The Eurasian Chinese restaurant experience.

January 20th, 2015, 5pm

It was -8°C with few clouds. The breeze was gentle.

Growing up, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by my choice of Chinese restaurants. Given that I grew up in Mississauga (which is not known for making things pretty or distinct) they all look and seem similar but there is one, located on the outer edges of the city, which has the unusual distinction of attracting a large number of mixed Asian and white families.

I’ve never been able to figure out how this started, or even confirm if anyone outside of my brother and I has noticed it, but for years now we haven’t been able to go there without spotting at least two other mixed families. My family’s explicit rationale for going is that it has the best Chinese food in Mississauga, but that alone can’t explain why so many other families like ours have made exactly the same decision. My suspicion is that it has something to do with how they treat non-Chinese customers, which is a thing best illustrated via example.

Years ago, in my early twenties, I took a date to a different Chinese restaurant, also in Mississauga. It was one of the first times I had eaten at a Chinese restaurant without my family and I was surprised by own lack of savvy. I had entered with a list of things I wanted to eat only to be confronted by a menu that didn’t seem to have any of them. The English descriptions all seemed to be describing things I was not familiar with. Desperate, I tried using the few Cantonese words I knew but my accent was too heavy and the waiter alternated between gaping at me like I was speaking Italian and smirking. Then, at the end of the meal the final insult came: my bill arrived with two fortune cookies.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “But where is the red bean soup?”

The waiter gave me a look that was so extremely confused I faltered. A lifetime of ending my meals in Chinese restaurants with red bean soup was called into question. My impression, prior to that moment had been that non-Chinese received fortune cookies and Chinese received red bean soup or fresh fruit. But had I been wrong? I started describing red bean soup but the waiter’s face stayed frozen in a mask of befuddlement, his eyebrows pressed together, his mouth slightly open. Eventually, he did give me the soup but not before first asserting that it didn’t exist and then making it clear that I was making a strange choice.

Another time, when I arrived at a Chinese restaurant with my husband, ahead of my mother, the waiter who seated us asked, “Do you want Chinese tea?” Before I could ask him what he meant by that he had disappeared. He returned a moment later with a pot that didn’t smell like anything I was used to drinking at Chinese restaurants and didn’t give me a chance to course correct by selecting something like “chrysanthemum” or “jasmine”. Even more disturbing: when my mom did show up that same waiter promptly seized the pot of tea he had given us and replaced it with my mom’s choice.

Now, the truth is, I’ve never eaten at Summit alone, but I have shown up just slightly ahead of my family and asked for a table. It seems like a really simple thing, but they were nice to me. I know it’s a bit of a leap to suggest it but what if that’s how they treat all the mixed families and mixed kids? What if they don’t treat them differently than they do their pure Chinese clientele? That might go a long way to explaining the demographic make up of their customers.

(Reading this, I feel as though I am painting Chinese restaurants in a negative light, when I do understand why they might act the way they do. I’ve seen my fair share of non-Chinese react really badly to Chinese food and I can’t guarantee that if I worked at a Chinese restaurant I wouldn’t try to talk a random customer out of having red bean soup.)

Max, Patricia, Daniel, Emanuel and 2 others said thanks.

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Dani Z

The hardest thing about getting older is realizing that I might, in fact, be a minor character in someone else's story. (I keep changing this bio. I'm not sure I'll ever nail it)

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