Sunday, March 16, 2008

Chinese Restaurants Response

I found this documentary was fascinating in its approach to the many, many varied geographical places to which Chinese have immigrated all for the sake of making a better life. After watching and hearing each of the restaurant owners talk about their reasons for leaving China, I found what was most interesting was the way they viewed their future in relation to ever returning to China. Some of the restaurant owners, such as Colette in Mauritius, are perfectly comfortable with living where they are now for the rest of their lives. There are some, like the owners of the Lille Buddha in Norway, who hope to move somewhere else that is not necessarily China, such as France, and have the luxury of being able to travel between a dream vacation home and their Chinese restaurant. Then there are some, such as Maria in Peru, who desire to go back to China but stay for the sake of their children. This documentary proved that there are many layers of self-identity when it comes to these immigrants. When asked how he identifies himself, Noisy Jim staunchly replies, “I am myself.” I was touched by Noisy Jim’s story, as he finds himself working for New Outlook Café for free once he sells it to new owners, and emphasizes that he does not mind the harsh restaurant business because he truly enjoys it. His café becomes a community center, bringing everyone together as he walks around, greeting his regular customers.

The environment in which each restaurant functioned affected the food each served incredibly, either through physical means or cultural means. For example, I found it interesting that the Chinese restaurants in Cuba deep fry their food often and use Italian noodles instead of Chinese noodles in their dishes, while Cheuk Kwan notes that the refrigerators in one restaurant are bare. He attributes this to the difficulty in getting imported Chinese goods in Cuba, showing that Chinese restaurants in this region must make do with what they have to make their own Chinese dishes. At the Lille Buddha in Norway, the owners talk about how they serve non-authentic Chinese food to cater to the non-Chinese clientele that frequent their restaurant. Although they are aware of the non-authenticity of their food, the owners are somewhat forced to serve this type of Chinese food, as it is what their customers expect when they visit a Chinese restaurant. On the other hand, the owner of Casa China de Cultural in Argentina purposefully makes authentic Chinese food, as he feels it is his cultural duty to expose people of other cultures to Chinese culture. Based on his success, with patrons attending tai-chi classes and then dining on Chinese food after their class, he has the liberty to make authentic Chinese food since he is able to provide for himself with his methods. Thus, the type of Chinese food each restaurant served was an indication of society’s perceptions of Chinese food, with restaurant owners struggling to appease whatever the community considers to be Chinese food. While Casa China de Cultural had the freedom to try and change consumers’ views of Chinese food, others, like the Lille Buddha, had no choice but to keep serving the typical beef and broccoli. This reminded me of the “Chinese Restaurant Drive-Thru” work we read in Alien Encounters, as Indigo Som talks to the owner’s son in Happy China Garden. He reveals that almost everybody who works at Happy China Garden is Vietnamese, but when asked if they’ve ever tried serving Vietnamese dishes, he replied that “they had tried a few, but the customers didn’t’ go for them, so they gave up on it” (152). This shows that the same mentality can be applied to other Asians wishing to serve more than the typical Americanized Chinese food, as the customers’ response to different Asian dishes can dictate whether the restaurant can extend beyond serving Chinese dishes to serving dishes from their own ethnic countries. I never thought about the cultural implications Chinese food could have on a community (and vice versa), especially communities in which I'd never expect to find thriving Chinese families, and found that Chinese Restaurants did a fantastic job in addressing the varied types of Chinese food found throughout the world. What are the conditions that allowed the owner of Casa China to serve more authentic Chinese food? Why didn’t the restaurant owners of Lille Buddha try to change Norwegian perceptions of Chinese food?

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