Sunday, September 21, 2008

One Restaurant, Two Menus

You are seated to a large round pink clothed table. Your nine friends and yourself are handed menus. You start to browse the menu while sipping on some Jasmine tea. As you are ready to order, a waiter walks past you and the wafting smell of something exotic whips past you. You crane your neck to look at the adjoining table. Curiously, the dish of Abalone with Sea Cucumber in Claypot that they have just been presented doesn’t seem to be on menu. Upon closer inspection, quite a number of other dishes they are eating doesn’t seem to be on the menu. You grab your friends menu to check that your menu isn’t missing a page. Nope, same thing. You start to think that maybe these are regular customers and the chef has made a special effort to cook something for them that isn’t on the menu. But as you scan across the restaurant, you see others are having the same dish.

Confused? Well, this is what happened to a friend when he dined at Imperial Kingdom with 9 of his friends. This friend of mine is a white Caucasian male, and his friends also happened to be Anglo Saxon too. In case you haven’t already worked it out yet, they were subjected to the anti-racism that occurs for Anglo Saxon customers at many fine, and not so fine, Chinese restaurants around Melbourne.

Some Chinese restaurants have two menus, one in Chinese which they give to Asian looking customers, regardless of whether they can read Chinese or not. The other “sanitised” menu is given to Anglo Saxon customers, who they think will not want to eat the other types of food and who they can probably rip off more easily. It seems a strange practise given that Australian’s gastronomic vocabulary has improved so much that they shouldn’t give people a choice in the matter.

Many a times I have been to Imperial Kingdom and seen other tables order the banquet and be presented with spring rolls, corn soup, dim sims, lemon chicken, seafood bird’s nest etc and thought to myself that a)no Asian would ever eat any of those things at a Chinese restaurant, and b)they could be trying so much more authentic and more delicious food. I’m not picking on Imperial Kingdom, just merely using it as an example as this was a real situation that occurred. When my friend was telling me about his weekend dining experience at Imperial Kingdom, before he even finished talking, I asked him if he ordered the banquet. When he said yes as that was the easiest thing to do, I started to rattle off the list of food items and he said that was what they had. The killer for me was when I said lemon chicken and plum pork. Uuugh, how many Asians ever eat lemon chicken anywhere. And plum pork is so hard to make taste right. Unless you use real pickled plums so that the dish has both a sour and sweet component, it just tastes so wrong. All restaurants use these generic ultra gluggy plum sauce that only gets served to the “gwei low” (Anglo Saxons).

It’s funny how so many Chinese restaurants are still getting away with having two menus. I guess maybe I may be overestimating the palette of most Australians. Maybe a lot of people are happy with spring rolls and dim sims, but why not give everyone a choice. Some might still go for the dim sims, but others may want to try that delicious Abalone.


  1. It's not anti-racism Thanh, it's racism, plain and simple. And it sucks. When I go with my (anglo) family for yum cha to many venues, it's very upsetting when some of the trolleys refuse to stop at our table. We generally have to pointedly request chicken feet, tripe and jellyfish, otherwise we don't get them!!! Grrrrrrr.

  2. Yep. Culinary racism, if you like. But of the more benign kind, mostly. I mean, many restaurateurs know that their other-ethnic customers are (1) unlikely to like certain dishes, or (2) might be weirded out by being offered chicken feet (so then not return). I'm sure some people would say it's appropriate pitching -- give each customer 'category' what they're most likely to respond positively to.

    Of course, with more open minded palates, this pitching starts to fail. It frustrates the hell out of me that many student eateries in the CBD have more dishes on the walls, only written in Chinese, say.

    And we can't forget that there are certain types of foodies who take great pleasure in showing off that they can order off-menu and get their companion/s something special.

  3. Maybe there is nothing to do with racism but fatism.

    Picture this. The restauant manager stands at the door and sees a group of people come in and then sees Fat Do!!

    He shouts to his staff: Quick!! Special menu for table 5B!!

  4. I don't think racism has anything to do with this at all. I think those restauranteurs are just pandering to their clientel in a general sense. There are obviously caucasions that like to eat all the nasty stuff, but I'd say most do not. As recently as last year, I saw a caucasion man make a dumb joke about the 'meat' in a vietnamese restaurant was cat meat. Now I think that's trully racist and ignorant. If you own a restaurant and there are dicks like that coming in, you'd try to do what you can to not stop them from coming back. It's a shame that those few dicks make it harder for the rest of us. However, as a foodie, I'm sure you'd get what you're looking for if you knew what you're looking for, even if you didn't, an adventurous foodie can always get the full food experience in any restaurant if you were polite enough to just ask.

  5. Claire, the anti-racism thing is a a private joke I have with this friend that went to Imperial Kingdom. We've had this joke for a while and the origins are quite lengthy so I won't bore you with it.

    It's strange how they assume you just don't want it isn't it. I think Purple Goddess had a similar experience when she went to yum cha without her usual Asian dining partner and was totally ignored with the "exotic" dishes. However, I'm sure you will put them in their place. :-)

    Duncan, it's appropriate pitching if that was the reality. I think that's really changing though. I've seen many white Australians eating Pho at Springvale with the tendons and tripe etc.

    The specials plastered all over the walls is definitely a frustration, even for me. My very terrible written Chinese means that I can't make out all of the specials and have to ask the waiter what some of them are.

    Oblivion, hahaha, I wouldn't mind getting a special menu, as long as that menu contained more options than the regular menu.

    Anonymous, I'm sure there are still people who don't anything that isn't beef or lamb. However, I think palettes are improving and people should be given an option. It's not a major problem as you say, people who want those food will seek it out. But it might open up more people's mind to the variety of food that is out there.

  6. Hey Thanh!!!

    You find racism funny do you?

    Do you mind if I call you Ricky Wong from now on then!!!


  7. He's more of a Sammy Hung

  8. Hello I'm Ricky Wong, how are you going Jai'me?

  9. Yo Thanh,

    My family doesn't read Chinese, so when we go to Chinese restaurants we always have to ask for the English menus and then hide our heads in shame.

    However, we don't just order from the menu. We'd usually pick a dish or 2 from the menu, and then Mum and Dad will talk to the waiters in broken Cantonese to ask for suggestions. Especially at places we visit often. Or we'll just point at another table and say "What's that?", and then order it.

    I think that once you become a regular at a place, it's easier to discuss with the waiters and get good advice.

    I remember once, at my family's most regular Chinese restaurant, ordering "honey pepper chicken". And the waiter said to me, "Hey just let you know, this one kwai-lo dish". So I ordered something else, LOL.

    xox Sarah

    p.s. Lemon chicken is a guilty pleasure of mine.. I sometimes eat it at food courts. But don't tell anyone!!!!!!

  10. Yo Sarah, so are you the English speaking Malaysians? I thought all Malaysians spoke five dialects?????

    Asking the waiters is good, but sometimes they don't know everything on the menu. Obviously the more you visit a place and try out things, you'll know what's on the menu and be able to pick what you like.

    Some dishes I do classify as very gwei low food. Honey pepper chicken would be one of them. I just don't like the combination of flavours. It doesn't work for me.

    **gasp**, you eat lemon chicken. It's ok, I'm very partial to a Hungry Jack's burger (not Maccas, only Hungry Jacks) and KFC.

  11. Yo Thanh,

    Yeah my parents are Malaysian-Chinese (they spoke Hokkien at home), and they were English educated. They also speak Malay and a bit of Cantonese. So what's that, 4 languages? Heehe.

    I don't eat Maccas either, but I do like Hungry Jack's. I only eat it at the airport though, haha.

    I try not to eat it too often, but I LOVE KFC. Huge generalisation, but I think most Asians do. The majority of my Malaysian friends love it.

    WICKED WINGS! Hot and Spicy!

    xox Sarah

  12. I thought you would speak many dialects. I speak Teo Chew at home, which is close to Hokkien for some words. Obviously there's English (or at least Australian English, my vocab isn't that good) and I've learnt Mandarin and Cantonese. My Cantonese is really bad accent wise but ok vocab wise because I speak it to a lot of Cantonese friends.

    If you only eat Hungry Jack's at the airport, you mustn't eat it as much as I do. I have a Hungry Jack's opposite my house, making it all too convenient.

    I think the generalisation that Asians like KFC may have some merit. I like KFC but love the Wicked Wings or the Hot and Spicy. When those are available, I only buy those.

  13. My partner is what his parents call a 'banana', Thanh I'm sure you know the term.

    It's also an oblique way of saying my partner is asian (I'm not) but born in Australia with an aust accent stronger than mine.

    I've observed the same behaviour in many restaurants and would add one more quirk. When eating at Supper Inn, when my partner orders in cantonese I'm absolutely convinced we get better food, particularly when we order flounder, we get fresher, fleshier fish.

    Also I love the term 'gwei low' and how you politely interpret it as Anglo - but isn't closer to white ghost/devil?!

  14. Irisav, yep a banana. I'm only half banana since my early childhood was spent in Asia and I can still speak Chinese.

    My Australian accent isn't too strong. It's a fairly neutral accent whereas some banana friends sound like they're straight from a TV show.

    I'm pretty sure that you do get better quality food when you can converse with the staff in their native tongue because you feel an instant connection.

    The term "gwei low" literally translates to ghost man hahaha.

  15. Hi Thanh!

    Oh yay! A fellow wicked wing and hot and spicy lover. I was afraid admitting a love of KFC would be controversial in the foodie world, hehe.

    I'm not too happy about the hot and spicy breast fillets though. I prefer their normal chicken pieces in the hot and spicy rather than the dry breast fillets.

    I love how KFC in Malaysia has hot and spicy all year round. And how it's hotter and spicier than the hot and spicy here!

    xox Sarah

  16. Sarah, I really hate the hot and spicy breast fillets too. They are extremely dry and not tasty at all. I love all the fat and oils in the skin of the chicken wings, mmmm, mmmm.

    The Malaysian KFC definitely was spicier, which I liked.

    Interesting thing, my mum knows someone who works for the chicken company (not sure if its Steggles or Ingham) that sells the chicken to KFC. It turns out the hot and spicy wings are pre-marinated before being shipped to KFC. The employees are allowed to buy those. So she bought some and gave some to my mum. They tasted just like the KFC wicked wings, with a different batter of course. So now I can eat wicked wings much cheaper.

  17. I find the two menu's thing a perplexing concept. Like Sarah, my family can't read Chinese, though when I go with my parents, they can usually ask the "Captain" in Cantonese for recommendations.

    I prefer equity for all in terms of menu choices and don't like the idea that some diners will get different (arguably better) dishes on the basis of language capability. some might argue that the reason for this is that non-asian diners might not like the "bona fide" stuff, but I'd prefer people to make that choice themselves rather than have it imposed on them.

    one pet hate is the discrimination of offering complimentary soup and dessert to asian patrons but not to non-asian ones, or even to tables with a mix of asian and non-asian diners. why shouldn't all diners receive all that is coming to them, regardless of creed?

    I am also mixed about the term "gweilo". in certain contexts, it is quite insulting. nothing irks me more than waiters who smile charmingly at patrons then refer to them as gweilo behind their backs. insults hidden behind language is still an insult. I wonder what the patron's reaction would be if they had known what it meant.

    on KFC, I must profess to a weakness for the Colonel, much to my partner's horror ;) it must be the asian DNA, drawing me to the deep fried goodness like crack cocaine. I am a big fan of the original receipe chicken :)

  18. Dan, it is a very strange situation. I know that one argument is that the "Aussie" patrons may be grossed out by tripe, intestines etc, but they can easily not order those dishes.

    You did bring up one thing I left off. The free soup, dessert and fruit given to Asian patrons and not others is another definite bias.

    Depending on how it is used, gwei low can be derogatory. But I think in most cases it's just used as a slang term for Caucasasians without any insult behind it.

    I just had some more home made wicked wings today, mmmmmm yum yum.

  19. Dan, Thanh,

    I *heart* KFC. My bro offered to buy it for dinner tonight, but I thought we better try and be healthy, so I'm making "sake-simmered chicken with mushrooms" and grilled miso vegetables, from an ancient copy of Delicious.

    I love the free soup at Chinese restaurants!

    Anyway, back to KFC. One of my friends (Malaysian) lives close to the big 24-hr Caulfield one and he's seriously addicted to it. He had a KFC party for his birthday this year, which was insane!

    Thanh... so how can I get my hand on some of those home-made Wicked Wings???

    xox Sarah

  20. Sarah, you should have just been wicked and said "15 wicked wings pack please".

    A KFC party is insane. I think his addiction is way worse than mine, although I did suggest a KFC meal for the NRL grand final day instead of a BBQ, but that was just due to me being lazy.

    Well the Wicked Wings supply currently isn't a fully flowing stream as they only sometimes offer it for sale to the employees. If I can get a lot, I will definitely contact you and you can have some.


    Actually at the party, I remember trying one of everything and then feeling very, very full. Haha!

    xox Sarah

  22. Wow and this was from 2008, I thought this was the culture dating back at least 10 years ago... So I heard from others.

    Oh yeh we all love our KFCs. Malaysian KFCs do the best Hot and Spicy! yums!