‘C’ For ‘Chinese’…

Via The L.A. Times:

…in the San Gabriel Valley, home to the nation’s largest Chinese American community, the [restaurant] letter-grade system is often viewed as little more than a minor intrusion on a proud cuisine ó if diners consider it at all. …

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…

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.

Indeed, when I mentioned this article last Friday to a Chinese colleague who used to work at a Chinese restaurant, he agreed.

And in the late 1990s, when I was working at a building in Westwood, I regularly ate at a Mongolian BBQ restaurant that received a “C” letter grade and never got sick from eating there.

Which isn’t to say that one can’t get sick from eating Chinese food, but it’s never happened to me thus far. So I’m curious if the connoiseurs of Chinese food out there don’t mind eating at a Chinese restaurant that has a “C?”

UPDATE: Here’s an update.

10 thoughts on “‘C’ For ‘Chinese’…”

  1. I became a connoiseur of authentic Chinese food while in China, and there are two points to make. 1 – It’s really hard to find seriously authentic Chinese food here (though easier in CA than elsewhere I imagine), in part because some of the spices (like the Sichuan “ma la”) aren’t technically covered/allowed by the FDA. 2 – Most of the “laowai” I knew in China also ate street-cooked food and in dirty-holes-in-the-wall and very rarely got ill. I doubt any of those places would get even a “C” rating, but there was nothing to fear, and the food was assuredly better than 95% of our “A” rated Chinese restaurants.

  2. The only kind of “C” restaurant I’ll eat at is at a Chinese one. Changston is right, a “C” restaurant can’t be any worse than something you might eat from a street vendor in Asia.

  3. I’ve had no qualms about eating at places with a B designation but the doctrine of paranoia has instilled fear enough in me to avoid places with grades below that. I can understand what’s being said about different cooking techniques leading to different standards of acceptance in different parts of the world but then how do I distinguish between a place simply practicing ethnic and clean cooking practices and some place bordering on plain unsanitary?

    I’d like to be able to enjoy a meal prepared to the standards of taste and succulence of its country of origin but without running the risk of food poisoning. So, what’s the recourse?

  4. I think the problem with a B or C grade in some cases is not the quality of food storage and temperature, it’s the vermin and cock roaches that invade the restaurants that bothers me.

  5. I have been eating at Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley my entire life, and have never gotten sick once from them. My favorite restaurant in the SGV has had a B as long as I’ve been going there. The place is always very clean, and the food is always excellent.

    The explanation that there are cultural practices which don’t fit the A rating works for me.

    However, a B is the lowest I will go. C or less, forget it.

  6. some of my friends wont take a chinese restaurant seriously if it has an A rating. the lower the rating, the higher the flavor, ;)

  7. When they first implemented the grading system, I read an article talking about how one of the faults was that it was culturally biased against Chinese and Southeast Asian restaurants. For example, they said that Chinese restaurants prefer to hang their poultry which is not necessarily unhealthy, but is against our health code. I don’t remember all of the details, but that’s the gist was that you could expect to see a large number of B’s and C’s in Chinese and Thai restaurants. Don’t know how true any of that is, but it makes me feel better.

  8. I guess I have no qualms eating at a “C” joint. They’re so rare that when they do show up, I usually laugh and wonder what the hell they did to deserve it. I’ve eaten dimsum at C joints, enjoyed every bite and never got sick. 5000! brings up an interesting point re: hanging poultry above – I’m wondering what the Koreans are doing to merit so very many Bs themselves, as they don’t usually serve a lot of poultry.

    Places like oki-dog and apple pan though … you have to wonder. Both recently got upgraded; oki to a B and applepan all the way back up to an A. Regardless of grade, sometimes those are the kinds of shacks you just have to belly up to and say ‘fuck it, it’s time to eat here. now.’

  9. It could be that the Chinese restaurants simply don’t bother trying to make their kitchens extra-clean and tidy when the health inspector comes around. Most (non-Chinese) restaurants operate day-to-day at around a C level anyway.

    I’ve eaten at B and C Chinese and Indian restaurants, and never had a problem. I’ve also gotten sick from eating at an A restaurant (although I suspect the problem was in the preparation). I don’t really pay attention to those ratings.

  10. re: “make their kitchens extra-clean and tidy when the health inspector comes around” … I don’t think it works that way. At my last job I spoke with the guy who ran the lunch counter while he was being graded. He was pacing around nervously outside the joint. Apparently restaurants aren’t given advance warning of the grading day, so they’re graded fairly on their day-to-day operation. At best they can probably guess as to a window of dates when they will be reviewed.

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