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Obsessed: Guy Has Eaten At Over 7,000 Chinese Restaurants

September 29, 2019 No Comments

David is a retired tax lawyer and third-generation Chinese-American from Los Angeles. I met him seven years ago on an online food forum called Chowhound and asked him to meet me for lunch when I noticed he knew an enormous amount about Chinese restaurants in America. He told me he had this massive list of restaurants accumulated over the years— And that he had a collection of menus to go with them. And so I ended up writing an article on him, and drew attention to his list. But David’s spreadsheet is much more than just a list of Chinese restaurants across the United States. It also sheds light on the evolution of the Chinese food scene in Los Angeles. The list is also a collection of David’s memories and his road trips across America. Now David isn’t your typical Chinese food enthusiast. And he adheres to a strict diet. And he doesn’t know how to use chopsticks. So why did he create this enormous list of Chinese restaurants? While David’s spreadsheet includes restaurants from all over the United States, the bulk of them are in Los Angeles County, many of which he’s visited within their first year of opening. His obsession has made it, perhaps, the most comprehensive database of Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles, and offers insight into the history of the Chinese-American diaspora. A quick history lesson: The first wave of Chinese immigrants in America came from Toisan, or Taishan, to California fleeing poverty and war. They worked as laborers were forced to settle in urban slums now known as Chinatowns. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act denied them citizenship and prohibited even more immigration from China. With the limited ingredients available to them, they invented rustic comfort food dishes like egg foo young and fried wontons. In 1965, the Immigration and Naturalization Act abolished exclusions previously set against Asian immigrants. In 1972, a realtor named Fred Hsieh began heavily advertising the San Gabriel Valley in Hong Kong and Taiwanese newspapers. He called it the Chinese Beverly Hills. And in came a steady stream of middle to upper class immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan. who were leaving Asia in droves. These immigrants had more spending power than their Toisan counterparts. And the San Gabriel Valley, a suburban enclave in Los Angeles County, became home to one of the most robust Chinese food scenes outside of Asia. In the early 2000s, mainland China became wealthier, bringing in a wave of immigrants to Los Angeles with more refined, regional Chinese specialities. Today in Los Angeles, the diversity of regional Chinese cuisine is astounding. Of the 34 provinces* in China, over 21 of them are represented in at least one Chinese restaurant. David used to average 200 new Chinese restaurants a year. But after retiring, he’s been slowing down. Still, David continues to be active in the online food world. He updates his blog regularly and also maintains an active Instagram feed. And of course, I had to ask: After three decades and 7,000-plus restaurants, where is his favorite place to eat? For more on delicious food, check our more of our videos below, and subscribe to Goldthread.

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