Lucky Lee's in New York City has been accused of "whitewashing" traditional Chinese dishes

By Rachel DeSantis
April 11, 2019 02:18 PM
Getty

A New York City restaurant touting “healthified” versions of traditional Chinese dishes was forced to defend itself from criticism that its concept whitewashed meals like lo mein and kung pao chicken.

Lucky Lee’s, which bills itself as serving “feel great Chinese food for all,” opened Monday in Greenwich Village, but has been teasing its menu items on Instagram for months.

In a since-deleted post, the restaurant boasted of its lo mein recipe, writing it wouldn’t make customers feel “bloated and icky.”

“We heard you’re obsessed with lo mein but rarely eat it. You said it makes you feel bloated and icky the next day?” the post read, according to Eater. “Well, wait until you slurp up our HIGH lo mein. Not too oily. Or salty.”

Owner Arielle Haspel told Eater that Lucky’s Lee’s recipes were “clean,” and free of gluten, wheat, refined sugar, GMO and additives.

“There are very few American-Chinese places as mindful about the quality of ingredients as we are,” she said. “We’re excited to offer it to people who want this type of food, and it can make them feel good and they can workout after and they can feel focused after and it will add to their health.”

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She added, “I love love love American Chinese food. I made some tweaks so I would be able to eat it and my friends and other people would be able to eat it. I am by all means never ever looking to put down a culture at all. I am very inclusive, and we’re here to celebrate the culture.”

But Haspel’s continued mention of the negative aftermath some feel after a Chinese food binge has rubbed many on social media the wrong way, with users taking to the restaurant’s comments section to say that Lucky Lee’s is appropriating Chinese culture.

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“It’s unacceptable for you to portray Chinese food as inherently wrong by making a white ‘feel good’ version of it,” one user wrote. “It’s unacceptable for you to open a store like this in NEW YORK where you co-opt and profit off a culture that isn’t yours without explicitly acknowledging where your money AND idea is coming from. Please educate yourself. Please spare us.”

Wrote another, “If I want Chinese food I’ll get it from a restaurant owned and operated by Chinese people. I’d much rather support my local Chinese restaurant than participate in cultural appropriation and whitewashing of perfectly good food. Why do so many white people feel the need to take another culture’s food and make it ‘better’? Because it’s not. Just don’t.”

“Leave it to the white people to f— up Asian cuisine,” another commented. “Haven’t seen the prices but I’m sure it’s over-priced and under-seasoned. Miss me with this one. Looks like it’s for the birds.”

Haspel addressed the criticism and defended Lucky Lee’s in an Instagram post Tuesday that vowed to “listen and reflect accordingly” to patrons’ issues.

“A number of comments have stated that by saying our Chinese food is made with ‘clean’ cooking techniques and it makes you feel great that we are commenting negatively on all Chinese food. When we talk about our food, we are not talking about other restaurants, we are only talking about Lucky Lee’s,” Haspel wrote.

She also defended criticism of the restaurant’s name, which some had called out as a stereotype, explaining that her husband’s name is Lee.

“Owners Arielle and Lee are both Jewish-American New Yorkers, born and raised. Similar to many other Jewish New Yorkers’ diets, bagels, pastrami sandwiches and yes, American Chinese food, were big and very happy parts of their childhoods,” she wrote. “New York is the ultimate melting pot and Lucky Lee’s is another example of two cultures coming together. To us, this is a good thing.”

Lucky Lee’s Yelp page has since been put under an “unusual activity alert,” though a majority of the reviews on the review site are positive.

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