Stuff Asian People Like

Observational Essays on Asian Culture– This blog is devoted to stuff that asian people like

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#116 Expensive Food

Posted May 4th, 2009 by Peter · 17 Comments

Sorry for the late post, but it’s been pretty busy here preparing for the ServiceAsia Concert, an event for raising awareness about service needs in Asia and to celebrate the launch of our sister site, East Villagers Non-Profit Community. Everything went pretty well, so we’re glad that all our planning and hard work came to fruition. However, that doesn’t mean that we should neglect our writers. =P. That’s why I used “Procrastination” as the title for the post for the past couple of hours. As you may know, though, Procrastination was a SAPL topic back on April 9th of 2008. Let’s get to the bottom of the real issues and concerns of our SAPL faithful.


Chinamerican says, “My dad worked in the restaurant industry in NYC for a long time and he would tell me things like how “real Chinese people don’t eat fried rice; you just get it at the end of banquets in case anyone else is hungry but it usually gets taken home.” I wonder if this has anything to do w/ a related Asian trope – getting something extra – since Asians love freebies with their stuff.”

It would seem as though Chinamerican is in the same situation as me when it comes to Asian restaurant and banquet etiquette. When it comes to restaurant food, my mom (and grandmother) always said that I should eat the best (most expensive) foods and avoid rice at all costs. That meant getting steamed and buttered salmon instead of chow mein; raw oyster instead of coconut shrimp. Why and how do they determine the worth of a food item though? It’s very simple when they know the prices of the raw materials used to make the food. Asians always analyze food bought in terms of labor and raw materials before they even consider buying it.


In search of the correct combination of food that would please me as well as my mom and extended family, I had to sacrifice my craving for the common chinese food in favor of the more expensive food items. At times, I would get mundane food items to see their reactions: when it was fried rice, they would say, “why are you eating that? I can make that any time!” and “Oh.. you got that…” When I laid down the steamed salmon smackdown, though, my critics would always praise me with comments about how smart I was for choosing the best food items. You should really try that next time you go to a restaurant or buffet with an Asian person.

Now, some of you may not have a problem with fried rice, but older Asians do. It’s starchy, it fills you up, and it’s only there as a filler just in case someone isn’t full by the end of a meal. It is the oblivious non-asian (or second generation asian) person that usually devours the fried rice. They will usually garner the unwanted attention of old women and mothers, all of whom think they are wasting money on a crappy bystander9908_orangesesamechicken food. That’s why there’s usually a lot of fried rice left over after weddings. This is especially evident when older people are at the table. They would rather eat the healthier and more expensive food than fill themselves up on filler food from “fast food” restaurants. However, that doesn’t stop them from bringing it back home to their children or grandchildren in zip lock or to-go boxes. Asians always seize the opportunity to get free stuff, as Chinamerican said. Freebies are always welcome. NOTICE: I am not condemning rice here. It is a staple to Asians and a majority of the world. All I am saying is that Fried Rice is not as important as fried fish when asians go out.

What, then are the accepted norms of Asian people at real Chinese Restaurants? More traditional dishes like Compound (stir-fry, diced) chicken, chicken feet, battered squid, frog legs, sauteed spinach, and steamed or fried catfish are usually ordered by the typical Asian family. Moreover, a side dish like sweet and sour soup will be administered if you are dining at lunch time in some restaurants. This is a far cry from the stereotypical asian dishes like fried rice, chow mein, orange chicken, and fried rice (yes, I did mention it twice). Let’s not forget the typical red/black/green bean dessert or coconut agar (my mouth is watering already).

Even as a Vietnamese food enthusiast (who would eat a horse if he was hungry enough), I would never order Fried Rice at a restaurant. For some odd reason, though, people continue to believe that it is a staple Asian Food. It’s most likely a direct result of fast-food chinese restaurants that offer quick and tasty dishes for a cheap price (Panda Express). It’s just wrong to believe though. The truth is that Fried Rice was actually designed to use leftover rice. It’s quite elementary when you break it down: Fried rice is created from cold/frozen leftover rice that has been instantly sauteed, fried, and seasoned to perfection on a wok in a few minutes. Try making fried rice with fresh rice and you’ll see what I mean. For that reason: In some Chinese families, it’s an insult to serve it to guests at all. It would be the equivalent of serving leftover spaghetti in an italian household. (It’s definitely not amoré).


I guess what I’m trying to say in this post is that Asians don’t like eating Chinese  Fast Food. Once in a while, we do give in (like anyone would), but that’s usually because the item is being served at a Buffet or at get togethers where people aren’t willing to cough up money for extravagant food. If you take a closer look, you’ll notice that Chinese Fast Food is not a staple for asians but for the culture-hungry american crowd. The next time you’re in a fast food restaurant, you’ll get what I mean.

Thanks Chimerican for your wonderful observation. It was really cool getting to bring in personal experiences from my life into a post that directly affects me every time I go to eat with my family (but I digress). We’re always happy to read your submissions and contributions on Stuff Asian People Like.

Until next week, Stay foolish and don’t stop being inquisitive.

This is Stuff Asian People Like writer Peter Nguyen signing off.


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Tags: Activities · Chinese · Cuisine · Customs · Environment · Food & Beverage · Habits · People · Products

17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Toby // May 5, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    I totally disagree with this article. Chinese people don’t like Chinese food? Then what do we eat? We eat chinese food all the time! I think the more accurate statement is that when we go out to eat, we tend to order dishes that we don’t normally prepare at home, because what is the point of eating out when you can prepare it at home. A lot of chinese dishes are takes a lot of time to prepare, or we don’t know how to make it. And we don’t order the same dishes that western people order because of the same reasons (and also they are not really chinese food; chicken balls? sweet and sour sauce? what is general tao’s chicken anyway?)

    Fried rice is the easiest chinese dish true. But people still do order in restaurants. Same goes with fried noodles. There are so many different ways of making them now. They are still quite popular. To say that we chinese people don’t eat it is wrong. And white rice is still considered a big part of the meal. Every time we go out to dinner, white rice is always added to the meal. Rice is still highly valued. Of course when you have so much dishes, the logical thing is to finish the main dishes and not get stuffed on rice. That is not to say we don’t like to eat rice, it’s just being practical or logical.

  • 2 Peter // May 5, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    I’m talking cheap fast food fried rice. Rice is a staple food, no doubt. However, from what I’ve read online (and asking asians around me), their mothers would rather them get fancier dishes at restaurants than the more mundane and commonplace fried rice dishes. However, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

    Vietnamese people do offer fried rice at weddings. However, a majority of it stays by the end of the night). That’s why it’s commonly a take-home food at weddings.

    I didn’t want to offend you, Toby. Thanks for the response though.

  • 3 blissfulting // May 5, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    Can I just say that there is no such thing as “Chinese fast food”…? It’s an insult to compare any sort of “Chinese” food (even if it may not be entirely authentic) with fast food like McDonalds, Burger King, etc. American fast food takes about five minutes max. to prepare, hence, “fast food.” Chinese food, on the other hand, must be COOKED. in a freaking wok. NOT in a microwave. So really, it’s quite offending to be calling it “fast food.” Even if it may be a buffet. It still needs to be cooked fresh at least, NOT from frozen foods. My parents own a Chinese restaurant, and it’s REALLY irking when people come in wanting their triple delights to be ready in five minutes. Sorry, no can do. We’re not McDonalds.

  • 4 Bob // May 7, 2009 at 12:25 am

    Damn Right, bliss!

  • 5 Anonymous // May 7, 2009 at 2:51 am

    I wouldn’t consider frying in a wok very far removed from frying most McDonalds stuff. They both use oil, very high temperatures, and speed. Compared to typical baked Western food with cook times of 40 minutes or more, almost all Chinese dishes are FAST!

    Also, I’ve lived in China for years now and I have yet to see rice being treated as anything less then the staple and most important part of most meals no matter what I say about it being bland and nearly empty calories.

  • 6 Quistis // May 8, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    I think that when it comes to food, Asians don’t care as long as there’s a lot of it. Price is not as important as a full stomach.

    My personal experience that garnered this opinion was my wedding (both sides are Chinese). My mother, being the one who is more concerned with appearances, would’ve loved for us to hold the reception at a Chinese restaurant where the food is both relatively less expensive and abundant compared to my and my husband’s choice: the most expensive hotel in the city.

    Although we did end up doing the hotel in the end (there’s no way I was passing up good European cuisine for standard Chinese fare I can have ANY DAY of the week at some family banquet), the Chinese guests were not satisfied. They would’ve preferred MORE food as opposed to WELL-MADE food. It didn’t matter that we were paying $150 per person instead of $150 per table (as we would have in the Chinese restaurant).

    In conclusion, my experience has taught me that Asians who want to be Caucasian like expensive fare, whereas Asian-Asians prefer quantity over quality.

  • 7 michel // May 13, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    I think this blog entry was quite right on… Although my parents wouldn’t condemn me eating fried rice at wedding banquets, it’s obvious that it’s not really meant to be eaten at all. Most of the time, it’s just taken home, especially since the fried rice comes out later, people are usually full by then.

    And bliss, about the Chinese Fast Food, I really think there is such a thing. I’m not talking about literally, how fast or long it takes to cook something. Chinese Fast Food is just a TERM used for unauthentic Chinese food.

  • 8 yao // May 14, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    by “compound chicken” do you mean kung pao (gong bao) chicken?

    you are right in that when you go out, you want to eat the dishes, not the rice. the rice (fried or otherwise) is just there as a filler in case you aren’t full. that’s why you’ll see the young kids eating lots of rice whereas the elders with smaller appetites eating little to no rice.

  • 9 Johnson Yip // May 29, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    That is some fine looking food. Yum

  • 10 kat // Sep 17, 2009 at 10:58 am

    I found this post quite amusing. My family also does most of the things written in this article (eat expensive dishes at restaurants and take the extra carbs home). And we never, ever eat a Chinese Fast Food place (Chinese food that has changed in order to better serve non-Asian’s taste buds).

  • 11 Vince // Jan 13, 2010 at 2:03 am

    I think this post essentially refers to the saying my parents always told me as a kid, “Eat the meat! Eat the meat!” As in, when I was full and didn’t want to finish my pho or rice dish, they would tell me to finish the meat and don’t fill myself up with the carbs. When a country/family is poor, the meat is obviously much more valued. It takes longer to prepare, more scarce, a source of protein, and is essentially for rich people. I assume rice and noodles were staples of Asian food b/c they’re so easy to make in mass production, right? But the MEAT. Oh my, don’t waste the meat. That’s worth something.

  • 12 KR // Feb 12, 2010 at 12:36 am

    what are you talking about asians love asian food. thats why there are so many asian restaurants. Asian food is also very diverse, the most diverse in the world. Just because we aren’t eating stereotypical asian food doesn’t mean we’re eating western style food. It comes from white people, especially americans, who believe the spring roll and dim sum is the national food of China that leads to these delusions

  • 13 Rachel // Nov 5, 2010 at 10:09 am

    You generalize Asia too much in your articles. My fiance from Japan makes fried rice from fresh rice all the time. And it’s really good. But I know Japanese fried rice is kind of different from Chinese fried rice.

  • 14 First gen Asian in US // Dec 14, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    @Toby, if you actually lived in China you would know that we don’t actually eat a lot of fried rice at all. There’s a HUGE difference between authentic Chinese food and Americanized Chinese food. It’s like saying if white people don’t eat burgers and fries everyday then what do they eat?

  • 15 juicy couture // Jan 16, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    @First gen Asian in US,
    You, my friend, ROCK! I found just the information I already searched everywhere and just couldn’t find.

  • 16 trulyasian // Apr 22, 2011 at 9:35 am

    i somehow disagree in this article too… asians have different culture and it’s hard to lay it down. In this case, the writer is vietnamese so i guess that’s how it is with them. I’m Filipino with Chinese influences too but we do make fried rice from fresh cooked rice. We prefer our rice anytime. I remember going to Vietnam and our viet tour guide brought us to a good pho resto, you know how pho (noodles) is big there right? although the pho is good, my friends an I ended up looking for a another resto with rice. It just felt empty not eating rice :p

    but then yes, on special gatherings you eat the most “expensive” because you dont normally get to have that at home. It’s like when dining out, you order what you dont normally serve at home :)

    and there’s no such thing as fast food in asia, so i dont get that chinese fast foo comment too. that’s too western

  • 17 ilovehorseyrides // Jun 9, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    My family complains that buffets are terrible and too pricey… and they avoid them because they don’t eat much (especially in Vegas)

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