Sunday 22 November 2009

Chinese Menus

The photo above is of the 'Chinese menu' sitting proudly outside new Chinatown opening, Wanchai Corner. I can tell you it serves 'Hong Kong specialities' and amongst the delights on the menu are stir-fried pak choi and XO mixed seafood.

That's about all I can tell you as I can't read Chinese properly. I can spot a few characters but to all intents and purpose, I am illiterate. This doesn't stop waiters handing me the 'Chinese menu' as I look like I should be able to read Chinese and when I speak Cantonese, I sound like I ought to.

Truth be told, I used to be embarrassed when I was handed the 'Chinese menu' and would attempt to bluff my way out of it by ordering dishes from memory or asking the waiters for advice in a nervous way that betrayed my illiteracy. Nowadays I don't really care, I realise that there are many people in my position and if anything it's the restaurant with the problem not me.

One of my earlier posts was an attack on professional food critics for showing a lack of understanding of Chinese food. Thinking more about this, Chinese restaurateurs are also responsible for this state of affairs. Even the most authentic of eateries often steer their western punters to formulaic set menus with the intention of turning their tables around as quickly as possible.

They might justify this practice by saying that the locals don't appreciate the finer arts of Chinese cuisine. This may have been the case sometime in the last century and whilst many Brits remain unadventurous, it frustrates me that this practice still continues.

So what to do if you want to be more adventurous ? It's not practical to ask for the entire Chinese menu to be translated but you could ask for a recommendation based on your likes and dislikes. A decent restaurant should oblige but if they don't, go somewhere else, they don't deserve your custom.

There is some good news as an increasing number of authentic Chinese restaurants offer all diners the same bilingual menu. These include my regular haunts of Chilli Cool, Phoenix Palace, and Hung's and whilst I can't guarantee that the food will be better, it's a good sign that they could be arsed to translate their specials and not patronise their non-Chinese reading clientele.

The last word though goes to someone who has forgotten more about Chinese food than I’ll ever know, my Dad. He seldom looks at the Chinese menu; instead he'll interrogate the staff about the freshness of their produce before reeling off a list of dishes with advice on how he wants it served. The best thing is that I’m pretty sure some of the dishes he requests aren't on the menu !


  1. Haha i'm with you, the most USELESS person ever! i can write my name, how are you? and i love you. because clearly those will come in life-saving handy one day. But to order food?? No chance in hell. Really wished I could still read though...

  2. Catty - I also regret not being able to read Chinese but thankfully I have a good memory and can order loads of stuff in Chinese from memory.