Man has eaten at 6,297 Chinese restaurants in the USA and Canada

The LA Times tells the story of David Chan, a Chinese-American man who discovered a love of Chinese food as an adult, during a wave of Chinese immigration to America in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He and his Hong Kong born officemates set out to sample all the new Chinese restaurants that opened after the 1965 loosening of the strictures on Chinese immigration to the USA, and he's kept meticulous records ever since, documenting the highs and lows of 6,297 Chinese restaurants across the USA and Canada (he's sampled the Chinese in all 50 states). These are now kept in a huge spreadsheet, with graphs and maps.

In New England, he encountered a chow mein sandwich topped with gravy. In St. Paul, Minn., he found a burger with egg foo young for a patty. Throughout the South, he came across a sweet, stir-fry dish called Honey Chicken.

"It doesn't have to be authentic Chinese. If it's Chinese American, it's all the more interesting," Chan said.

Chan rarely discussed his list. His son, Eric Chan, was only vaguely aware of it growing up. "There are a lot of things my dad doesn't talk about," he said.

In their family, a meal often said what words couldn't, Eric Chan said. During the three years he studied law at Stanford, his father visited about 20 times. They'd dine in San Francisco dim sum houses and San Jose noodle shops.

"If you collect enough of something, you can capture its essence," Eric Chan said. "Maybe that's what he's trying to do with food."

Chan rarely eats somewhere twice, but he keeps going back to ABC Seafood, even after the restaurant's ownership changed and, he said, the lemon chicken lost its flavor. Chan says he does it out of respect for history. He's dined at practically every Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles, but few culinary experiences can match that first meal at ABC Seafood.

"For a good portion of when they were open, they were the best Chinese restaurant in the country," Chan said.

6,297 Chinese restaurants and hungry for more [Frank Shyong/LA Times] (via Digg)


  1. I say it non-judgmentally and lovingly, but this man seems to be somewhere on the Autism spectrum. However, my grandma did stuff like this; she kept a journal with a review of every movie she had ever seen. So maybe they don’t need a label, they are just awesome.

        1. You could get sued for saying something like that.  It’s best to limit that sort of speculation to convicted felons and dead people. 

          1. First, your first comment was really terrible — “Please edit that” — absolutely no information or context; wouldn’t it have been far easier, and smarter, to have explained yourself from the get-go? Mind reading isn’t a real thing, you know!

            A random stranger leaving a comment on a random blog about another random stranger whom they’ve never met saying that this stranger “seems to be” on the Autism spectrum is slander, now?

            I’ve been on the internet a long fucking time, and I’ve never heard any random person get sued for such a thing.

            You seem to be not-so-bright and probably fairly obnoxious and likely a bore at parties.

            Oh shit! I better call a lawyer.

          2. Isn’t it Shakespeare’s birthday today?

            The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.

            I am not the asshole, m’dear.

          3. Labeling random people autistic makes you a good person?  You haven’t set the bar very high for yourself. 

          4.  What a self-important douche. He probably took paralegal classes from those commercials in the 90’s.

          5.  I am busy today, so I’ll just say…umm…your comment is not really worthy of reply. It is asinine. Seriously? Sued fro…whatever.

    1.  Actually, what’s amazing is that after eating 12, 594 fortune cookies, he’s gained near omnipotence.

  2. Does he eat from the menu or order off the menu?  Because most places will fix you a plate of stuff that Americans don’t recognize as “food.” 

    I love Chinese food, and I especially enjoy hearing stories from people that went to China as VIPs, where they are served things sound like stunts from “Jackass.”  I rather suspect the Chinese have a better sense of humor than we give them credit for, and they are secretly filming Americans for a prank reality show. 

    1. I guess it depends where you go. People from NE China are always going on about the weird food you get in the south.

      1. Yeaaaah, I think that’s a game they play. I asked someone on a student visa (who I knew well)  about every weird food  (snake blood, monkey brain, bird soups with feathers in the soup, insects, cats) and in each case they said it was another part of the country. And I said “Oh so in your area it’s strictly meat and potatoes?”

        1. The food here isn’t that weird. People seem to like dumplings, noodles, rice, hotpot, stir fried foods and Korean, Mongolian and Japanese food. There’s even a meat and potato stew that’s not too far off a simple Irish stew (with different herbs). There are a number of different ethnic groups with different tastes, but quite a few people won’t eat dog for cultural reasons. They do eat silkworms (which aren’t bad) and a few other unusual meats, but most meat seems to be chicken, pork, beef, lamb or fish.

          1. By which of course I mean chicken feet, pig snouts and trotters, bull penis, lamb intestines and fish head. I guess you can find weird food if you look for it, just not on the scale of living roast fish (the head is covered when they cook it) or aborted human fetus (that one may be untrue, but I have no desire to research any further on the matter).

          2. True, some folks do love their organ meats!  And even when we get prosperous, we do still  yearn for some soul food. 

          3. What’s up with Chinese food and dairy products, as in: when’s the last time you saw a piece of cheese on your plate?

            Maybe non-existence of milk only happens in the international, restaurant versions of Chinese food, the only type I know.  What about in the motherland itself?

          4. Milk, particularly of the non-UHT organic full-fat kind is seen as something of a health food nowadays, although there have been a number of scandals about safety (especially with baby food). Milk and yoghurt are popular, but cheese hasn’t really caught on as fast. There’s usually a small section of cheeses in the large yoghurt aisle, but they’re expensive and I just go to the international wholesale store for anything like that. Dairy food isn’t common in traditional restaurants, but you’ll see it with drinks like bubble tea or in more international restaurants.

        2. “Chinese” food is a very, very heterogeneous concept.  Cuisine tends to be very localized.  There are definitely parts of China where almost all they eat are rice with whatever veggies are available at the market and a little meat (the Chinese equivalent of meat and potatoes, I suppose).  There are other parts of the country where nobody really eats rice. 

          I lived in Nanjing for a year, and knew a woman from Suzhou, where food tends to be sweet, who couldn’t eat most of what the local restaurants offered because it was too spicy.  I also had a friend from Hunan, where the food tends to be red-hot, who carried around his own jar of chili paste because nothing in Nanjing was spicy enough for him.

          Of the “weird” foods you describe, I’ve seen fried scorpions sale in markets in Beijing, and I’ve seen snake on menus in Guangxi.  But both seemed more for the benefit of tourists than locals.  My sister tried both, incidentally. She said the scorpions tasted like popcorn.  The snake tasted like rubbery chicken.  She tried, but didn’t fully drink, the snake blood and baijiu cocktail they prepared for her after they killed the snake in front of us.

  3. 6297 meals.  It didn’t take long because he was always hungry 1/2 hour later!!!


    Thank you!  I’ll be here all week!

    (Sorry, I’ll be back to delete this post in a bit.)

  4. The Chinese restaurants near me all have a sweet/mustardy pink sauce, as near as I can tell it’s a really specific regional thing in Southern Oregon.  

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