When did ethnic foods become "so expensive"?

Chef Minh’s perspective on the cost of her porridge:

On the problem of porridge prices, at least for aggressive self-hating Yelpers: “ We get a lot of self-hating racists. They don’t think we deserve it. ‘This porridge is so expensive!,’ they say. ‘Porridge should not be so expensive,’ they say, but all our research shows our prices are a great value. With the ingredients we use, the margins are just tiny. If I call this a risotto (and our stuff is pound for pound more expensive than arborio rice), we could charge three times more and no one would care. We get a lot of self-hating racist Asian Yelpers.”

it’s no surprise that other asians are her worst critics.

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ugh hate when people play the race card where it doesn’t belong. An asian saying porridge is expensive does not make them a racist.

Agreed that’s a pretty hyperbolic statement.

But I would also agree wth chef Minh that changing how immigrants and 1st generation Asian Americans perceive the value/pricing of their own cuisine is an important talking point.

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TBH she should just start calling it asian risotto and charge 3x the price.

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Isn’t that what Mr. Chow did dumplings (calling them Middle-Kingdom Ravioli)? I never had them, so I have no idea how they tasted.

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There seems to be this puzzling phenomenon with these young chef’s “elevating” the classics; they seem oblivious to econ 101 of the market supply for their offerings. If someone can get a comparable or better product at a lower cost in SGV… doink… its overpriced… no? Unless someone wants to pay the markup for dining in a hipster locale. Most of the time I find they frankly haven’t mastered the basics or their exposure to this food is based on an inferior US benchmark and not to say what’s available in HK or China… just seems very high falutin and pompous.

Here’s an interesting post from a NYC chef who recently relocated to LA

that’s exactly why she needs to call it risotto and not porridge, so people can compare against $30 risotto and not $6 jook.

Interestingly in NYC, the cheap stuff in Chinatown is quite awful (OG chefs have retired) and one actually has to pay more $ for decent Chinese food outside the boundaries of Chinatown.

In LA on the other hand, the cheap stuff is often superior to the expensive places. These young 'uns are going to continue to face these headwinds unless SGV’s food quality begins to deteriorate or they can truly offer something superior to SGV. Or as @Ns1 suggests, reposition the product.

I agree with all you’re saying here, but there’s kind of a dark underbelly to a lot of the cheap prices you can find in LA. For example, this article summarizes settlements with various cheap, good Thai restaurants for paying their employees well below the minimum wage. A lot of these young chefs are trying to have workplaces where their employees make some kind of decent living–it is hard to do when a lot of your “competition” is charging cheap prices enabled by paying rock bottom wages.

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If that’s not the position the proprietors want to be in, then they need to position themselves in a manner where they are not competing in the race to the bottom.

My 2 cents, in Asia at least. A career in food was rarely glamorous or path to riches and these vendors/restaurateurs are rarely rolling in Benz’s and flying around the world for vacations etc etc.

Perhaps the glorification of chefs in the last couple of decades has created this perception of entitlement…

I agree but isn’t the way to do that to pay your employees a good wage, and price your products accordingly? What else are you supposed to do if other competitors in your space are paying slave wages to charge $6 for a plate of noodles? I think all you can do is reposition your product and brand it as something different. What do we really think the non-family member employees at many SGV places where everything is incredibly cheap are really making? Or would we prefer to not know.

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Sure, but this seems like a non-sequitur when you have a top Thai town place paying employees $3 an hour.

Ouch $3 is really bad.

Yeah. Here’s another one.

Having said all this, I think her comment about self-hating racists is totally overblown and silly. It’s all a legitimate debate to have.

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Charge $25, call it asian spaghetti, and yell profanities at people who disagree with the pricing (aka the Baohaus model).

Great discussion everyone. I think as we’ve talked about on the boards before, of all the Asian cuisines, Japanese cuisine is the one that has broken through the barrier of “has to be cheap or else it’s overpriced” bias / stigma. It seems people have no problem paying $20+ for a bowl of Ramen noodles (@beefnoguy can name so many places like that), but for amazing Bun Bo Hue (Central Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)? If it’s over $8.75 everyone will be complaining (from native Vietnamese families to the hamsters and everyone inbetween) (see previous discussion with @hppzz @attran99 @Ns1).

The only other segment of Asian cuisine that’s somewhat acceptable to pay more is Hong Kong Live Seafood (or at Newport as well):

I’ve seen Non-Asians and Asians alike gladly pay for Live King Crab ($60 - $100 / pound, with the King Crab being 10 - 14 pounds in size), that’s clearly big bucks, or Live Crab, Lobster, Spot Prawns, quality Fish (Not Tilapia). But otherwise, there still is this barrier that exists with most Asian cuisines in L.A. unfortunately. Will it change? You hope so. Will places like Kato and Nightshade help that conversation?

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glorification and entitlement would be the least of her desires. if you listen to Taste podcast she basically slept at the restaurant on a cot for two months to make things work–so she can pay her staff a living wage. She’s paid her dues working in some of the best kitchens and doing pop ups for years. Their recent instagram posts just says their goal is just to be accepted as a neighborhood restaurant.

@Haeldaur is absolutely right on. calling pple racists is going overboard, but her point and desire for a level playing field is none-the-less valid.

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there is an essay in We All Eat the Same edited by Chris Ying of former Lucky Peach that discuss this topic…when does ethnic cuisine no long considered ethnic? One of his examples was Italian food…back when italian immigrants were viewed with disdain and their food considered ethnic, ergo, cheap and dirty. He argues that it wasn’t until the 1990’s that the italian cuisine broke through that barrier–by offering high end high quality restaurants and subspecialized regional restaurants did it break through.

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My perspective on breaking the price barrier based on personal experience living in NYC for an extended period. My general objective dining out is to seek out the best of whatever category I’ve chosen for the evening. The default for Chinese initially was to logically to seek out the offerings in Chinatown and Flushing. After a few months (& bouts of food poisoning) I concluded that even though it was cheap, for the most part the food was quite awful. Eventually after much trial and error I begrudgingly pay ~$15+ for a bowl of pho, ramen, beef noodle etc. these days. Why? Because even though there are cheaper alternatives the more expensive outlets truly offer a superior product within the confines of NYC.

So the answer in LA I think … unless these upstarts and young 'uns can truly offer something superior to what you’d find in the ethnic enclaves - there really isn’t a logical rationale to pay more… unless one has surplus resources to solve social inequalities. QPR prevails for cheap bastards like me.

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