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How to Tell You're Being "Whited" at a Restaurant and What to Do About It

phoquangtrung.JPG
Dave Lieberman
I was eating lunch at Pho Quang Trung in Garden Grove last week--a very, very good pho shop, on par with some of the best pho in our pho-crazed county--and it was jammed full of Vietnamese families out for lunch on New Year's Eve. Little Saigon was hopping in general, and it seemed like everyone had descended on this one place--a good sign of an authentic pho shop.

The problem was I could not get them to take me seriously. From the old woman who crossed my obviously non-Vietnamese name off the list of people waiting for a table to the waiter who looked on doubtfully when I ordered tendon, I got "whited."

Many times, it takes me a few minutes to realize. I have many, many Asian friends. I will eat almost anything, I handle chopsticks better than I handle a fork, and I know what to do with every one of the sauces on the sideboard, so it doesn't occur to me that I'm being singled out for the Americanized treatment--being "whited," as it were.

First, I didn't get a menu; then, when I borrowed one from the next table over and ordered pho tai chin nam gan (no tripe for me--it is the one thing I don't like in pho), I got a bemused, polite look, and he read back only the rare beef, the well-done flank steak and the brisket, not the tendons. When I insisted on the tendons (the best part of beef pho, really), I got a bemused shrug. The pho showed up with a fork and--tellingly--without a table salad.

I don't blame any ethnic eatery for "whiting" people. I look like the archetypal white guy. I look like mayonnaise and chicken fingers, not bun bo Hue and banh xeo. They've undoubtedly been burned by complaining white people. You know the types, the one who whine with that too-loud, too-offensive sense that nobody around them speaks any English. "Ewww, what part of the animal is THIS?" "Does it moo, or does it bark?" These are the people who think the only meat on a cow is steak, that the only part of a chicken worth eating is the boneless, skinless, tasteless breast, and they're the destroyers of my ethnic eating experiences, even though I go out of my way to avoid them.

I just hate it when it happens to me, and on behalf of all the other non-Vietnamese lovers of Vietnamese food, of all the other non-Mexican lovers of real Mexican food, etc., I strive to get past that assumption.

Eventually, I got through to them; it was a nearly audible "click" when I started shredding ngo gai into my pho and set chile paste and hoisin sauce in a dish for my meat. Suddenly, the fork disappeared, smiles appeared, and a bowl of red-bean che was set down on my table, just as it was on every other table.

So what's the secret? How do you get the real stuff? How do you express to the people who think you want chicken breast and no chile heat that you can handle what they've got to dish up? Short of trying to buy people of that group dinner so they'll translate for you, here are five suggestions:

1. Go outside peak hours if you can
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Flickr user Ben Husmann

You're more likely to be able to discuss the situation with waitstaff who are not under the gun for a lunch or dinner rush; if you can wait until 1 for lunch, the crowd will clear out, and you can actually engage your server in a conversation that may convince him or her to give you the native treatment.

2. Accept some of the "whiting"
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Flickr user A Natural Acrobat

Sometimes, it's just not worth the rise in blood pressure. If you've got 80 percent of what you want, and you're tired of arguing while your food ages gracelessly on the table, maybe it's not so bad that you didn't get that last 20 percent. Don't insist they remove the fork; just ignore it in favor of the chopsticks.

3. Insist politely
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Flickr user General Wesc

The ultimate responsibility for making sure you get what you want lies with you; if you want tendon in your soup, it is up to you to insist politely (at first, anyway) that it be put in your soup. Be prepared, however, for people to watch you eat it without bothering to disguise their curiosity and even comment. ("Oh, you like real Vietnamese food! Ha ha!")

4. Enlist the help of other tables

Other people want you to love the food. Chances are that at least one of the tables near you is watching you strive with the staff and only holding back because they don't want to embarrass you. You can, within limits, enlist their help; I've had people be willing to translate, gesture to their dishes to explain that you want the real stuff, and even get up and have a shouting match on my behalf in condescending-sounding Cantonese.

5. Go repeatedly

This is the best way most of us have to get the good food. Become a regular. Use the other four suggestions to muddle your way through, and eventually, they will know your face and you'll become "that white guy who loves our food." This is my plan with Pho Quang Trung.





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Andrew
Andrew

It works in other directions, too. I'm Asian, I love Ethiopian food (among many many other cuisines), and for a while I got surprised looks and "you know that it's raw, right?" when I ordered kitfo or gored gored at my favored place. That is, until #5 kicked in, and the owner recognized me when I walked in and was already writing down the order.

Mizzbacon
Mizzbacon

I have been called "white on the outside, yellow on the inside" for my love of Asian food of all types. Also, nothing can be too spicy for me. I have faced this issue many times, mostly with Thai, Indian and Chinese food, no one wants to make it spicy for the white girl, even when I ask. I just add my own spice.

Rachel
Rachel

Oh, Dave....what a great article. Made me truly LOL.

I feel the pain nearly every time I try to get them to actually serve me the chicken feet in NYC.....the first go around, as I point to the chicken feet and vigorously nod, "YES!!", they try to give me the meatballs. Eventually, as you say, they give them up...yum....

Food GPS
Food GPS

Wish I had read this before dinner.

Non-racist
Non-racist

I guess just be happy that this kind of stuf only happens to you at a restaurant. (I'm not trying to be racist here....just pointing it out) But many black people go through similar situations all the time (being followed in stores, being seated in the back of a restaurant when there's clearly 5 booths in the front ,etc.) So again, just be happy you were treated differently because of the color of your skin only when you wanted some authentic food and not when you were just trying to go shopping without being accused of stealing.

Loco Chinito
Loco Chinito

I'm Chinese and my wife is a honky, whitey, cracker-ass and she loves authentic food of all nationalities. When we roll into a restaurant, they bow down. All the cooks at our regular haunts know we like to eat the "real" and they serve it up with a smile. We earned this badge of culinary honor by asking the waiter or chef, "What would yo' Mama eat?"

Bsquared
Bsquared

My wife is Vietnamese (born there) and we eat in Little (and Big) Saigon all the time. Since I've been eating Vietnamese food for years, we tend to go to places that are a little 'funkier'. Usually when we go, I tend to order something more exotic than Pho. Sometimes when we go, the server asks if I really want to order that specific dish. My wife usually has to tell them not to worry because I like things like "the stinky sauce" (fermented shrimp paste) or "the pig leg" (in Bun Bo Hue).

OCLibrarian
OCLibrarian

Wow, I can definitely relate...I'm a white girl, and my husband is Asian (non-Vietnamese, though), so we have definitely been whited, especially at many of our favorite restaurants in Little Saigon. We both grew up in that area, so I was used to being called the "my trang" everywhere I went with my Asian friends. Since my hubby and I have been together since high school, we have experienced all sorts of racism in so many different situations, but we just kept being persistent, especially in restaurants, where, sure enough, many of the restaurant owners got to know us, and we received much better service (and respect). Plus, learning to order in Vietnamese helped quite a bit - my Vietnamese students say my pronunciation is very good. :)

Dwayne
Dwayne

No need to get upset at the restaurant... They are probably just trying to give you the best experience possible. "Best experience" defined through the lens of their previous experiences with similar customers.

Back in the 80's, when I was doing work in Korea, the company I was visiting had an employee cafeteria. For me, the special American guest, they would make special dishes, like ham sandwich on angel food cake. They didn't know any better. They thought I would like that better than their Korean food. After a couple of days, I expressed appreciation for their effort, but requested that I just eat what everyone else eats, and I would be fine.

These suggestions in this post make perfectly good sense. Remember, they're really just trying to make you happy.

KimcheeNoMore
KimcheeNoMore

I'm actually Asian and I get "whited" sometimes, when I go to a restaurant because I don't know the language. Too bad, because I love pho and I'm Korean.

Tedthemovie
Tedthemovie

This happens all the time! Anytime I order "kim chee" I always get asked if I know what it is!

Joey M
Joey M

I don't get "whited" nearly as often as I used to. Here's 2 tricks.

1) Look your server in the eyes and try a smile when you attempt to open conversation (this makes the biggest difference)2) Learn one word: "Thank You" in the foreign language of their choice (this scores you big brownie points)

Fear (and sometimes contempt) of the white man is the main cause of being whited. If we allay that fear, we are helping matters tremendously.

Gowron
Gowron

I just cant believe that you eat this garbage. I personally cannot stand the smell of their cooking, if you want to call it that. Every summer I have to close my windows and turn on the A/C just to keep the smell out of the house. Disgusting if you ask me.

Call me a white supremacists if you want, but I just don't think we should allow them to migrate to the U.S. anymore. I mean enough with the insults to the Vietnam Veteran that fought during the war only to have them here. I don't know anymore. I'm just saying.

So If you want to call me a white supremacists when I am not than go ahead.

Hail Hitler!!!

Diamond Dog
Diamond Dog

Who do you think would win in a fight in the Octagon? Gowron or Gustavo. The Octagon may be too stereotypical White Trash, so what about in one of those Mexcican wrestling rings where they dress up in the masked costumes?

Tapeworm
Tapeworm

You can go ahead and stick to McDonald's and KFC...

mrtinez666
mrtinez666

There doesn't seem to be anything supreme in your post. You come across more as ignorant and closed minded. And it's "Heil Hitler", Scheißekopf.

Dweezle.Di
Dweezle.Di

I remember going to Seafood Cove in Westminster and on 2 separate occasions I was overcharged $30 I imagine because I could not read the Chinese on the bill, but my wife could. Each time we received the same apology for the "mistake" and the server received a $1.00 tip for a $50+ meal. I have not been back a 3d time, too bad the Lobster is great!

Soy Americano
Soy Americano

ahhh... racism. as long as you are not white, it is quaint.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

...And here comes the white supremacists!

sweetpea
sweetpea

Said like a man who pulls the race card at every opportunity.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

...says the wacko who rails about Mexis at every opportunity...

Diamond Dog
Diamond Dog

Is that like the Mexican Supremacists?

peaceloveunderstanding
peaceloveunderstanding

.... just playing devil's advocate, what if your advice was written for a particular minority facing discrimination......?

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

Well, since I'm white, I figure I can write about being "whited". That said, it's more about making sure you're not being dismissed because you're not of whatever ethnic group is making up the restaurants. The advice could be applied to Mexicans in a Swedish restaurant, for that matter—if we had any Swedish restaurants and if the Swedish restaurants didn't serve surströmming thinking that the Mexicans wouldn't like it.

JWinOC
JWinOC

Ah Gustaf Anders, I still miss thee...

Totalmodallogic
Totalmodallogic

Stupid, just dont go to a place that whites you, leave and tell the owner where to shove it. Why pay them to treat you like shit. Assholes like that should put up a 'no whites' allowed sign like white people would have done for them half a century ago. You don't reward people for being an asshole, you punish them, humiliate and embarass them until they learn money is money no matter where it's from.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

If you'd ever worked in a restaurant, Totalmodallogic, you'd know that the ratio of asshole customers to asshole restaurant workers is at least 1000:1.

Also, if you don't make an effort, you're missing out on some of the best food OC has to offer.

Tapeworm
Tapeworm

I've seen "gringos" who order bun bo Hue for the first time and throw aside what's foreign to them or order lean beef only. What's the fun in that?

RobE
RobE

I can relate to this.

I have lived in Korea, so I know what spicy food is. There is a real good Thai restaurant near where I live and when they ask me how spicy I want my entree I get disbelieving stares and bemused smiles when I respond, "as hot as you can make it." Then when I get my food it is usually only mildly spiced. Good thing the flavors are so delicious and the portions generous or I'd be pissed.

I got nothin'
I got nothin'

I know it's a pretty basic concept, and that's likely why you left it off, but trying to speak their language when ordering definitely helps overcome "the only white guy there" treatment to some degree. When I say I want an order of bun rieu oc, the server at least recognizes that I have some idea of what I'm ordering and that I'm trying to get the real food, as opposed to the white guy just pointing at the menu and saying noodles. But this still is usually followed by a "yes I want snails in my soup, and yes I've had pho before and that's not what I want right now" in English since my Vietnamese speaking is limited to food items and terrible pronunciations. I'm still trying to master the different pronunciation between ga and ca

Christian
Christian

One time I went to a Mexican restaurant in Brea and got there about an hour before they were supposed to close only to find that for some reason they were closing early. I asked if I could just order some food to go really quick then and the one guy said, "Okay," then let me in only to then yell to somebody behind the counter something in Spanish to the effect of, "Gringo boy wants some food." When I then began ordering in my best restaurant Spanish I saw a pretty surprised look on the guy's face.

Shuji Sakai
Shuji Sakai

In the pre-CNET, pre-CBS days, Jim Leff made and sold the Chowhound passport so you don't get gringoed when travelling abroad.

It was a wallet sized card printed with phrases in many languages that said,"I would like the real food, not the tourist stuff." Lighthearted but serious. Too bad you can't get them any more from Chowhound.com

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

I have one of those! I tried to find it for a picture but it may not have made the last move.

Christian
Christian

Just found a comment from a user at CH: "I would be very wary of trusting Yelp reviews. I have first hand experience that they can and will delete negative reviews. I once (negatively) reviewed a place on Yelp and strictly followed all the review guidelines (no cursing, etc). I later found that my review had been deleted. When I contacted a Yelp administrator, I was told that they sometimes delete reviews that they think may be spam."

But how does this person not know that Chowhound does the very same thing?

Christian
Christian

Hard to get over my distaste for CH and their horrifically abominable board moderation.

Chownoir
Chownoir

I'm asian and wife is white blonde girl. She learned about dinuguan from me and loves it. She always finds it amusing when she goes to a Filipino place by herself and orders the dish. She's instantly met with disbelieving looks and lots of worried questions if she's aware of what's in the dish. She stays polite, friendly and reassures them she's had it plenty of times. It's amazing how open people will be if you stay polite and exhibit friendly curiosity. Off hours does help immensely.

Paul
Paul

Oddly enough, I've heard that chicken pho is the specialty at Pho Quang Trung.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

It is also excellent. I just was in the mood for beef pho.

Anita L
Anita L

last time I went friend had chicken pho and the chicken was so dry. I only eat bun rieu when I'm here

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