Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dim Sum for White Folks

Jason Kuznicki has an intriguing post up entitled, "The Economics of Secret Chinese Menus." Read it here. Besides being intrigued because he's a fellow member of the tribe of Jasons, I think he raises the following good question:
"I love Chinese food. I always have. And I mean the authentic dishes, not the made-for-Americans glop that they try to fob off on us. So why is it that these superior dishes are always hidden away on a secret, Chinese-only menu?"
Here's my favorite part:
"I’ve even gotten the same treatment at a dim sum restaurant . . . we could see marinated tofu skins, salted pork ears, tiny whole squid, and other forbidden delights on their way to nearby Chinese patrons. They had a different dim sum cart for the white folks."
Jason tries to answer the question with the famous economist Douglas North's theory of path dependence, which is basically the idea that people will make some very inefficient choices that do not result in wealth maximization because the market is clinging to a particular path, walking down a road that doesn't make a lot of sense. In this case, the entire Chinese restaurant industry may be consistently given the advice that non-Chinese patrons don't want delicacies that are popular in China.

Maybe he has a point, but I certainly have a very different perspective. Of course, my Chinese-American girlfriend takes me to New York's Chinatown where, obviously given the company I travel in, I get the authentic experience. But I have noticed over the years, in the NY/NJ area, at least, that many Chinese restaurants offer two menus, one for more westernized tastes and one that's more Chinese in origin.

Of course, next time he's in such a frustrating situation, he could just say, "Get me some Ha-Cheung!" (Alas, you'll have to ask me in the comments if you want to know what that is, and it is some good stuff, Maynard.)


  1. Of all the theories dicussed in the 80+ comments section of Kuznicki's blog - the most plausible explanation is that the restaurants cannot explain or translate, or do not want to have food returned to the kitchen - there are simply not enough non-chinese patrons to worth the hassle - nice picture of the ha-cheung and good looking blog - doesn't it feel like you opened a play-restaurant ? - chris

  2. Now all I need is some dialogue!

    I did find it interesting that Kuznicki so quickly jumped to the assumption that Chinese restaurant owners are simply prejudiced against white patrons. There are so many other more plausible reasons (as you note above). But I guess you can see why he'd feel the need to play the sino-anglo race card, what with all the horrific prejudice us white folks have to battle everyday, right?

    -Jason Mark Anderman