A viral guide to eating Asian food was totally wrong, and here's why – San Francisco Chronicle

A kamayan-style meal at  Filipino  restaurant Pampanguena in San Francisco, Calif.
I want to take a moment to write about something really silly that happened on Twitter last week. Business journalist Ellen Chang woke up one morning and decided what the world needed was a tweet thread about how to eat Asian food, which is in itself a red flag that should tell you that it’s time to log off. 
It was both praised and critiqued by readers, and I’m decidedly in the latter camp. What really got me was that so much of that thread, which went viral, was wrong — and it reflected a strange, and oftentimes objectifying, take on how 4 billion people eat. 
You know how babies don’t have a sense of object permanence and assume that, because something isn’t right in front of them, it basically stopped existing? This thread, an exercise in cultural erasure and unwarranted self-confidence, is just like that. It could also be a deliberate troll, and I’m being had — in which case, amazing work, Ellen, and thanks for all the laughs.
Get tips on where to eat in the Bay Area — and why it matters — from our restaurant critic, Soleil Ho
Here are just a few of the many points from the guide that made no sense. 
She opened with a total stunner, with her first point being that “all of it” — that is to say, all Asian food — “is family style (except for Japanese bento boxes).” It really shouldn’t take the average person more than 5 seconds to think about any food in the continent of Asia that isn’t served family style. Name literally any noodle soup. Taiwanese fan tuan. Vietnamese banh mi. Uzbek shivit oshi.
“Thai food is not eaten with chopsticks,” she continued, ignoring the many regional dishes in the Thai canon that call for chopsticks. And “we” don’t care if “you” don’t know how to use them. Who’s included in “we”? Certainly not folks from the Philippines, who tend to use spoons and forks or just their hands to eat their traditional dishes.
Another tweet in the thread states that you’ll know a restaurant is “authentic” if it’s filled with Asians or non-Asians unaccompanied by an Asian person. So by that logic, wouldn’t every restaurant in the world be authentically Asian? Congrats to the Cheesecake Factory and its cheeseburger spring rolls for their great work in promoting and preserving traditional Asian cultures and cuisines.
And then, the final hilarious cherry on top that sparked my fight-or-flight instinct is point 25 (and this isn’t even the last one): “All Asian food is different. I don’t know anything about Japanese, Korean, Thai, Malaysian or Vietnamese food aside from entrees I have tried.” Imagine if I ranked NBA teams and said afterward that my only basis for that ranking came from watching Space Jam.
OK, so this is just one really goofy tweet thread in a sea of bad takes. Who cares right? 
And I can empathize with why someone like Chang would do this, sort of. As a food writer, I’ve often been tasked with the work of learning as much as I can about a new (to me) culture’s food in order to write about it. And it’s not easy to condense everything I’ve learned into a paragraph’s worth of context in a restaurant review. But as a human, I’ve also conducted that research with the extreme anxiety of getting it wrong, because I’ve experienced this from the other end: It’s really demeaning to speak from a place of authority about someone else’s culture and not give a damn about whether or not you’re accurate. When you’re not an expert on everything, it’s OK to admit it, I promise.
This thread set off a lot of people because it also revealed, with full frontal exposure, how there are still lots of people out there who should know better than to generalize about the habits of entire continents, but do it anyway. So many people casually conflate the entirety of Asia, with its diversity of cultures, with a small sliver of East Asia, and that mindset can be applied to much more than food. It happens whenever people in the United States talk about Asian American politics, perpetuate the model minority myth or make any other attempt to take shortcuts when talking about the continent and its diasporas. 
No, not all Asians are raised in a Confucianist, education-first environment. No, not all Asians vote the same way. No, not all Asians eat shumai.
If you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all guide on Asian food, you’re already asking the wrong question. But here’s my advice: Specificity will get you the best answers. Be honest about who and what you’re talking about: Central Asia? The Philippines? The Indian subcontinent? And don’t trust anyone who claims to be an expert on “Asian food” unless they are an absolute brain genius. And let’s be real — no one who’s that smart posts on Twitter.
Since 2019, Soleil Ho has been The Chronicle’s Restaurant Critic, spearheading Bay Area restaurant recommendations through the flagship Top Restaurants series. In 2022, they won a Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award from the James Beard Foundation.
Ho also writes features and cultural commentary, specializing in the ways that our food reflects the way we live. Their essay on pandemic fine dining domes was featured in the 2021 Best American Food Writing anthology. Ho also hosts The Chronicle’s food podcast, Extra Spicy, and has a weekly newsletter called Bite Curious.
Previously, Ho worked as a freelance food and pop culture writer, as a podcast producer on the Racist Sandwich, and as a restaurant chef. Illustration courtesy of Wendy Xu.


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