HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
What's your latest food project?
TELL US

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

m
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. m
    madeliner Mar 28, 2013 06:37 PM

    Found this just clicking around:

    http://www.foodragon.com/

    it's an app for your phone to help you order food in china

    it probably works here in the states too ;)

    5 Replies
    1. re: madeliner
      m
      mwk Mar 29, 2013 08:20 AM

      I'm downloading it to my phone. Looks like an interesting app. Maybe it's a partial solution to the problem...

      1. re: mwk
        s
        Steve Mar 30, 2013 12:47 PM

        Why not just get Plico? Point your camera at ANYTHING written in Chinese and get a translation. Even works on handwriting.

        Obviously, will not help you fully comprehend a metaphorical name like 'husband and wife lung slices' but is pretty thorough nonetheless.

        1. re: Steve
          m
          madeliner Mar 30, 2013 05:00 PM

          never heard of that-will check it out-ty

          1. re: Steve
            b
            BuildingMyBento Apr 18, 2013 03:32 PM

            Well those historical/metaphorical names of dishes that you refer to are quite common, but I guess it's no different than wondering what a baked alaska and croque monsieur are.

            I like a lot of dishes in China, but then there are a LOT of dishes in China. So, if you're truly nervous about ordering the wrong thing (but not nervous about hygiene...), the bbq folks at night will solve that problem. Point and click, or so.

            1. re: BuildingMyBento
              s
              Steve Apr 18, 2013 07:41 PM

              You could take the next step of Google - entering the metaphorical name will probably give you insight.

      2. p
        peanuttree Mar 20, 2013 09:19 AM

        Shanghai bun in Matawan, NJ (one of the best authentic Chinese/Cantonese restaurants ever) has sort of this deal, but their "other" menu has English translations, and it can be gotten right at the counter. I wasn't even aware there was an anglo menu, it was just fortuitous that the first time I went I walked up to the counter and only saw the "chinese" menu, and that I love crazy authentic ethnic foods, especially chinese

        3 Replies
        1. re: peanuttree
          Bossa_Nova Apr 2, 2013 02:57 PM

          Absolutely love Shanghai Bun and eat there frequently but sometimes have been asked "Are you sure? That is for Chinese people" when I've ordered some things but after reassuring them I knew what I was ordering, They had no problem serving it.

          1. re: Bossa_Nova
            p
            peanuttree Apr 11, 2013 11:38 AM

            Really? they never once asked me that. Who asked you? the guy? He's the only one that speaks English well.

            1. re: peanuttree
              Bossa_Nova Apr 18, 2013 12:02 PM

              An older, but not old woman asked me but when I reassured her that I knew what I was ordering she was fine. I didn't mind her question since when I responded she was happy to take the order, unlike some experiences in other places
              related in this thread by other posters.

        2. p
          peanuttree Mar 20, 2013 09:17 AM

          Hmmm.... seems we got a business idea here. Someone on the internet (or on their phone, as it were) could make tons of money with a service where you text a pic of the menu items, and it texts you back a translation

          1. Bada Bing Feb 18, 2013 07:14 AM

            I like your thread topic and have to apologize for not reading all 450 replies. But I would be interested to hear responses to a practical refocusing of the topic.

            Understanding that there are significant regional variations in Chinese cuisines, I wonder what some of the dishes are that one could request which themselves indicate an interest in Chinese rather than Americanized tastes.

            To make one step in that direction, I know one place where the owner/operator is Taiwanese, and she knows my taste for new things. So I can call ahed and ask for Taiwan Pork Belly, or for recommendations.

            But for places where you have no relationship, and where the "Secret Chinese Menu" has perhaps no English, what would be some items to order for various regional types of Chinese cuisine to clue them in that you're not a Wonder-Bread American?

            1. e
              ElenorLi Feb 16, 2013 01:55 PM

              This is a real phenomenon. There most certainly is a racial dynamic to this.

              I'm a white woman partly raised by a Chinese foster family. I DO read and speak Chinese, and feel obliged to prove it in many restaurants to get decent (edible) food, prepared traditionally. Now, in middle America, the stuff the staff eat is no better than the typical mushu chop suey pigfeed. But in better restaurants, serving ethnic Chinese clientel, there is sometimes the secret menu. It is indeed better food, prepared with more care, tailored to more subtle Chinese palates.

              Speaking Chinese CAN help... sometimes. But I've literally sat down with 10 Chinese people, family style, lazy susan, at a swank joint, and even AFTER cracking jokes in my bumpkin dialect had the waiter insult me by bringing me the "American" menu and neglect to bring me chopsticks and a handbowl...

              I've visited other restaurants, of midling quality, which serve me sweet-dripping dogfood despite my best chatting up, yet the one time I bring my (ethnically Chinese) sister, they served heavenly ambrosia...

              Make no mistake. This IS an insult. And you SHOULD react accordingly, by emphatically ordering off the Chinese menu and reassuring the staff that you do not want the "American" food.

              In defense of this secret menu practice, this is not an unearned insult. See, Chinese people are often much more straightforward and unappologetic about stereotyping. If one slack-jawed ugly American pitches a hissy because the chicken didn't taste like KFC, they quickly decide that ALL Americans are like that. They will and do tailor menus for the crass, parochial, and obnoxious white and black Americans who loudly ask if the tofu is "dog meat." And there are. MANY Americans. Like. That.

              So, protest as much as you like: even if you speak immaculate Mandarin, there is sometimes nothing you can do to convince Chinese staff to serve you something actually edible. Because "all Americans eat this." One white American, or ten, or a hundred, only liked "orange chicken" (shiver), so by Chinese reasoning YOU can NOT like real Chinese food. It's a categorical impossibility in their minds.

              In such hard cases, the only recourse is to eat with some Chinese friends, family style, and just dump the third rate crap they put in front of you in the trash.

              Then watch the amazed faces as they clap when you enjoy the real dishes or (shock!) can use chopsticks. They will compliment you, pat your shoulder.

              Make no mistake: their compliments are also an INSULT. You are an outsider, a monkey acting like a human in their eyes, doing something extraordinarily beyond the norm for your "type." Sort of like the dog on the talk show who can count by barking. If you were actually a person to them, they would criticise your tastes or method of eating. The human thing to do in response to such compliments is to act insulted. Repeat this handy phrase: "Buyao ba wo dang wairen le!"

              In the unlikely event they do criticise you, congratulations, you are now an "inside person." But this won't happen. Just consider the condescension the price of good food.

              16 Replies
              1. re: ElenorLi
                s
                Steve Feb 16, 2013 02:26 PM

                "Buyao ba wo dang wairen le!"

                translation, please.

                1. re: Steve
                  buttertart Feb 17, 2013 08:58 AM

                  Don't make me into a foreigner. I am about as far from Chinese as it gets and I do not feel this way at all.

                  1. re: buttertart
                    s
                    Steve Feb 18, 2013 06:28 AM

                    Hmmm, strange thing to say. Where I live, I don't have a problem in Chinese restaurants getting exactly what I want, though I have encountered that in Atlanta once.

                    My friend in Beijing told me when people bother me on the street (like when they INSIST on escorting me to a souvenir shop and will not stop pestering me), that I should say "buyao." But I don't really know what that means by itself. It didn't seem to deter most of them.

                    1. re: Steve
                      Bob W Feb 18, 2013 10:40 AM

                      I live in the same metro area (DC) as Steve, and also have not had problems getting the "real stuff." In fact, around here, i often get unmistakeable props for ordering the "real stuff."

                      I do not get served dogfood or pigfeed.

                      1. re: Bob W
                        g
                        grumperini Feb 19, 2014 10:40 AM

                        Hi Bob -

                        A group of us is interested in hitting a place in DC to order the "real stuff." Can you recommend a place?

                        Thank you!

                        1. re: grumperini
                          Bob W Feb 19, 2014 11:04 AM

                          Try Hong Kong Palace in Seven Corners (Falls Church/Arlington). It's actually Szechuan, despite the name, which is a holdover from a previous regime.

                          Big favorite of local Chowhounds!

                          1. re: Bob W
                            g
                            grumperini Feb 19, 2014 11:31 AM

                            Thank you!

                            1. re: grumperini
                              s
                              Steve Feb 19, 2014 12:10 PM

                              If you want to test out the 'secret' menu at Honk Kong Palace, there are a couple of extraordinary specials written in Chinese on the wall.

                              The first I recommend is the chicken with crunchy peppers. You can ask for it by that name. They sometimes will be out of it, though. FYI, on the wall the Chinese characters read; 'mouth, mouth, crispy, good-smelling' with the Chinese character for mouth being a simple box, So if you see the Chinese writing with two boxes in a row, you know they will have it, but ask regardless.

                              The other dish I recommend is the 100 Flavor Chicken. It is cold, sliced chicken on the bone served wet in a kind of soup bowl with celery, scallions, peppers, etc. Even if this is not on the wall specials menu, they usually have this anyway, so just ask for it by that name. This is a bit more challenging dish, but really worth it.

                      2. re: Steve
                        m
                        madeliner Feb 18, 2013 02:12 PM

                        bu means no, aka bu hao means no good

                        which may come in handy when you get a dish you don't like ;)

                        1. re: Steve
                          f
                          foodieinsd Feb 18, 2013 04:45 PM

                          "Bu yao" means "Don't want" literally.

                          1. re: foodieinsd
                            s
                            Steve Feb 18, 2013 08:48 PM

                            Thanks. I was pretty sure I was saying it right, but it did not always have the intended effect. The touts in Beijing can be very persistent.

                            1. re: Steve
                              f
                              foodieinsd Feb 18, 2013 09:14 PM

                              yes, you have to just be as persistent back. :)

                    2. re: ElenorLi
                      l
                      lythandrel Mar 9, 2013 05:43 PM

                      Thank you for making this post. It does explain a LOT. I love asian food, with the exception of Chinese food. The westernised crap they serve is generally too heavy, too greasy, too sweet, and kills my stomach.

                      My neighbours when I was growing up were Chinese, and they would frequently babysit for me on days my mother couldn't be home when I got home from school, and I would always be playing with their children. I frequently had the privilege of eating dinner there, learning to prepare food, and they had me using chopsticks before I was able to navigate a fork and knife well.

                      The food for was SOOOO different than what my parents would get from the local chinese restaurant and tasted SO much better, was lighter, had far better flavour, Gads, do I miss those days.. I lost touch with them, they moved to upstate NY, and my family moved to florida during the same year.

                      Every so often I get the fortune of getting a server that is perfectly willing to sit down with my for a moment, translate and explain some of the 'secret' menus to me and make some recommendations, but serving staff in most restaurants won't take the time to do that.

                      In Florida it's nearly impossible to find decent chinese food, since 99.9% of the restaurants serve only the westernised crap. I have found out that the restaurants that serve dim sum (also few and far between here) are the few places where you can generally find serving staff or an owner or manager that will be willing to recommend and teach you about the more traditional foods, but it's still rare.

                      1. re: lythandrel
                        s
                        Steve Mar 21, 2013 06:01 PM

                        Realize also there is a difference between Chinese home cooking and restaurant cooking.

                        1. re: lythandrel
                          johnb Mar 21, 2013 06:07 PM

                          lythandrel -- I have a thread on the Florida board right now asking about good (authentic?) Chinese in Florida. Short summary -- very difficult to find. Do you have any specific places to recommend?

                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/893650

                          Steve -- you're from down there IIRC. Any tips?

                        2. re: ElenorLi
                          Gastronomos Mar 30, 2013 05:21 PM

                          Yes. Thank you. Most don't know that (and that it occurs in many ethnicities).

                        3. m
                          madeliner Feb 14, 2013 11:01 PM

                          I assume the eel dish was good? I worked in a chinese restaurant a long time ago and saw and tasted what they made and ate for themselves

                          it wasn't anything I would want to eat-not horrible but not good either

                          1. paizley Jan 18, 2013 11:40 PM

                            Would you eat something labeled sour green squid? Actually it's fermented (think lactofermentation) greens stir fried with squid and vegs that's quite tasty. Actually, where I live (Albuquerque) 3 restaurants considered the most authentic now have their "secret" menu in both English and Chinese. However the translations are literal with no explanation. One place has a fish head/eye soup available only when a certain Chinese chef is working. It is delicious! Their food on the "regular" menu is mundane. I will only order off the "special" menu.

                            1. l
                              learning2 Jan 2, 2013 05:32 PM

                              The power of a smile does so much. Recently, in Las Vegas, yeah, I know, of all places, I met a couple from Hong Kong. Been there, could, generally, talk with them. Went to a Chinese restaurant and re-met them. Nice. Talked about food. When the waiter came I said, "He's ordering for me". Pig knuckles. Great soup! Have really no idea what I ate except that I want to eat it again. Ask customers what they like, what's good. The word is not American or Chinese or any other ethnic. The word is GOOD. People are happy to share their favorites with you.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: learning2
                                e
                                ElenorLi Feb 16, 2013 02:28 PM

                                Would you please recommend the restaurant in Vegas by name?

                                1. re: ElenorLi
                                  l
                                  learning2 Feb 17, 2013 07:55 AM

                                  We were staying at the Venetian so I'm thinking it was there. It was some years ago but I'm thinking it was TAO. There are so many good restaurants in Vegas it's hard to keep them straight. I am, however, willing to attempt to try them all. Then I could start on New Orleans and San Francisco.

                              2. b
                                BuildingMyBento Dec 29, 2012 10:20 AM

                                A bit OT, but in China, if a friend wanted to eat at a certain restaurant serving a cuisine that I genuinely disdained, I'd then ask the waitstaff to just make me something with A & B. Every now and then they'd say, those two foods just don't GO together. As in, tradition says certain foods just don't match.
                                Right, but frog ovaries and stewed papaya were made for each other...

                                Come to think of it, very OT, but has anyone tried to mix two items in a Chinese restaurant and been denied the request?

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: BuildingMyBento
                                  j
                                  jumpingmonk Dec 29, 2012 04:21 PM

                                  Sort of. There was an incident where a resturaunt in Chinatown could not make me the order of Ha Moon Chow Mai Fun I had ordered due to the fact they had run out of mai fun noodles (the fact they took 90 minutes to get around to telling me this was already a strike against them) when they finally admitted it, they suggested some lo mein. I said I had never had Ha Moon with lo mein noodles before, but I was willing to give it a try. They then told me that no, I would have to change the form to something else, they would not make the Ha Moon style with anything excet rice noodles. This was the point I gave up and walked out (it was a takeout order and I hadn't ordered anything else, so it wasn't like I had to stay and pay). For the record I went back the next week (when they DID have rice noodles. Their Ha Moon Mai Fun was lousy.)

                                  1. re: BuildingMyBento
                                    k
                                    klyeoh Jan 1, 2013 05:45 PM

                                    There was one occasion back in 2003/2004 where I requested that the restaurant *leave out* one item and was denied. I was in Dongguan, a city in Guangdong (Southern China) and my Chinese colleagues ordered the classic Cantonese dish, "Dragon Tiger Phoenix" (龍虎鳳) which is a braised dish of snake, cat and chicken.

                                    I requested (and my colleagues kindly, albeit reluctantly, agreed) that we leave out the cat bit. But the restaurant manager was vehement, "No can do! That will change the balance of flavors in the dish irrevocably!!". Of course, he said that in loud, staccato Cantonese, which would have sounded to a non-Cantonese speaker as him telling me, "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!".

                                    I ended up having my first taste of cat that evening.

                                    1. re: klyeoh
                                      b
                                      BuildingMyBento Jan 1, 2013 07:56 PM

                                      Which part of Dongguan? If you want decent Korean, there's a place by where all of the intercity buses go, in Liaobu (it's near Jinkaiyue Hotel). Actually, there's an alright beifang dumpling place near that too, but that's another story.

                                      Speaking of cat (猫 miao), I was walking around Zhongshan (another city in Guangdong) and ended up at a restaurant with said feline-nothing too sub rosa there. Thus cat hot pot was my order...

                                       
                                      1. re: BuildingMyBento
                                        k
                                        klyeoh Jan 2, 2013 12:35 AM

                                        I couldn't recall the name of the restaurant now - I need to look for the namecard. BTW, I think they used civet cat meat.

                                        I was also brought to try 2 other restaurants there, but they were both Cantonese with a lot of Chaozhou influences.

                                        1. re: klyeoh
                                          b
                                          BuildingMyBento Jan 2, 2013 01:31 PM

                                          Oh, civet! That's next on the list.

                                          If you find the info about the restaurant, let me know- Dongguan's my Guangdong go-to (to me, it's more relaxed, yet a bit rougher around the edges, than it's "larger" neighbors).

                                          This thread is slightly inspiring- a friend invited me to Sichuan hot pot (in Manhattan's Chinatown) the other day. Seeing as it's one of my least favorite foods (of any), I asked the manager if they'd whip up something Hunanese. She more or less admonished me (about asking for anything that wasn't 川菜), so 干煸四季豆 (dry stir-fried green beans) was a fair runner-up.

                                          1. re: klyeoh
                                            raytamsgv Jan 3, 2013 11:32 AM

                                            Can you eat civet these days? It was banned around the time of the SARS epidemic. I've had civet and the Dragon Tiger Phoenix soup in Guangzhou. They were delicious.

                                    2. h
                                      hanmeng Dec 23, 2012 03:54 PM

                                      I believe it usually happens in restaurants with a largely Chinese clientele. I imagine sometimes the dishes are simply items that the chef decided to make after the menu had been printed, but also they're afraid non-Chinese won't like the dishes.

                                      It's not just the Chinese. Once in France I ordered steak tartare, and one of the staff emphasized that it was "crue" (raw).

                                      And look what happened to Tyler Cowen in an Ethiopian restaurant:

                                      '...he spots a problem: our raw beef is cooked. “They think we’re wusses.” After asking for the real deal, he tells me that “a lot of the problem with eating out at a place like this is not even choosing but convincing them you’re serious”.'

                                      http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/36ea6428-46...

                                      1. Teep Dec 13, 2012 03:00 PM

                                        Sometimes the servers may not know how to translate.

                                        Here is what I saw recently:
                                        Customer, "Can you recommend a meat dish?"
                                        Server1, "How about spare ribs with... with... [turned to Server 2 and asked in Chinese how to say X in English, Server 2 shruged] ... with Chinese sauce!"

                                        BTW X was Chinese black olives.

                                        1. c
                                          celesul Dec 4, 2012 10:29 PM

                                          Eh, if enough people manage to make it clear that they are coming to a restaurant because they want actual Chinese food, then that restaurant will eventually adjust. I know of two Chinese restaurants near me (at least!) that don't really hold back with what you can order. Admittedly, most things don't translate that easily, so your option is really between an Americanized dish you know (they always list those) or a Chinese dish that you probably don't, and only know that it includes, for example, pork hock. So, you can order authentic dishes, but the lack of knowledge makes it very hard to put together a good set of dishes without a lot of help from the waiter. When I've gone with Chinese friends to some of those places, the menu is the same, but they are much more effective at ordering, because they understand the dishes better, and more importantly, they understand how to order a meal where all the dishes work together well.

                                          The Chinese restaurants I know, you really probably do need to be pretty adventurous to order unknown dishes from their menus, because they do serve dishes that just don't make sense to an American palate, or would gross a lot of people out. Unless you want to really quiz your waiter, an unknown dish could easily be offal based. Besides, having solid cubes of fat in your dish is considered luxurious, and as much as I adore century eggs, I'd probably try to dissuade someone from ordering a dish it featured in unless I knew that they were a pretty adventurous eater and saw disliking some dishes as a hazard of exploring interesting food.

                                          So, I can easily see why restaurants wouldn't want to present a menu with some of those dishes on them. Unless they see a market for a restaurant that serves authentic Chinese food to Americans, and want to commit to the expense of establishing themselves as that, which includes long ordering times because your waiters will have to explain everything, they aren't going to want to present a menu with some of the more polarizing ingredients on it to Americans.

                                          1. ritabwh Dec 4, 2012 05:29 PM

                                            in the latest issue of Lucky Peach ( #5 Chinatown), Fuschia Dunlop's article addresses this.
                                            her statements mirrow much of what has been discussed here.

                                            btw, this is my favorite issue so far next to the Ramen issue #1.

                                            1. E Eto Oct 20, 2012 09:39 AM

                                              The answer is to try ordering food as one would if following Chinese sensibilities towards a meal. Here's a good, simple explanation from this article in the Atlantic.

                                              "The guiding principle of a Chinese meal is balance. The dishes should offer a pleasing variety of seasonally appropriate ingredients (meat, seafood, vegetable, tofu, etc.); cooking methods (stir-fried, red-cooked, steamed, braised, stewed, soups, etc.); flavors (bitter, sour, sweet, pungent, salty); colors; and textures."
                                              http://www.theatlantic.com/health/arc...

                                              In my experience, when a waiter figures out that you're actually ordering per this age old rule, they begin to make suggestions for you... "maybe not that chicken dish, it might be too oily with these other dishes, maybe you should try this one instead"... or recommendations for off-menu items that the chef likes to make. I've even had an owner of a restaurant flatly refuse to give me the menu item I ordered because he preferred that we had the chef specialty (he even offered it at the same price as the menu item I ordered), saying if we didn't like it, he'd give us the one I ordered. Some of these were at places I had never been to. And I don't speak a lick of Chinese. And no one in my group was Chinese.

                                              1. f
                                                foodieinsd Oct 19, 2012 11:46 AM

                                                It occurred to me that based on the dish you describe in your OP (which, SO lucky you that you have a restaurant that makes dishes like that!), the Chinese may be something like "帶魚炒豆苗". "帶魚" is belt fish, something that is commonly made in Shanghai, usually a sweet/salty soy sauce based dish, "炒" means to sauté or stir fry, and "豆苗" are pea sprouts, which I guess are pea tendrils (a wonderful veggie!). Are you in contact with any of the original people in your party for that one meal? Maybe you could also get them to write down the names in Chinese of the dishes that were ordered? You could even tell the people at the restaurant that you've eaten the dish before and you love it, then maybe they will be less obstinate. BTW, the above Chinese is traditional characters. If you need simplified, it's "带鱼炒豆苗". One idea, because you mentioned that you aren't able to frequent the restaurant to become a "regular," would be that each time you go, you try to order that eel dish that you got. Then, whenever you do show up, they will start to recognize you and then maybe you can branch out into other dishes on the Chinese menu (like pointing to the photos that you said they have up but without translations). Don't give up!

                                                28 Replies
                                                1. re: foodieinsd
                                                  k
                                                  klyeoh Oct 19, 2012 06:26 PM

                                                  The Chinese can sometimes be very parochial when dealing with "outsiders", and it can take quite a while before they warm up to you.

                                                  Once I was brought by a couple of old family friends (Americans living in Paris) to their favorite Vietnamese-Chinese restaurant in the 13th arrondisement. They'd been going back to the same place for the past 10 years. On that particular day, they asked me (as a guest from Singapore) to order the dishes. The owner-proprietor, an elderly Vietnamese-Chinese man who obviously recognized my friends, came to take our order. I spoke to him in English (also tried Mandarin) but he couldn't comprehend both languages - whilst he tried French then Vietnamese on me, which I'm totally useless at.

                                                  Then we both realised that we could speak in Teochew (潮州)/Chaozhou dialect which is the lingua franca among ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, and is also the 2nd-largest dialect group in Singapore.

                                                  At the end of the evening, my friends & I managed to savor some made-to-order, off-menu dishes which were truly amazing, and the old chap also came back to chat with me and told me half his life story of living in Paris, including his trials-and-tribulations of dealing with an "unfilial" daughter-in-law who refused to help in the family restaurant business :-D

                                                  My American friends told me that, in all the 10 years of their patronizing this restaurant, they'd never been able to go beyond the basic niceties when talking to the old chap, and never did know that such food items were offered there besides the ubiquitous "pho bo", "cha gio" and "bun rieu cua".

                                                  1. re: klyeoh
                                                    f
                                                    foodieinsd Oct 19, 2012 07:11 PM

                                                    I agree, it helps when you have a common language, then it really is like that, they'll talk about everything, and you become an instant friend or like family (usually at places where you interact with the owner who is the chef--see my first post on this discussion). But I also know that not everyone in the restaurant business is like that (esp. if you are dealing with waiters/waitresses in a busy restaurant). The original post was about someone who did not speak or understand Chinese, how they are supposed to be able to order off-menu dishes in the absence of Chinese companions. The best way would be to get to know the people who run the restaurant, but the OP said that they aren't able to frequent the restaurant as often to do that. Another would be to start learning Mandarin as a way to communicate, but I realize that requires a lot of time. That's why I tried to give at least some words that the OP can print out and use to try to order the original dish as a stepping stone.

                                                    That's great though, that you both were able to speak Teochew dialect and enjoy so many wonderful dishes!

                                                    1. re: foodieinsd
                                                      k
                                                      klyeoh Oct 19, 2012 08:32 PM

                                                      Learning Mandarin is a torture, but once you get past the initial stages, it does get easier.
                                                      A few years ago, I was with 3 Singaporean colleagues in Cologne and we went to Tchang, the oldest Chinese restaurant in the city centre. The proprietress was a Taiwanese lady who, when told by us that we wanted "food meant for Chinese" (don't laugh), recommended some off-the-menu specials for us. Oh boy, we had to wait for nearly an hour for our specially-cooked food, whilst the German diners at the tables all around us were being promptly served the "usual" fare.

                                                      But when our dishes finally arrived, we could sense almost every other diner around us staring at our food - I think the German customers were curious about what we were having, since they also knew that we'd been kept waiting for them.

                                                      1. re: klyeoh
                                                        huiray Oct 19, 2012 08:52 PM

                                                        And what did you all do to while away that hour? :-)

                                                        [What *did* you eat?]

                                                        1. re: huiray
                                                          k
                                                          klyeoh Oct 19, 2012 08:56 PM

                                                          Despite some "similarities" between Chinese "hum choy" and German sauerkraut, I doubt if the Germans would go for bone-in duck with salted mustard soup :-D

                                                          That was my most memorable item from that meal. One of the other dishes were soft tofu topped with stewed minced pork.

                                                          I have to check my diary on the other dishes we had on that day as I left the ordering to a couple of my Singaporean colleagues who were gagging for some Chinese food after 2 weeks of German cuisine during our 2-week stay in Bonn earlier. I'm not really a Chinese food person, preferring Singaporean-Peranakan-Nyonya dishes if given the choice.

                                                          We spent the hour chatting away - in Singlish! We only used Mandarin to communicate with the proprietress eventhough she seemed more "comfortable" using German (and all 4 of us could speak German, where absolutely necessary) as we wanted to make sure she *gets* our message that we wanted "genuine" Chinese food :-D

                                                          1. re: klyeoh
                                                            paulj Oct 19, 2012 10:01 PM

                                                            I have a jar of hum choy in my fridge, but no duck. It might go well with the pork tongue I need to finish up.

                                                            1. re: klyeoh
                                                              f
                                                              foodieinsd Oct 19, 2012 10:13 PM

                                                              That is so funny because I am Chinese-American but lived in Germany for several years and know what you mean! :P I can totally imagine the scene...I wonder too, if they would be as patient as you to get their food. Sounds delicious....I'm sure she was delighted to have some customers want to taste some good home cooking! I for one would! I was so dying for good Chinese food when I was there. I'll have to keep that name in mind if I ever find myself there again.

                                                              1. re: foodieinsd
                                                                k
                                                                klyeoh Oct 20, 2012 07:15 AM

                                                                Here it is - if you're ever in Cologne next :-)
                                                                http://www.qype.com/place/180909-China-Restaurant-Tchang-Inh-Tefouk-Yo-Tchang-Koeln

                                                                As for me, I'd rather seek out something spicy - some valuable finds in the past year:
                                                                1. Indochine in Hamburg
                                                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/791963

                                                                2. Sala Thai in Hamburg
                                                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/789624

                                                                3. Samadhi in Berlin
                                                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/791208

                                                                I'd not found any outstanding Chinese/Asian restaurants in Dusseldorf & Stuttgart yet (my 2 fave cities in Germany actually), nor Frankfurt, with its vibrant dining scene.

                                                                1. re: klyeoh
                                                                  f
                                                                  foodieinsd Oct 20, 2012 11:22 AM

                                                                  Thanks! I myself didn't grow up eating spicy food, so I always had the reverse problem there in Asian restaurants, that people would see that I was Asian and start loading on the chilies automatically! But I am learning. ;) I was never in Stuttgart, but I vaguely remember that we went to one restaurant in Dusseldorf for dim sum for lunch. They didn't do the carts, though, we just ordered off a menu, but it was good. Sorry, I don't recall the name though.

                                                                  There was also a really nice Thai place just down the street from me when I was in Heidelberg that was really tasty, in case you are ever there (And it's a bee-line up from the Hbf!). That was YEARS ago, so I hope they still have the same chef.

                                                                  http://www.thanaphon.de/index.htm

                                                                  I've only been to Frankfurt in my travel connections (sorry!) so I can't suggest anything there either.

                                                                  1. re: klyeoh
                                                                    linguafood Oct 20, 2012 11:36 AM

                                                                    Rainbow Garden, a stone's throw away from Frankfurt train station, has some delectable Thai food, IIRC.

                                                                2. re: klyeoh
                                                                  RUK Oct 20, 2012 05:56 AM

                                                                  "Despite some "similarities" between Chinese "hum choy" and German sauerkraut, I doubt if the Germans would go for bone-in duck with salted mustard soup :-D"

                                                                  Klyeoh, I am curious why you would say that? What exactly is the basis for this assumption?

                                                                  1. re: RUK
                                                                    k
                                                                    klyeoh Oct 20, 2012 06:35 AM

                                                                    Which part are you curious about - "similarity between 'hum choy' and sauerkraut" or that Germans wouldn't go for Chinese duck with salted mustard soup?

                                                                    1. re: klyeoh
                                                                      RUK Oct 20, 2012 06:42 AM

                                                                      The latter part that Germans wouldn't go for Chinese duck with salted mustard soup?
                                                                      I am simply stunned at this assumption.

                                                                      1. re: RUK
                                                                        k
                                                                        klyeoh Oct 20, 2012 06:56 AM

                                                                        You shouldn't be stunned - it's too different from anything in German cuisine. None of my German friends/colleagues liked it - whether it's Chinese-style or else what we in Singapore called Nyonya "itik tim" - and I've been trying to introduce that to them for the past 3 decades.

                                                                        Haven't seen this dish on any Chinese restaurant menu in German cities (I spend 1 month in Germany each year on business) whilst my German friends & colleagues based in Singapore (some of them for years) also didn't like it.

                                                                        1. re: klyeoh
                                                                          RUK Oct 20, 2012 06:58 AM

                                                                          Thanks Klyeoh, fair enough.

                                                                          1. re: RUK
                                                                            linguafood Oct 20, 2012 02:11 PM

                                                                            I suppose the same could be said about groups of Japanese tourists who often travel through Germany with their own cooks, as they seem to be weary of traditional German fare. Like the famous pork knuckle. Yeah, they'll try a bite, but just as a dare.

                                                                          2. re: klyeoh
                                                                            f
                                                                            foodieinsd Oct 20, 2012 11:52 AM

                                                                            If I had ever seen that dish on the menu in a Chinese restaurant there, I WOULD HAVE BEEN THERE!!! A lot of the people I encountered in my years there were pretty conservative with respect to food. We were lucky that we had a kitchen where I worked, and I very well took full advantage of it. We were just sauteeing garlic one day when a woman came up to us and said, "It stinks" in German, peered in and then walked off a bit grumpily. If this salted mustard is similar to what I know of as "xian cai" in mandarin, that is a salty preserved mustard green (which has its own... pungency), then I would not be too surprised that people would be put off by it. That's not to say that Germans don't eat duck, because I had several friends that ate duck at holidays, and one gave me a piece, and it was heavenly. But bone-in duck IN A SOUP is really unique and something that probably would not be on the menu. Whenever I ordered duck in an Asian restaurant there, it was always a thin layer of breast meat with the bones removed.

                                                                            1. re: foodieinsd
                                                                              huiray Oct 20, 2012 02:07 PM

                                                                              What klyeoh was referring to as "hum choy" or "harm choy" ["salty vegetable"](in Cantonese) is "鹹菜". This is equivalent in practical terms (re: cooking) to "syun choy" ["sour vegetable"] or "酸菜". Some links:
                                                                              http://www.7-11-seafood.com.tw/img/Product/%E9%B9%B9%E8%8F%9C.jpg
                                                                              http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_GAW55yyCVoI/SQYjxJL7AgI/AAAAAAAAA2I/JnX9iR96tpc/s400/%E9%B9%B9%E8%8F%9C.jpg
                                                                              http://www.ce.cn/cysc/sp/ysyjk/200811/03/W020081103335957734767.jpg
                                                                              http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2085/1854593694_85598de8f3.jpg
                                                                              Also referred to as "pickled sour mustard".

                                                                              Here're a couple of pics of batches of 1) "harm choy tong" with duck [I used duck confit :-) ]; and 2) "harm choy tong" with tofu and short-cut pork spare ribs; that I made fairly recently:
                                                                              http://www.chow.com/photos/809725
                                                                              http://www.chow.com/photos/826945

                                                                              RUK was "stunned" by klyeoh's assertion that Germans (in Germany) may not go for it. Your experiences seem to reinforce what he elaborated about. I wonder if RUK has eaten it herself...

                                                                              1. re: huiray
                                                                                K K Oct 20, 2012 02:16 PM

                                                                                There are a few variants. NE Chinese (Dongbei) uses a type of napa like cabbage for their "suan tsai", and is very pungent (natural real fermentation, stronger than any kimchi). This is probably a lot closer to sauerkraut, but even then sauerkraut is very mild in comparison.

                                                                                The Hakka Cantonese variant is indeed pickled mustard greens, but tends to be more sweet. Often referred to as Mui Choy in Cantonese, or Mei Gan Tsai in Mandarin.

                                                                                The Hakka Taiwanese version is not just pungent but extremly bitter. This veg is grown around Hsinchu and Miaoli area (SW of Taipei county), stuffed into plastic or glass bottles and salted. Definitely not for the faint of heart. Probably the most hardcore of all variants. The same pickled mustard green pork belly dish in Taiwan tastes a lot stronger and rustic than the Hakka Cantonese version in Hong Kong, for example.

                                                                                There are other Cantonese pickled greens, one of which is "snow greens" and typically served with julienne pork either in noodle soups or stir fry (and also used in non Cantonese Chinese applications).

                                                                                1. re: K K
                                                                                  huiray Oct 20, 2012 02:44 PM

                                                                                  Indeed.

                                                                                  Still, to me (as a Cantonese person) "mui choy" is distinct from either "harm choy" or "syun choi" and my mental picture of what "mui choy" would be to me is different from the other two. :-) It's prepared differently. Think of "kow yuk" [Hakka} with that "pickled" chopped veggie...

                                                                                  1. re: huiray
                                                                                    K K Oct 20, 2012 11:43 PM

                                                                                    Well I had to look it up...

                                                                                    鹹菜 by definition (ham choy), is just a generic name for any salt pickling of vegetable .

                                                                                    mustard leaf is 芥菜, and is commonly used for Chinese cuisine. 雪里蕻(latin name:Brassica juncea var. crispifolia) is also a mustard green but pickled, and also goes by other names like 雪裡红、雪菜、春不老、皱叶芥菜. In Northern China, the leaf and stem are salted and used as "ham choy". The roots can be salted/pickled as well and are referred to as 芥菜頭 . The salted brassica juncea can be used for stir fried meat, stewed tofu.

                                                                                    And it turns out similarly in the south (perhaps referring to south of Shandong, Beijing etc), like Su nan, Zhe Jiang, Fujian, Hunan, and Chongqing as well as Guangdong..... they call the mustard green mui choy, as they first pickle it in salt, and I left out one very important step...which is sun drying afterward the salt pickling. The word "mui" also sounds like "doe mui" 霉 which can mean "rotten" or plainly "turned bad", like a play on enunciation.

                                                                                    1. re: K K
                                                                                      huiray Oct 20, 2012 11:47 PM

                                                                                      Thanks, KK. Good to have that info. Yes, "ham/harm/hum choy" is just salted/pickled vegetable, true. Still, I picture a certain kind of vegetable when thinking about cooking it in the sort of Cantonese/SE Asian cuisine I tend to cook, and I would think of it as made with 芥菜.

                                                                                      When I look for "mui choy" in the grocery I would expect to find it as a preserved veggie that is basically brown in color, or at least far browner than "harm choy", always in a dry state and often with crystallized salt flecking its surface.
                                                                                      http://www.singuo.com/images/product/HUIZHOU%20Sweet%20Preserved%20Vegetables%203KG.jpg
                                                                                      http://static.flickr.com/107/314688973_9d3993f81c.jpg

                                                                                      There's also "榨菜" (ja choy/zha cai), or "pressed vegetable", made from mustard green stems (Brassica juncea subs. tatsai), salted & pressed, and either "chilied" or not as well. I visualize it as one type of hard-ish stemmed preserved veggie, which can also be used in soups, or in congee (I like it that way) or in stir-fried dishes.
                                                                                      https://www.google.com/search?q=%E6%A...

                                                                                2. re: huiray
                                                                                  f
                                                                                  foodieinsd Oct 20, 2012 02:55 PM

                                                                                  Thanks huiray and KK for the clarification. Then hum choy is not the same as the xian cai that I am thinking about that is called xue cai in some regions in China (like what KK refers to). It is another type of preserved mustard green that is only very salty with its own pungency but not sour at all (at least the ones I have eaten). It is often used in Ningbo cuisine where my grandmother is from. My grandmother told us that once a long time ago, there was a real Ningbo restaurant in Hong Kong. Oh, how I would have loved to dine there!

                                                                                  Many Germans in Germany can be different from those who travel outside of their country. They aren't always as open-minded, and many were suspicious of anything that didn't look familiar. But there are always exceptions.

                                                                                  1. re: foodieinsd
                                                                                    linguafood Oct 20, 2012 03:04 PM

                                                                                    "Many Germans in Germany can be different from those who travel outside of their country. They aren't always as open-minded, and many were suspicious of anything that didn't look familiar. But there are always exceptions."

                                                                                    One could probably say that about any nationality.

                                                                                    1. re: linguafood
                                                                                      f
                                                                                      foodieinsd Oct 20, 2012 03:08 PM

                                                                                      exactly

                                                                                      1. re: linguafood
                                                                                        RUK Oct 20, 2012 03:41 PM

                                                                                        I sure like that last sentence!! :-)

                                                                                    2. re: huiray
                                                                                      RUK Oct 20, 2012 07:36 PM

                                                                                      Huiray, you know me for ca 20 years. Have you ever known me to make assumptions about anything without having somewhat of a broader knowledge of the subject matter? I simply asked Klyeoh for some clarification. I myself am somewhat careful not to use one example to make assumptions about a whole country.
                                                                                      It is absolutely immaterial if I ever ate said dish.

                                                                                      1. re: RUK
                                                                                        huiray Oct 20, 2012 11:51 PM

                                                                                        I was wondering about your being "stunned".

                                                              2. f
                                                                foodieinsd Oct 18, 2012 03:14 PM

                                                                I'll start by saying that I am Chinese but was born in the US, and I know this "Chinese menu" vs. the "normal" menu since growing up. I think a lot of it has to do with not wanting to offend non-Chinese and then lose business. I would prefer that Chinese restaurants just start making these more traditional dishes available because they really are good and better reflect the cuisines of the country. Everyone has to keep in mind that only recently has there been this incredible surge in "foodies" and adventurous eating that was not prevalent when I was growing up. So most places are not used to non-Chinese wanting to try more traditional style dishes.

                                                                I'll give a very recent pertinent example:
                                                                In my city, a new Chinese-Japanese restaurant opened up a few months back, and it is a real jewel for my family and I. They serve a mix between Chinese and Japanese food, but mostly Chinese dishes. The food is excellent, but the menu is limited and just by looking at it, is geared more towards Westernized popular items (but they are cooked in a very nice way). BUT, they have other more traditional dishes and some regional specialties, like a particular chicken from the Shan Dong region in China that is served chilled and is delicious. We go there all the time and have gotten to know the owners, and one day the chef came out with a plate of a certain type of bean curd that some Chinese will know but is not something that you see in a typical Chinese restaurant, secret menu or not. It is called bai ye in Mandarin and is a lovely ingredient that can be prepared in different ways depending on the region. This chef cooks it differently than the way my mom's family cooks it. He uses just napa, the bai ye and some green onions with a little wine, and it is subtle in flavor but really good. We've tried to encourage them to put it on the menu, along with many other things he's made for us, but he has told us that people have complained on Yelp that their food is bland with no flavor and left one-star ratings. This bai ye dish would fall in that category for those people who left those reviews because the bai ye is like tofu, it doesn't have a strong flavor on it's own and takes in the flavors of the other ingredients. But if you have discerning taste buds, you will taste the wine that he's added, the flavor of the green onions, and the faint taste of plain napa in the dish. So for him, he makes the dish for people who know and enjoy it, not because he wants to exclude people but because he doesn't want to loose more business. There was another dish that they let us try that was a spicy Taiwanese style stew (very simple, just young bamboo shoots with chunks of pork and chilies but very tasty) and we were telling them that they ought to put it on the menu. Their first reaction was, "That is REALLY Chinese," indicating that most Americans may not go for it. We kept trying to tell them that we think people would like it if they tried it. The thing is, it is like most homestyle Chinese cooking: it doesn't look super appetizing because the color is that light brown color that you get with most soy sauce based stews, so I can see that if you aren't used to it, some may be put off just by it's appearance. But he is a really wonderful chef, and it is hard to read some of the reviews that people leave (they can be really caustic, and they don't really represent the food at all). These owners are really nice, and I'm sure that if the original poster walked into their restaurant and asked about these dishes, they may be hesitant but with prodding they may make it for you if they knew that you really are adventurous and not like most other people who are looking for Orange Chicken (I have seen some Yelp reviews that bagged another restaurant because they "didn't know how to make Orange Chicken"). So to the original poster, I'm glad that you are not like most people and are interested in trying more traditional dishes. I hope that you will find more success in being able to order more traditional food.

                                                                8 Replies
                                                                1. re: foodieinsd
                                                                  c
                                                                  Chowrin Oct 18, 2012 05:47 PM

                                                                  In places like pittsburgh, all the menus are translated (sometimes with help from customers).
                                                                  know your crowd.
                                                                  and if you really want good chinese? Swing on by Steel City!

                                                                  1. re: foodieinsd
                                                                    huiray Oct 19, 2012 09:01 PM

                                                                    It seems to me that many (not all) USAmericans, including notable chefs who should know better, expect Chinese food to be boldly flavored with pronounced and intense tastes. Many also seek out chilli heat in their Chinese food, regardless of whether the traditional recipe has it as a "hot" dish or not. Hence the popularity of Szechuanese and Hunanese places amongst non-Chinese folks, in a general sense. Even one or two Chowhounders have been known to allow that they do not care for Cantonese food and far prefer Szechuanese food. So - what you said about this chef fearing that that delicate, subtle dish you so enjoyed would be panned as bland etc by "the usual" non-Chinese diner might not be so far-fetched...

                                                                    1. re: huiray
                                                                      paulj Oct 19, 2012 09:54 PM

                                                                      There have been threads about 'how do I order the really hot food that Chinese get'. A common assumption is that the restaurant always tones down the heat for Westerners.

                                                                      1. re: paulj
                                                                        huiray Oct 19, 2012 10:15 PM

                                                                        Yes, like this one... http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/826545

                                                                      2. re: huiray
                                                                        f
                                                                        foodieinsd Oct 19, 2012 09:55 PM

                                                                        yeah, I totally agree. He told us that this dish (and some of the noodle dishes that he makes) are "qing dan" in Mandarin, which means, light and mild/plain/bland, I guess. It is a style that we totally like, although I also like more boldly flavored Chinese dishes, too (and some of the other dishes on the menu are more strongly flavored), but I like anything that tastes good and is well-prepared. I'm not such a spicy fanatic in that we didn't grow up eating spicy Chinese food, but I am getting better and probably eat mild to medium, so their Taiwanese stew that used chilies was spicy but not so much that it hurt and flavorful, and very addicting. They started to warm up a bit the last time we ate there and talked about it. I think it just really depends on the customer. They are pretty personable and super friendly, so once they find out what you like to eat, they are willing to make it for you.

                                                                        1. re: huiray
                                                                          s
                                                                          Steve Oct 20, 2012 03:21 AM

                                                                          Sichuanese cuisine is better recreated in the US than Cantonese. Where I live in the DC area, I can think of three Sichuanese places I adore and only one Cantonese, though the percentages suggest it should be the other way around.

                                                                          Of course, those are not the only two options!

                                                                          1. re: Steve
                                                                            f
                                                                            foodieinsd Oct 20, 2012 11:04 AM

                                                                            I think it also just depends on the where in the US you are. I've been to some more authentic style Cantonese restaurants in and around LA. I think it helps when the people opening and running them come from the region and haven't altered their recipes.

                                                                            1. re: Steve
                                                                              huiray Oct 21, 2012 07:04 AM

                                                                              As foodieinsd says, it depends. I hear that Cantonese food in places like the SGV are excellently executed. Or, going further afield, in places like Richmond/Greater Vancouver or the GTO. ;-)

                                                                        2. ritabwh Sep 14, 2012 11:09 AM

                                                                          recently i went to a newly opened korean restaurant. i look like i should speak korean, but i don't. the restaurant crowd was 95% asian.
                                                                          i ordered from the pretty menu with the pictures. as i was getting ready to pay and leave, i noticed a plate of korean fried chicken being delivered to the table next to me.! i am and huge fan of korean fried chicken. i looked through the menu, no such item. then, i rememberd the korean language menu on the last page. i had assumed it was for the korean customers who did not speak/read english, but not completely different from the regular menu. i called the waitress over and asked her to show me where on the menu the fried chicken was listed, she pointed on the korean menu. i had to wait another 20 minutes as i placed an order to go. now, in my mind, fried chicken, korean or otherwise, is nothing unusual. i wonder why it would only be listed in the alternate korean menu. what else that is "normal" might be listed on the special chinese and korean menus? there is a korean style rolled egg omelet i love, and that was also listed on the korean menu. i understand the frustration.
                                                                          i know this does not answer the OP's question. but i think i also illustrates that not all segregated menu items are unappealing to non-ethnic customers. i had always assumed the chinese /korean and other foreign language menus were intended for customers who is not speak or read english.
                                                                          there is a large korean population where i live. most menus will at least list the name of the dish in english or english phonetic translation. but everything else posted on the walls or chalkboard are in korean. my korean-american friend will help me navigate some of the most challenging restaurants.
                                                                          trust me, i get a very similar treatment the minute the waitstaff realizes i am not chinese or korean and do not speak or read the language. so i don't think the alternate menu and anti-suggestions have nothing to do with being white-americans.

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: ritabwh
                                                                            buttertart Sep 14, 2012 11:28 AM

                                                                            "i had always assumed the chinese /korean and other foreign language menus were intended for customers who is not speak or read english." Precisely.

                                                                            1. re: buttertart
                                                                              m
                                                                              mwk Sep 14, 2012 01:00 PM

                                                                              The implication you are missing, buttertart, is that he assumed that it was the SAME MENU, just written in Korean or Chinese.

                                                                              1. re: mwk
                                                                                ritabwh Sep 14, 2012 01:05 PM

                                                                                thank you

                                                                                1. re: ritabwh
                                                                                  buttertart Sep 14, 2012 01:19 PM

                                                                                  Gotcha.

                                                                          2. j
                                                                            JohnMich Sep 13, 2012 06:56 PM

                                                                            It is all about price. Identical dishes will be cheaper on the Chinese menu. It is standard operating procedure here in Oz, on the Gold Coast, Queensland where, the Malay and Japanese restaurants in the tourist trap areas do exactly the same thing. It is not just the Chinese.
                                                                            However ever there is a twist - at least two Japanese testaurants I am aware of through my son working as a waiter during uni vacs had HIGHER prices for the Jap toursist.

                                                                            1. t
                                                                              ta0126 Sep 13, 2012 07:44 AM

                                                                              maybe they do it to "give" us the "opportunity" to feel what they feel when they are "excluded" from something outside their culture that is kept "secret" and "hidden" by north americans.

                                                                              ok, but seriously... isn't capitalism is at work here? if there was a huge untapped market that rewarded a restaurant for offering all of the adventurous options to all of the customers, then that restaurant would be wildly successful. if that market existed, then moms and pops would be chomping at the bit to invest their hard earned life savings to fill that market niche and make a fortune. but instead, generations of evidence have given us panda-express and the mandarin.

                                                                              there are some chinese restaurants out there who would welcome courageous diners. probably they have at least one bilingual/bicultural person who could be the culture and language ambassador and provide good explanations. but just as we are stereotyping all chinese retaurants, we as customers may be getting stereotyped as mass market eaters and not chowhounds.

                                                                              p.s. i like the varied suggestions that people here have made to get access to the special items. great ideas!

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: ta0126
                                                                                m
                                                                                mwk Sep 13, 2012 02:50 PM

                                                                                I have to disagree with your thesis about Capitalism winning out. How many hot new restaurants in places like New York or Chicago have made their names offering offal and weird scientific experiments disguised as food? That's not to say I don't like both, because I do. But, you can't tell me that if some Chinese restaurant opened in Manhattan and it served actual, honest to God authentic Chinese food, it wouldn't be packed every night? What is consistently the word of highest praise used to describe an ethnic restaurant? Oh it's "Authentic" blah, blah food....

                                                                              2. p
                                                                                Puffin3 Sep 13, 2012 06:20 AM

                                                                                I doubt very much that whatever 'secret' items only Chinese can order in any N. American Chinese restaurant is much different than what a non-Chinese can order. From first hand experience I can tell you that I've been in some Chinese restaurants that always charge non-Chinese patrons a bit more for the same dish/s. It's like a 'secret joke' they play. BTW the next time you are sitting beside say a Chinese family check out what dishes they are ordering.

                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Puffin3
                                                                                  tommy Sep 13, 2012 06:51 AM

                                                                                  I doubt very much that whatever 'secret' items only Chinese can order in any N. American Chinese restaurant is much different than what a non-Chinese can order"

                                                                                  You can doubt that, but experiences shared in this thread and my own suggest otherwise.

                                                                                  1. re: tommy
                                                                                    bagelman01 Sep 13, 2012 03:08 PM

                                                                                    +!
                                                                                    If my wife and I are seated before our daughter arrives we are always given the standard English menu. Daughter walks in and staff goes running for the Chinese only 'special' menu.
                                                                                    Daughter was born in China, been here since she was 3 months old, reads or speaks NO Chinese. Daughter always smiles, puts the special menu to the side and picks up the American use menu.
                                                                                    Sometimes we are joined by daughter's best friend, also bornm in China, but perfectly bilingual and in 3 dialects. She looks at the special menu, laughs and says "I wouldn't eat any of that sh*t, it's for the poor people starving in China." My how spoiled America has made her.

                                                                                2. b
                                                                                  bapjo Sep 12, 2012 10:07 AM

                                                                                  As someone who's not Chinese, I can understand being upset about not being able to order certain foods. However, people should stop whining. Other bars/restaurants have secret menu items and some places you might not be able to get in. If you want to eat these foods, then find some Chinese speaking friends or have someone write it in Chinese for you. That is what I did!

                                                                                  or at least ask them for whatever they serve the Staff. Good luck and good eats!

                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: bapjo
                                                                                    t
                                                                                    triff Sep 12, 2012 01:02 PM

                                                                                    Not sure if this has been mentioned, but when a friend married a girl from Macau and went to visit her homeland, he said the menus were in English and Chinese...and the Chinese prices were cheaper for the same meals!!!

                                                                                    1. re: triff
                                                                                      Stephanie Wong Sep 13, 2012 01:20 PM

                                                                                      I once noticed a similar price difference between the English & Chinese menus and asked the owner about it. She replied that the English menu pricing was geared toward a non-shared meal in which each diner had ordered a dish to be eaten by only that diner. The lower price was geared towards a shared family-style meal & each item was actually a smaller portion.

                                                                                      1. re: Stephanie Wong
                                                                                        t
                                                                                        triff Sep 13, 2012 02:48 PM

                                                                                        That explanation makes a lot of sense, as long as it was indeed the case for all the restaurants that had cheaper prices for those that could actually read the menu in Chinese.

                                                                                        1. re: Stephanie Wong
                                                                                          s
                                                                                          soupkitten Sep 13, 2012 06:13 PM

                                                                                          another reason is that the americanized dish has more meat content, and more expensive cuts of meat than the family-style chinese dish which is mostly vegetables with a small amount of cheaper cuts of meat.

                                                                                    2. cpa314 Aug 4, 2012 01:04 AM

                                                                                      I guess for a few reasons. They've probably had more than enough times when a customer would order a more "adventurous" dish, found it disgusting, and would then complain to the chef. It seems like it would be a more of a hassle to have those items on the English menu when your average "American" customer would most likely find them to be off-putting. To be honest, I dont very many Americans that can really comprehend or appreciate some of the more "adventurous" dishes loved by many Chinese. I guess that judging from their experience of seeing too many customers order the typical sweet sour pork/chow mein/lemon chicken kind of stuff, they found it a waste of time and energy to translate it into English or even cook it for customers who are likely to find it unappetizing. It is unfair for those more adventurous eaters that dont happen to read Chinese but at the same time I do understand where the restaurant owners are coming from as well.

                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: cpa314
                                                                                        m
                                                                                        mwk Aug 4, 2012 12:59 PM

                                                                                        I'm not sure how this conversation has now been framed as a choice between egg foo young and snake penis in congealed pig's blood?

                                                                                        The few times I've had something from the Chinese menu, it hasn't been odd or strange, just different. Sure, most Americans think Egg Rolls are haute Chinese cuisine, but that doesn't mean that the authentic stuff is all disgusting either. I've seen plenty of "No Reservations" and "Bizarre Foods" that I can say much of it would be well received. If the Chinese owners of these places can determine what Americans won't like, why can't they review some of the other items they serve and put a few on a special menu that they think we WOULD like?

                                                                                        1. re: mwk
                                                                                          s
                                                                                          Steve Aug 4, 2012 10:07 PM

                                                                                          My family growing up would have been freaked out by stuff that seems fairly innocuous to me. Cold noodles? Sliced chicken on the bone? These are pretty weird dishes to a lot of people, and it took me a long time to understand them.

                                                                                          Almost all Chinese-American restaurants list 'Hunan Chicken' on the menu. This translates as chicken with julienned carrots and celery, in the warping of the nomenclature. From that standpoint, how do you begin to comprehend serving real Chinese food at all?

                                                                                      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:

                                                                                        http://web.archive.org/web/2007043007...

                                                                                        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
                                                                                            f
                                                                                            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
                                                                                                m
                                                                                                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
                                                                                                  f
                                                                                                  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
                                                                                                        f
                                                                                                        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.
                                                                                                          http://www.marions-kochbuch.de/rezept...
                                                                                                          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
                                                                                                                  r
                                                                                                                  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.

                                                                                                                        1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                          limster Jul 25, 2012 05:04 PM

                                                                                                                          It's not a overnight thing and I don't know of good shortcuts. But spending enough time at a restaurant you like or think is promising, and interacting with them can reap unexpected dividends; it's a great process that breaks down barriers, and it's more or less like growing a friendship.

                                                                                                                  2. re: chowser
                                                                                                                    Bacardi1 Jul 26, 2012 07:24 AM

                                                                                                                    Whenever I buy & cook whole fish (Asian-style or not), I always leave the head & tail on. Not for shock value, but because doing so keeps so much of the flavor & juices where they belong - in the fish! While this may not be as important in a braised dish, it definitely makes a difference when one is steaming, frying, roasting, or grilling.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Bacardi1
                                                                                                                      RUK Jul 26, 2012 07:43 AM

                                                                                                                      Absolutely!

                                                                                                                  3. re: Bacardi1
                                                                                                                    f
                                                                                                                    FoodTrippin Jul 25, 2012 07:37 PM

                                                                                                                    Personally speaking, we (friends, wife, myself) have been guilty of Chinese food order envy. For example, we may be sitting at our table enjoying a perfectly steamed hardhead (fish) topped with a simple hot oil dressing, a plate of on choy with fermented tofu, maybe some nice stir-fried squid with ginger/scallions. YUM!!

                                                                                                                    Then the waiter drifts past us, with a claypot hoisted in the air. Sets the pot on the next table, lifts the lid....... and this beautific aroma wafts through the air. I would surreptiously peek without being "obvious". My wife and "other's" would be less descreet and crane their necks to check out what the new delicacy is. And if the dish is something wonderful, berate each other on why we chose so poorly.

                                                                                                                    The wiser chowhounds amongst us may disagree, but I think an interested diner gets a better shot at a simple "authentic" Chinese if one orders from a "3 plates for $18 menu". Not to insinuate that these simple meals would approximate what you can get off the $48/$78/$129/etc.... banquet menus. However, you can eat at least as well as your typical off-work Chinese contractor, Chinatown bank teller, yellow cab driver, Central station police officer, etc.....

                                                                                                                    A couple of items off the Yee's Restaurant menu (1131 Grant ave.). Choose any three dishes, $16.99. Price includes: tea, Soup of the day (a simple broth), dessert (orange or watermelon slices), and fortune cookies.

                                                                                                                    I'm holding a menu that lists at least 30 items. Some obviously geared towards a wider audience (Mongolian Beef, Peking Spareribs, Walnut Shrimp)

                                                                                                                    Other items are worth a try for a more adventurous diner:

                                                                                                                    * Pigeon meat and vegetable
                                                                                                                    * Lotus Root w/sliced Pork
                                                                                                                    * Bitter Melon and Spareribs
                                                                                                                    * Deep Fried Flounder (a WHOLE fish, nose to tail)
                                                                                                                    * Boil Beef Tripe
                                                                                                                    * Crispy Fried Pork Intestines

                                                                                                                    And a couple of dozen more. The portions are huge. They do charge for rice though ($1/pp?). Three plates are enough for 3~4 diners.

                                                                                                                    There are at least 4 other restaurants in Chinatown proper that offer this kind of food deal. And back to the point, the majority of the items are what "Chinatown" citizens would likely order, which I suppose would qualify the meal as more "authentic" than what you find listed under the: Chicken/Beef/Lamb/Vegetable /noodle/etc... categories on most Chinese retaurant menus.

                                                                                                                    1. re: FoodTrippin
                                                                                                                      g
                                                                                                                      goldangl95 Jul 26, 2012 07:59 AM

                                                                                                                      *sigh* these are the exact type of deals I was referring to above that are often only in Chinese in the South Bay of San Francisco. Which means they are only available for people who speak the language/are in the know. I actually find the fact that deals are only offered to certain people the most offensive . . .

                                                                                                                      1. re: goldangl95
                                                                                                                        s
                                                                                                                        Steve Jul 26, 2012 03:44 PM

                                                                                                                        In my neck of the woods I can get all of those dishes and more just by showing some curiousity.

                                                                                                                        I find the Thai places are actually a bit tough to crack as they will sometimes flat out tell you that everything on the Thai language menu is already on the English menu when I know for certain that it's not true.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Steve
                                                                                                                          tommy Jul 26, 2012 06:04 PM

                                                                                                                          Funny how the experience of others in other parts of the country don't mirror yours!

                                                                                                            2. re: FoodTrippin
                                                                                                              pepper_mil Jul 25, 2012 09:18 AM

                                                                                                              LOL

                                                                                                            3. re: buttertart
                                                                                                              eclecticsynergy Jul 31, 2012 04:30 AM

                                                                                                              Buttertart wrote, "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."

                                                                                                              Absolutely, especially translating form Chinese in which many concepts are represented by poetic traditional expressions rather than the mundane, literal and comparatively dull ones we're accustomed to in English.

                                                                                                              Please don't misunderstand- this wasn't a case of laughing at somebody who's having a bit of difficulty with the language. Given the overwhelming number, depth and breadth of the misconceptions in that menu I think it has to be the result of a translation program gone hideously awry. Yet however spectacular that failure was, the humor is not so much in the fact that it's a translation, but in the results, in the unexpected, sheer absurdity of the phrases themselves, some of them X-rated. To me, it's very much like the feeling one gets from surrealist art. Or, as the menu says, the fruit enchants.

                                                                                                          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
                                                                                                                  m
                                                                                                                  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
                                                                                                                    s
                                                                                                                    Steve Jul 24, 2012 07:42 PM

                                                                                                                    Absolutley.

                                                                                                                    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. 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
                                                                                                                        m
                                                                                                                        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
                                                                                                                            m
                                                                                                                            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
                                                                                                                              f
                                                                                                                              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
                                                                                                                                m
                                                                                                                                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
                                                                                                                                  f
                                                                                                                                  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
                                                                                                                              c
                                                                                                                              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
                                                                                                                                  c
                                                                                                                                  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
                                                                                                                                      m
                                                                                                                                      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. 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
                                                                                                                                      f
                                                                                                                                      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...
                                                                                                                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/857367#7465168
                                                                                                                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/857367#7450328
                                                                                                                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/857367#7450732
                                                                                                                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8573...

                                                                                                                                          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
                                                                                                                                                f
                                                                                                                                                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
                                                                                                                                                    f
                                                                                                                                                    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
                                                                                                                                                    f
                                                                                                                                                    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. 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
                                                                                                                                                    r
                                                                                                                                                    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
                                                                                                                                                    k
                                                                                                                                                    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
                                                                                                                                                      v
                                                                                                                                                      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
                                                                                                                                                        m
                                                                                                                                                        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
                                                                                                                                                          f
                                                                                                                                                          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
                                                                                                                                                          w
                                                                                                                                                          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. 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. 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
                                                                                                                                                              w
                                                                                                                                                              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
                                                                                                                                                                  w
                                                                                                                                                                  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. 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
                                                                                                                                                                a
                                                                                                                                                                antennastoheaven Jul 18, 2012 12:51 PM

                                                                                                                                                                Thank you for this very insightful post, Erika.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Erika L
                                                                                                                                                                  f
                                                                                                                                                                  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. 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)
                                                                                                                                                                  http://blog.renren.com/share/223019314/1173463107

                                                                                                                                                                  "Where the Real Chinese Food Is Hidden"
                                                                                                                                                                  http://www.freakonomics.com/2009/08/17/where-the-real-chinese-food-is-hidden/

                                                                                                                                                                  "Happy Chinese New Year! The Secret Chinese Menu. Hop Woo BBQ. Chinatown, Los Angeles."
                                                                                                                                                                  http://www.deependdining.com/2011/02/happy-chinese-new-year-secret-chinese.html

                                                                                                                                                                  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"
                                                                                                                                                                  http://marginalrevolution.com/margina...

                                                                                                                                                                  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
                                                                                                                                                                            f
                                                                                                                                                                            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
                                                                                                                                                                                f
                                                                                                                                                                                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

                                                                                                                                                                                  Yes

                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                  d
                                                                                                                                                                                  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:

                                                                                                                                                                                        http://www.yelp.com/biz/silver-palace...

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

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: chowser
                                                                                                                                                                                          m
                                                                                                                                                                                          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
                                                                                                                                                                                            f
                                                                                                                                                                                            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
                                                                                                                                                                                                f
                                                                                                                                                                                                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
                                                                                                                                                                                                m
                                                                                                                                                                                                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
                                                                                                                                                                                                      g
                                                                                                                                                                                                      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
                                                                                                                                                                                                        s
                                                                                                                                                                                                        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
                                                                                                                                                                                                            g
                                                                                                                                                                                                            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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                g
                                                                                                                                                                                                                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
                                                                                                                                                                                                        m
                                                                                                                                                                                                        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
                                                                                                                                                                                                            m
                                                                                                                                                                                                            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
                                                                                                                                                                                            f
                                                                                                                                                                                            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
                                                                                                                                                                                            w
                                                                                                                                                                                            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
                                                                                                                                                                                                w
                                                                                                                                                                                                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
                                                                                                                                                                                                    w
                                                                                                                                                                                                    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
                                                                                                                                                                                                      s
                                                                                                                                                                                                      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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      e
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      c
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Chowrin Oct 18, 2012 05:43 PM

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

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    s
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    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... "

                                                                                                                                                                                                    and

                                                                                                                                                                                                    "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. 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
                                                                                                                                                                                                          f
                                                                                                                                                                                                          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
                                                                                                                                                                                                              f
                                                                                                                                                                                                              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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  f
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  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:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Abalone
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Dried Oysters
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Dried Scallops
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Conch
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Lobster
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Live Prawns
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Sea Cucumber
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Sea Urchin
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Red King Crab
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Clams
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      f
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        f
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  f
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  t
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  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

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8573...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          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. 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. 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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          m
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              s
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              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. 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. 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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              s
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  s
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  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

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    http://bit.ly/M071IJ

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    c
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Chowrin Jul 15, 2012 04:42 PM

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

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                3. 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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            s
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                c
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                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. 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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  f
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  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."
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    ------------
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Bingo.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. 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. 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. 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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              m
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              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. 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. 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

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Indeed.

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

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Okay -- another link.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      http://www.howtoorderchinesefood.com/

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Seriously, try this.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      And, a location-specific article about this topic:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      http://www.deependdining.com/2011/02/...

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. 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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          m
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          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. 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. 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?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Calamari?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  t
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    m
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    miriamjo Jul 20, 2012 12:12 PM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Me! Me! Love Haggis

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                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. 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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        k
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        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. 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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          r
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            m
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            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. 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. 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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                s
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                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
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            d
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            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. 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. 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.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/20...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2 Replies