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Judy Hedding

What's Up With Chinese Restaurants?

By August 5, 2005

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Earlier this week I asked you all why you thought that Chinese restaurants seem to occupy more spots on the lists of restaurants with many violations that are inspected by the Health Department (Department of Environmental Services). I got two very articulate responses....

The first came from Jim:

In my extensive experience I have observed the following in Chinese restaurants:
1. They have about a million different menu items necessitating storing all the necessary ingredients. This means there are too many items to move to clean effectively on a regular basis.
2. They cook with a lot of grease and oil. The hot woks cause grease and oil to stain walls, ceilings, clog hood systems and ducts. Grease attracts cockroaches and other vermin.
3. Often there is a language barrier making communication very difficult between the inspector and kitchen staff.
4. For whatever reasons, operators of Chinese restaurants resist changing their methods even when it is explained to them that Health Codes require such changes to prevent foodborne illness. You get them to correct a significant violation such as thawing 60 chickens overnight in galvanized tubs on the floor of the restaurant, leave and come back six months later on the normal inspection schedule and they are thawing 60 chickens in galvanized tubs on the floor again.

Inspecting Chinese restaurants is not easy. Before going in the inspector often gets butterflies in his/her stomach and has to brace himself. You find yourself liking the operators, but at the same time wanting to burn down their restaurant.

Well, you asked.
20 years experience as a Health Inspector

The second response came from Susan:

Hi Judy!

Have you ever been to China? Although I've never thought about the question you posed, I can easily extrapolate the answer.

I once visited a restaurant outside of Canton (Guangzhou), China that dated back to the early 1900's. It had clearly been a gem in its heyday. Although the gardens & statuary were well maintained, the once flowing water-ways were dry. It was still known for exceptional cuisine...

It was hot that September. I was seated at a table just outside the unisex bathroom, which was really just a hole in the floor. I'm sure it hadn't been cleaned in a very long time, and it stunk. Flies? Lots, and not just in the bathroom. They were all over the place. The tablecloth had been used for several days. Yes, I ate, or the host would have been offended. No, I didn't get sick.

I'm sure that in the restaurants of China that now cater to the tourist dollar are now fairly clean, but not to American standards. China is a country where people shop for food daily because refrigeration is not widespread in homes.

I traveled around the world as a poor student, eating at roadside noodle stands in Malaysia, sharing finger-fulls of couscous with a local in Morocco, and the food of a villager in a wattle & daub (mud) hut in Senegal. Curiously, the only place I became ill was at a beautifully clean upscale hotel in Kenya where they were serving a proper English buffet.

Why are Chinese restaurants notoriously dirty? Cooking is a messy job when it's done right, & this methodology has worked for a very long time for a billion of the earths' people. Old habits die hard.


Interesting! Thanks to both of you for your opinions.

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