
                                                                                                                                                                              Whole Steamed Fish

                                                                                                                                                                              from their on-site tanks, without having to travel to NYC Chinatown or Flushing

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: fourunder
                                                                                                                                                                                tommy Jul 17, 2012 10:08 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                "The former Hunan Cottage in Fairfield was one place that followed this model for years quite successfully"

                                                                                                                                                                                Do you have any knowledge of their finances? Do you know if they would have done better if people like me weren't turned off by their practices?

                                                                                                                                                                                I'm baffled that people can't see the idea of refusing to serve people might actually cut both ways.

                                                                                                                                                                                Carry on.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                  fourunder Jul 17, 2012 10:20 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                  The point is....people like you have been given thought and considered.....but it has been determined your patronage is not really a concern for them.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                    fourunder Jul 17, 2012 10:26 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                    Do you have any knowledge of their finances? Do you know if they would have done better if people like me weren't turned off by their practices?

                                                                                                                                                                                    Let's change the restaurant and use Houston's as an example....another restaurant I can see visually with my eye that business is good.

                                                                                                                                                                                    No ....and Yes, and No.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Using Houston may seem silly, but so are your questions. As for Houston's....I don't like the fact that they limit the amount of adult beverages you can have at the tables, by discouraging the server to allow you to have more than two during a meal. Also, to curb consumption on certain type of drinks, they do not stock the required liquors necessary to make the drink. an example of this would be an Apple Martini. The policy is not to stock Apple Plucker so an Apple Martini cannot be made. Do you think there is an outrage over this policy for denying potential customers what they want? Do you think the restaurant would do any better if people like me were not turned off by this practice or policy........I don't think they really care myself.

                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                              fourunder Jul 17, 2012 09:41 AM

                                                                                                                                                                              A remote possibility. How many times do people send back food when they insist on a chinese menu? Not very often I'm thinking.

                                                                                                                                                                              I never indicated anyone would send back anything....I indicated the possibility of
                                                                                                                                                                              * Bad Word Of Mouth * criticism....which does happen often with all restaurants....regardless of how good they are from small mom and pops to Michelin rated restaurants.

                                                                                                                                                                            3. re: fourunder
                                                                                                                                                                              timpani_mimi Jul 17, 2012 10:22 AM

                                                                                                                                                                              kind of related but an alternative version: has this never happened to anyone? have you never, in the spirit of adventure, in some place serving cuisine that you have never tried before, insisted on ordering some "new" or "foreign" dish (by this i mean foreign to you), whether it was already declared to you on the menu or you had to pry it out of some "native" waiter as a secret, received the dish, tried it, then realized that you really hated it for some reason (not your taste, or too hot, or too sour, or too something)? perhaps then you realized that the advisor was right: you really wouldn't have liked it, you really didn't. And maybe you felt chagrin, or embarassment that the waiter might be thinking "you see, i was right, should have listened" etc . Or maybe you just felt glad that you tried it out and learned something anyway.

                                                                                                                                                                              its happened to me, of course. and seeing it from the other side of things, i can understand the experience being valuable to me, but a waste of the other person's time in some way - yes the dish was paid for, but the dining experience was not ideal. i don't think any server wants to have their customer be disgusted by their food, or not enjoy it, whatever the customer may have assured the server about their accepting responsibility regarding how weird it was to them. sometimes cultural tastes just are that different, and in channeling those expectations, the business owners have to make assumptions on how best to serve their clients so that they expect the overall experience will be positive.

                                                                                                                                                                              i'm going to do it.. i'm going to talk about durians. very few people who are new to durians end up liking them. the first encounter is usually traumatic. but durians are largely beloved in their native countries. one memorable event for me is when i had to take some new zealanders out (tourists) and they insisted on trying durians. i played a part similar to the waiters in the original post by issuing the warning that they should be really prepared not to like it, but of course they insisted they were game. how bad could it be? i can tell you that i was sincerely concerned when i made that warning (in a friendly way). we had to order almost $50 worth (they are sold by weight, and it was a family), and .. well, it was bad. there was throwing up, spitting out, red faces, confusion and fear.. also, not much of an attempt to conceal disgust.. and i ended up having to eat all remaining $45 of the durians, partly because i was afraid of offender the durian seller.

                                                                                                                                                                              let's take this further - see how durians are portrayed or described in "foreign" media - by which i refer to media of countries in which durians are not native? it is the quintessential "other" - the truly weird, exotic item, representing something completely foreign, and tasting like bad cheese and feet. how do you think natives feel about this portrayal, being empathetic to the description but loving it all the same? Similarly, chinese food is mocked sometimes, for its strange combinations, for the bad English, for hygiene and non-Western-format presentation (fish served with the head? omg!). you just have to look at the Men in Black 3 restaurant scene to see what i mean (i loved that scene). While hilarious, and not without merit, one can be sympathetic to the more unfriendly Chinese restaurant owners who anticipate the fundamental discomfort and mockery that underlies this perspective, and who simply are not interested in translating every single item so that non-Chinese speakers can understand them. In some ways, it is true. what is the point?

                                                                                                                                                                              Isn't it possible that the restaurant owners in the above example are anticipating this perception and aiming to negotiate a happy medium for all their customers? Nice, tame, dishes with Chinese flavour and English descriptions. the politics they exercise is actually a politics of inclusion. When in uh.. "a foreign land," there is a recognition along the lines of "hey - you be my people, yo what's up " that occurs sometimes for any cultural group. I think sometimes that having that menu in chinese characters only is not meant to exclude those that cannot read it, but to include those that share the commonality. Is it rude? perhaps not intentionally.

                                                                                                                                                                              I've really enjoyed this thread and appreciate the civil exchange of ideas in it.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: fourunder
                                                                                                                                                                                keithlb1 Aug 4, 2012 06:54 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                I could not have said it any better. Most people on this board are pretty knowledgeable on food matters, but I will Second the "level headed" quote. Most average Americans want what they think is saved for somebody else. Look at the bigger is better SUV craze if you don't believe me. And like all wasteful and disregarding lemmings we have become, we moan and groan when something doesn't come out the way we the "experts" thought it would. Waaa! Then we go to YELP and post our narrow minded opinions about how awful the food was, ruining the reputation of a hard working career restauranteur making their life that much tougher. Most owners don't need that aggravation. Just to please a few adventure seekers. Like the well informed hounds on the board here. Not trying to be a real pessimist, but as a restaurant worker I see it all the time. Another scenario is the Chinese or Asian restaurant owner might have some very limited ingredients available for his friends, family or regular Asian clientele, but really can't predict when they're is going to be a run on fish heads,ex. People who know how to communicate with owners should have no problem getting what they want. But for the average diner it is just another obstacle that has a negative pay off for the owner.

                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                chowser Jul 17, 2012 09:29 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                As I've said, and others have pointed out, people can be offended by things like duck tongue, bull testicles, pig blood on the menu; or with ducks hanging w/ heads in the front. It depends on the area. That's what happened to my husband's uncle who tried--people didn't come back. He got rid of the that menu, got rid of the chef and hired some line cooks instead. He's doing very well now. CH might think they're the norm but they're not. Andrew Zimmern has an entire show on foods that turn off Americans. If it were appealing, he wouldn't have a show.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                  tommy Jul 17, 2012 09:31 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                  If it were appealing to the masses, those items would be on the menus at Applebees.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Can you tell me how not letting people order from the chinese menu, when they insist on it, "protects their investment?"

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                    1sweetpea Jul 17, 2012 09:57 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                    I have ordered items from a "Chinese" menu and been a bit disappointed with my choices. Knowing that it was a bit of a crapshoot, since the items weren't well described, either by the badly translated menu or by my kind server, for whom English was a second or even third language, I did not complain whatsoever about those choices, but simply expressed that they were indeed different, but interesting and tasty. In fact, they were encouragement to keep trying and ordering new and different dishes.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Of those dishes I didn't love, the reasons were simply that in one dish, there was quite a lot of fat and oil, that was delicious, but was guaranteed indigestion for me later. As for the second dish, it was a bit bland. It was a green vegetable with whole garlic cloves and in quite a lot of poaching liquid. It was pleasant, just not exciting. A third dish was, in fact, full of bones with scant little meat, plus some funky dried fish. It wasn't bad, just frustrating to pick at. All experiences were worthwhile. I would NEVER leave that restaurant and badmouth it due to those dishes ordered. Those were my experiments. If anything, I'd be praising that place for competently handling both the standard Americanized Chinese restaurant requests and those of Chinese diners that want food that more closely resembles that of their country of origin.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                      huiray Jul 17, 2012 10:00 AM


                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                        chowser Jul 17, 2012 10:11 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                        "Protects their investment", as in my husband's uncle almost lost his restaurant because people were turned off by what was on his menu. As a last ditch effort, he changed it. It's not what he wanted the restaurant to be but he made the business decision.

                                                                                                                                                                                        I've said all along that I think it's wrong to prevent people from ordering what they want; or from getting the special menu. At the same time, if the special menu were provided to all customers, it could turn them off. And some people do think they are adventurous and hate what they try and will pan restaurants because of it, as with huuray's link to my post. Just read trip advisor.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Overall, while this might be a big deal to CHs, there aren't that many people who care about it which is probably why it's done the way it is. If enough people clamored for the special menu, there wouldn't have to be one and that would be a good thing.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                          tommy Jul 17, 2012 10:15 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                          It sounds like your husband's uncle didn't have a separate menu that he refused to give to non-chinese. That's the thrust of the OP.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                            chowser Jul 17, 2012 10:32 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                            Yeah. The question is how often does it happen that there is a menu that non-Asians are not allowed to order off of? I can understand if it's busy and there isn't a lot of time to translate. But, I have never heard of an instance where there is a special menu, in English, and the restaurant refuses to allow someone access to it. I can see admonitions because people do think their more adventurous than they are. At the same time, I'm not offended when I'm told something might be spicier than my palate might like. I appreciate it and assume they've found from experience that "others" find it too spicy. In either case, an admonition is good; refusal isn't.

                                                                                                                                                                                2. d
                                                                                                                                                                                  DeppityDawg Jul 18, 2012 07:21 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                  A short reading list from the web:

                                                                                                                                                                                  "The economics of secret Chinese menus" (repost; no longer available on original blog)

                                                                                                                                                                                  "Where the Real Chinese Food Is Hidden"

                                                                                                                                                                                  "Happy Chinese New Year! The Secret Chinese Menu. Hop Woo BBQ. Chinatown, Los Angeles."

                                                                                                                                                                                  Even Chinese people have to ask for the full menu sometimes. If you come in for lunch, if you're just one or two people, if you look young and Americanized, if you're not a regular, etc. you might have to ask.

                                                                                                                                                                                  The comments on the other sites are revealing, because they come from a broader spectrum of Internet users than CH posters. For example:
                                                                                                                                                                                  "We Americans do NOT need to be exposed to the filthy eating habits of the asians."

                                                                                                                                                                                  Also, there are accusations of price discrimination in favor of Chinese customers (the same dishes are supposedly listed on the "secret" menu at lower prices) and suggestions that some of the items available on the secret menu are actually illegal. Hmm. But there are two useful comments (by "A. Lee" and "China Man") at the end of this blog post:

                                                                                                                                                                                  "The economics of the secret Chinese menu"

                                                                                                                                                                                  62 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: DeppityDawg
                                                                                                                                                                                    huiray Jul 18, 2012 08:05 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                    Excellent post. Thank you.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Another comment from the 2nd link:

                                                                                                                                                                                    "the local Chinese restaurant here does the same thing, but i have a friend who works there (and isclose with the owner) so i’ve had a chance to try many of the authentic dishes. i’m a very adventurous eater, but never found anything i would order over the americanized dishes."

                                                                                                                                                                                    Also from that same link, from poster JACQUILYNNE [same person as on CH? :-) ]:
                                                                                                                                                                                    "Jacquilynne says:
                                                                                                                                                                                    August 17, 2009 at 12:46 pm
                                                                                                                                                                                    One of the reasons I’ve commonly seen cited is that it reduces problems with people who order things off the Chinese/secret/authentic/good menu, and then send them back because they don’t like them. Every ethnic restaurant owner has a few stories of people who insisted they absolutely wanted the spicy/offal/weird/authentic dish and then sent it back and insisted on not paying for it after they found out what it was. If you just give them the gwailo menu in the first place, you don’t have that problem."

                                                                                                                                                                                    Or this:
                                                                                                                                                                                    "3) Protecting the ego. Believe it or not, it’s hurtful and/or offensive to most people of Chinese descent when a much loved dish is disparaged with comments like “Good lord!” or “I can’t believe you people eat that stuff” or “You people really will eat anything, won’t you?” or “Ewwww!” I can easily see how a restaurant owner or manager would quickly decide, “You know what? Forget it. Selling this dish to the two adventurous non-Chinese customers a year isn’t worth the grief of hearing the sounds of disgust from everyone else.” "

                                                                                                                                                                                    Other commenters also remark on how this phenomenon is also found with cuisines other than Chinese, *including French*:
                                                                                                                                                                                    "Stephanie says:
                                                                                                                                                                                    August 17, 2009 at 3:31 pm
                                                                                                                                                                                    I’ve seen something similar happen in Paris. We spoke French to the waiter who seated us, and were given the French menu. Another couple spoke English to the waiter who seated them, and they were given the English menu. Comparing the two side by side, it was quite clear that the French menu had many more choices on it than the English menu. It saves the waiter from having to explain unfamiliar terminology to the customer."

                                                                                                                                                                                    Etc etc etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                    As you say, these links emphasize how exceptional the CHers who are complaining are.

                                                                                                                                                                                    tommy (and others) should read these articles you link to.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                      tommy Jul 18, 2012 08:14 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                      What will I learn?

                                                                                                                                                                                      I for one like the idea of the "secret" menu. I prefer to have the good stuff separate from the rest.

                                                                                                                                                                                      The only thing that I take issue with is when they refuse to give it to you, and if you do get it, insist "you won't like that." The thrust of my involvement in this particular discussion has been questioning how fighting with customers is somehow "protecting their investment."

                                                                                                                                                                                      I've read here that they don't want bad word of mouth, and then that they don't want non-chinese at their restaurant anyway. The two do not compute.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                        huiray Jul 18, 2012 08:21 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                        Yet you continue to dispute that "authentic" dishes *do* get sent back. Or that you are one of the 1% (or whatever percentage) of their clientele who would otherwise go "EWWW" at such dishes. Unless you cultivate the trust of a restaurant, they have no way of knowing that YOU are not just like the 99% who *would* go "EWWW".

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                          tommy Jul 18, 2012 08:25 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                          Yet I continue to dispute that anyone can support the claim that not serving people what they want, in the context of someone asking for the hidden menu, and arguing with customers "protects their investment." That's all. Nothing more, nothing less.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                            huiray Jul 18, 2012 08:28 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                            ***Sigh***. Because they would not know you were that "1%" rather than the "99%" who would either send it back or post negative reviews.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                              tommy Jul 18, 2012 08:29 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                              That's some theory.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                huiray Jul 18, 2012 08:30 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                Fine, I change my phrasing to "...rather than the "99%" who MIGHT either send it back or post negative reviews."

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                  tommy Jul 18, 2012 08:33 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                  What's amusing is that the restaurants that I'm aware of that have this type of policy of arguing with customers and not letting them order certain dishes were in existence long before people were "posting negative reviews." Can't say I buy the theory, given that fact.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                    huiray Jul 18, 2012 08:41 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                    "Posting negative reviews" certainly encompasses 'word-of-mouth' and "local reputation", which is independent of any new-fangled online stuff. Even nowadays, with all these "internets" stuff, that is still true.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I do agree with you that a restaurant that *absolutely* refuses to serve you a requested "authentic" dish is in the wrong, but a reluctance to do so is not.

                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Kris in Beijing Jul 18, 2012 08:50 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                  I want to insert a story that is a gem from a friend of mine.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Guy has heard about this new, phenomenal restaurant focusing on one cuisine that is rumored to offer an off-menu "chef's choice" dinner.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  He wants to take friends native to the culture of the restaurant, but thinks he should go alone first.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  He orders the not-on-the-menu Chef's Choice after having to be insistent with the waiter, who implies that CC is really only for people known to the Chef. He finds this patently unfair, but is patiently pushy with the finally submissive waiter.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  The meal comes-- spread in a beautiful display of integrated small bites.
                                                                                                                                                                                                  He can identify multiple elements in many of the dishes and feels immensely vindicated.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  He begins with the smallest individual bite--
                                                                                                                                                                                                  and promptly consumes and entire one inch mountain of wasabi.

                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                            FoodPopulist Jul 18, 2012 05:23 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                            It's real simple. No catering to the whims of high-maintenance customers who often cause too much trouble to be worth the effort. Come in often and become a regular and then you might have a legitimate complaint if they won't give you the "secret" menu.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Coming from an Asian family, I can honestly say that some Asians consider too many white people to be a bad mark against a restaurant. Some restaurants want to build a loyal, repetitive base of ethnic customers who value some semblance of authenticity and bring in their families at least once a week. The perception of being too Americanized could threaten that base. I don't see why it is so hard to see how someone might believe in that sort of business model.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: FoodPopulist
                                                                                                                                                                                              chowser Jul 18, 2012 05:28 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                              " I can honestly say that some Asians consider too many white people to be a bad mark against a restaurant."

                                                                                                                                                                                              That's interesting because I've never found that to be the case, but do find that a lot of non-Asians think that a number of Asians at a restaurant give it legitimacy. I often read reviews like "Judging by the number of Asians there, it has to be good." I've never heard an Asian say they won't go somewhere because too many non-Asians go there.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                FoodPopulist Jul 19, 2012 01:16 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                Are you Asian? I am. I figure most Asians won't admit that sort of opinion to white people.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: FoodPopulist
                                                                                                                                                                                                  chowser Jul 19, 2012 04:31 AM


                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                  DeppityDawg Jul 19, 2012 02:49 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                  If you see a significant proportion of non-Chinese diners, it is reasonable to suspect some degree of Americanization of the food. There is nothing wrong with any of that per se, but if you're looking for authentic Chinese food, you might choose to avoid that restaurant. Unless you have some reason to believe that you can actually get authentic food there. One way for the restaurant to indicate this is by having a menu in Chinese. In that case it doesn't matter if the place is full of non-Chinese people enjoying Americanized food; you don't have to eat what they're eating.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  This rationale is explained very well by the commenter "A. Lee" I mentioned above. It's not just a matter of time/expense/expertise required to translate or explain the Chinese menu. The language barrier and the other barriers that the restaurant may put up are not bugs, but features. If the Chinese menu becomes accessible to everyone without effort, the dishes on it can no longer be assumed to be authentic, and diners looking for that may go elsewhere.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: DeppityDawg
                                                                                                                                                                                                    chowser Jul 19, 2012 04:39 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Those are good points. I do think, at least people I know have a good relationship w/ the restaurants they frequent, eg. hold banquets there, know the owners, etc, that they continue to frequent the restaurant no matter what the clientele. At the same time, they're probably not getting the same food, even if it's the same dish.

                                                                                                                                                                                                3. re: FoodPopulist
                                                                                                                                                                                                  tommy Jul 18, 2012 05:33 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                  What's real simple?

                                                                                                                                                                                                  So not giving the odd (1% was it?) non-chinese customer the chinese menu even when they demand it, but instead giving them the americanized menu as they do with allllllllll of the other non-chinese, somehow cuts down on the non-chinese customers?

                                                                                                                                                                                                  "Come in often and become a regular and then you might have a legitimate complaint if they won't give you the "secret" menu."

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Why the eff would anyone who wants chinese food continue to return to a restaurant that won't serve them chinese food. LOL.
                                                                                                                                                                                                  This discussion is getting more difficult to follow by the post.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                    chowser Jul 18, 2012 05:55 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                    "So not giving the odd (1% was it?) non-chinese customer the chinese menu even when they demand it, "

                                                                                                                                                                                                    How often does this happen?

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                      tommy Jul 18, 2012 05:56 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                      "I tried my best to get any of the waiters to help me order from those menus. But, they kept insisting that I wouldn't like any of the food. They just did not want to tell me what was being offered off the English menu. I argued the point for a while, and I finally was able to have them suggest one dish which I ordered and it was wonderful (it was a stir fried eel dish with pea tendrils and garlic). But, the fight to get it was off-putting."

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                        chowser Jul 18, 2012 06:16 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I'm not saying it never happens. I'm asking how often it does happen. Having had family with multiple restaurants, I'd say the opposite happens far more often--where someone orders and hates it rather than someone who is not given the option loving it. And the former happens often which is why some act that way. Having thrown banquets, I can say far more people who don't grow up w/ jellyfish are turned off by it than love it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Here, I googled "authentic chinese restaurant review" and this was the first one that came up:


                                                                                                                                                                                                        It shows what the average person is expecting when they go to an authentic chinese restaurant. Not really authentic Chinese food.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                          mwk Jul 19, 2012 10:29 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                          *****Omg...Silver Palace is legit ran by real Chinese people who know wtf they're doing!!! If you're looking for an authentic Chinese meal this place is for you!! :o)

                                                                                                                                                                                                          What I love:

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Salt and Pepper Shrimp - crispy; spicy; amazing with white rice.
                                                                                                                                                                                                          House Special Lo Mein - delicious!! perfect.
                                                                                                                                                                                                          House Special Fried Rice (no bean sprouts please) - amazing!
                                                                                                                                                                                                          Egg rolls - yummy fried goodness
                                                                                                                                                                                                          LOL...I guess you are right. Egg Rolls and Lo Mein...

                                                                                                                                                                                                          But again, I can't see this person ever demanding the "secret" Chinese menu and demanding to order something from it. Anyone who thinks that Egg Rolls are authentic Chinese food would not be ordering jellyfish in any form. Personally, I'm not a jellyfish fan myself, so I wouldn't order it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Also, someone who is sophisticated enough to know about the other menu and ask about it and be anxious to try items off of it, will have a much broader mind to try new things anyhow. I just cannot fathom a situation where someone would demand to order something that is going to disgust them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: mwk
                                                                                                                                                                                                            FoodPopulist Jul 19, 2012 01:47 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I wonder how many people get that Chinese cold cut appetizer platter that is common in the kind of Chinese restaurants I like and think they are eating seaweed when it is really jellyfish.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: FoodPopulist
                                                                                                                                                                                                              chowser Jul 19, 2012 02:02 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I'd think someone who is comfortable eating seaweed would be comfortable eating jellyfish, unless they're vegetarian. On that cold platter, how would they feel eating beef tongue if they thought it was just sliced beef (as if somehow muscle is palatable but mouth muscle isn't.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                FoodPopulist Jul 19, 2012 02:37 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                I think more people would be comfortable eating seaweed compared to jellyfish. If you went to a sushi place, more diners are comfortable eating seaweed than with eating sea urchin. People have a better idea of what to expect from eating unusual plants than they do from eating unusual animals.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: mwk
                                                                                                                                                                                                              chowser Jul 19, 2012 02:00 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Yeah, it's funny what people think is authentic. I have no idea what the stats are on people who think they're adventurous and aren't. I also have no idea how many people request the special menu and are denied it. We haven't heard from the OP on how busy the place was, whether he/she returned and tried again now that there's a track record. It's one person, one restaurant, one server. If the menu is in English and requested, I think it should be provided. The hard part is when it's not and a person asks what's on the wall--does the server have the time to translate it all and is it going to get some gagging reflex?

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                mwk Jul 19, 2012 05:34 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                To answer your question, I recited my experience at one particular restaurant here in Boston Chinatown, and the place was not busy at all. Only one other table of Chinese customers and us. However, it is a familiar refrain in just about all of the Chinese restaurants I've been in (except for the strictly "american" take out only places). Actually, it's even worse in the suburb where I live, where there is a large Chinese population and many Chinese restaurants which cater to that population. However, it's next to impossible for me to get anything other than General Gao's chicken, or Moo Shi Pork.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                The menus are not in English most of the time, and that is the core of the problem. And it happens again and again. I'll even give you another example where the menu WAS in English. I was ordering take out from a local place. I had the menu in hand while I was on the phone and wanted to try something different, so I tried to order "minced beef and cilantro" soup. The response was, "oh no, that's not for American customer, you should order won ton".

                                                                                                                                                                                                                I took that as a challenge and insisted that I wanted it. I told him I like cilantro and I like minced beef, so why wouldn't I like the soup? Long story short, I finally convinced him to let me order it and it was delicious. It's my go to soup now, instead of the usual hot and sour.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: mwk
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  chowser Jul 19, 2012 06:23 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  It's too bad that they weren't more responsive to you in that restaurant. It's not right that you have to jump through hoops so I hope it doesn't sound like I'm excusing the behavior but explaining why they might direct you to a more Americanized dish. People do order things and realize they don't like it. It has happened often when I brought friends over to my parents' house and they try things and don't enjoy it. There's no cost involved there but in a restaurant, they're trying to direct you to what they've found others have enjoyed, rather than spend money on a something you don't (at least, that's my experience). They're not trying to be rude, although sometimes the mannerism might come off as it. Most restaurants don't want to see people leave an entire plate of food uneaten, as we wouldn't in our own homes. It's happened enough to my mom that she's always cautious when serving some of her more culturally strong dishes (I also feel the same way when I serve some things to my kids' friends who only like chicken nuggets--sure there are some who have enjoyed moussaka but most turn their noses up at it, after trying it).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  It's great that you're diligent enough to get to try new foods. And, I think if they know you, they'll be thrilled about your wanting to try new things, Nothing thrilled my mom as much as when I brought home adventurous friends who loved what she prepared. "Oh, you like our food" is what she'll happily exclaim. OTOH, it's not fun making dishes and knowing that most people haven't liked it and they turn out not to.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    huiray Jul 19, 2012 07:57 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    There's a Szechuanese restaurant in my area which has the "real stuff" for their Sunday brunch; and Americanized stuff for their weekday brunch/lunch buffet. Here's what I selected and ate from the openly-presented buffet one Sunday: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8535... (see the second entry). As I described there, the people who actually eat there on Sundays are almost wholly Chinese, and in fact on that particular Sunday there were no non-Chinese patrons while I was there. On other Sundays when I have been there, no more than 2 or 3 Caucasian people might be there on average, if that. On weekdays the clientele is almost wholly Caucasian. In this case it isn't a "hidden menu". However, it is interesting that Caucasians would not avail themselves of the "real" delicacies available on Sundays. It isn't as if they "don't know" about it, nor that they are barred entry - all are freely welcome to walk in and dine there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      goldangl95 Jul 19, 2012 08:24 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      This actually proves the point though doesn't it? Most people know the types of food they like. If you had all the items from the weekday buffet, and the sunday buffet all on one menu - with say the sunday buffet dishes as "szechuan specialties." Almost everyone would self-select appropriately.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The appropriate analogy to the original poster's scenario is a white american couple walks into the Sunday Brunch. A waiter stops them and says oh! you don't want to eat here today! Today we only serve food Sichuan people like. The couple replies oh we know, we actually came here to try it....yet the waiter insists that they should not eat the buffet and leave.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I don't know why this type of interaction should happen. How often does it happen that one insists on eating tripe, and it comes and they say eww tripe I'm not paying for that?!? Sure it happens every once in a long while but it can't happen that often.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Perhaps it's just a language/cultural barrier, the wait staff doesn't have the English abilities and cultural knowledge to describe dishes to send off the "warning" signals for American palates. So it ends up in one ordering a pork dish, but not realizing that the pork is rendered gelatinous, or that it's pork organs etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: goldangl95
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Steve Jul 19, 2012 08:42 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Where, I live, the the DC area, 'You No Like' Syndrome is not very forceful. And there are quite a few places where it is not present at all. However, in Atlanta I came up against a very aggressive waiter and then manager who pleaded with me not to order a spicy dry-fried noodle dish.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: goldangl95
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          huiray Jul 20, 2012 04:52 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I'm not sure it does (although, yes, it could be extrapolated to do so as you say). For one thing, this alternating buffet spread does not, after all, take place side-by side where the dishes are right next to each other. Also, the dishes are not named - not the "real" stuff, anyway, like those cold hors d'oeurvres. Do we know that the majority of white folks would not blanch at them and lose their appetite? No doubt you would not, of course.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The restaurant does also have a handwritten "Chinese menu", in fact, which is mostly translated and for the most part in basic terms. I don't know if that is handed out to every patron automatically with the full/regular menu when a menu is requested or at non-buffet meals.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            goldangl95 Jul 20, 2012 07:09 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Are you saying that someone would lose their appetite if they saw a section they did not like side by side with descriptions they do like on a menu??!??! Even when that section is delineated?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Because no one is talking about having a buffet with mixed sichuan delicacies/more exotic items along side the Panda express type food in a jumbled mixed up scenario.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The fact is people generally know what they like as shown by your buffet example (people go on the days where they know they will like the food and self-select). If you have a regular americanized chinese menu, and a separate menu or section for the delicacies. People will self-select. There is no need for the restaurant to select for you.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            And depending on the region, yes you do end up making wrong assumptions (like the one you just made about me) enough to turn off patrons. Especially in urban areas, you are going to have people who worked in china for a year, or whose spouse in chinese but couldn't come that day etc., or who are adopted, or whose mother was an ambassador to Hong Kong etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: goldangl95
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              huiray Jul 20, 2012 08:17 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Ah, so you *do* lose your appetite if you see plates of pig colon pieces, marinated beef tripe, garlic-scallion pig stomach etc next to poached chicken slices, spring rolls etc - which you have to view while you pick up your spring roll and chicken? OK, sorry, I stand corrected.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                goldangl95 Jul 20, 2012 08:43 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Last point, no I don't personally mind at all, and I don't think many would. But mixing it together (e.g. having a chinese food menu where say 60% traditional chinese dishes and 40% americanized dishes are all listed together alphabetically) or a buffet, is a decidedly more risky position -as it always is- because it would be hard for people to find what they want, they'd get overwhelmed, and they'd leave.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                It's why all menus and all buffets are sorted by category, you don't mix in the soups, with the entrees, with the desserts all in a jumble because it's hard to navigate. Even in restaurants where they are only serving 10-15 dishes they still separate into categories.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Now if you want to make a political statement, that anyone should be able to eat anything on your menu and jumble it all together that's fine.....but I was just stating no one was actually advocating that here....and that it's not the point of this thread.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: goldangl95
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  huiray Jul 20, 2012 08:52 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Yet you said that I was mistaken when I presumed you would not lose your appetite with a buffet of "real" stuff next to "Americanized" stuff in my prior post. :::scratchinghead:::

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  "...you don't mix in the soups, with the entrees, with the desserts all in a jumble..."
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Uhh, I didn't say it shouldn't be nor propose that it be.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  "Now if you want to make a political statement, that anyone should be able to eat anything on your menu and jumble it all together that's fine..."
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Neither did I say this nor intimate this.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Ehh, I was describing a situation I observed. It is possible that folks may make different extrapolations from it. Let's leave it at that.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        mwk Jul 20, 2012 06:00 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        But, how will I ever know if I like something if I don't try it? Isn't that what our mothers all used to say when they were trying to get us to eat vegetables or something? "How do you KNOW you won't like it if you won't TRY it?" I may very well not have liked that soup, and it may have ended up in the sink. I have had that happen with food I KNOW I like, if it was done poorly. I remember one time ordering fish and chips from a local take out place, and having to put it in the garbage because it was soggy and so oversalted I couldn't eat it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Not every new dish I've tried has been a success for my palate. One example is bitter melon. I ordered a dish of beef with bitter melon because I wanted to try it. Needless to say, bitter melon is REALLY bitter. I just couldn't stomach it. So, what I did was to eat other dishes and have it packed up to take home, pretending I ordered too much food. Then I threw it away at home. Was that really necessary? I figured that if the waitress saw I didn't like it, I'd never get to try anything new there ever again.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: mwk
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          chowser Jul 20, 2012 03:02 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          "But, how will I ever know if I like something if I don't try it?"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          ?? I didn't say anything about not trying it. I'm just saying that if you made one type of dish for a certain group of people, most of whom don't like it, you might get leery of making it for them. I'm that way w/ my children's friends who only eat limited foods. Do I want to give them eel sushi when almost every one who has tried it has hated it? Hesitantly. I think restaurants are the same way when people leave a dish uneaten. As the bitter melon example goes, if that was the only unusual thing you ordered, then taking it home was probably a good decision. But, if you ordered quite a few things, leaving one isn't a big deal. I eat a good amount of the banchan served at Korean restaurants. But, there are some I try and leave. No biggie. But, that's night and day from some of my friends who don't touch any. No one expects you to like everything.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          When we traveled through Scotland, some of the inn keepers repeated asked if we really wanted the haggis and blood sausage. I guessed that there were enough Americans who didn't care for it that they wanted to make sure we wanted it. I wasn't insulted.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            mwk Jul 22, 2012 02:44 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            LOL, send the haggis and blood sausage to me. I love that stuff. I have a Scottish friend who acts as my "mule" and brings me canned haggis back from scotland when he visits his relatives.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: mwk
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              chowser Jul 22, 2012 05:30 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I prefer blood sausage over haggis. Don't think any of it was canned. OTOH, I'd be perfectly happy just starting my day w/ a bowl of porridge. It just hit the spot and kept me full for hours. I don't know how they all made it but it was such a great way to start the day.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                            FoodPopulist Jul 19, 2012 01:19 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                            If you think the English menu is fake Chinese food and there is some secret menu with the "real" Chinese food, you are mistaken.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          3. re: FoodPopulist
                                                                                                                                                                                                            Wawsanham Sep 12, 2012 07:33 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                            It's nice of you to speak so frankly, food populist, but your original post shows those Asian restaurants to have a racist attitude pure and simple. You can never prefer one customer over another, especially when living in a multicultural society.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Wawsanham
                                                                                                                                                                                                              chowser Sep 12, 2012 08:51 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                              It's not that they're refusing to serve one group of people; they're directing the customers to what they've found is popular to that crowd. It's like a democrat not spending as much on advertising on during FOX news. As a woman, I treat a strange man more suspiciously than I do a strange woman. Ask any woman. Is it sexist?

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                Wawsanham Sep 12, 2012 09:48 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Well, that is what profiling is all about. It is a fine line, but when it goes too far it is offensive and or racist/sexist/xenophobic--at the very least it is crude and thoughtless. Besides, the onus has to be on the person who ordered it to then say "I didn't like it." Well, they still ordered it, then they found out they don't like it--that's their problem and their choice.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Wawsanham
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  chowser Sep 12, 2012 10:27 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Ask any woman how she'd feel if she were alone in a dark place with a man she didn't know vs a woman. You can call her sexist, crude and thoughtless; she'd call it survival.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Yes, the onus is on the person who didn't place the order but maybe the owners don't want to put it out there because they'd experienced enough people hating it that they don't want to be bothered. As I've said in many posts here, I'm not defending it but trying to explain why someone might do that. As most Asians have said, we've experienced people "Eewing" our food enough that sometimes you don't want tot deal w/ it any more.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Wawsanham Sep 14, 2012 10:59 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    When you have a restaurant and a customer goes "ew" you just have to live with it. It's part of dealing with people. Those customers are probably idiots as it is. But, it is your duty as a restaurant to give the customer the choice to order what they want from what you offer all customers there. If you profile your customers, you are in the wrong. It has no justification.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Wawsanham
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Steve Sep 14, 2012 09:22 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The restaurant's duty is not to lose money.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Steve
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        tommy Sep 15, 2012 04:32 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        How does a restaurant lose money by allowing a customer to order what he wants or by not profiling customers?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          johnb Sep 15, 2012 08:39 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          By having to take back dishes that the customer ordered then decided he didn't like and sent back, and credit the customer, thus losing money. It also may affect his service staff, since such events may lead to smaller tips.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          If a restaurant has had that happen several times, with a certain recognizable type of customer and certain dishes, they learn what to expect and act accordingly. I see this a reasonable on their part -- I don't see it as profiling, at least in the pejorative sense of the word; YMMV. I think they are justified in taking such a cautious approach to a new customer that fits those characteristics.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          We all "profile" all the time -- the term, as a verb, has taken on a pejorative meaning in recent years due to its being used to describe how police (government) at times approaches members of minority groups. I trust we all agree that is not a good thing. However, the tendency of restaurant owners to presuppose what certain types of customers might like or not like, and acting on that supposition, does not rise to the same level.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: johnb
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            tommy Sep 15, 2012 08:43 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Denying service or goods based on ethnicity or religion or appearance is wrong, regardless of how people seem to want to defend it in this case.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            If a taxi driver tells you that he thinks that blacks are more likely to rob and run out on a fare, would you say it's OK for him to not pick up blacks? Muslims? Whites? Ridiculous, and wrong.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Your theory on how many times dishes get sent back when a white guy insists on ordering them is interesting. Do you have any facts/numbers/statistics to back that up? You really think that someone who is going to know that there's probably a menu with more authentic dishes on it, ask for that menu, navigate that menu, and make a decision, often with the help of google on a smartphone, the staff, or against their better judgement, is then going to send the dish back and demand a refund?? How many times might this scenario have actually played out? About twice, I'm thinking.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Again, I like that there is a separate menu for more authentic dishes. It not doubt saves the restaurant the hassle of having someone ordering eel thinking it's General Tso. My issue stems not from the menu's existence, but the staff's refusal to let non-Chinese see it, or order from it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              chowser Sep 15, 2012 08:59 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Other than the OP, which I agree wasn't fair, who has experienced a staff's refusal to see the authentic menu? And, in the OP case, it was there, just not in English.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                tommy Sep 15, 2012 10:58 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Me. "no. You won't like it".check out other food websites with similar discussions. This obviously happens. I could point you to two restaurants that do this, but you don't care. I care even less.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                johnb Sep 15, 2012 09:07 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I think the whole point of numerous posts in this thread is that that is EXACTLY the "scenario that plays out." If you think it doesn't happen, well, you can think what you want.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                A private businessman can deny anything he wants for any reason (discriminate) provided it is not explicitly forbidden by law (the taxi hypothetical you cite is forbidden by law). It is his business, his option. To raise what menu items a Chinese owner is willing to sell to a particular customer to the level of morality or ethics as you are trying to do is, IMO, over the top.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ipsedixit Sep 15, 2012 12:09 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Denying service or goods based on ethnicity or religion or appearance is wrong, regardless of how people seem to want to defend it in this case.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Who said Chinese restaurants are denying customers the "secret menu" based on ethnicity, religion or any other protected class (btw, "appearance" is not a protected class).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    tommy Sep 15, 2012 04:01 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I stand corrected. It's totally fine. LOL!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      equinoise Jan 23, 2013 05:16 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      It may be rational and consistent with sound business practices for a Chinese restauranteur to not transliterate or advertise in English dishes which are anticipated to be received as off-putting or distasteful by non-Asians. Common sense and anecdotes cited here and elsewhere seem to support that.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I doubt that it is similarly rational to refuse to serve such dishes to a non-Asian customer who specifically requests them, or to withhold a menu including such dishes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Regardless of the customer's apparent race or origin, it would seem that offending the presumed "customer is always right" attitudes/entitlements through this conduct (which is also reasonably perceived as paternalistic and condescending) would be more likely to lead to negative reviews and word-of-mouth than complying with the customer request at the risk of finding that the customer, despite apparent interest in special items, dislikes the requested food, and then, goes on to blame the restaurant for their experience.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      In this sense, I think the restauranteur who chooses to refuse specific requests misperceives the numerosity of customers who are curious enough to ask but yet mercurial and petty enough to publicly complain when their adventure goes awry. Such persons are, IMHO, exceedingly unlikely to exist. Benignly curious customers who may be reasonably offended by refusal itself are, IMHO, much more likely to exist.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      "Appearance" is not per se a protected class, but it is effectively the same as race or national origin in the context of this discussion.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Chowrin Oct 18, 2012 05:43 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      i had a "friend" send back "strawberry chicken" because it came out pink (chinese restaurant). never ate with her again!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Steve Sep 15, 2012 05:18 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I was just pointing out that it is the restaurant's duty. Since I am neither a restaurateur, Chinese, or a Chinese restaurateur, I will not assume I know more than they do about their own business.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Most successful Thai restaurants around me have turned their entire restaurant into a 'you no like' zone by sweetening all the food, downplaying the spice, and exchanging 'yucky' ingredients for white meat chicken. If they have a Thai language menu, they keep it very well hidden and will probably deny they have one not to offend customers like you who will make a stink about not having access to all the dishes offered. "It's all on the English language menu." There, are you satisfied?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Steve
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      tommy Sep 15, 2012 05:52 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      You don't satisfy me, nor should it be your obligation. Thanks, though.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: DeppityDawg
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  chowser Jul 18, 2012 10:57 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Wow, that comment on the third link is scary but I'm glad others called him on it. I don't think it's that rare of an attitude, once you leave the major cities. Is it a wonder that chinese restaurants have secret menus.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  "Is there anything on the planet that asians will not put into their mouths, or eat?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  If the asians do it in asia, that is fine with me. They can eat dogs, cats, after-birth, and each other, for all I care.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  BUT, when they bring their filthy habits to MY country, the United States of America, it offends -- it sickens -- and if increases my dislike (if not hatred) for asians in general.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  We Americans do NOT need to be exposed to the filthy eating habits of the asians.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  And we do NOT need the likes of YOU to promote such filthy eating habits (are you still savoring your "wife's placenta"?)"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    huiray Jul 18, 2012 03:30 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    You left out his name/handle and the final parting sentence. They were, respectively:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    "Colonel Kenneth Wayne Treuter, Esquire said... "


                                                                                                                                                                                                                    "Filthy people. "

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      tommy Jul 18, 2012 03:44 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I believe one of them is somewhat famous.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        chowser Jul 18, 2012 04:44 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I have never heard of him. Didn't realize he was famous enough to include the name.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. e
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Erika L Jul 18, 2012 11:07 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    After reading posts for several days, I have to weigh in.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    In my experience (and I'm Chinese), there's a limited universe of vegetables and meats in existence. I doubt it's the lack of jellyfish or chicken heads that is frustrating CHers. The various combinations of those ingredients are not what make a Chinese dish, Chinese. It's the sauces and flavorings, and those are difficult to translate or explain. Many people wouldn't jump at the opportunity to order something flavored with dragon-eye fruit, or might mistake it for dragonfruit. Many Chinese resto servers don't speak English well and may not know the English translation, or might know the English word (dragon-eye fruit) but not what it tastes like, or that it isn't the same as dragonfruit.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Like every other foodway, we just say the name of the dish or name the unusual ingredients. We don't go into long descriptions or definitions and in fact, if I were pressed to explain certain dishes, I'd have to launch into a long and tedious monologue. (And frankly no one in my family has ever used a menu at a Chinese resto.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I honestly don't think that Chinese restos are hiding anything. It's difficult if not impossible to be able to adequately offer everything to everybody, given language issues.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    And BTW having "a basic lack of Mandarin language competency" (per the OP) isn't what's going to get between you and the "secret menu" in the many Chinese restos in which Mandarin is neither spoken nor understood.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Erika L
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      antennastoheaven Jul 18, 2012 12:51 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Thank you for this very insightful post, Erika.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Erika L
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        FoodPopulist Jul 18, 2012 05:24 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Bah. Any Asian restaurant staffed by Asians whose English is too good is often not worth eating at.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. raytamsgv Jul 19, 2012 11:59 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        One of the big problems is that it's difficult to translate the menu items into something an non-native patron would understand. Not only does this apply to English, it also applies to Chinese patrons from other regions who aren't familiar with the particular specialties of a restaurant. A translator must understand both the regional cuisine as well as English.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        For example, one Hong Kong-specific dish, usually known as a Hong Kong-style waffle, would be literally translated as a "street chicken egg", which is also it's literal meaning in Chinese. Even Chinese patrons wouldn't know what the dish is about unless they're familiar with Hong Kong (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggette for a picture). They don't provide additional explanations in Chinese or English.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        There have been many times that I've had to explain the menu of a Cantonese restaurant to my non-Cantonese Chinese friends. You would need to add an additional line to explain items, but given the fact that most Chinese restaurants have hundreds of items, the menu can get big very quickly, thereby increasing the cost to print them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The same problem probably existed with other cuisines when they were first introduced to the general US public: escargot, pizza, lasagna, paella, taco, gyro, hush puppies sushi, sauerkraut, etc. Today, many Americans know because those dishes have been around for a long time. Also, most of those restaurants have smaller menus than most Chinese restaurants, so they have more space on their menus for descriptions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: raytamsgv
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Wawsanham Sep 12, 2012 07:49 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Even though, in American culture, there is a tendency to NOT transalte--even when this can be done. Many of the items you listed could have, or could, been translated into English: sauerkraut = marinated sour cabbage. escargot = snails. paella = safron rice with seafood. lasagna = "layered flat noodle pie" (if you want to be extreme). For cultural reasons, most Americans seem to balk at these kinds of translations. However, it can be done.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Wawsanham
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            linguafood Sep 12, 2012 07:54 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            As someone who translates German menus into English, I often leave the original name (hey, never hurts to learn something new). Sauerkraut is one of them, since most people know what it is.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Maultaschen? Tafelspitz? Spaetzle? I might add a description, but for (other?) cultural reasons, I believe there's nothing wrong with expanding one's horizon, and knowing a dish's original name.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Wawsanham Sep 12, 2012 09:53 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              OH, I basically agree with you. We have certain cultural conventions in the US that leave us not to translate "sauerkraut" (for example). However, it could be done. The question is, when the marinated/sour cabbage dish is in a non-German context, would/should it still be called sauerkraut? Besides, Tafelspitz is really boiled beef with horseradish--does that somehow sound less appetizing? Maybe. There is a fine line and a lot of subjectivity. But, as for something being translatable per se, I believe everything can be translated--it doesn't mean that it should, though.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. g
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          goldangl95 Jul 19, 2012 06:09 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I get very frustrated with this, as at least in the south bay (SF bay area), not only do most of the places have secret menus - they can have different prices. Some will offer a special or a "combo meal" and the offer will only be in Chinese - so only people who read Chinese know of the deal. So it's not even just types of foods that aren't available to the general population, it's deals and pricing as well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I think this is a terrible miscalculation. One, at least in major metropolitan areas of California, Americanized Chinese food is very out among twenty and thirty somethings. Some restaurant owners have taken the hint (notably with Sichuan food) and started making different stuff, but a lot of restaurants in the South Bay still stick to the American Chinese stuff with a secret menu even as their business fails. As others point out, while some dishes (say a gelatinous pork dish I had at a Sichuan restaurant once) are truly hard for American tastes, a lot of stuff on the secret menu is less exotic than your basic Thai green curry.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          A lot more Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese etc. restaurants seem to have gotten a clue, their food may not be any more or less authentic but there is usually a mix of less exotic or more exotic dishes - and then no secret menu. I don't know if this is due to generational differences of restaurant owners - or generation changes in immigration flows or something else.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          And I sympathize in the hurt feelings/cultural rejection that occurs if you offer something more traditional/exotic on the menu, people try and it and send it back. But again, as others said, if described properly you're not going to have that problem very often.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. c
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            cfoodie Jul 20, 2012 04:13 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            This is very simple. Chinese restaurants are afraid of losing money and getting bad rep/in trouble by righteous American customers complaining that the authentic "Chinese" dish is "Bad" because it doesn't taste like the usual American garbage they are used to. Then you put a menu with pig intestine, coagulated blood on it, and you get not only disgusted looks and comments, even people giving you problems about your restaurant being dirty and disgusting, inhumane and all. It's not everyone, but it takes only a dumb teenager to make your day hell. Growing up Asian, I am sick of seeing this attitude that "the white way is the right way" as people go around criticizing others without self examination. This accusation that the Chinese restaurants are somehow doing something wrong by hiding the menu is the same garbage I see. As a business, I don't want to serve customers who may want to try something, but then deny accountability by demanding the dish be returned and money back cause they ordered the wrong thing. I don't want people who don't know to criticize me because they don't understand the dishes. Simple as that. As a child I was made fun of by dumbazz non-Asians for chowing down seaweed snacks as disgusting and told to go back to my country. Even though I don't think those kids ever made it to where they can actually afford a good Japanese restaurant, there are plenty of adults out there like it. So don't blame the Chinese for hiding the menu. Until this country is fully accepting of other cultures...probably never... it will keep on happening. Point the finger to yourselves sometimes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            8 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: cfoodie
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              tommy Jul 20, 2012 07:25 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The experiences relayed in this thread suggest otherwise.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                ipsedixit Jul 20, 2012 08:55 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Consider the audience.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ricepad Jul 20, 2012 10:57 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  My own life experience very closely mirrors cfoodie's, and when I was younger, I had the same level of vitriol, too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: cfoodie
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  KathyM Jul 21, 2012 10:03 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Finally, an Asian is Asian is saying what most other Asians in this thread are thinking without fear of reprisal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: cfoodie
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    volvo99 Jul 21, 2012 11:52 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Very true. If 'mericans really got around and sampled what the locals eat in non-touristy areas, they'd starve. Relatively very few 'mericans really have the fortitude to handle a "Bizarre Foods" experience. It is one thing to approach a foreign cuisine with an attitude of openness and respect. But too many ethnic restaurants have taken the backlash from uninformed and uncultured 'mericans to be honest with their native cuisine anymore.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: cfoodie
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      mwk Jul 22, 2012 02:56 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      cfoodie, while I understand the premise of your argument, again I have to say that it just doesn't hold water in these cases. None of those "ugly Americans" you speak of, are going to absolutely insist on getting the Chinese menu translated and then insist on ordering something they've never heard of, and then send it back. People like that just won't bother, won't be savvy enough to even know that another menu exists.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I'll say it again...they don't need to promote the "authentic" food if they feel uncomfortable, but have another menu put aside for when someone asks for it. Encourage that person, and offer some assistance with the menu if needed. Make it clear that there are no refunds...but, really, how are Americans going to become more aware of other food cultures if we can't try the stuff? Distinguish between someone who is a genuine fan of Chinese food and one who hasn't figured out that Fortune Cookies aren't Chinese.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      This is totally different than taking an "american-chinese" dish like Egg Foo Young and trying to put pig intestine in it instead of roast pork, putting that on the regular menu, and having people order it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: mwk
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        FattyDumplin Jul 22, 2012 03:06 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I think that's kind of idealistic. In a world where subtle racism still exists (this morning, I didn't hear a lady in the parking lot asking me a question, and so she threw in a "if you even speak english..." that was clearly meant to be nasty), what do you gain by opening yourself up? So some idiot kids can sit there and ask for the "ching chong chooey" menu and make fun of it? Or some non-CHer, can look at it and then post on Yelp the next day that your restaurant serves some "nasty s--t"? Sorry, that headache far outweighs the benefit of making the menu available to all, on the off chance that some CH-er asks for it and clearly appreciates it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        American's aren't unaware of other food cultures because other food cultures aren't open to them. It's because we tend to think what we do and have is the norm and other cultures are weird. That's my opinion, at least, as a Chinese American who grew up in a pretty normal Philly suburb where I put up with a ton of crap because I happened to be Chinese.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I do agree it's unfortunate, because hell, there are people on here (Chinese and non-Chinese) who know tons more than I do about my ethnic cuisine. And I think it'd be a shame that some of you don't get to experience the full monty at Chinese restaurants. But, I can also understand and sympatheize with Chinese restaurant owners who do choose to exhibit bias. Ultimately, the onus is on the interested person, whether it be through Chinese friends, cultivating a relationship, etc., to "break-in" and luckily, it's worth it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        This is all my 2 cents.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: cfoodie
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Wawsanham Sep 12, 2012 07:57 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Intestines and congealed blood are not particularly Chinese. If you think they are "Asian" (whatever that means) or Chinese, then you don't get around much, or know much about the world. Before you start complaining about "white people" (whatever that is to you), you might want to get to know what those people eat. It might be eye-opening.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      3. RUK Jul 22, 2012 04:58 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        It isn't' just Chinese Restaurant owner exhibiting bias.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Years ago I worked with Polish, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani etc / people from different cultures, and on many occasions we organized special lunches to enjoy the different cuisines. That worked perfectly with Polish lunch, the Indian lunch was a total success. In both examples we all ate the same dishes! It was really wonderful to be included. Then one of the Chinese ladies asked if we would like to join her for a Chinese New Year lunch. A bunch of us non-Chinese were happy to join.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Imagine our surprise and later chagrin, when we realized that not only were we separately seated, we also got the Americanised menu. We asked why, and were told we probably wouldn't have liked the typical Chinese dishes.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I was furious and never went out with that group again.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I should mention that most of us are/were truly adventurous eaters and would have at least liked to have the opportunity to taste it and make up our own mind. ( btw I have eaten in China and Tibet)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        24 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: RUK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          huiray Jul 22, 2012 05:12 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Do you know what dishes the Chinese group had and their constituents?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Did they know explicitly ahead of time that you and *every* other non-Chinese person there were adventurous eaters who would eat anything?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            RUK Jul 22, 2012 06:05 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Hmmm, how would I remember what the Chinese group ate if I didn't get to eat any of their dishes?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            This was probably close to 6 years ago and the one thing I do remember is that one of the dishes involved Eel and the Chinese table loved it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            You edited your post, there are now two questions.... trying to answer....
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The point here is that we were excluded! We were not given a chance to perhaps not to like it or love it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: RUK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              FattyDumplin Jul 22, 2012 09:02 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I think what happened to you was f--ked up. I just put up a post in support of Chinese restaurant owners who maintain separate menus. But, I love when I see Chinese people bringing their non-Chinese friends to restaurants to try things - I do it all the time and get a huge amount of enjoyment from it. So, to read your story, forget about it being rude and incredibly inconsiderate, it's also incredibly unfortunate because it was an opportunity to teach others about our food, and instead turned into something else entirely...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              RUK Jul 22, 2012 07:35 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I answered your edit also.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: RUK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                huiray Jul 22, 2012 08:47 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I think edits of a post without changing the meaning or intent of the post is fine. It seems you do not tolerate any edit of any kind?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                ETA: I see you edited your original post.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  RUK Jul 23, 2012 05:19 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  re editing - I wasn't sure if you saw my additional answer since I replied before your edit. That's why I mentioned it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: RUK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    huiray Jul 23, 2012 06:02 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I mean your original post - where you added that you had eaten in China and Tibet (meals arranged by your tour group, or off by yourself, unsupervised by your handlers/guides, on the streets?)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                linguafood Jul 23, 2012 03:54 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Why would this group, which clearly had a habit of eating out lunch together and trying various cuisines, all of a sudden feel differently about Chinese food?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Ridiculous. And sitting at a different table? No excuse for that. Condescending and ignorant.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  huiray Jul 23, 2012 05:36 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  We don't know that the *same* group(s) went out together for meals, or if there were different people in varying groups that may or may not have included the Chinese (or Indian or Polish) folks. RUK would need to clarify.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              3. re: RUK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                chowser Jul 22, 2012 05:26 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I've brought this up before and it's a tough situation when you're throwing a large party, some adventurous eaters, some not. I've had a table where people were disgusted by being served quail head, whole fish w/ head and eyes, jelly fish and at the same table people who tried it and loved it. One problem is some of the food can be very expensive (I don't order shark fin soup but it's over $100 a bowl--why order it and have it go to waste?), plus you want to please your guests the best you can. And, for some of those people, sweet and sour pork would have been a much better alternative. It is an issue at wedding banquets, when parties run in the hundreds and can be very costly to pay for food that goes uneaten but is also a problem w/ smaller groups. Rather than be furious at someone who hosted a meal and separated the best they thought, maybe give them the benefit of the doubt and mention next time that you'd love to try the other foods? That might get you better food than refusing to go out w/ them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I think if people would try to see this from the view, not as one of a few adventurous eaters, but the view of someone who's had their food rejected often (as many have expressed in this thread), it might be helpful in seeing where this all came from. On on hand, they're being ostracized on the whole for "weird" food and then criticized for not being more open about sharing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  huiray Jul 22, 2012 06:01 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ...and here are some other posts (just a selection, there are more) from this thread that have touched on the issue that you have been raising...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    RUK Jul 22, 2012 07:39 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    We were not the typical American diners and that fact was common knowledge!!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: RUK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      huiray Jul 22, 2012 08:32 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Was it known to them specifically, about every member of your group?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        FattyDumplin Jul 22, 2012 09:07 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Dude, huiray, seriously, it doesn't even matter. It's jacked up if as RUK says one of the Chinese ladies asked if people would like to JOIN her for a New Years Lunch. JOIN-ing does not equal sitting at different tables. If the woman didn't want to or didn't think her co-workers could handle her cuisine, then don't ask them to join.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Unless you're telling me this segregation also happened at the Polish and Indian lunch (which it sounds like it didn't), then the Chinese lady was 100% wrong and frankly, I would argue borderline socially retarded.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Sorry, I'm getting worked up here, but stories like this anger me because it gives Chinese people a bad name and lives up to the stereotype of us being socially inept.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: FattyDumplin
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          huiray Jul 22, 2012 09:20 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          If that lady *did* know about RUK's adventurousness then she was certainly in the wrong, I agree. But I *do* think it mattered whether she did or not, hence my question. Inviting a co-worker to a lunch/meal may simply be a courtesy, which I think happens all the time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            FattyDumplin Jul 22, 2012 09:39 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Actually, it really doesn't matter. If your idea of "courtesy" is to invite me to a meal and sit at different tables, then I don't want it. That's not courtesy. That's offensive.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: FattyDumplin
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              huiray Jul 22, 2012 09:47 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Then decline the invitation.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I was invited to a former colleague's Wedding Dinner. I was seated (by designation by the hosts) at a table which was clearly the "old fogies" table from similar Company Departments. Another colleague was seated at the "young things" table from similar Company Departments simply because this person, as far as I could tell (from long observation over some time), was trying so hard to be one of the "young things". Should I have been offended?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              ETA: (Specified since RUK hates edits): Has she been invited by any other Chinese person out to a meal? How did that go?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    RUK Jul 22, 2012 06:15 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Yes, I understand what you are saying.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    But - even after a thank you and a gentle probing on my part the next day, there was no discussion other then being told again that we wouldn't like it.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I still think this attitude was condescending- why invite people ( btw we paid of course) when you made up your mind ahead of time that they wouldn't like your food.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: RUK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      RUK Jul 23, 2012 05:54 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Thanks Linguafood and Fatty Dumplin.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Huiray, I really have no desire to split hair with you here.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      But perhaps I can make this clearer to you with one example:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Imagine me treating this particular group with a spread of German Coldcuts for lunch. Would it be a good idea to let everyone say "Würstchen", and those who can say it without accent sit at one table while the accented speakers sit separately? The "Würstchen-speakers" get the whole spread, including the Zungenwurst/Bloodwurst with tongue and also Sülze/Presskopf type stuff, while the non-speakers get to munch on plain Ham, Salami/more general stuff. The quality of the food would of course be the same.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Wouldn't it be better to sit together and let people choose?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      And - eating out together in a setting like that is not only getting to know different cuisines, it is also really nice to sit together and TALK. Communication between cultures can be a fun thing!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: RUK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        huiray Jul 23, 2012 06:12 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        My primary issue is with your insinuated characterization of Chinese folks in general as uniformly discriminatory people, from the way you worded your OP. I also asked if you had gone out for meals - or eaten together - with Chinese people other than those in this CNY lunch group but you did not respond.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          RUK Jul 23, 2012 06:20 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Well yes, as you know! We ate with you many times together and enjoyed it very much.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: RUK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            huiray Jul 23, 2012 06:29 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Glad you enjoyed our meals together.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            FattyDumplin Jul 23, 2012 09:17 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Huiray, I get where you're coming from. I think we (Chinese people) take a lot of flack for being an insular and at times discriminatory people. That's what frustrated me so much when I read RUK's story because the Chinese lady's actions really played into that stereotype. I get the sense that you're a lover of food and have probably introduced a number of non-Chinese people to some great food - I'm the same way and that's why I was so offended by the story, not RUK's telling of it, but rather the actions of the Chinese lady who perpetuated this image of us being discriminatory. It's that concept of a few rotten apples ruins the bunch, imo...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            EDIT: As I read the next few posts, I've answered my question. You have had meals with RUK. Is this in part why it's such a sensitive point for you? I know that's what set me off as I love nothing more than to share my amazing ethnic cuisine with friends and co-workers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: RUK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          chowser Jul 23, 2012 09:57 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          That's too bad. I love bringing my adventurous friends out to eat and it's great seeing them enjoy the same foods you do. The woman is not only doing you a disservice but herself, too. As I said above, there's nothing that makes my mom more excited than when one of our friends try something new and loves it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. m
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      musugu Jul 22, 2012 09:12 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      OK I'll come out and say it. You were stereotyped and discriminated against. The proprietors of this restaurant assumed based on external indicators that you would not understand or like the items on the "secret" menu. I hate it break it to you but dude, it happens! You were deprived of a potentially tasty food experience and apparently a naive sense that the world is fair and that you are entitled to a wonderful cultural learning experience anywhere you propose to slap down a few dollars.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      This is not your business, it doesn't exist to serve you personally, it exists to make money for the owners based on the choices that they make. Unless you are proposing to underwrite them, they are allowed to make whatever business decisions they choose and I think that it's been well documented on this thread that they have good, logical reasons based in past experiences to make the decision they did.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Wait but discrimination is wrong! Yes ideally life would be fair and puppies would frolic with unicorns but realistically discrimination and prejudice is embedded into the fabric of our society and lives. You now have the same choices that anyone that has experienced discrimination has; 1 - you can agitate, in which case I certainly hope you would agitate against injustice where people have been deprived of, for example, jobs, bodily integrity, respect, happiness, security or their lives, instead of starting with being deprived of a food adventure. 2 - you can accept it, which historically has been the safest course of action, not that in this case you have to worry about the institutional powers that be behind the status quo, and just go to a different restaurant with tasty food, one where they will cater to you as much as you prefer. 3 - you can individuate. Let them get to know you as the individual adventurous eater that you are and they will stop making assumptions about what you're willing to eat. I would suggest making friends with Chinese restaurant proprietors or staff, learning a few Chinese dishes and phrases or even just showing up with a bunch of research in authentic Chinese food to show that you're serious about being interested in the food. Or as other people suggested, offer to pay up front so there's less risk for them. "But that's not fair" you may say. Well neither is the fact that women are assumed to be less serious about their careers unless they work extra hard, that African-Americans have to be extra law-abiding around cops and that Jeremy Lin was overlooked for so long because it was assumed that Asians can't play ball. (No, I don't think he's best player ever but good enough to get more of a chance than he did and yes I agree he is cashing in now)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I understand that I'm being a little harsh what with the "naive" and "entitled" talk but your post kinda offended me. You came off as entitled assuming that as a random customer, you can tell the owners of a business how to best run their business. More than that, the way your original post was worded came pretty close to stereotyping and being judgmental of Chinese restaurants. Asking why "Chinese restaurants" do x without clarifying all, most, one... is the common structure of a stereotyping statement and the way you worded your complaint implies that these "Chinese restaurants" were bad in a moral way. You went to one Chinese restaurant where they decided not to give you what you said you wanted and have maybe heard of others. But to make the logical jump from that to "Chinese restaurants" in general are "hiding" the good stuff is the same thinking that makes it hard for you to get the garlic stir-fried snails.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Oh, I just realized, you ultimately got food off the chinese-language menu so your complaint isn't even why am I being denied this but rather that getting what you want should just be easy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      My point is that you should stop feeling sorry for yourself, print the picture of a tasty sounding Chinese dish off the internet and ask for something similar while treating the staff as individuals with a) free will and the authority to make decisions that might not agree with and b)experiences that might lead them to make decisions you don't agree with with good reason, and please stop referring to chinese restaurants as a monolithic whole because that is just as false as the statement "you no like this".

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      17 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: musugu
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        linguafood Jul 23, 2012 03:59 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The whole idea of a secret menu, in ANY restaurant, reserved for (fill in random nationality) customers only, is ridiculous. Period. Fuck that shit.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: musugu
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          mwk Jul 23, 2012 09:34 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I am sorry you are so angry, musugu. I'm not really sure I understand why, unless you run a Chinese restaurant and have been burned by inconsiderate customers?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I'm also sorry if you were offended by my original post. It was not meant to offend anyone. However, you are correct that I AM judgmental of Chinese restaurants. To read any moral anything into the post is ridiculous. And if you had read the ENTIRE thread and ALL of my posts, you would have seen that I have experienced the same issue at EVERY Chinese restaurant I have EVER eaten in, with the exception of the Americanized, strictly take-out places.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I'm not feeling sorry for myself, because believe it or not, I can and do easily survive without Chinese food. I posted the question because I wondered why this inhospitable situation seems to be so universally prevalent in Chinese restaurants. I will refer to them as "monolithic whole" if I have yet to experience anything OTHER than the behavior mentioned in ANY of them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          When you have come down off your high horse and had a chance to analyze and comprehend the themes in this thread, maybe you won't be quite as angry.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: mwk
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            chowser Jul 23, 2012 10:34 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Has this thread been helpful in understanding why it does happen? I do think location matters. I haven't lived in Boston in years but when I died, it was a pretty segregated place. Maybe the attitudes have prevailed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              mwk Jul 23, 2012 10:51 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Chowser, yes in fact, it has. I certainly understand the motivation behind it, for sure. I don't agree that the path taken by these restaurateurs is the right one, but I understand that it isn't going to change just because I don't like it. I will also say that I've had the exact same experience in New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, DC, Seattle, Toronto and London. So I'm not sure it's due to the natural...prickly nature...of Bostonians.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I guess my best option is to bribe you to come to Boston for a visit and a dinner out, on me...:)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: mwk
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                chowser Jul 23, 2012 11:37 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Good to hear. I thought it had been an interesting discussion. If you're ever in the DC area, look me up. I might not be as much help but I'l grab my inlaws and have them contact the restaurant and we can have a great meal. I'm pretty useless when it comes to the secret menu since I can't read the language. I do make that offer sincerely, all joking aside.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                jgg13 Jul 23, 2012 01:20 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                "lived in Boston in years but when I died ...."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I suppose you're feeling better now? :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: jgg13
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  chowser Jul 23, 2012 01:35 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Yikes, that's a telling freudian slip! I did love being in Boston.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              3. re: mwk
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                FattyDumplin Jul 23, 2012 10:40 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                MWK, I believe that the behavior you mention isn't necessarily driven out of malice, but something far more innocuous. For example, there is often a pretty significant language barrier at the non-americanized Chinese restaurants. I also believe some of it is borne out of the harassment that many Chinese people living in the States take, restaurant owner or not. Maybe it's because I'm shaded by my own experience growing up, but I definitely felt like I took more s--t for being Chinese than other people did for being other ethnicities. So, yeah, it can be difficult to open yourself up. That being said, I think many Chineses restaurants are eager and willing to open themselves up to you once they feel "safe" around you and know you - I know at some of the funkier places I used to go to in NY and now in the bay area, some of the best-treated customers are the non-Chinese people who venture in and have gotten to know the owners.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                So, from that perspective, I don't think what you are saying is necessarily fair about Chinese restaurants. It's a two-way street. In a perfect world, would non-Chinese be able to go to a Chinese restaurant and get the full monty? Absolutely. But it's not, it's a world where people are discriminated (both ways) and its incumbent on both parties to try and find a way through the barrier.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                To that end, if it's such a big deal that CHinese restaurants treat non-Chinese differently, why is it that no one really raises a voice that some of these high-end places reserve special treats / amuses / drinks, etc., for top customers? Isn't that equally offensive? Why should I, as a first time diner, be treated differently? In both places, if you take the time to get to know the restaurant and its people, they will open up to you.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: FattyDumplin
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  mwk Jul 23, 2012 10:55 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I understand what you are saying, Fatty. My only problem is that my waistline and my wallet don't allow me to go out to eat so frequently that I'd get to be known as a regular. So it is a bit frustrating in that respect. I like to make each meal in a restaurant "count". But, I do appreciate your thoughtful and insightful responses.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Oh, and for the record, I never attributed this behavior to malice. To be honest, I couldn't figure out what was behind it, which is why I asked.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: mwk
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    FattyDumplin Jul 23, 2012 11:09 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Honestly, it could take 1 outing to make the impression you need. I do feel bad that that's the case, but don't give up because the payoff is worth it!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              4. re: musugu
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                cheesemaestro Jul 23, 2012 10:24 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Musugu, You need to calm down. When you do, please reread your post, which is self-contradictory. You assert that discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping of American customers are reality and that the OP should understand and accept such attitudes when they come from the staff at Chinese restaurants. Then you turn around and slam the OP for stereotyping Chinese restaurants (which I don't think he did). You can't have it both ways. Stereotyping is either acceptable or unacceptable. I say it's unacceptable.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I'm sure that Chinese restaurants have had American diners who ordered unfamiliar dishes and then wanted to return them, but I think that to claim that giving them what they ask for could put a restaurant of business is an exaggeration. It is only a small percentage of Americans who would go beyond the English menu with its standard Chinese-American items.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Yes, restaurants are in business to make money, but they are also in business to please their customers and serve customers what they would like to order. As a customer in a Chinese restaurant, I should not have to a) beg and cajole my server to let me have something I'd like to try; b) learn Mandarin or Cantonese to be able to order the "secret" items printed only in Chinese characters; c) cozy up to the chef to convince him I'm someone who is serious about trying such foods; d) come in with a Chinese friend or acquaintance who will order for me; or follow any of the other suggestions made here that impose conditions on me that Chinese patrons don't have to fulfill. My money is as good as theirs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                For their part, staff at Chinese restaurants who are concerned about a dish being rejected by a customer should explain to us non-natives what is in the dish (pig's blood, sea cucumber, etc.) and let us decide if we still want to order it. They can also say, in a nice way, that they will be happy to prepare something else for us if we don't like it, but that we'll be charged for both dishes. I'm a curious and adventurous eater, but if I didn't enjoy something that I was trying for the first time, I would have no problem paying for it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: cheesemaestro
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  chowser Jul 23, 2012 11:40 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Your approach makes sense if everyone were as reasonable as you. But, ask most people in the restaurant business, any restaurant, how many people aren't that reasonable--any server who's been in the business a long time will concur. In fact, there are many threads on NAF that cover it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    cheesemaestro Jul 23, 2012 01:18 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    If that's true--and no doubt it is--then that just makes the position that Chinese restaurants have traditionally taken more untenable. People dislike and refuse to pay for food in all kinds of restaurants. This isn't unique to Chinese restaurants.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    On several occasions, in other kinds of restaurants, I've had a server question me when I've ordered something considered unusual for an American to ask for (I'm OK with that), but, in the end, I've generally been able to order it. For example, I've had natto in several Japanese restaurants. It's something that most Americans think looks and tastes disgusting. I've had servers tell me that Americans don't like it, yet no restaurant has ever refused to serve it to me. It is primarily in Chinese restaurants where my attempt to order something not on the standard menu has turned into a protracted and (often losing) battle with the server.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    If I am in China and a restaurant there wants to prevent me from having something they are sure I won't like, I suppose I can live with that. (Still, I think I would be less likely to encounter the problem in China, unless I've chosen a place that caters primarily to tourists.) However, if I'm eating at a Chinese restaurant located in an American city and that restaurant derives a decent percentage of its income from non-ethnic-Chinese customers, then I think I should have a reasonable expectation of being able to try any dish that the kitchen can put out.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: cheesemaestro
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      chowser Jul 23, 2012 01:39 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Has a server refused to serve someone a dish they insisted they wanted? I might have missed it in this long thread--there are cases where they ask to make sure (and this happens to me and my family is different restaurants, usually pertaining to heat but also about things like haggis), the menus aren't available in English or servers don't want to to take the time to translate but an absolute refusal to serve an ordered dish?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        mwk Jul 23, 2012 02:32 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        One time, I wanted to order a dish at a place in NYC Chinatown. After the initial "no, you won't like it", the insistence that we try this dish or that dish from the English menu, we said that we would really still like to try the dish and we would in no way hold the restaurant responsible if we didn't like it. The server took the order back to the kitchen, and returned a few minutes later, claiming they were "out of" the dish.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Was that really the case? Of course I can't say for sure. But I have my suspicions that it wasn't true.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          raytamsgv Jul 23, 2012 02:52 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Yes, but that was at an Italian restaurant. My wife ordered gnocchi. The server said that it didn't taste good and that she should choose something else. He was probably right.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: raytamsgv
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            linguafood Jul 24, 2012 07:01 AM


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. buttertart Jul 23, 2012 12:42 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Somewhat tangential, but telling -- when we first went to live in Taipei (grad student days, we are not Chinese) we found it odd that the menus (the ones we were given which were mostly in Chinese and English, if I recall correctly -- it was just after the considerable American presence in Taiwan) were presented and the waitstaff did not withdraw, but rather hovered at the table.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  It was only after we had been there long enough to get up to steam with what we were hearing around us that we understood why. The menu was primarily serving as a guide to what was available. People were asking what's especially good tonight, I feel like eating such-and-such, what preparation of it does the chef do best, what are your specialities, and so forth, and the ordering was not just a case of "give us the mapo tofu, the chang wang, the spinach, the pork with pickled veg soup, and the steamed fish" but rather a process. Once we caught on, we ate considerably better.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Perhaps it would be a good idea to approach ordering in this way if you are interested in getting the good stuff rather than the Americanized stuff? What do you recommend, I'm really happy to have a chance to eat real Chinese food, I especially like such and such...give it a whirl.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  7 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: buttertart
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    roxlet Jul 23, 2012 01:33 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Great insight and advice!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: buttertart
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      chowser Jul 23, 2012 01:42 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Your experience is enviable--how awesome to be live in a culture and experience the way you did. This is how my parents and their friends order in restaurants. As I said above, even getting the special menu doesn't mean you'll be getting what the next table has gotten. And, they will also call ahead to see if they can bring in their own special ingredient to be prepared, eg, lobster, or in my mom's case a couple of ducks that someone had shot and just given her, not dressed, feathered or anything.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        buttertart Jul 23, 2012 01:51 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Nice. It was the best experience of my life (so far). We've gotten some pushback on some dishes from time to time but never a flat-out refusal to serve something to us (up to and including turtle in Beijing, being curious what "precious fish" was and realizing it was a pun, "precious"/"turtle" later -- when its odd anatomy revealed itself in our mouths...).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: buttertart
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          chowser Jul 23, 2012 02:01 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          That's funny since I've had turtle in Florida. If they only knew that in Beijing! With the time you've spent in Taiwan, you probably know my culture better than I do. Do you have problems getting what you want in Chinese restaurants here, with your background?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            buttertart Jul 23, 2012 02:25 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Here in NYC, no (often order in Mandarin though). We went back to Berkeley from Taipei, and for a long time after we got back I cooked rather than eat what was passed off as Chinese food even there, then.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I've pretty much given up on Chinese food outside major metropolitan areas, a lot of places are really set up to cater to what they believe local people to want. And here we go again on this circular discussion -- it's a shame the real stuff isn't more widely available.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: buttertart
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        mwk Jul 23, 2012 02:33 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I will give that a try next time and see if it has better results. I'll be curious to see what happens.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: buttertart
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Steve Jul 24, 2012 07:42 PM


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I have no interest in treating waitstaff like intelligent vacuum cleaners. Although some places will never warm up to their customers, most all places will readily make their full options available if you show interest and engage them. I am not immune to the 'You No Like' treatment, but where I live it is becoming rarer all the time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. eclecticsynergy Jul 23, 2012 08:53 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The blog with those utterly hilarious translations got hacked and is no longer reachable.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          But a deepweb search turned up a link for a previously cached version of it.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Best mangled English I ever saw. Worth revisiting for a good laugh.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Here's a link, via the Wayback Machine:


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          32 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: eclecticsynergy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            buttertart Jul 24, 2012 04:47 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I have to say that every time this comes up it drives me crazy. Put oneself in the shoes of the person who took a stab at translating the menu, armed only with a Chinese-English dictionary and some basic English in school, most likely. It'd be a hard row to hoe.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: buttertart
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              FoodTrippin Jul 24, 2012 09:35 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Party of two walks into the “New Chinese Cuisine” restaurant, lured in by the Yelp gushes of AUTHENTIC Chinese “cuisine”.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Customers are seated at a two-top. No forks or chilled water are on the table, or offered. (whoa, good start, authentic!)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Customer (to companion): yeah, now we gonna feast like I did on my two hour layover in Hong Kong!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Customer (face turning red, eyes bulging) to waiter: hey, this is the AMERICAN menu!! WDYTIA (who do you think I am?) a non-nobody??!! I want (no, DEMAND) the SECRET menu!! I didn’t just fall off the winter melon truck, y’know!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Waiter (scratches head, somewhat intimidated by this foreigner screaming at him in a language not quite familiar): sir….. you are holding the menu, what the meaning of “secret”?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Customer: I will not be patronized!! SECRET, SECRET. Do you know the meaning of SECRET??!! The super special delicacies plastered all over the walls, and on the chalkboard. I read Chowhound and Yelp, I GOOGLE all things food related. I KNOW Chinese food!! Now, give me the secret menu, NOW!!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Waiter: Secret menu….. Special menu……….. Chinese menu………… CHO MUT LUN, order the freakin’ special numbah two, a coupla TsingTaos, I’ll fortune cookie your ass, and we both say joy ghin and please don’t grace us with your esteemed presence again (bow).
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Customer: This is AMERICA, the land of the free, equal opportunity. I wanna eat what you guys eat at your family meals. I know you people feed us roundeye “customers” the dregs, and save the most succulent and most choice parts of the cow/pig/chicken/vegetable/tofu for yourselves. I am tired of watching you guys gorging on the good stuff, and we (the people who pay YOUR freakin’ paymchecks) are stuck sucking up goo goo gai pan. NO MORE!! This is AMERICA!! We WILL eat what you people eat!!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Customer points at a random offer (item #5) on the blackboard: now, what is THAT?? List of ingredients? Percentage of ingredients? Country of origin? Cooking technique? Allergens? Carcinogens? Is this Yin or Yang? Locally sourced? Sustainable? Fresh or Frozen? What region of China? And DON’T even try to charge me more for this than your Chinese regulars for the same dish, or…. I WILL smear your restaurant’s name all over the internet.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Waiter struggles to answer every question and demand………… 10 tortuously minutes later, finish describing enough details so the customer “seems satisfied”.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Customer: SO …. You DO KNOW how to explain the menu, dunno why you INSIST on playing dumb, until I had to play hardball. Now, let’s do the same with the ENTIRE secret menu …………………….. Starting with item Number One!!!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: FoodTrippin
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                linguafood Jul 25, 2012 03:33 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Is this an attempt at humor?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  mwk Jul 25, 2012 06:01 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  an "attempt" is about all it is. What exactly is your point, FoodTrippin? That Americans are idiots? That we can't appreciate anything that isn't deep fried or that comes out of a slime machine? Oh...or maybe that anyone who would like to try something new and different and experience a part of another culture is annoying and selfish?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Let's see if you are brave enough to come out and state exactly what your point was...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: mwk
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    FoodTrippin Jul 25, 2012 08:31 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I’d like to point out that there is no deep rooted conspiracy to keep a secret menu from non-Asian customers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    As an Asian-American who is not fluent in Chinese, I can readily relate to some of the venting about not automatically being offered the second menu. Happens to me all the time, and my wife (dining companion) is a native Mandarin speaker even. Many Chinese restaurant, rightly or wrongly, presume that most people (Asians and non-Asians alike) walking through their doors will be for the most part, ordering off the main menu. Why waste everyone’s time and cause undue confusion, by presenting more choices than needed ?? (the restaurateur thinks). (KISS – Keep it simple, stupid)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Although touched upon in earlier posts, the waiter’s ability or inability to communicate is an important factor. I’ll go out on a limb and say that most mom and pop Chinese restaurants do not have a formal service training program. On the first day of employment, the management does not hand the recruit a thick training manual with procedures, and most importantly, there is no list of standardized menu descriptions in English. Even for someone who is fluent in English, having to accurately describe every set menu and special item would literally be impossible. It is human nature to show your best side, people would not willingly choose to appear inadequate. Stumbling over foreign words and unfamiliar western terms would not be an exercise that most Chinese waiters see as a learning opportunity. Which may explain why some Chinese waiters adopt a brusque, no questions, attitude.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Further, most mom and pop’s run on turnover. We Americans are fortunate to dine in a good service culture. Good or bad, rightly or wrongly, Chinese (or at least Hong Kong) restaurant modus operandi is turn and burn. “If you don’t know what you want, then it’s not our job to teach you”. Most, though not all, m/p Chinese restaurants are minimally (barely adequately) staffed. The restaurant owner does not expect the servers to hold their customer’s hands. Servers are expected to take the order, serve the food/drinks, invoice the customer, and make change. Most restaurants that have “Chinese” menus would most likely subscribe to this bare bones business model, though there are some exceptions to the rule. The restaurants that strive to provide more than basic service are generally more westernized (and charge accordingly), and thus not likely to have second menus. (Yang Sing, HK Flower Lounge, R$G, etc…..)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I apologize for any slights implied. I tried to poke fun at both sides of this debate, to introduce a bit of levity. I’ve seen and experienced both sides and understand why some posters may take umbrage. The westerner who feels that he/she was denied the chance for a superb meal. The Asian American who grew up being sneered at for eating gooky food (yikes, what is that sticky rice stuff wrapped in leaves??!! Don’t you guys have forks and knives at home??!!)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    This thread has been fun, and brings into fuzzy focus some of the friction that crops up when two very different cultures learn to appreicate and enjoy each other. Instead of seeing others as demanding, secretive, condescending, or worse. I will just try to not take every perceived slight personally. Of course, on a bad day, all this good will stuff goes out the window.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Cheers and peace.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: FoodTrippin
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Bacardi1 Jul 25, 2012 11:21 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I don't believe there is any "deep-rooted conspiracy" going on in the Chinese restaurant industry. I just wish they'd be a bit more trusting - particularly in this day & age when authentic Chinese cuisine has become so popular.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Sure they may come across the occasional nitwit who orders & then sends something back simply because they don't like it, but that happens EVERYWHERE & in every cuisine, even in good old traditional American steakhouses. It's not limited to Chinese restaurants.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I just dislike having to beg for the good stuff, which I have always enjoyed. And I have never EVER sent something back simply because I didn't like it. I've sent back steaks that have been frozen in the middle, or definitely beyond-a-doubt rotten fish, but never something just because I ordered it & didn't care much for it. Something properly cooked that just wasn't my cup of tea, is a personal preference call - not the restaurant's, & I'll never penalize a place for that.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Bacardi1
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        chowser Jul 25, 2012 12:55 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I was just at coffee w/ friends, and we were talking about food. Most were completely turned off by the idea of trout being served with the head and shuddered at the thought; and how important cleanliness was and how they'd leave a place that didn't seem clean. Being "adventurous" is not typical, as much as CH refuse to believe it. Authentic Chinese food is also not popular. There is a growing following but not nearly as popular as PF Changs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          FattyDumplin Jul 25, 2012 01:33 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          And the growing following, as you point out, is still very niche... Yeah, places like Xian and the Eldridge Street hand-pulled noodle shops seem to always be crowded, but I think for the vast majority of Americans, they would likely think those places are kind of blech. And forget about stuff like offal, random parts like tongue, feet, etc. - for those of us that live on CH they seem par for the course, but not for mainstream America.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            RUK Jul 25, 2012 03:11 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I am amazed about the Trout thing. My parents lived in a town on the Mosel/Germany mostly during the sixties and in my teenage years I probably ate more whole Trout from that region ( and Eel) than most people in a life time. ( my father enjoyed fishing!) Even in a restaurant you would get the Trout always served whole. I remember the sizzling slab the Fish was served on, looking essentially like that.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            And you never forgot to pick out the cheeks on the Trout of course, they are a delicious little treat.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: RUK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              huiray Jul 25, 2012 03:19 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Yet it *is* true that many "ordinary" folks in the US *will* blanch at the sight of a whole fish on a plate, with their eyes "staring back" at them. It is a well-known phenomenon. Hence the queries and comments about this, regarding if non-Chinese folks would bear to even look at, let alone taste, something like a steamed whole fish with head and all fins intact which is such a common "real" Chinese dish.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                chowser Jul 25, 2012 03:52 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                If you don't serve it w/ the head, then how would kids fight over the eyeballs?:-)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  huiray Jul 25, 2012 03:55 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Heh. HEH. Of course, those kids probably weren't white Caucasian kids. :-D

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    ratgirlagogo Jul 25, 2012 07:13 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    "white Caucasian kids"
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I think I know what you mean - but I have found similar prejudices with second and third generation Puerto Rican, Greek, Polish, Afro-Caribbean, Indian, etc. folks. "OMG that's the kind of embarrassing shit my GRANDMA eats!!!..." In fact I have experienced almost EXACTLY this World vs. Americans menu situation in Greek restaurants in Queens a couple of times - servers really, really do not believe that any non-Greek is going to want to eat offal of any kind. And of course they're right. You just have to talk to them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      grayelf Sep 13, 2012 12:07 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      In my house they were! Cheek and collarbone meat were the most prized, but nothing was really wasted. I still crow with glee when my local seafood store smartens up and brings in whole salmon, like we had last weekend. Gave both cheeks to Dad this time as he is the one who introduced us to "the good stuff" when we were fry.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: grayelf
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Veggo Oct 18, 2012 03:33 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Here in Florida, grouper cheeks are prized, and priced accordingly. If you can find them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: RUK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  chowser Jul 25, 2012 03:51 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I was floored. It's not unusual to be served whole trout. I wonder if it's an American thing since we don't do as much nose to tail eating. In Chinese restaurants, quail is typically served cut up and put back together w/ the head--I'm wondering what they'd think about that!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    huiray Jul 25, 2012 04:04 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    They'd probably post a write-up somewhere about how uncivilized the food offerings were.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: RUK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    linguafood Jul 26, 2012 09:08 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I had my first encounter with a whole grilled (maybe pan-fried) trout, all crispy and juicy and clean tasting, at the age of 9 or 10 when my father and sister and I were hiking through Austria in the 70s and 80s. Loved it ever since. With tons of lemon squeezed all over it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      RUK Jul 26, 2012 11:10 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      It sounds like this WHOLE fish thing is really a non-issue for those from our neck of the woods! :-)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  3. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    limster Jul 25, 2012 03:53 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    It did take a bit of cultivation before I got served rabbit heads at an Italian restaurant. With a Sicilian-styled sweet and sour sauce and caponata.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: limster
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      chowser Jul 25, 2012 04:10 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Do they typically serve it that way in the restaurant, or was it a special request? How was it? Any special worthwhile parts? Ears?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        limster Jul 25, 2012 04:23 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        They typically don't serve it in the restaurant at all, but they saved the bunch for me. Basically 4 morsels: brains, cheeks, eyes and tongue - had about 7 half heads.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: limster
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          chowser Jul 25, 2012 04:29 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Which goes to show you shouldn't ever rely only on the menu, special or not, if you're looking for good food, no matter what type of restaurant it is.