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"Menu is for Chinese people"

Just on the road for business in Calgary, popped into a Hong Kong cafe in Chinatown for breakfast and was of course given the whitey menu. Asked for the real breakfast menu and was told, yup, that "menu is for Chinese people." I get it, they're afraid of serving up the specials to Westerners who won't like them, but it got me thinking - what are your various strategies for getting the REAL stuff?

I finally overcame language barriers and got them to give me beef brisket noodles...they really hit the spot.

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  1. Being able to speak Chinese helps. Or just know how to say simple phrases like "No Problem" (Mei Weng Ti) and keep repeating it until they give you the Chinese menu. Usually though, the simplest way is to just bring a Chinese friend.

    1. <I get it, they're afraid of serving up the specials to Westerners who won't like them>

      I think this is one of the reasons. The other reason is that regular menu is printed in English. The so called Chinese menu is written in Chinese and they change the Chinese more regularly and easily. And sometime the Chinese menu has items which is very difficult to translate into English.

      For example, the Chinese has love steamed whole lived fish (think lived lobster). This itself is a bit odd for Westerners. Second, the price is seasonal, and some Westerners do not like items which has no listed price. Third, the Chinese has recently taken a liking for the Oxyeleotris marmorata which will require too much explanation and translation.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxyeleot...

      I know many Indian and Thailand restaurants have a different "spicy/hot" scale for their native consumers and for the Westerners. If a Westerners ask for "very spicy", they would downscale it t "spicy".

      I guess the real strategy to get any "real items" is to more or less to show you are familiar with their cuisines and you are not the kind of person who would send stuffs back to the kitchen or refuse to pay.

      1. There is an existing thread on this board started in 2012 and last comment #472 in April 2013 about the 'secret Chinese language menus' not shown to non-Asians in Chinese restaurants.

        This thread will answer your question ad nauseum.............

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/857367

        after 472 posts I don't think there is much to add to the subject, but you should have hours of interesting reading

        1 Reply
        1. How about writing the characters for several dishes that you expect to see on that menu. That should convince them that you can read the menu. (You weren't expecting the 'real menu' to be translated, did you?).

          1. It's a 2 step process.

            1. Learn to read and write Chinese (either formal or simplified)

            2. Then after you've mastered No. 1, slip the waiter an Alexander Hamilton (or two) when asking for the "Chinese menu".

            It really is *that* simple.

            But just be careful what you ask for. There is no guarantee you'll actually like "the REAL stuff" (as you call it).

            1 Reply
            1. re: ipsedixit

              You forgot the steps where you get plastic surgery to look Chinese, and find a Chinese family to adopt you or to marry into. Still, the procedure remains quite simple, as you say. And totally worth it.