Monday, January 11, 2010

Manhattan Chinese Food

Since I'm spending most of the week in New York City I thought I'd write on the state of Chinese food in Manhattan and how it compares to the stuff back home in L. A. I've eaten at over 200 restaurants in New York Chinatown (which I estimate covers perhaps two-thirds of all the restaurants there), choosing the best ones first. I've also eaten at all the Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles Chinatown and 95 percent of the Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley.

I can categorically say that by comparison, New York Chinese food is grossly inferior to that of Los Angeles, or for that matter, San Francisco. I don't make this statement as a matter of regional pride, but rather because it is the logical conclusion based on demographics. Historically NYC Chinatown had been Cantonese in origin, but the last two decades have seen a wave of immigration from Fujian province. These recent immigrants are the poorest of the poor. NYC Chinatown serves the Fujian community, the historic Cantonese community, and the tourist community. As such the Chinese food there is mired in the 20th Century, certainly not being bad, but not reflecting the latest evolutions in Chinese in cuisine, both as to other regional cuisines as well as improvements in Cantonese/Hong Kong style cuisine, and not particularly geared towards an affluent customer base. Indeed, the best Chinese restaurant in Manhattan is Chinatown Brasserie, which is not even in Chinatown, and most of whose clientele is not Chinese (because it is so ridiculously expensive).

Meanwhile, Los Angeles has likewise seen an influx of immigration from Asia, much more broadly based than that seen in New York, both in terms of geographic origins as well as socioeconomic background. Nobody loves their food more than the Chinese, and well heeled immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China expect the most appetizing food that money can buy. As a result, the Los Angeles area is a gold mine for lovers of Chinese food, with more diverse (in terms of regional cuisines and breadth of selection) better (and, interestingly, cheaper) Chinese food than anywhere else in the United States, though the Bay Area is a close runner up. It is particularly the much smaller community of Hong Kong Chinese in New York that probably explains the lack of evolution of Chinese food in Manhattan compared to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver and Toronto.

There is California quality Chinese food in Flushing, and indeed there are regional varieties in Flushing, such as Xian, Wenzhou, Henan and Guizhou that you won't find in California. However, Flushing does not measure up to the San Gabriel Valley.

1 comment:

  1. No, chinese food in New York isn't very good, and it hasn't been good for a very long time. I've eaten in San Gabriel and was amazing by the large expanse of chinese restaurants that are available. Flushing seemed lifeless by comparison.