Authentic Chinese food is underrated

Is it Racist to Offer “Clean” Chinese Food?

Arielle Haspel's life looks pretty perfect on Instagram. Weekend visits to the Hamptons, yoga lessons in the chic big city studio, selfies with the cute daughter and countless photos of homemade dishes consisting mainly of vegetables.

The New Yorker knows a lot about food: Haspel is a nutritionist and has set up a company called “Be well with Arielle”, which offers recipes, video tutorials and coaching on the subject of healthy eating. “Clean eating” is her thing - and also the focus of her first restaurant, which Haspel opened in New York's Greenwich Village district at the beginning of April.

That would be nothing special in itself. In New York you can find countless juice bars and salad chains, whether burritos or burgers, everything can also be found here in the vegan or gluten-free version. But Haspel was missing something very specific: a “healthy” Chinese restaurant. So she opened one herself with “Lucky Lee's”. A restaurant where the food is neither “too salty” nor “too oily” and where the Lo Mein would not cause a “bloated stomach”, as she wrote on Instagram (the post has since been deleted).

But tastes are known to be different. What followed less than a day after the opening was a shit storm on Twitter and Instagram, angry comments and insults reached the entrepreneur, who in the eyes of the community dared to pose as a privileged white woman over the kitchen of a country from which she herself does not originate. The restaurant review site Yelp registered so many entries on the profile of "Lucky Lee's" that the comment function has been blocked to this day.

Users accused the restaurant owner of racism. By promising "clean" or healthy Chinese food, she implied that it was fundamentally harmful and bad for the body. Some also got excited about racist (and now distant) word games in the restaurant or on the menu such as “Wok in, Take out” and “Hi-Lo Mein” - the latter suggests that Haspel's version of the popular noodle dish is the Chinese classic be superior. And the name of the restaurant, which is inspired by Haspel's non-Chinese husband Lee, alludes to stereotypes.

Sounds like a lot of drama about a restaurant that, like many other restaurants, wants to offer already existing dishes in "healthier" versions - according to the menu, they do without peanuts, cashews, gluten, corn, dairy products, wheat, white sugar, flavor enhancers and genetically modified foods. She never intended to sound arrogant or arrogant, says Arielle Haspel. "Because of my job, I constantly change recipes across all types of cuisine," says the entrepreneur. “We just wanted to offer delicious food that makes you feel good. Some people have food intolerances, and we want to give them access to this type of cuisine too. "

She has been careful: The word “clean” has been deliberately left out on the awning and the restaurant sign, for example. But “Lucky Lee's” has made a now well-known mistake, the consequences of which others have had to endure in the recent past. Dolce & Gabbana pissed off their Chinese customers with a video showing an Asian model clumsily trying to eat pasta with chopsticks. Gucci has been criticized for showing off a Sikh-inspired turban on the catwalk.

With “cultural appropriation”, that is, the appropriation of special traditions or forms of expression from foreign cultures, one makes a faux pas these days, for which one is reprimanded fairly quickly on the Internet. Even more so if you have not included a representative of the culture that you “appreciate” in your project.

Haspel says that in the four years that she and her husband worked out the concept of "Lucky Lee's," they introduced it to thousands of people, including Americans of Chinese descent. “They understood the concept and they liked it.” However, the unsuccessful play on words suggests that Haspel failed to intensively involve a consultant with experience of the peculiarities of Chinese cuisine and culture.

But there is no lack of Asian references in their restaurant. The walls and employee T-shirts are jade green, candlesticks and chairs are made of rattan, and a picture of a lotus flower hangs on the wall. The palm motifs on the wall are designs by Haspel's late grandmother, who studied design as a young woman in New York, as are the patterns on the seat cushions. On a normal weekday, the restaurant is full at lunchtime, and some guests pick up their ordered food to take away.

Haspel says that the shared love of Chinese cuisine inspired her and her husband to create “Lucky Lee's”. The menu includes classics such as dumplings, the dough of which is millet flour, chicken with broccoli (with meat from the field chicken), shrimps in sweet and sour sauce and fried “cauliflower” rice with egg, as well as dishes such as Genetal Tso‘s Chicken. The latter traditionally consists of fried, sweet chicken, and is rated more as a “westernized” Chinese dish - Chinese immigrants were just creating versions of their home dishes in New York that were adapted to Western tastes.

Haspel, so another allegation, does not deal with authentic Chinese cuisine at all, but with the American, i.e. unhealthy version of it - what Haspel himself admitted, after all, the young New Yorker grew up with dishes like General Tso's Chicken . Their version is breaded with a gluten-free flour mixture, baked in the oven and sweetened with a sweet and sour sauce made from tamari, chilli and coconut nectar. “We never intended to replace authentic Chinese food. What we do is something completely different because we believe that you can vary things and mix different cultures. "

She just wanted to show that healthy eating does not have to be a joyless affair. And indeed, Haspel's Tso Chicken tastes juicy and pleasantly spicy, the coconut rice is pearly but not hard, only the vegetables could use a longer cooking time. Nevertheless: whether “real” Chinese food is oily or not, whether flavor enhancers are harmful or not, the founder has lost herself in cultural clichés with the concept of her restaurant.