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Wok this way

Taste, price and variety among reasons cited for the local popularity of Chinese food

May 3, 2009
By RICHARD NILSEN/The Leader-Herald

More than a dozen Chinese restaurants operate between Amsterdam and Speculator - and a new one was just approved by the Fulton County Planning Board as part of the former Ruby & Quiri site on Elmwood Avenue in Johnstown.

The proliferation of Chinese restaurants locally - more than any other non-European cuisine - has made it part of the dining experience for many people, who say they enjoy the variety, taste and affordable change from their everyday routine.

At Johnstown Peking Wednesday, Lisa Queeney and her husband, John, were having lunch and using chopsticks.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Chef Paul Ho cooks up an order of General Tso’s Chicken at Joy Wok in Gloversville Thursday.

"We have to stay in practice," Queeney quipped.

Queeney said she was first introduced to Chinese food by her grandmother.

"I didn't like it back then, but kids don't like anything," she said with a laugh.

Queeney said Chinese food has been around long enough, even in a small rural area, that it has been accepted.

"It's become part of American culture," she said.

Physician's assistant Randie Rudin-Salmon was stopping by to pick up lunch for herself and chopsticks for Dr. Zae-Sol Sin at St. Mary's Family Health Center in Johnstown. She said there are several reasons for the popularity of Chinese food.

"First, it tastes good," she said. "And some of it is even good for you. Also, it's reasonably priced, fast and convenient."

At the restaurant, Keong Gho, a 16-year employee there, said most Chinese foods are not strictly Chinese when served in the United States.

"They are often modified," he said. "We like to experiment."

Gho pointed to a special egg roll that included cheese in the contents.

"There's no cheese in egg rolls in China," he said with a smile.

Gho said after constantly preparing, cooking and delivering Chinese food, sometimes he and his crew go out elsewhere to eat.

"Sometimes we get tired of seeing the same thing all the time," he said. "So we go out and get a pizza."

At Peking in Gloversville, Luan Chen said she has been at the Bleecker Street location for about 12 years.

She said business had slowed recently, but overall has been steady over the years.

"The most popular dishes are General Tso's Chicken and sesame chickens," she said.

At Joy Wok on North Main Street in Gloversville, Tracy Ho said she started her restaurant 17 years ago. She said the favorites at Joy Wok tended to be boneless spare ribs and also General Tso's Chicken.

"Chinese restaurants are so popular because the food is delicious and it is at a better price," Ho said. "Other [ethnic] foods are more expensive."

Ho added that healthy foods could be chosen as well.

"Did you ever see a fat Chinese person?" she asked. "They aren't overweight."

Ho said Chinese coming to this country need work and often work in Chinese restaurants because of the familiar language and culture.

"Starting in a small town isn't easy," Ho said.

Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Wally Hart pointed out the variety of foods found at most Chinese restaurants is excellent.

"We like diversity," Hart said. "When I ran a diner, strangers would hesitate if they didn't know an item on the menu. But most people know when they go to a Chinese restaurant what they will get."

He agreed with other opinions about the food being quick and convenient,

"Most are first-generation in this country, and their work ethic is evident," he said. "We appreciate that."

Kim and Christine Young have been at Johnstown Peking for 22 years and said at first it was slow being accepted in the community.

"It took a year to build up clientele in 1987," Christine Young said. "It was like the first reaction to sushi. People say, 'Ooh -What's that? Raw fish?"

She said gradually as family members and friends gathered at Chinese restaurants, they became more accepted.

"Young people are ready to try anything," she said. "Older people are harder to introduce to something new."

Her husband, Kim, said it is important to become involved in the community.

Many plaques of appreciation can be seen at the restaurant from various civic organizations.

"I feel it's important to donate to youth groups, field trips and let the kids know I support them," he said.

"That way they won't throw rocks through my windows," he said with a laugh.

Kim Young said he gets to know his customers and gradually suggests other dishes based on what they already like.

"At first, everyone asks for chicken chow mein," he said. "If they like that, and I know they like white sauce with garlic, I slowly introduce them to something different."

As for using chopsticks, Young said they make the food taste better.

"They make you eat slower, so the taste is savored and it's better for your system."

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at



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