Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The ABCs of Chinese Food

Los Angeles County uses a letter-grade system to alert the public to "healthy" and "unhealthy" food. Some patrons were surprised to see poor marks for their favorite eateries when this system began a few years back (i.e., my beloved taco trucks - but that's another post), and the more squeamish foodies still check out the grade before trying a new place.

So today I was amused to read a Column One article in the LA Times on Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley which highlighted some of the cultural conflicts between Western-scientific frames of health and cuisine, with centuries-old traditions:

The county does not categorize restaurants by their cuisine. But, anecdotally, officials have long believed that Chinese restaurants elude A grades at a rate greater than any other type of restaurant. Consider this: 80% of the county's eateries have an A. So why is it so hard to find an authentic Chinese restaurant with anything other than a B or C?

Chinese restaurateurs argue that their kitchens simply use too many ingredients and too many cooking techniques to comply with the all the rules of health inspectors like Chiu.

They say inspectors are overly strict and that a perfect score is tantamount to destroying the flavor of their food. If a roast duck were kept at the temperature the county wants it at all times, for example, chefs say you'd be left with duck jerky, not the succulent flesh and crispy skin diners expect.

And if diners were getting sick, restaurant owners say, they wouldn't be coming to eat in such large numbers.

"We've been cooking like this for 5,000 years," said Harvey Ng, owner of Mission 261 in San Gabriel. "Why do we have a problem now?"

As for me? An old anthropological adage goes, "If it hasn't killed off an entire culture, it's good enough to eat."


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