Sunday, January 14, 2018

Fake Canto Food Comes To Los Angeles Chinatown

For the first century of Chinese presence in the  United States, most all Chinese residents in America were Cantonese in origin (and of this group, predominantly from the rural counties in Toishan).  As a result, all Chinese food in America during this time period was Cantonese/Toishanese.  However, the big news in the 21st century has been the impact of Mandarin speaking Chinese immigrants to the United States, almost completely flipping the Cantonese/non-Cantonese mix of Chinese food in Chinese American communities. 

Indeed, the demographic disparity has gotten so out of line that the 21st century has seen the rise of what is now sometimes referred to as the "fake Canto" restaurant, a term coined by food blogger Tony Chen.  Fake Canto restaurants are those opened up in Chinese communities by Mandarin speaking non-Cantonese immigrants from mainland China.  Well before the advent of fake news, these fake Canto restaurants were opening up, occasioned by the lack of sufficient real Cantonese restaurateurs in the particular locality.

Fake Canto restaurants originally arose in the eastern United States in Chinese communities where there were few, if any local Cantonese restauranteurs available to satisfy the local demand for dim sum and Cantonese banquet facilities.  These included communities that never had a Chinese community, prior to the 1960s reform of the US immigration laws, such as Atlanta, Dallas and Orlando, or communities where the Cantonese community had all but died out, such as St. Louis.  

The fake Canto phenomenon had initially been limited to the East, Midwest and South, where Fujianese immigrants have dominated the Chinese restaurant industry since the 1990s.  However, fake Canto has now taken a new step forward, now showing up in localities that do have an existing Cantonese presence, such as Manhattan Chinatown.  

Now comes clearly the most startling episode of fake Canto restaurants where in December of 2017, East Garden restaurant opened up in Los Angeles Chinatown.  This is truly startling since Los Angeles Chinatown is the culinarily the last greatest bastion of Cantonese food in the country.  While most every new Chinese restaurant in the nearby San Gabriel Valley serves Mainland non-Cantonese food, there is only one such restaurant in Los Angeles Chinatown, Qin West.   So with Los Angeles Chinatown so top-heavy with Cantonese food, why would anyone open up a fake Canto restaurant?  Another Mainland Chinese restaurant would make more sense in Los Angeles Chinatown, particularly with the nearby pool of Mainland Chinese students attending USC.  Yet, fake Canto has come to Los Angeles Chinatown.

Fake Canto, does not necessarily imply a lesser quality product.  The food at East Garden is pretty decent. 

The egg tofu with mushrooms was one of the best versions I’ve eaten.

The honey garlic short ribs, a variation of a dish more associated with pork chops, was also quite good.

But a major tipoff that we were talking fake Canto was the appearance of pork rolls, a dish never seen on Cantonese menus, and most commonly seen in Taiwanese restaurants described as chicken rolls.

Besides this and other non-Cantonese items on the menu, East Garden’s fake Canto giveaway is that the staff only speaks Mandarin.  Another clue was that the beef chow fun was cooked spicy, and had no “wok hei” to the flavor.  And in the company’s logo, the Chinese name uses the Mainland simplified characters, not the traditional characters.

East Garden is in Chunsan Plaza, downstairs from Ocean Seafood.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Blame Housing Discrimination, Or Why I Don't Remember The Los Angeles Snowstorm of 1962

Since I'm in Dubai and missing the current major LA rainstorm and mudslides, It's probably appropriate to mention other weather events that I either missed or forgot.  Back  2003 there was the freak hailstorm in South Los Angeles caused by an almost unprecedented stationary storm that led to a foot of hail on the ground in some places, which was erroneously described by many as snow at the time.  Unfortunately I was in Dallas at the time and missed the event, though I did save the Dallas newspaper describing that event.  Then there was the actual snow in Los Angeles in 1962 which is a complete blank in my mind.

A couple of years ago the KCET website ran a piece on the few recorded instances of snowfall in Los Angeles.  My son asked me if I remembered the most recent episode listed, which was in early 1962 when I was 13 years old.   I had always thought 1949, when I was an infant, was the last time snow fell in Los Angeles and was shocked to read that it snowed in the San Fernando Valley in 1962.   I was puzzled by my lack of any memory of this event, particularly since I always had an interest in weather.  For example I remember 6 consecutive days of rain in 1962, and being evacuated  from our neighborhood in the Crenshaw district because of flooding in 1954 or 1955.  (Not everybody in Los Angeles had storm sewers back then.)   And as a second grader I kept a daily diary which included the temperature for the day.

On reflection, my lack of recollection of the 1962 snow was due to the fact my geographic world was so small back then.  Yes, in the 50s my dad would take us on Sunday afternoon rides to outlying places like Zuma Beach, Newport Beach, Anaheim or El Monte. But those were like mini-vacations to distant places for us since we never took real vacations as he worked so hard, 6½ days a week every week.   The rest of the time we stayed within a relatively narrow swath in central Los Angeles, from the Crenshaw district in the west to downtown Los Angeles where my dad worked, to El Sereno where some family friends lived.

The reason why  we were so confined is that for Chinese-Americans, Los Angeles was still semi-segregated housing wise in the 1950s and into the 1960s.  Most Chinese Americans of that era lived in Central, South or East Los Angeles, and all our friends and relatives lived there.  Yes, there were Chinese living in a nice central LA area like Silver Lake, but communities such as Arcadia, San Marino, South Pasadena, Glendale, Inglewood and Palos Verdes were totally off limits  to minorities, including Chinese-Americans, well into the 1960s.  Indeed, I thought it was a really big deal in the late 50s when one of my uncles bought a house in someplace called Gardena and then another uncle bought a house in Mar Vista, followed by my grandfather's buying a house in the Athens district near the border with Gardena in the early 1960s,

Our geographic confinement was probably best expressed by the fact that before I went to UCLA in 1965,  I told people that I hadn't been west of La Brea Ave. more than 5 times in my life (which probably was just a slight exaggeration) and had only visited the San Fernando Valley 5 times or less (probably not an exaggeration).  So snow in the Valley in 1962 isn't something that would register with me at that time.

Obviously being the subject of any kind of discrimination is no fun.  But to have felt its effects does provide an interesting perspective on one's life.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Mysteries of the Internet

Ever since Clarissa Wei wrote the first article about me, and launching a secondary career of writing about Chinese restaurant subjects, I have been regularly Googling myself (using the search term "David Chan Chinese restaurant") to see if people have been talking about me or my articles.  In so doing I have come across a number of inexplicable anomalies, such as incoherent brief references to past articles in foreign websites, Google search summaries that clearly mention me where the quoted text does not appear at all in the linked website, a linked website automatically forwarding to an unrelated random website, and on my own blog, the listing of referring websites from other totally unrelated, random websites.

However, I recently came across the most puzzling anomaly of all.  The Google search on my Blackberry Android pulled up a link to a website "" and what appeared to be a discussion of one or more Chinese restaurant articles I have written.  Typically this kind of hit links to a site which does contain "David Chan" and "Chinese restaurants", but not complete sentences, and also mentioning numerous other random people.  However, while still not a polished article, the references were semi-coherent and mostly about me.

The entire "article" was over 2,000 words long, and made reference to numerous articles about me and by me from a number of different publications, from Clarissa's initial article five years ago to an article that quoted me just a few days ago.  Indeed there were references to so many different articles that it was almost like somebody was stalking me.

But then here is where things get really weird.  The same Google search on my old Blackberry pulled up the same hit--but the link sent me directly to a porn site.  And then, the same Google search on my laptop did not provide the corresponding hit at all.   But when I went to the website on my laptop, it sent me to a website offering some kind of possibly sketchy software download.

My guess is that there are scammers out there targeting people who Google themselves either to drive traffic to particular website, or perhaps worse, to infect their computers.  But exactly what is going on is a real mystery that I doubt if I will ever solve.