CHINESE FOOD

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THE REAL TRUTH ABOUT CHINESE FOOD AND CHINESE BUFFETS

Reality, Genuine, Altered, Exploited... And mostly not Chinese


About five decades ago, when I first stated writing about things,  I was a real Chinese Food fan and the expression was
“ When are we going out for Chinks”.  P
ardon the slang use here, its like using “ Jews”  instead of Jewish people.  It was common verbiage decades ago and no harm was ever meant, it was about the food style, not the people.  We had Chinese Restaurants with the usual soups, wonton, egg roll and then something over white or fried rice. Hot right out of the wok.

It was to a Jewish kid growing up a great treat, I loved the soup, the rice and the veggies with Chicken and the pork which was not kosher so my mother turned a blind eye.  As long as the pork never saw her kosher kitchen.  It was a treat and when they created the Chinese Buffet, I was an instant buffet fan and readily admit it.  So I thought, there is that Murphy Law of diminishing returns that sneaks up on you. When the truth starts to surface and I bring my shovel to the table.

When I went on my journey to discover “ What else is out there to eat”  and add to my culinary skills and knowledge, much of it driven ( well courtesy of .GOV sailed or flew me there) westbound toward ASIA and brought to the US as foods supposedly typically called Chinese Food.  Not what I saw there, but what was created here.

Circa 2019, it’s different, with fewer Chinese style sit-downs and more buffets and that ongoing Vietnam war in the peninsula and southeast region brought us a new trend in restaurants as we assimilated more refugees. 

Today  “ Asian Fusion” has taken over since many of the refugees from Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, LAO, and newcomers from Japan and China brought their ideas and combined and adapted them to the Western palate. A great marketing move.  

Few standalone Chinese full service restaurants exist today in my area, luckily my favorite is  ZOM HEE and he’s three generations, thirty-five plus years I have been going there and they maintain their standards. I know Kenny, his Dad and even the kids help on weekends.  He’s always busy, the foods great, consistent  bountiful and fresh.  Dad rules the kitchen and has for forty years.  And it’s kept clean. It’s showing it’s age and it’s nostalgic looking decor wise like places I ate in forty-five years ago.

Countries of origin create a problem as those Cultures formulated what winds up on your plate and we all hope that rules and regulations put in place here in Florida by the Agricultural Department and county inspectors are followed to the letter and there are no exceptions because of health, ignorance, indifference or financial digressions...


NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW

In this section  I believe six of those Chinese Buffets in my county alone failed the tests.  Horribly!  Two beyond belief and closed, I like many served in the Asian Peninsula and it was like De-Za-Vu.   I bear witness to that fact, I have seen those discrepancies, I also saw some cleaner places “ in Vietnam, the term for a house was ‘hooches’ we called them”. 

What was OK back home does not work here and that led to four of them getting nailed for Human Trafficking, some of the management failed to realize people in this country have rights.  Even immigrants or students.  A huge task force from Clearwater and Tampa got on their case and several went to jail.  SEE TRAFFICKING

I reported them on my webpage for the writeup that normal food critics do. The food at that time was OK.  As a courtesy I went back again after suggesting it or mentioning it to the owner about a few small improvements, and said I’ll see him in a month and give him a better rating.  

I saw the same mistakes, worse and I left, a week later they got nailed by the Food Police.  I wasn’t the only one that saw the mess.  But Trafficking is another story.  They deserved to be fined, temporarily closed and for three of them forever.  Food police fines can range $500 per occurrence or problem and up.  

What bothered me the most was attitude, seeing ungloved food being handled and some of the bathrooms not exactly monitored and filthy would drive me up a wall. Those same bathroom were used by the help handling your food.  And thats not taken into consideration if the food had survived three days of heated-chiller-heated again-chiller-heated.  Which to coin a Jewish phrase is not exactly “Kosher” in my book.


IT’S NOT THE REAL THING
Over 40,000 Chinese style restaurants are in strip malls or occupying real estate along crowded boulevards, more common than McDonalds, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken combined.  From a Book Report: A great read by  Jennifer Lee explains in her  book about Chinese food in America, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. 

In places like New York, American-Chinese restaurants have deeply embedded themselves within the city’s cultural fabric thanks to garishly lit picture menus, trapezoidal takeout containers, and pork-fried rice with fries and chop suey. 

Differences between a Chinese restaurant in China and an Chinese-American restaurant. Bring people straight from China into the latter, and most likely they will be terribly confused by all the zodiac placemats, fortune cookies, and dishes smothered by an extremely generous amount of corn starch to thicken.  

QUOTE:  A diplomate friend from Taiwan addressed it by  asking, “ What all that sh*t on the walls and ceiling….And have no idea what the hell is that on the menu.  

Little did we know that dairy products are seldom used in Chinese food, few dairies exit in China.  (Humor: You want fresh milk, lie down under a cow) and that most of the take-out dishes she grew up eating can’t even be found in the mainland. To the true Chinese it is an insult to their cuisine.

“People in China don’t eat as much fried rice.  The bulk of these dishes were created by accident. Chop suey, for example, was invented in the nineteenth century by San Francisco chefs who threw a bunch of ingredients into a pan and unintentionally started a craze. It’s a money maker, rich, rice is cheap and filling.

Many of these dishes were created using available ingredients at the time because chefs didn’t have much else at their disposal. The substitutions occurred mostly in the greens department: broccoli was swapped for kailan; carrots, peas, and white button mushrooms were put in place of mustard greens or shiitakes. Other adaptations were geared towards appealing to an American palate. 

•   Americans lean toward white meat, whereas Chinese are more partial to dark which has more flavor.
•   Bones don’t make a frequent appearance on the American-Chinese menus. “Americans don’t like bones,” 
•   Fortune cookies are Japanese,”  and were based on a Japanese confection called “tsujiura senbei”. 
•   Because of immigration patterns, Chinese restaurateurs in America traditionally represented a limited pool of people from areas like Fujian, Hong Kong, and Guangdong. This was the demographic that introduced recipes for kung pao chicken, Moo Shu Pork, and orange chicken—based off of Sichuan, Beijing, and Hunan dishes, respectively.
•  This has been changing over the last decade, especially with an influx of immigration from mainland China.  
You'll see different types of Chinese food trends in countries across the board. “In Thailand, there’s a heavy Chaozhou population. India is Hakka.”

SYNDICATED EXPLOTATION
There’s an unofficial network that connects American-Chinese restaurants across the nation. Kari-Out, makes most of the soy sauce packets in the United States. And much soy sauce is not soy-sauce.   Fold-Pak is responsible for two-thirds of takeout containers. 

Chinese restaurants are akin to the Linux operating system, where a decentralized network of programmers contributes to the underlying source code.  The open source is spread via industry publications likes Chinese Restaurant News or via word of mouth by restaurant workers who move from state to state. 


THE LANGUAGE OUTAGE

Chinese people don’t receive separate menus at American-Chinese restaurants; the only real “secret” is to speak the Chinese language.  Yes, there’s an uncanny amount of restaurants with the word Golden, Garden, Lucky, and Happy in them. This isn’t incidental. In China, restaurant names aren’t chosen for their quirkiness, but rather for their auspiciousness. This practice has carried over even in America. 

The most interesting thing to me about Chinese restaurants in America is that while the food may undergo a dramatic transformation for the sake of the masses, the superstitions are left untouched. 

The crystal ball, the fat happy Buddha, that bowl overflowing with gold ingots—even the cat with the moving paws (which is Japanese in origin, not Chinese)? Those pieces aren’t just decorations. 

They’re fengshui tactics to bring in more money, superstitions that have been transferred down through family lines over centuries. So while Chinese people may compromise their food, they definitely won’t adjust their rituals involving superstitions. 


TRANSFORMATIONS AND INDIGESTIONS
THE CHINESE BUFFET  -  Info gathered from many sources and amazingly true


CONFESSIONS OF A CHINESE BUFFET OWNER

I used to love them for all the good reasons but that has changed when I see the restaurant Inspector officers AKA FOOD POLICE doing their thing and reading their reports.   Buffets had its roots in the Swedish smorgasbord, which was originally a spread of appetizers — usually meats and cheeses — offered before the main course.  

The Stockholm Olympics elevated the idea to the world stage in 1912, and the concept was expanded to include the main meal, with everything from soup and salad to dessert and more.   The Reason: Less servers needed,  and less headaches with help, just add a few more cooks, more profitable, sometimes.

But they totally are.  From a business standpoint, it might seem like there's nothing about a buffet that would make it successful. There's usually a huge variety, probably a lot of wasted food, and trays of things that would cost a lot more if you were to buy them in a single meal. So what’s going on?

😋  Less Staff,  Less training, Less highly paid staff, just cooks, a cash taker, and bus people. Low skills

😋  No food redo’s or returns, they don’’t like it they dump it and get something else.  

😋  Same food cooked every day.

😋  Bulk food purchase including things like cheap sacks of vegetables and cheaper cuts of meat, beat to death and served

😋  Odds are those who do eat the expensive stuff and goodies there are many who don’t overeat.

😋 We’ve only got so much room in our stomachs, and buffets count on filling that space quickly with low-cost, high-carb foods. When you hit the Chinese buffet, what's first on the table?  Probably the white rice, fried rice, and noodles. 

😋  Plate size is a huge factor in buffets, too. Most buffets will offer small, half-sized plates, ramekins for soup instead of bowls, and tiny dishes for desserts. That limits how much you can pile on your plate and carry, and once you’re back at your table you might rethink whether or not you really need that extra trip up to the line for another go. 

😋  One thing that’s probably huge, though, is the water glass. It’s essentially free for the restaurant, and it takes up space in your stomach.

😋  More expensive food items will typically be surrounded by cheaper ones, and some places might even go as far as to keep the expensive items only partially full, in order to encourage you to take less and more of the cheaper.

😋  That’s made even more effective by dividing expensive foods into smaller portion sizes. 

😋  So how can buffets minimize their food waste.  Science. What you're going to eat is very predictable. The restaurant probably knows what you’re going to pile on your plate before you do.

😋  Food placement -  when you get in line. Around two-thirds of what ends up on your plate comes from the first few items you get to. 

😋  At a glance, the amount of food waste from a buffet might seem like it would be off the charts. But in some areas, buffets are being put to incredibly good use combating food waste.

😋  Humans waste enough food every year to feed around two billion people.  You probably know someone who cringes at the thought of heading out to a buffet. Eating out anywhere is putting a lot of trust in a stranger, and buffets ask you to trust employees and other customers. 


DEFEND YOURSELF FROM LOWER TRACT, STOMACH, COLON AND HEPATITUS-A

😡  Hitting the buffet and going right to the seafood section might seem like a good idea, especially if it's piled high with things you just don't get often, like oysters and crab legs. But there are a few reasons you should think about skipping these, and the first is obvious: the potential for some serious food poisoning, as MedlinePlus says shellfish and fish are both extremely susceptible to contamination.

There's something else to consider, too, and it comes from an all-you-can-eat buffet operator who took to Reddit to dispel some mysteries about the buffet. When someone asked what food they would stay away from at all costs, the answer was “crab legs”.

"I'm being serious," the poster continued. "I have seen Chinese buffets at the fish market going and buying bottom of the barrel seafood, including crab legs past their prime. And then they don’t steam them properly either to save on volume."

The Redditor also adds that oysters are usually less-than-fresh, often imported and past their prime once they make it to the buffet table. If you're not skipping these, you might be risking a trip to the hospital.

😡  When it comes to dangerous foods, you might want to consider giving some of the other seafood (particularly raw things like oysters and sushi) a miss for the time being as they require hands on handling.

😡  There’s a huge potential for illness there, especially when those foods aren't kept at the proper temperature. Aside from improperly cooked or stored foods — which can be a danger anywhere, not just at buffets — the other big danger is cross-contamination. 

😡  Cross-contamination can also happen anywhere, but buffets have more potential hazards. With all customers serving themselves, there's a huge chance for the transfer of germs on serving utensils. And it isn't hard for someone to use one serving spoon for multiple dishes. This is bad; please don’t do it. 

😡  Long sleeves making contact with the food or serving line is bad, and that’s not even mentioning people who might pick up a dinner roll, change their mind and put it back. 

😡   So to keep yourself safe, look for telltale danger signs like spoon handles touching food, other customers returning with dirty plates, and dishes that don't have their own individual serving spoon or set of tongs. Avoid those things, and maybe let an employee know what’s going on.

😡  Since you’re already thinking about buffet safety, let’s touch on the sneeze guard.  The invention of the sneeze guard came about solely because the inventor couldn’t stand the thought of anyone sneezing or breathing their germs on food that other people were going to eat, and he succeeded in revolutionizing food safety.

😡  If you're trying to eat healthy and pay more attention to what goes from the kitchen to the plate to your fork, visiting the expansive temptation of a buffet might seem like a daunting challenge. But there are some ways to avoid some of the biggest buffet pitfalls and (maybe) some of the buffet guilt.

😡  Take advantage of the small plates on offer. They'll minimize food waste and encourage you to take less food, which might be exactly what you want. Don’t opt for a bigger plate, and when you go to your table, make sure you’re as far away from the buffet as you can get.
 

😡  Your access isn’t as easy, and you don't have to suffer the temptation of people walking past with their own overflowing plates. Don't take a tray, either. The added convenience has been shown to increase what we pile on, so avoid trays at all costs.

😡  Since you know now that the first things you see are the majority of what you take, the experts also suggest that you break that pattern. Don't grab a plate and hop in line; take a look around first. See what’s on the menu, and if you know ahead of time that your favorite roast chicken is halfway down the buffet, you’re less likely to pile the carbs on your plate before you even get there.

😡  And while you might be tempted to go without eating for the day before you hit the buffet, snacking on some fresh veggies before you head out will go a long way in managing the worst of your impulses. Just like eating healthy in other restaurants or at home, it’s all about being aware!


REAL ORIENTAL FOODS