In 2004 I backpacked through Eastern Europe for 3 or 4 months, from Prague to Istanbul. As most tourists to foreign cultures can attest, sometimes you get tired of “foreign.” Every once in a while, you just want to do something that’s familiar so that you can take a break from experiencing something new. Seriously; all the excitement can actually wear you out. And sleeping doesn’t count as rest in this case because your subconscious mind at that point is recalibrating all your foreign experiences of the day.
So yeah, I love Eastern European food. Polish food, Czech food, Hungarian food, Croatian food, Bosnian food, the Serbian food I had wasn’t that good but, Bulgarian food… it’s all good and different and yummy. And also I love their beer and liqueurs. And so many different ways to prepare cabbage. Genius.
But I arrived at this point of wanting a break from new food one afternoon in Krakow. I just didn’t want what I ordered off the menu to be a surprise or a game of charades. Obviously McDonald’s was out of the question. Cha– majorly tacky thing to do while in Foreign, though BK is sometimes okay. Besides, there weren’t any around and US fast food is actually relatively expensive overseas (it’s treated like real restaurants…)
So anyway my stomach was grumbling, and I was kind of staggering around from hunger in this weird industrial section looking for something that wouldn’t be a communication struggle or a Frenchbread pizza with ketchup on it (zapiekanka, which I still can’t pronounce either).
I passed a Chinese restaurant. And the menu in the window was in Chinese. Sort of. Polish Chinese. The point is I knew what the words meant. It was spelled a little differently, but I knew what a “vontun” was. And the menu had pictures on it. Of egg rolls and lo mein.
So from then on I learned that if I wanted a meal that wasn’t a cultural novelty to me, I could just look for a Chinese restaurant. And in fact find it, easily. From a large city like Budapest to quaint Veliko Târnovo, Bulgaria, there are Chinese restaurants. I ate at them.
Which made me realize, there are Chinese people in those places, too. Where there are Chinese restaurants there are Chinese immigrants. If there are Chinese restaurants in Kazakhstan and Camaroon, which I’m betting there are, then that means Chinese people have immigrated to those places.
Think about this: the number of mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants vs the number of McDonalds there must be in the world.
Here is the Chinese Restaurant Worldwide Documentation Project group on Flickr. “Worldwide” meaning everywhere except China and Taiwan.
I was stoked when the Chinese restaurant Kung-Fu Bing opened in New York’s Chinatown. Because that restaurant is not an immigrant restaurant. It is actually a fast food restaurant that is a popular chain in China. The Chinatown branch was the first to open in the US. Will Kung Fu Bing soon give McDonald’s imperialism a run for its money?