What's In A Name?

April 14, 2016
How do Chinese choose names for restaurants?  Although they change over time most of them seem to consist of a limited combination of a few terms.  Thus, Golden, Silver, Jade, Imperial, Panda, China, Hong Kong might be combined with terms like Palace, Dragon, House, City, Wok.

One empirical study by Frank Shyong and David Chan based on close to 7,000 restaurant names gathered from several decades confirmed this impression as they found a high repetitiveness of Chinese restaurant names.

Why?  The authors speculate:  "But perhaps the repetition in naming says more about us than it does about Chinese restaurateurs. Chinese restaurants have to use English words that the average American can associate with Chinese food or culture. .. Perhaps the monotony in Chinese restaurant naming just reflects how impoverished the knowledge of Chinese culture is here.

 This redundancy among names has led to several  "automated restaurant name generators"  such as the one by on the website of  a U.K. supermarket, Wai Yee Hong.

        In addition to selecting a name, a decision must be made about whether to use Chinese or English on the  restaurant signage.  Should they use only Chinese characters,  Chinese names transliterated into English spelling based on how the Chinese name sounds, or only English words,  The graph below shows how there was a shift from over a century from Chinese names to western names.

Another study used a consumer database from YELP to identify the 100 most common words used in Chinese restaurant names.  The results showed:

“China” and “Chinese” together appear in the names of roughly 15,000 restaurants in the database, or over one third of all restaurants.

“Express” is the next-most popular word, showing up in the names of over 3,000 restaurants. But as with “Panda” (2,495 restaurants), the numbers for “Express” are inflated by the Panda Express restaurant chain, which has over 1,500 locations.

“Wok,” another popular naming option, was represented in over 2,500 restaurant names. “Garden,” “House” and “Kitchen,” meanwhile, are the three places that appear most often in Chinese restaurant names.

Incidentally, the study also mapped the geographical location of Chinese restaurants across the country, and not surprisingly found highest concentrations on the west and east coasts.


Origin of the Chinese Restaurant Container for Leftovers?

February 13, 2016
Although it is rapidly being replaced by boring plain styrofoam or other plasticky rectangular boxes, for many years Chinese restaurants provided a distinctive trapezoidal-shaped paper 'pail' for patrons to take leftover food home.

What were the origins of this iconic object that characterized Chinese restaurants, second only to the fortune cookie?  I stumbled upon the following explanation.  In 1894 Frederick Weeks Wilcox patented containers he created by folding a single sheet of paper to ...

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Joy Young Restaurant, Augusta, Georgia

November 4, 2015

There were few Chinese restaurants in the American South until the last half of the past century.  Most Chinese in the region operated laundries and small grocery stores.   There were not enough Chinese in most cities to support a Chinese restaurant. Moreover, Chinese immigrants did not dine out at restaurants of any type but did their own cooking at home. Finally, Chinese food was initially disparaged by many nonChinese who were unacquainted with Chinese foods, and some feared that Chinese a...
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The Sun Is Setting on Mom and Pop Chinese restaurants

September 17, 2015

Mom and pop family-run Chinese restaurants across Canada, as elsewhere, are fast vanishing from the landscape and often replaced by larger and trendier partnered or chain eateries. My friend Connie Tsang, a Chinese Canadian photographer grew up in the Sunshine Restaurant of her immigrant parents in rural Ontario. She became galvanized to record the stories and images of these once ubiquitous eateries when her parents closed their restaurant a few years ago. She gave me permission to include i...
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Imperial Dynasty, China Alley, Hanford, CA.

September 4, 2015

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The Sour Side of Chinese Restaurants

August 21, 2015

A Chinese restaurant is not the easiest way to earn a living.  Patrons enjoy their meals, but know little about the difficult and demanding work over long hours each day that restaurant owners and workers endure.

The Sour Side of Chinese Restaurants is an article I published in Chinese American Forum to provide an overview of these aspects of this business based on news articles, oral histories, and research studies.  Here are several examples of the 'sour side' of runn...

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The Chop Suey Mystique

December 1, 2014
Chop Suey: Its Rise and Fall

In 1898, China Viceroy Li Huang Chang came to the U. S. on a diplomatic mission.  In New York and Philadelphia  he was feted and  large crowds welcomed him like a conquering hero.  It was during this trip that the story that one evening the diplomat wanted Chinese food instead of the typical American banquet fare.  Legend has it that a Chinese chef had to improvise since he was given short notice so he could only toss together left over vegetable cuttings from the ...

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Chinese Food For The Uninitiated Masses

November 19, 2014
In the early 20th century when there was a growing popularity of chop suey and chow mein among Americans, two enterprising University of Michigan students,Wally Smith and Ilhan New, neither of whom were Chinese, hit upon the idea of creating and mass marketing a line of prepackaged Chinese foods.  Thus,  La Choy, a coined name to generate the feeling that the foods were ‘oriental’ was born in 1922.   Wally Smith, owner of a  grocery store in Detroit  wanted to sell fresh bean sprou...

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About Me

John Jung After retiring from a 40-year career as a psychology professor, I published 4 books about Chinese immigrants that detail the history of their laundries, grocery stores, and family restaurants in the U. S. and Canada.
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