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Dec 29, 2013 06:27 AM

The death of the "American section;" Long live the Asian section.

Other posters and threads have commented on being relegated to the "American section or table(s)" near the toilets or kitchen doors and far from the locals but I think those days are receding as smoking has been banned and the Yankees are being replaced by Asians.
It's interesting to watch them entering with their guidebooks, apps and gastronomic radar. I have tried to eveslook at the guides but my kanji-ken is not a good as it once was and I rarely make out more that the name & address. But in my opinion, they're getting good info.

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  1. We have felt for decades that we were near the cutting edge when we found ourselves in the company of Japanese diners. I have always felt that they did impeccable due diligence when it came to trip planning, particularly dining.

    1. Dont forget the cameras! But yes, considering the maturity of the Japanese palate and overall food scene .. they do have alot of credible guides books/websites. More interesting would be the far reaching consumption might of the Renmenbi - already wine and brandy prices have skyrocketed due to demand of Chinese consumers.

      7 Replies
      1. re: cyberK13

        Yes there is definitely going to be an increase in Chinese tourists - predicted to rise to 200 million a year in the attached article:

        I observed different nationalities tended to rely on the their own homegrown guides and was always intrigued by the ones favoured by different nationalities, Le Regalade for example always seemed to be a favourite of Japanese tourists, whilst La Fontaine du Mars was a US haunt, and Maceo (esp in fashion week) seemed to be exclusivity British.

        I wonder if all the Aussies are heading to Bones...?

        1. re: PhilD

          I have noticed the Japanese guidebook worship of L'As du Falafel.

          1. re: Busk

            well, they're in good company -- US guidebooks tout it highly, too.

            (that's fine -- I'll go round the corner where there's no lines)

          2. re: PhilD

            Don't forget the Russians - the last time we ate at Le Regalade (SH), one year ago, we noticed a change in their front of the house staff. Our waitress was Russian and only spoke French and Russian. She told us that they now have so many Russian customers, they had to hire some Russian speaking staff.

            1. re: francaise

              "the Russians"
              Yah, but the oligarchs can get a bit scary with their blonde trophy wives/whatever, big black tinted window cars and huge body-guards when they take over the better part of a small neighborhood joint.

              1. re: John Talbott

                Or a small French West Indies island, like St Barths.

        2. 'Asians in France' contains as much information as say 'white people in Singapore'. Well, yes, there may be more of them to be casually spotted, but these casual sightings are not really providing any basis in fact about nationality/ ethnicity/ visitor vs. resident/ tourist vs. business traveller from which to draw inferences about who these folks may be and what they may represent.

          In relation to Japanese guide-books in particular, there is a mini-industry of glossy/ fetishistic lifestyle publications covering France and Paris in particular, usually comprising beautifully-produced pics plus lists upon lists of addresses, without much editorial content otherwise. I counted nearly a dozen on Paris patisseries alone when recently in a Tokyo bookshop. There was also similarly glossy coverage of Brooklyn and assorted Scandinavian countries, but the fetishization of things Parisian is a bit more long-standing. Presumably the aspirations of the large cohort of Japanese chefs and stagiaires currently in France weren't formed in isolation !

          And yes, there seem to be quite a lot of Aussies at Bones ...

          27 Replies
          1. re: shakti2

            "'Asians in France' contains as much information as say 'white people in Singapore'. "
            You are of course correct but as the countries of origin change, the influx does not:
            - The Viet Namese post Dien Bien Phu, establishing great restos around the Sorbonne
            - The Koreans about the same era
            - The Japanese, whom as it was pointed out are cheffing our kichens
            - And now the Chinese, whom it is hoped, will demand better chow in the Chinatowns and traiteurs than we get (Pti, now's your opportunity to point out how misguided I am, were you not in China).
            In any case, the restaurant I was referring to had a mixture of all the above which is why I referred to them collectively as "Asians". Apologies to any and all.

            1. re: John Talbott

              Why "were you not in China"? CH is perfectly reachable from China, even without a proxy.

              Wrong chronology, dear John. The Vietnamese (and Vietnamese-Chinese) community around Maubert started forming long before Dien Bien Phu, and established restaurants and shops around the Sorbonne as early as the 1930s, if not earlier. Actually the area was much wider, including the Mouffetard area and stretching from Les Gobelins to the Seine.

              The Korean restaurants arrived much later, in the 1980s. Before that, there was hardly more than Han Lim on rue Blainville and a few dubious "Korean Barbecue" places around Montparnasse. Now they're all over the place, especially around the 15eme (most of the families found apartments in the Front de Seine fogscrapers, as did the Iranian families in the late 1970s, which also explains the existence of a tiny "Irantown" near Charles-Michels).

              Most of the Japanese wave dates back to the early 1970s and has been nourished ever since.

              The (mainland) Chinese arrived in successive waves at several locations at different times, so this is a complicated subject, but roughly the first Chinese community was from Wenzhou, Zhejiang, where France had a concession, and arrived in the first quarter of the 20th century, settling in the 3rd arrondissement (rue au Maire and rue du Temple). There was an eclipse after the Chinese revolution (from the 1950s to the 1990s), after which more Wenzhou people arrived and settled first in the very same area, then spreading to Belleville and Popincourt.

              Recently, people from other regions of China have started settling in Paris (Shandong, Yunnan, Sichuan, Hunan, Guangdong) and that is the new and interesting fact in the story since these are provinces where good food is prepared. The same cannot be said of Wenzhou (no offence to the Wenzhou community) and other parts of China hitherto not represented in Paris.

              This is why there is absolutely no evidence that the arrival of Wenzhou populations leads to a demand of better chow. Rather be the contrary, I would say.

              And please, do not mention the traiteurs : Asian traiteurs in Paris do not serve Chinese food. I repeat: Asian traiteurs do not serve Chinese food. Period.

              Besides, there is already a rather substantial number of good Chinese restaurants in Paris, and although the recent trends have been the most interesting since long ago, I am positive that this has been the case for quite a long time. Even the early "Restaurants chinois-vietnamiens" in the Maubert area were actually very good, the kitchens being often tended by Chinese-Vietnamese cooks who knew their business. And the old posh "chinois-vietnamien" institutions like Tong Yen, Kim Anh, Diep, etc. always did serve a very decent version of refined Cantonese cooking.

              One last word about Chinese package tourists: of course things may change fast, but for the moment they are mostly led to the Galeries Lafayette which greets their converted yuan with open arms and are then led to eat in the many small unconspicuous Chinese restaurants around the area, with a 100% Chinese clientele. Yet unexplored by me, but I'm curious.
              The more independent (and affluent) mainland Chinese visitors might be seen lunching at Carnet de Voyage, nearby.

              Finally, there is no possible way that an "Asian section" will ever replace an "American section", firstly because I don't think anything will ever stop American visitors from fetishizing Paris restaurants, but above all because these sections do not exist. Americans just believe they exist. There is no such thing as an American section in a restaurant dining room, it's just that Americans are far more sensitive than the French to where they will be sat. They instantly interpret that as a personal statement directed at them. The French care far less about what kind of table they'll get and are very unlikely to infer intricate, paranoid psychological conclusions from that as I often see it done here. Table placing does not have to be such a status thing.

              1. re: Ptipois

                I stand corrected as to the history - it's my historical recollection from 1953 when the Viet Namese places around the Sorbonne were numerous and good (I didn't know " the Mouffetard area" until the '80's), ditto the first Korean places I encountered.
                However in the pre-no-smoking era there were if not "American zones" "no smoking zones" populated by Americans who stopped smoking before our European cousins/ancestors. And at the place we ate at a few days ago where one-third of the place was occupied by people from the Far and Southwestern East, all in the same area, it occurs to me that since the waitstaff were all translating the menu in English to them all, that could have been a reasonable and nonracist sectioning.
                "Chinese package tourists" Interesting, at the corner of Rue Mondetour, kitty-corner from Pirouette, a place just called Bar-Restaurant welcomed a group of at least 30 - no posted cartes - might be interesting to try Pti.

                1. re: John Talbott

                  That is a different matter. No smoking zones are just no smoking zones. Unofficial segregated sections for Americans would be another thing and I still believe this is a mental fantasy. Grouping people so as to translate the menu to the whole batch is also not exactly sending them to Siberia. The notion of "Siberia" is far less existent in the French mind than in the American mind, so American visitors tend to overreact in that situation. That was my point.

                  1. re: Ptipois

                    I have always thought that the "segregation" was a function of the bylinguality of the waitstaff. And I've also wondered how many of the Anglo speakers who complain about being seated together are truly menu competent. It's ideal to visit a foreign country and dine in quaint locals-only spots...if you eat anything and everything without exceptions for red meat, dairy, gluten, nuts and, ooops, offal.

                    1. re: mangeur

                      and as we've discussed here before -- the translations in most places are so questionable that I always just ask for a French menu because it's easier than trying to figure out what "lawyer salad" (to name just one of the hamfisted translations out there) is supposed to be.

                    2. re: Ptipois

                      However, it's an unfortunate coincidence that the non-French sections are generally the worst sections. I would guess the best sections are usually given to regulars or locals (who could become regulars).

                      That happens the world over so it's not unique to France - it's just a bit more obvious because of the language challenge and restaurants wanting to service the non-French speakers with staff who can translate.

                      The smoking trick used to work because few tourists tolerated smoking in a dining room or bar. I preferred to tolerate the smoke to avoid being in the tourist section....maybe the next best thing is to book in French and leave a Paris phone number.

                      1. re: PhilD

                        " I would guess the best sections are usually given to regulars or locals "

                        I have to agree with Pti... this notion of "best section" is really foreign to me and all my french friends (never heard anyone even remotely talk about where to be seated, or the quality of the area they were seated in)... I only read about such things on Chowhound.
                        I don't know if it is an american obsession, but it is definitely not a french one.

                        1. re: Rio Yeti

                          I confirm that the concept of "best section" or "Siberia" is definitely not a French obsession. Of course they know that some tables may be more desirable than others but they never make it so fine a point as Americans do, and they don't take it personally either when they don't get the best table in the restaurant.

                          Besides, the concept of a "bad" section, or even a "better" section in a restaurant sounds weird to me, as it must also sound weird to French restaurant owners or diners. A dining room is not supposed to include a torture room.

                          1. re: Ptipois

                            "best section"
                            Never heard of such but as I have said early and often here, I reserve the day of or before to get what I consider the "primo seats" by the window or if it's really cold, back a bit. Sometimes though the primo table is in the quiet corner.
                            Rules: Always reserve, always show up (and don't stiff them), and always ask "What would Colette do?"

                            1. re: Ptipois

                              Maybe not a French obsession but a reality experienced by many tourists.

                              OK many new places don't have this issue(they are simpler rooms), but some of the older ones do e.g. the front section of Lipp is definitely the best, the back room bad, and upstairs Siberia. Even in new places like Goust, the main room(turn right at the top of the stairs) is better than the room to the left (the one with the Anglos). Or maybe try scoring a table by the back wall at La Palette

                              1. re: PhilD

                                Lipp like many old-school restaurants operates a caste system. The regulars/ A-list get the front tables, the passing trade (tourists AND locals) get the other tables.. Why get offended if you are not well enough known to the house to get one of the "in" tables ? If I were a habitué, I'd be far more offended to find myself relegated to "Siberia" because some tourists have taken over my usual table or section. Not sure about the set-up at Goust... but every time I've eaten there the clientele has been largely tourist and/or suburbanite and I didn't notice any special treatment as a local... last time I was sandwiched between charmless fleshy Canadiens and boozy Brits.

                                Let's face it ... most restaurants on the standard Chowhound trail in central Paris at dinner are full of tourists, not locals... so I don't see why or how most restauranteurs would be able to exile any nationality to the "worst" tables. Or maybe it's just a matter of timing. On the very few occasions when I've been obliged to eat early (7 to 8:30pm) I have been seated at what I guess the more sensitive would describe as a bad table... dunno why... maybe the waiter has to pay special attention to that table to make sure it's turned over for a second seating.

                                As a local, I often wish there were more segregation than there actually is. I'd love a special parisien section insulated from the intrusive babbling and picture-snapping of foreigners, the sullen conversations of suburbanites fretting about the last train home, and the dreary provincials trilling their "r"s as they bitch about the prices or same-sex marriage. I want to be surrounded by delightfully sarcastic Parisien(ne)s celebrating an especially witty remark with a sip of wine or Chateldon. And I want efficient service from a waiter who doesn't have to spend 90% of his time nursemaiding an American couple with 1,200 real and imaginary dietary restrictions that require an esoteric English vocabulary that even most native Anglophones don't know.

                                Of course, I must admit that the enforced closeness with strangers at cramped parisien restaurants has been quite educational. I've learned that American conversations are all nouns and verbs and revert to self in 5 seconds no matter what the initial topic is. British chat is all adverbs and adjectives and includes a vocabulary that is, oh, 100 times larger than that of Americans. We French can talk for 10 minutes straight without using the first person singular once. Russians can spend the entire meal without smiling once. Singaporeans are actually speaking English although not immediately (or ever) obviously so. And except for the picture-snapping, the Japanese are the best "neighbours"... the language sounds beautiful and I'm sure they are discussing the influence of Dostoyevsky on the films of Akira Kurosawa, the voice levels are perfectly attuned to be unobtrusive, and with their mobile apps/ devices are able to figure out a French menu without much trouble or demands on the waiter's time.

                                1. re: Parnassien

                                  Haha, I usually focus my attention on my food, and my company... but I'm glad your radar spans across a wider area than mine, because it made for a very funny (and delightfully sarcastic) post !

                                  1. re: Parnassien

                                    For the entire period that the French are using "one", the Italians are talking about digestion so loudly you can't help but listen from across the room. As wonderful to dine with as they are awful to dine next to.

                                    1. re: Parnassien

                                      In many ways this contains the best advice. To avoid uncouth tourists eat late, far more French and usually the more worldly wise tourists.

                                      1. re: Parnassien

                                        LMAO, but Parisians are frequently chatty with neighboring tables, at least in my hood....(Popincourt).

                                        1. re: Parnassien

                                          How I wish my late Francophile father could read this post. It would delight him. And he couldn't speak a lick of French which is how, as translator, I was treated to many fine dinners in the halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s. He made similar observations to yours about the decline in quality of customers at Lucas-Carton and accurately predicted its demise.

                                        2. re: PhilD

                                          "Maybe not a French obsession but a reality experienced by many tourists."

                                          Rather a misconception from many tourists, obsessed by where they will be sat, and projecting that misconception on what happens next. If it were any different I would not regularly be eating out next to people from all different parts of the world.

                                            1. re: Ptipois

                                              A could of interesting articles from British newspapers. Apparently getting the best seats its not about where you are from, its simply a question of being one of the beautiful people (I now understand why I am always seated at he back by the toilets):



                                              1. re: PhilD

                                                PhilD, You are totally gorgeous. I know this without having met you.

                                                1. re: PhilD

                                                  Let's be clear, those articles are talking about "Costes" places... and it is therefore not surprising at all.

                                                  I'm pretty sure this sort of behavior is mainly happening in places where "Creating the illusion of exclusivity is what these restaurants do; it permits them to charge more for the often quite average food and drink." (quoted from the first article).

                                                  May I remind you that Chowhound doesn't deal with average food !

                                                  1. re: Rio Yeti

                                                    Well, absolutely. Costes is Costes and should always be treated as a thing apart.

                                                  2. re: PhilD

                                                    I don't see what's so parisien about this practice. See-and-be-seen restaurants in London, NYC, LA, Miami etc do the same thing. When a place is 90% style and 10% substance, I wouldn't want the less than glamorous getting in the way either.

                                                    And in this particular case, it's way exaggerated. Except during the fashion weeks, anybody with the right credit card and a Chanel bag can get a good table at most of the Costes restaurants.

                                                    1. re: Parnassien

                                                      You thankfully remind me to avoid fashion weeks...not that I ever have cause to intersect with them. I love to look at beautiful women but annoying extras irritate to the extent that it takes me off my feed.

                                                      1. re: hazelhurst

                                                        The Coste cafés are easy to avoid. Don't worry.

                              2. This is an interesting discussion."American" tourists being replaced by "Asian" tourist?

                                Over the past several years, I have noticed that the Japanese tour groups are being replaced by the massive Chinese and Russian tour groups in Asia, North America and Europe. In the Michelin-rated places I still see more tables of Japanese than Chinese diners. But here in Germany, I see and hear more Chinese and Russian tourists than Japanese tourists. Also, I hear more British or Aussie English than American English.

                                When I lived in Japan, it was front-page news when its restaurants received more Michelin stars than France did. I think that was 2003 or 2004. The Japanese seem to love everything French, as do many Americans, including me. The Japanese are masters at taking something and elevating it to a different level. I loved living and eating in Japan. Although I am not Japanese (I am American, born and raised in the U.S.), I am often mistaken for Japanese or some other Asian citizenship, depending on the ignorance of the person doing the assuming. In Asia, they assume I am one of them and in my own country, strangers ask me how I learned to speak perfect American english, as if I had just gotten off the boat. I guess what I am sharing adds to Shakti2's comment below; If you saw me in a restaurant, you would think me a part of the new Asian influx, based on how I looked, without realizing that I am, in fact, an "American" (everything except the color of my skin).

                                My preferred guide for food guidance is CH so that I can learn about new places from foodies like you. :-) Most of my foodie friends from the U.S. also use CH for restaurant recommendations.

                                1. With the departure of some 400,000 American military and their dependents from Germany in the last 20 years, has that made any impact? Or was Paris too far away?

                                  No matter what the day, there was always a line in the afternoon at the USO on the Rue de Roosevelt for rooms and tours. Especially EuroDisney.

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                    "400,000 American military"
                                    OK, I'll try to get this back on topic:
                                    On my second trip to France (I'd been here in the '30's but was then hardly aware of food, unless it came from a nipple) - as a student in 1953, until now, I've never been much aware of US soldiers, except for the incredibly buff Marines from the Embassy running in the Tuileries at "lunch" and US families on vacation in civilian dress.
                                    To food; in 1953, (Pti will correct me on the exact dates) the Americans had given up or were about to give up their great headquarters in the Trocadero and at Fontainebleau and to get back on topic - we had a super semi-military lunch at Fontainebleau, with the brass, typical American food and typical American service.

                                    1. re: John Talbott

                                      I was talking about the impact of the loss of Military spending with my friends still in Germany a few years ago. The low end Gasthauses and laundries, interestingly enough went away, but little impact overall.

                                      While I made many trips to Paris and the environs, and habitually spent more on food than my bed, I was just wondering.

                                      Obviously, indiscernible. Thank You.

                                      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                        unfortunately, not many servicemen and women manage to find their way to Paris -- I'm always shocked (and more than a little dismayed) to hear how little folks posted in foreign countries actually travel, or really even explore their own surroundings.

                                        They live on base, shop at the BX, their kids go to base schools....

                                        There are a few who travel, but it's far fewer than I would have guessed.

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          More likely due to their low salaries and lack of time off.

                                          1. re: Busk

                                            traveling across Europe is neither expensive nor time consuming.

                                          2. re: sunshine842

                                            I read somewhere that the US military personnel make up less than 1 % of the US population. Many of them still don't have passports because when they are posted overseas they can use just their ID cards and orders to enter a foreign country. And because their demographics do not mirror the wide diversity in the US or the world, they, generally, tend to live and exist in their safe base environment. most Americans don't have passports and seem not to understand the addiction of travel and good food. For most military, the idea of travel is a group tour from their home base to another base. But there are those few who do go off the beaten track to travel independently in the search for great food and new adventures. The US military salary is not low, considering...and they seem to have more free time than some would imagine.

                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                It is sad. One of my biggest goals was to get troops and their families out of the barracks and housing area and actually spend local currency. My thanks to the USO, Recreation Services, and Frankfurt International Ski Club.

                                                In the 6th Grade, half of my daughters classmates had not been out of Florida. She was the only one with a passport.

                                                One of the glories of Europe for me was all of the various places with food and recipes I knew I would probably never see again. I doubt if you could get a true blue trout pass the ASPCA here in the States.

                                              2. re: lecker

                                                "they, generally, tend to live and exist in their safe base environment."
                                                When I was air-evac'd from Viet Nam to Japan in 1967 (it's a long story that ended well) we were considered potential carriers of malaria and other diseases and were not allowed off-base. However, to get this thread back on topic, I bought some civilian duds at the PX and just walked out of the gate to enjoy some of the best Japanese food I've ever had (in Tokyo, Kyoto and farther afield). Where's there's a will there's a way, as someone, somewhere on CH said.

                                                1. re: John Talbott

                                                  Yes, sunshine842, it is sad.
                                                  Indianriverfl: I think you were successful: I heard and saw a lot of those families at the Frankfurt Xmas market this year spending their money on wurst, gluwein and pomme frites.
                                                  John: which base were you on? When I was living in Japan, I enjoyed shopping at the Japanese markets for everything, especially their fresh Japanese milk. 4.5% was my preferred - so delicious and usually from an organic farm nearby or from Hokkaido. My friends bought only US milk, usually skim milk (yuck!), pasteurized and shipped from the US and blessed by USDA. I remember seeing signs at the commissary that warned folks from buying milk off base because it was not USDA approved and could harm you. I think it is sad that the American mainstream has turned away from whole foods to detrimental effect and, with the global ubiquity of McDonald's and other harmful US exports, other country's children will start looking like american kids - overweight, on meds, and unable to do basic math.