By MICHELLE HUANG
In Downtown LA, various restaurants selling sushi, spring rolls and Korean BBQ line the streets of Little Tokyo, Chinatown and Koreatown, respectively. These are just a few of the examples of stereotypes set upon countries by foreigners.
Often, in the eyes of ignorant outsiders, the characteristics of a country are largely confined into just a few simple foods or objects from the region, creating stereotypes. These representations of entire countries, and even continents, seem unfair to the area’s culture and diverse cuisine.
As a result of people’s lack of experience in areas that are not their homeland, foods and cultures of a region are often underrepresented in places outside of the portrayed area.
One widely known area where such stereotypes are prevalent is Downtown Los Angeles, where restaurants screaming “diversity” attract millions of people, including tourists and locals to the city. However, these people often feel a sense of disappointment when realizing that the “exotic” food that they felt that they had the privilege of tasting in Downtown LA were actually a very limited and inaccurate representation of the countries that the food came from.
In fact, everything at these non-authentic restaurants is different from the actual experience in the country, from the environment to the food. For example, in America, when families say they are ordering “Chinese” for the night, they usually are referring more to the specific restaurant that they are ordering from, than to the food selections they are making at the restaurant, because there are only a number of Chinese restaurants in the area. On the other hand, these restaurants are obviously plentiful in the actual country, which means that people eating a Chinese-based meal are not concentrated into only one building, because of the variety of selections.
In addition, when people arrive at an authentic restaurant and begin to decide on which dishes to order, they will see that these genuine places offer a much broader choice of selections than any of the selections that restaurants outside of the country offer. Thus, a simple menu from a Panda Express or a box of California Rolls simply cannot represent an entire country’s cuisine.
For instance, when Korea is mentioned to someone who has never visited the country before, they will most likely automatically think of Korean BBQ or Bulgogi, but not even acknowledge more of the country’s local foods, such as Hangover Stew (Haejangguk) and Korean Ox Bone Soup (Seolleongtang), both dishes that are equally tasty.
In addition, a similar representation of China is seen through the eyes of outsiders’ restaurants. For example, eateries such as Panda Express serve stereotypical “Chinese” foods while leaving out many delicious cuisines of the country’s local areas. For instance, people often think of Chinese food simply as a bowl of chow mein, chow fun with kung pao chicken or spring rolls. However, Chinese food is obviously not so limited, although these dishes are indeed among hundreds of amazing dishes.
These dishes that are left out, such as Spicy Cumin Lamb Skewers (Yangrouchuan), Red Braised Pork Belly (hong shao rou) and Pan-Fried Pork Soup Bun (Sheng jian man tou), are often enjoyed by local residents of China’s many provinces, while those living outside of the country remain limited in their choices of cuisine.
Such an understatement of the true exotic foods in the local areas of the regions from which these foods are accordingly originated leaves tourists scorning at the restaurants for their close-mindedness towards these people’s hometowns. In trying to “broaden horizons” by exposing their customers to “local cuisines,” restaurants are actually selling false information to its gullible customers: many believe that if they eat at a region-influenced restaurant, they are getting a perfectly accurate experience and taste of the area’s way of life. However, this is far from the truth.
In trying to quantify a region’s diverse offerings, much of the culture and traditional foods are left out of the equation, leaving foreigners to have an unfairly narrow view of a country’s culture. Thus, it is crucial that those eating in restaurants simply trying to mimic tastes of a region know that there is so much more to the foods and traditions than what they are experiencing. This way, unfair generalizations are avoided, allowing people to have an open mind to travel and experience new cultures.