Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cantonese vs. Non Cantonese Food

Since my article in the Asia Society's Journal on the Top 10 Chinese Restaurant in The United States has caused some controversy, particularly for being heavily tilted towards Hong Kong style/Cantonese food, I need to expand on that point a little, particularly my comment that most Chinese agree that Hong Kong/Cantonese cuisine is the superior regional style of Chinese cuisine.

I agree that generalizations can be dangerous, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be true. My comment is based initially on the old Chinese saw identifying the best of everything Chinese includes “to eat in Guandong”. Of course personal tastes differ, and I’m not saying that there isn’t good non-Cantonese Chinese food in the U.S. The San Gabriel Valley has hundreds of outstanding Sichuan, Hunan, Shanghai, Taiwanese, Beijing, etc. etc. style restaurants and I've eaten at almost all of them.

But if this preference for Cantonese food isn’t true, why is the biggest and best Chinese restaurant in any American community having a sizable Chinese community, but few Hong Kong/Cantonese people (e.g., Dallas, St. Louis, Atlanta) still a dim sum/Hong Kong seafood palace? What is a fact is that most non-Cantonese Chinese enjoy Cantonese food. And the flip side, which someone without Cantonese family or friends would not be aware of, is that most Cantonese Americans refuse to eat non-Cantonese Chinese food. That’s the case with most of my family members and most of my friends from Hong Kong. In that regard I’m the black sheep in that I do appreciate non-Cantonese Chinese food. If Chinese food is a one way street for Hong Kong/Cantonese people, but a two way street for non-Cantonese, that is either a sign that Cantonese people are stubborn or that Cantonese food is better. And given the love of all Chinese people for food, I doubt if stubborness would stop Cantonese food lovers from enjoying non-Cantonese Chinese food if they thought it was better.

I might as well also comment on the objections to the lack of any New York Chinese restaurants in my listing, along with my comment that New York Chinese food is mired in the 1990s. I have heard many, many Californians comment (indeed, complain) that New York Chinese food is clearly inferior to that back home. This wasn't always the case. In the mid-1980s New York did surpass San Francisco for the best Chinese food in America and I would discuss with my friends what New York Chinese restaurants should be visited similar to our discussions of where we should eat when we went to San Francisco. But that all changed in the 1990s when Los Angeles leaped past New York and San Francisco in terms of Chinese food.

On the other hand, I have heard many New Yorkers comment on how much better California Chinese food is than what they get back home. However, I have never heard a person who has eaten in the San Gabriel Valley say that the Chinese food is better back home in New York. You have to visit the San Gabriel Valley to understand the breadth and depth of Chinese food there. Think of a Chinatown probably the size of Manhattan in acreage, with 600 or 700 or 800 authentic Chinese restaurants reflecting the continuing influx of cuisine from Hong Kong, Taiwan and what we used to refer to as Mainland China. That's what New York is up against, and as good as the Chinese food is in Flushing (though Mrs. Chandavkl, who is also Cantonese, found nothing there to her liking), it doesn't have a chance.


  1. very Americanized opinion. USA has very few Chinese restaurants compared to China. In many parts of China it is very hard to find a Cantonese restaurant. However szechuan cuisine and restaurants can be found everywhere, it is by far the most popular cuisine throughout China and can be found everywhere. Cantonese food, which many Chinese regard as bland cannot compare. You cannot judge the cuisine by a few Chinese-Americans when compare to nearly 1 and half billion Chinese. In Guangzhou which is regarded as the culinary capital of Cantonese cuisine you can find all the restaurants of China and many locals frequent them; Hui, Jiangxi, Shanghai, Shannxi, Turkish, Dongbei, Shandong etc.. so american-chinese opinion is insignificant.

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