Ordering at a Chinese, Indian or Mexican eatery probably won’t put much of a dent in your bank account, whereas dining at a French or Japanese restaurant may.
There is a reason as to why certain cultural cuisines in the United States are cheaper than others. When cuisines from other countries are brought over by immigrants, they either end up served at high-end, five-star restaurants or at lower-status food joints with an “ethnic food” label. But why is Japanese cuisine, for example, “finer” than Mexican cuisine?
Krishnendu Ray, an associate professor of food studies at New York University and author of “The Ethnic Restaurateur,” explained his reasoning behind the phenomenon:
“The shortest answer would be cultural prestige, some notion of an evaluation of another culture’s reputation.”
According to Ray, certain components determine a country’s position on the “global hierarchy of taste.” The global hierarchy is based on a nation’s military prowess and financial capital. The more well-off a nation is, the richer its emigrants are and the more likely the cuisine menu prices will be higher.
Japanese and Chinese cuisines are both popular Asian cuisines in America. However, Japanese cuisine is often held in a higher regard as a haute cuisine. Renowned Western chefs have been known to pay visits to Japan to learn from traditional master chefs.
Perceptions of a particular culture may hold them back from moving up the global hierarchy of taste. Ray elaborated:
“Japanese is doing very well in terms of prestige, and that is about … the rise of Japan as a major economic power. With China, [Americans] are still filled with this funny disdain, that it is about cheap and crappy stuff, including about cheap and crappy food.”
Ray analyzed data collected by Zagat of New York restaurant ratings in 2015. Since reviews from restaurant goers often include check prices for meals, Ray was able to determine the average price for dining at a certain restaurant.
The average check amount for a Zagat ranked Japanese restaurant that includes a meal, drink and tip for one person was $68.94. On the other hand, the average price for a Zagat-ranked Chinese restaurant was $35.76 for the same meal, drink and tip.
The price difference can be seen across the Zagat rating price spectrum for the various cuisines. Japanese ranked highest for average check price in New York while Chinese, Thai, Indian and Mexican food were near the bottom.