Authenticity is hard to find these days in terms of American cuisine. For much ethnic cuisine in America, the battle between authenticity and appropriation rings loud against mainstream misconceptions.
Recently, corporate mascots like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben have been ousted due to their heavily racist connotations. These racial disparities carry over to many numerous cultures celebrated in this country. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the perception of Chinatown and Chinese cuisine has been swiftly criticized and stigmatized by mainstream media.
For Chinatown restaurants once booming with customers and fully booked tables, many of them are now facing the repercussions of false claims that the transmission of COVID-19 can be linked to Chinese cuisine and Chinatowns across the country. Despite many public health professionals and epidemiologists refuting these contrived and racists claims, the hit on restaurants in Chinatown has been sealed.
New Saigon Sandwich, a once-popular lunch spot for banh mi sandwiches in Boston’s Chinatown, had to permanently close its doors after 16 years of service. While there were speculations that the business owners closed their shop in pursuit of retirement, their daughter Kristina Phu, explains that the restaurant fell victim to the misconceptions of COVID-19 to Chinese cuisine.
Phu told Boston.com that New Saigon Sandwich closed, “due to the initial racial response to COVID-19 early on, the business suffered tremendously.” With the rising cost of supplies and groceries combined with the overhead costs, the Phu family could not keep up with the costs, especially with a decline in take-out from their Chinatown sandwich shop. She continued, “If COVID-19 was not a factor, I’m sure they would still be open.”
While Chinese cuisine continues to be persecuted with misconceptions of health concerns and fake ingredients, there are people dispelling this bad reputation. Ruby Chan, founder and CEO of FreshZen Foods is at the frontline in presenting the true essence of Asian cuisine: authentic, fresh, and healthy. New York native Chan grew up in Chinatown, NYC where her parents owned a restaurant.
Unlike the salty stir-fry kits and frozen bags of P.F Chang’s, loaded with sugar and thick sauces, found in the international/ethnic aisle of most Target and Walmart stores, Chan offers home cooks her “Asian pesto” filled with fresh and authentic ingredients in every jar. With fresh, simple, and easy-to-pronounce ingredients like garlic, ginger, scallion, rice wine vinegar, FreshZen offers healing to its customers while opening their taste palettes to a true Chinese taste and new recipes.
Now, Chan hopes to share her family’s healthy and ‘food as medicine’ traditions and display Chinese cuisine to the world, just as she grew up experiencing the freshest ingredients herself. Chan’s sauces have been well-loved by her customers. Chan recently started selling the sauces online, as well as in over 31 Whole Foods across New England.