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Can SE Asian Resturants Charge $20/Plate?

Kelly and I have recently been debating this topic on and off now for the last few weeks as we’ve gorged on $7/bowl ramen, four for $1 dumplings and $15 a head feast of Chinese food. How come you can get such great Chinese food for so little? And how come you EXPECT it to be so cheap?

Our recent visit to Kampuchea, a smaller Cambodian restaurant in the LES, is an example. Kelly complains of disappointment with our visit and while I have to say it wasn’t the must spectacular food, I’m certain it was better than the one star she granted it on yelp. To be fair, the hostess told us that it would be a 45 minute wait when we arrived. We didn’t wait more than 45 minutes, but we did have to wait on the runway of service, waiters were constantly brushing by us causing us to suck in our gut every 30 seconds. We should have gone somewhere else to wait.

And when we sat, the prices were not ridiculous for a LES restaurant. $18 for three sardines is a bit hard to swallow, but $12-$15 for noodles fits right into the prices here. While there are some remarkable deals for lunch in this neighborhood, dinner is rarely less than $12/main unless you’re going to a slice of pizza joint. In all the complaining, I can’t help but think that this frustration was not only caused by our hunger, but also because we expect Southeast Asian food to be cheap.

Why is this? Kampuchea pays LES rent. The restaurant itself was nicely appointed with average fine-dining service. I would guess that if you traded the pho noodles for Italian pasta and kept everything else equal, this would’ve been classified as just average and not a huge disappointment.

I have a memory of Kelly coming home from book club one Monday night, Vietnamese sandwich in had. She remarked over and over again how great the little sandwich was and complaining loudly. “It’s not fair to my peeps. This sandwich is only $3! How come my peeps can’t charge more for their food?!”

Because if they do, we’ll complain loudly…


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