New York City: Solving The Mystery Of The Double Chinese Menu

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WNYC reporter Arun Venugopal is on the quest to document New York City "street life, night lift, sex, class, ethnicity and...cats" through his thoughtful Micropolis series on NYC's public radio affiliate. His latest piece caught our attention because, first, it's a deep-dig investigating NYC's Chinese restaurant culture, which is a topic we're never reading enough about. (One of his sources is Andrew Coe, the author of Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States, which is a great book and worth picking up.)

The piece investigates the concept of "double menus" — the common practice of offering both an English and non-English side of the menu, with one catering more to the native tongue. Well, palate at least. The conclusion, as expected, is not that simple. Wendy Chan — author of New Asian Cuisine — points out that it's a matter of time economy. The logic being that the "non-Chinese" menu is edited down so explanations are not required, which takes up too much time. Joe DiStefano, a longtime Queens food anthropologist (my term, not his) who recently launched the cool new Chopsticks and Marrow, fights the concept, calling it a "mediated or watered-down experience for the non-Chinese diner."

Hopefully, thanks to guys like Andy Ricker and Danny Bowein, the restaurateurs operating along Mott Street and in Flushing will see that Asian cuisine is really starting to have a moment. More and more adventurous eaters are following the advice of guys like DiStefano and making the pilgrimage to eat things like "chives with fly heads"—which the WNYC reporter takes quite the shine to (and which does not actually involve eating fly heads).

You can listen to the entire segment here: