THE PORTUGUESE love affair with Chinese fast food restaurants is dwindling fast according to the Chinese-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce. Changing tastes, the craze for Japanese sushi, Indian food and other Asian cuisine has sounded the death knell for scores of Chinese restaurants throughout the country.
Last year’s Operação Oriente, carried out by the Autoridade de Seguranca Alimentar e Económica (ASAE), the government’s food safety inspectors, has given rise to the idea that Chinese food is unhealthy and Chinese restaurants are dirty. In what he claims is bordering on racism, the president of the Portuguese-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Zhang Liang, said that the closure of Chinese restaurants in Portugal was nothing short of dramatic.
“We don’t have precise numbers on the damage that last year’s health inspection campaign caused, but at least 100 restaurants have closed in Greater Lisbon alone in the past year,” he said.
Chan Sau Citen, a restaurant owner in Lisbon’s Avenida Duque de Loulé, said: “The Portuguese don’t trust the Chinese now. I’ve been here for 20 years and I’ve never seen business quite so bad. We had four restaurants and we’ve already closed down two, the last being in November.”
According to a survey carried out by Correio da Manhã, Operação Oriente stayed in the mind of the Portuguese and affected the choice of four out of 10 people surveyed.
Zhang Liang, the director of the only newspaper for the Chinese community in Portugal, criticised the way in which ASAE divulged the operation in the national media. “Operação Oriente, what kind of name is that? It is clearly aimed at the Chinese community in the most negative way,” he commented. In his opinion, the Chinese community need to return to quality, fresh Chinese cuisine rather than the cheap, fast food that the vast majority of restaurants serve in Portugal.
Jorge Malheiros, from the Geographic Studies Centre at Lisbon University, explained: “Chinese food has simply ceased to be an exotic ethnic experience as it was 20 years ago. Back then, when the first Chinese restaurants opened, they were aimed at the middle class and the food was high quality and expensive. Then, in the 1990s, downmarket Chinese restaurants opened up all over the place and people became bored with it. It’s simply fallen out of fashion.”
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