5 Ways to Be a Better Chinatown Visitor


When Sissy Trinh was a child, she accompanied her father (“a very talkative person,” she says) to all kinds of restaurants, from Salvadoran to Caribbean, where he went the extra mile to converse with others even if he didn’t speak. the same language fluently.

“He could say things like ‘hola’ and ‘gracias’, and said that with an added Vietnamese accent,” recalls Trinh, 47. “It was just this desire to engage and ask questions.”

During these experiences, Trinh learned to relate to others. Today, she leads the Southeast Asian Community Alliance (SEACA) in Chinatown. It is a non-profit organization that empowers local communities in Southeast Asia through many channels: educating young people about leadership and community organizing, and advocating for groups on justice issues. socio-economic and racial.

Roy returns to Chinatown and examines his role as a catalyst in its gentrification in “Broken Bread” Season 2 Episode 3, “Returning to Chinatown”. Watch this episode.

Back to Chinatown

Based on her community involvement and the fact that she spends a lot of time in Chinatown, Trinh shares some of her insights on how people can be better visitors to Chinatown by supporting businesses.

Leave your assumptions and stereotypes at the door.

“I hear people complaining, ‘The products are bad and dirty.’ There’s a lot of assumptions that Chinese food is cheap and low quality, and there’s no sense of curiosity, there’s no sense of wanting to engage,” Trinh said.

She suggests visitors enter the community with a sense of intellectual curiosity. It can be something as simple as striking up a conversation or asking a restaurant owner what their specialty is.

Manage your expectations and treat these businesses like family shops.

Two women shop for produce at Yue Wa Market and Chinese Bookstore in Chinatown, Los Angeles. | Carren Jao

“Because a lot of the restaurants in Chinatown are small, immigrant and family owned, it takes a bit more effort to build that relationship with them because those people don’t necessarily speak English as well as someone in a PF Chang’s,” Trinh said. . “And they won’t have the same level of time and energy to provide that level of service that you would want.”

When she goes to restaurants like these, she doesn’t expect to get the level of service typical of newer, more modern hotspots in town, but she goes because she knows she’ll get the best noodles, as an example. If she’s looking for an experience with premium service, she’ll go somewhere fancier.

“You have to understand and manage your expectations based on the type of place you’re going,” she said.

Try different things.

A white ceramic plate filled with dim sum, left to right: chicken with sweet rice, Chinese tamale and siu mai.  Chicken with sweet rice is wrapped in a dry brown leaf.  The Chinese tamale is wrapped in dark green banana leaves and tied with twine/rope.  The siu mai is a brown/pink interior with a yellow envelope.
An array of dim sum items served at Long’s Family Pastry in Chinatown, Los Angeles. From left to right: chicken with sweet rice, Chinese tamale and siu mai. | Carren Jao

Trinh recommends getting out of your comfort zone and trying different things even if you’re a creature of habit and still want to get that General Tso’s plate of sweet and sour chicken or pork. And if the item you ordered doesn’t turn out great, learn to live with it, as many dishes are usually cheap enough that you can try something different next time, she said. . Each restaurant has its own specialty, and you’ll have to experiment to find out what it is.

She also says it’s easy to make multiple stops in one trip. “There are times when I can, on any given day, go to three or four different places,” Trinh said. “I’ll have lunch at one place, I’ll have a boba drink at another, then I’ll stop and run errands at a third. And all of that in half an hour. It’s about not stressing out if you’re going to have a great meal because you can always try another.”

A flat lay photo of Pearl River Deli dishes on a yellow and white checkered tablecloth.  In the upper left corner is a bowl of yellow noodles with leafy greens and siu mai.  In the lower left corner is a plate of roast poultry in a dark brown sauce.  In the middle is a plate of blanched leafy greens with a thick brown sauce drizzled.  In the lower right corner is a plate of red char siu pork served over fluffy white rice and a side of leafy vegetables.  In the upper right corner is a plate containing a yellow bolo bao with a bone-in breaded pork chop sandwiched between its buns.

Play on neighborhood highlights.

There is a historical and cultural context in each neighborhood. Trinh will hear people complaining that Chinese food should be in a certain price range because it’s low quality or Chinatown isn’t authentic.

“Part of the problem is that people think the Chinese are monolithic,” Trinh said.

She sees that people expect Chinatown to be the same as the San Gabriel Valley (SGV) – and often compares the two. SGV has a more diverse Asian population than Chinatown, which is mostly Cantonese and Toisanese (who are from China’s Guangdong province).

“Play to neighborhood strengths,” Trinh said. “I don’t really eat Chinese food in the Westside, so why would you complain that there’s no good Sichuan food in Chinatown? It’s a different kind of food, isn’t it?”

Syed and Qaiser with their children Qamar and Faozia outside a house in Los Angeles.  |  Shades of LA / LAPL Collection

Think of Chinatown as someone’s home and you’re a guest.

Five pedestrians cross the street, crossing a tiled pedestrian lane.  Behind them is the main square of Chinatown.
Pedestrians cross the street in Chinatown, Los Angeles. | Carren Jao

Trinh suggests being thoughtful when you’re in Chinatown, as it’s someone’s home, whether they’re selling on the street, running a business, or living there as a resident.

“How would you behave? You would enter with a sense of respect and gratitude, right? And you would enter with a sense of openness if someone invited you into their home for things like Christmas dinner You’re not going to walk in and treat them like they’re your servants Yes, you walk in and maybe spend some money, but you’re still a guest, and they’re people who deserve to be treated with respect.

She’s not saying you have to go out of your way to make a grand gesture, but it’s simple things like being nice and polite. She explains how sometimes visitors panic and call the police, report a business for not meeting its cleanliness standards, or write bad reviews on Yelp that really hurt a business.

“You go home at the end of the day, when this community is the one that has to deal with the over-policing you’ve created,” Trinh said. “There are a lot of things and places that I don’t like, but I don’t say that everywhere on social media.”

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