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Why call it "Seafood Restaurant?"
April 4, 2014 6:13 AM   Subscribe

Why do some Chinese restaurants have names ending in "Seafood Restaurant" when most of their menu is not seafood? I've found this most often in North American Chinatown areas with menus and signage in Chinese characters. Is "seafood restaurant" an incomplete translation of something Chinese or describes some particular culinary tradition, the same way a "steakhouse" describes a kind of restaurant where I have a good idea of what kind of non-steak foods to expect? Anywhere I can read up on what that tradition is? Or are they simply trying to advertise that they are particularly good at seafood?
posted by grouse to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm a little curious about this too, there's a place I go that advertises itself as a seafood restaurant but is mostly just a dim sum type place. So I don't have an answer but I've seen the same thing too.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:40 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


They specialize in certain seafood menu items. Most gwai lo/gringos would never be presented with those options (they are usually included in the mandarin/cantonese menu).
posted by Kruger5 at 7:45 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


This is a local (to me, in San Diego, CA) seafood place - while they still have most of the standards found in a generic US seafood restaurant, their selection of seafood has a bit more variety than what you'd find in a non-"seafood" place. Most regular Chinese places have a couple variations on shrimp or scallops, but not much more than that (another local menu for comparison).
posted by LionIndex at 7:54 AM on April 4


You will doubtlessly get a better answer than this, but the Chinese restaurants I frequent that bill themselves as a "seafood restaurant" always have tanks of live seafood available.
posted by eschatfische at 7:58 AM on April 4 [9 favorites]


Yup, I agree with the answer above, it's the inclusion of live tanks that the term Seafood Restaurant denotes. It also denotes a higher standard of service than a restaurant without the term. More of a fine dining experience rather than a casual quick and easy joint.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:19 AM on April 4


I'm one to order off the "other menu" in Chinese places and Seafood Restaurant means that they specialize in particular seafood dishes. One of our haunts asked me to translate some of the traditional dishes offered into English for the "regular menu' and most were the specialty seafood dishes.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:49 AM on April 4


I wouldn't read too much into it actually. Often Chinese restaurants will change owners/menus but will not change their signage. Maybe at some point they served more kinds of seafood than they currently do, but didn't want to invest in a new sign.

Also, the cultural attitude towards most things, including signage, in China is that as long as it's functional (i.e. customers are coming in) it doesn't have to be entirely correct/perfect.
posted by banishedimmortal at 8:53 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


For the record, there's not "another" menu offered to Asians, there's a fresh sheet or list of specials, but it's not a secret. Ask your server whats good and you'll be steered towards dishes on the fresh sheet.

There is no commercial enterprise (with the exception of telcos and cable providers) that willfully do not offer their best goods to all customers. It's not a secret, just ask. Open a dialogue with your server, they'll be thrilled you care enough to ask, and the establishment will think you a savvy diner.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:56 AM on April 4 [5 favorites]


My favorite restaurant in Houston has 2 menus. Both have lists of dishes in English, Mandarin, and Vietnamese. One is laminated, about 8 pages long, and has big pictures of the dishes. The other comes in a leather-bound book cover and has about 20 pages with no pictures or laminate. You can choose either menu, but they do give the book to Asians and the laminated one to non-Asians by default. This is not unusual here, at least:
- A briefer menu (sometimes called the English menu although usually it has at least 3 languages on it) offers "greatest hits"
- The longer one has more specialty items, usually in the same languages but sometimes with no English
- What is usually a single piece of paper printed out and either handed out or posted on a wall has the "catch of the day" and "special of the day." This seems to almost always be in the primary language for the restaurant.

It's always OK to order from either menu, though.
posted by Houstonian at 10:08 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


I remember asking my mother this when I was 4 or 5 (just starting to be able to read the signs outside the restaurants we always went to!). Her response was that seafood was generally a more "high class" food -- think abalone, shark fin, geoduck, king crab etc. -- and by "Seafood Restaurant" they wanted to advertise that they were, in fact, a high-class joint.
posted by btfreek at 11:53 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


My guess is that the seafood restaurants that you see are run by/influenced by immigrants from Hong Kong, where seafood is a big part of the cuisine and where (at least with my parents' generation, not sure if it's still the case), some of what were considered the top-tier restaurants in Hong Kong were focused on seafood, analogous to your steakhouse example.

Here in the US, the word seafood in their name and the fish tanks in the restaurant (as eschatfische mentions) translates more to restaurant owners looking to attract Chinese and specifically Hong Kong customers. It's a way to signal that they'll find "authentic", familiar seafood dishes.

Of course, a lot of this has to do with immigration trends. Until somewhat recently (maybe the last 15 years?), a lot of Chinese immigrants were from Hong Kong (or Taiwan), as opposed to China PRC, due to the more permissive British governance. With more and more immigrants coming from China PRC, you're starting to see restaurants focusing on other regional specialties (Sichuan, Xi'an, etc).
posted by comradechu at 11:56 AM on April 4 [3 favorites]


"For the record, there's not "another" menu offered to Asians, there's a fresh sheet or list of specials, but it's not a secret. Ask your server whats good and you'll be steered towards dishes on the fresh sheet.

There is no commercial enterprise (with the exception of telcos and cable providers) that willfully do not offer their best goods to all customers. It's not a secret, just ask. Open a dialogue with your server, they'll be thrilled you care enough to ask, and the establishment will think you a savvy diner.
"

In LA, there are plenty of Thai joints where you specifically have to ask for the other menu — usually, it's regional cuisine. It's not just "specials," and if you ask for that, you'll get blank looks.
posted by klangklangston at 2:44 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


"Seafood" is definitely shorthand for "high-class" for a lot of restaurants, and the live seafood tanks are also bog standard for a certain level of place.

And I totally disagree with the comment above about second menus. Depending on where you are, there are definitely menus that never get pulled out for non-Asians. This sometimes leads to awkwardness when you are Asian (like me), but only speak English. In general, the "secret" menu isn't hiding anything; it just has daily specials or more regional dishes that don't typically attract the average American. Servers sometimes aren't equipped to deal with requests for access to this other menu, either because of limited language skills or just not knowing how to deal with the cultural gap of "curious" Americans, so I wouldn't take it personally, although I should admit that English-speaking customers are something of a rarity in the places I grew up frequenting.

Also, to address the first answer, it may also be worth pointing out that "dim sum" is almost always a brunch thing, so the "seafood" place where you've never had seafood may have a totally different and extensive menu at night you've never ordered from.
posted by Diagonalize at 3:45 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


"For the record, there's not "another" menu offered to Asians, there's a fresh sheet or list of specials, but it's not a secret. Ask your server whats good and you'll be steered towards dishes on the fresh sheet.

There is no commercial enterprise (with the exception of telcos and cable providers) that willfully do not offer their best goods to all customers. It's not a secret, just ask. Open a dialogue with your server, they'll be thrilled you care enough to ask, and the establishment will think you a savvy diner.


In certain restaurants, particularly ones where the kitchen prides itself on making authentic food but is located in an area where most of the restaurant-going population is not adventurous, there is totally another menu offered to Asians. In fact, at those restaurants, even though I'm ethnically Chinese, I don't always get offered the Chinese language menu on walking in even though I'm ethnically Chinese -- I'm pretty clearly American-born, and I usually show up at restaurants with my motley and majority non-Asian friends.

On the other hand, if you want to try new and awesome stuff, you should totally ask if they have a Chinese-language menu that they can talk to you about. (I say Chinese language, because as other people have mentioned, 99% of all Chinese "seafood restaurants" serve Cantonese food.) Generally, Chinese people really enjoy talking about food, and there is every chance that the chef will be like !!!!!!!!! FINALLY A CHANCE TO MAKE SOMETHING BESIDES PEPPER STEAK.

Just be prepared to 1) pay more than on the English menu because the dishes will be family-sized and may involve expensive ingredients, 2) get upsold towards the more expensive ingredients on the menu because everybody's gotta make a dollar, 3) a little bit of initial guff if you need a lot of help, especially if they're busy and can't spare someone to walk you through the Chinese-language menu, and 4) possibly deal with a couple rounds of ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO EAT THAT????? followed by miming and/or your waiter, if not a confident English speaker, going back to the kitchen to get the headphone-wearing American-born kid doing homework in the back, just so that you're 100% clear that you're going to be getting fish maws.

Happy adventuring!
posted by joyceanmachine at 4:02 PM on April 4


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