Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) – July 10, 2015

Years Later, Chinese Restaurateurs Still Evolving

By Yiying Wang

PRAGUE — “It won’t be long before I go back to China,” stated Qingwen Wang, a 45-year-old who came from Wenzhou and is currently the owner of Xintianhao Restaurant. “Business is getting harder to handle, and I miss my family.”

Wang came here over ten years ago. The main reason for his immigration is his serious financial situation around 2000. At that time, a lot of people around him chose to go abroad, so he came here to take a chance too. Xintianhao Restaurant was opened and remains open today.

Back to the present, just like a dweller, Wang’s children will graduate from university in the coming years and his family may not need money as much as before. In the meantime, the situation of Chinese restaurants in Prague is not so great these days.

Under the impact of the economic recession in Europe, according to He, the landlady of Peking Restaurant, one of the problems is that there are fewer candidates for staff. Most of the staff in Chinese restaurants is Chinese people. Vietnamese people can take easy jobs like dishwashing. This is not only because Chinese people know more about the traditional Chinese restaurant, but also because of scheduling differences. Peking Restaurant once hired a lot of local people, but it did not last long. The same goes with Vietnamese Restaurants.

“Like we open from Monday to Saturday, but normally Czechs work five days a week,” says Pham Quang Hieu, a college student who works in a Vietnamese Restaurant.

According to He, “Things used to be like workers have to search for bosses, but now, bosses have to search for workers.” A lot of Wang’s friends decided to go back. Someday, they may miss the days in Prague and the boom they used to have with their restaurants.

Mrs. He came here when local people ran a lot of the Chinese restaurants. But as more Chinese people came here and started their own business, those restaurants became less popular. “After all, the Chinese food made by foreigners cannot be compared with the food we make.”

Chinese restaurants did come across a lot of trouble and change. In 1993, when He first came to Prague, there were less Chinese restaurants. As more and more Chinese people, mainly from Jiangsu Zhejiang and Shanghai, came here and started to open restaurants, the phenomenon of price comparison was getting more serious. Some restaurants started to serve fast food, which is more suitable for the habits and taste of the local people. Gradually, the advantages of fast food service urged all Chinese restaurants to follow it, and traditional Chinese food became a common order only for Chinese people.

“We have two menus, one is in Chinese and the other one in Czech only shows fast food,” says He, “and it’s sad that some foreigners may think that there is only fast food in Chinese Restaurants.”

The taste is also different between the food served to Chinese people and foreigners. Waiters will add word like “Chinese” or “Foreigners” on the list, which will be sent to the kitchen in Xintianhao Restaurant, and chiefs will add more salt in foreigners’ dishes. The order of dish serving is also different. Chinese always enjoy eating different dishes altogether, but people here prefer the “appetizer-hot dish-dessert” order.

However, tradition always has its strengths. “Some local people who was once brought by their Chinese friends will come alone with their last menu and order the dishes they couldn’t understand on the Chinese menu,” says He. “Being traditional is fine,” says Pham Quang Hieu, a college student working in a Vietnamese Restaurant. “After all, every country cooks differently, so it’s hard to compare. Every country has different spices and it depends on the weather.”

There are more than 400 Chinese restaurants in Czech Republic. Some big ones with compartments can hold both individual customers and tourist groups. Those traditional Chinese restaurants were always decorated with the color red and the Chinese-style round tables. It used to be a boom here. “People stand in a long queue waiting to order,” says Wang. As for the big restaurants like Peking Restaurant, customers have to book a few weeks in advance.

According to the Washington Post, the coming months will be the most difficult for Europe’s struggling economy. Most Chinese restaurants are also struggling.