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Old 04-01-2012, 04:08 PM
 
Location: Toronto
3,338 posts, read 5,535,356 times
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I've actually only heard of this from in the media and from what people claim, not firsthand experience, though I don't know how accurate it is.

Apparently I've heard that some "ethnic" restaurants have items that are not on the regular menu that you can ask for and cook for you, but they do not show.

Is this actually true, in your experience?

If this is true, why would it happen that way? I've heard the logic in that there is a "special items/special menu" option to contain options that those "in the know", or regulars or familiars might like because they seem very exotic or something. But it seems like an odd way to do business if that's true. Why would having a product but not showing it help your business? At the very least, you are cutting off a large potential part of your market by doing that (they never know if there are people will to try the exotic items that they would offer if given the chance).

Is there something about the "daringness" of having a "secret menu" that boosts business or something? I have yet to actually go to any of the restaurants I know and say "got anything not on the menu?" but I recall seeing that happen only once in my life (a friend at a Thai restaurant asked for "a secret menu" and all she got in response was that there are kosher or halal versions of the regular dishes available).
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Old 04-01-2012, 04:49 PM
 
Location: Camberville
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I can only speak to a few Chinese restaurants in Boston's Chinatown, but yes. It was a lot of fun going with a Chinese friend of mine because she got the Chinese menu which was COMPLETELY different. I also know what foods they won't show the non-Asians who go for dim sum (like pig's blood pudding).
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Old 04-01-2012, 04:54 PM
 
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As a Jamaican I can say yes, there are things that only a "local" would know and they think may appreciate so you know to ask for it when you go there but they would never put it on the menu.
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Old 04-01-2012, 05:01 PM
 
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Yes. Many items you find on a menu at a Chinese restaurant aren't really Chinese, but dishes that were invented in the US, or are altered for Western tastebuds. Decent Chinese restaurants really do have secret menus for Chinese customers, with some dishes that are simply too hot for many Westerners or that they find repulsive (fish stomachs, chicken feet, intestines, kidneys, etc.).
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Old 04-01-2012, 05:01 PM
 
Location: Viña del Mar, Chile
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Say you go and visit that country and you know a lot about their culture, you ask "hey can you cook this up for me?" and a lot of times they will get excited and prepare it for you.

I've done this at different restaurants including Mexican, Colombian and Indian restaurants. That being said, I know a lot about all of these countries.

It isn't something where you walk in and ask for a "secret menu" just think of it like a special request to see if they can do it or not.
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Old 04-01-2012, 05:04 PM
 
Location: Toronto
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Hmmm... but why don't they put the items the "locals" like alongside the "regular" menu then?

I don't know jack about running a restaurant business but I thought it would help if the products could get more well-known, right and maybe even attract customers to try the new thing (I'm always open for trying stuff like that personally).
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Old 04-01-2012, 05:05 PM
 
Location: Toronto
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Quote:
Originally Posted by burgler09 View Post
Say you go and visit that country and you know a lot about their culture, you ask "hey can you cook this up for me?" and a lot of times they will get excited and prepare it for you.

I've done this at different restaurants including Mexican, Colombian and Indian restaurants. That being said, I know a lot about all of these countries.

It isn't something where you walk in and ask for a "secret menu" just think of it like a special request to see if they can do it or not.
Ah, that makes sense, but the way I hear it phrased often seems like people do mention that a secret "menu" exists with that kind of wording (rather than saying special requests).

Maybe it's just something from pop culture?

Edit: Oh, I should have read your post more carefully as you mention other countries. I guess I'm talking more so "ethnic" restaurants in the US and other western countries, but maybe your point still stands.
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Old 04-01-2012, 05:09 PM
 
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Yes, there are several items I just order at my usual Chinese restaurant that are not on the menu.
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Old 04-01-2012, 05:21 PM
 
13,710 posts, read 22,821,151 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stumbler. View Post
Apparently I've heard that some "ethnic" restaurants have items that are not on the regular menu that you can ask for and cook for you, but they do not show.

Is this actually true, in your experience?.

Absolutely.

Most Asian restaurants offer their normal menu and a "secret" menu. The normal menu is for the general public and dishes that would be very acceptable to a Western audience. The "secret menu" is one that is generally in their native tongue and is for people that are familiar with their home country.

Most of the restaurants WILL serve the "secret menu" to Anglos. However, some are hesitant as "you will not like it and want a refund." We encountered this problem in a Cantonese restaurant back in February. However, one of the diners called a friend who spoke FLUENT Mandarin. The friend spoke to the owner and we had a meal to remember. If you can speak a few words in the language, it really helps.

One thing that works AGAINST being served the "secret menu" is that it is generally in the other language. However, if it is a popular restaurant, you will generally find it on the internet.

Here are some examples:

LTHForum.com • View topic - LTH North Lunch Group - Silk Mandarin - Fri. 4/15 - 11:30am

‘Secret’ Thai menus no longer so secret | CNNGo.com

LTHForum.com • View topic - Newspapers and hypertext--the Trib on secret menus
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Old 04-01-2012, 05:43 PM
 
Location: California Mountains
1,448 posts, read 2,493,432 times
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I have asked for dishes that were not on the menu, even at restaurants that I was not a regular. I did that because I had a feeling the dishes might not be cooked the authentic way, but the way the owner believed would be easily accepted by the average customers. When I know how a dish should be cooked the authentic way, I would order it that way instead of the diluted version on the menu. For instance, at a Vietnamese-owned Asian take out place in Munich, I ordered the true Vietnamese egg rolls instead of the egg rolls on the menu, which, as I knew from experience of take out places, would be Chinese style. The cook was happily to do it for me from scratch.

You may ask at this point why Vietnamese egg rolls not be offered alongside with Chinese egg rolls at that take out place. Because most Americans, or in this case, Europeans, did not even know the difference between the two. Rather, all they have ever known in their lives was Chinese egg rolls, and that's how they believed egg rolls should be, but that was not what I wanted. I knew the superior taste and ingredients of Vietnamese egg rolls, but the average egg roll eaters did not. If the owner presented Vietnamese egg rolls on the menu for higher price (because of the ingredients) and smaller size (because that's the way it's supposed to be,) I doubt it would appeal to the value-conscious consumers. I am only one customer, my order alone did not help the owner to pay the rent, while the average egg roll eaters, which happened to be the majority of the customers, were his true bread and butter.

You ask why a restaurant not presents a dish as authentic as it should be. Simple reason: because the Dick and Jane of American consumers do not wish to try things that are not familiar to their taste buds. Some adventure souls might claim they like fish sauce, but would the average American diners order a dish that comes with fermented shrimp paste or fermented anchovy paste? There is an ongoing thread on this forum on durian, on which many comments run along the line of "If the smell is that bad, I would never wish to try." Well, durian is not even in the same league with fermented anchovy paste, since the latter does not just smell bad, but tastes bad as well. However, fermented anchovy paste is a very important ingredient in certain dishes, the kind of dishes that only people in the know would order.

I also order items that are not in the menu when I am a regular of certain restaurants and know that the dishes can be had. For instance, in one of the restaurants where we used to live in FL, the alligator tails were offered as breaded. I never like my food breaded so I once asked for grilled gator tails instead. The chef said the grill was not at that moment, but he would be willing to sauté the ingredients for me. So, grilled or sautéed gator was what I ordered from then on while no one else knew the dish was available.

I also ordered a special shrimp salad at our favourite mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant where we live now. The dish was never on the menu, but I saw the cook made it for one of the owner's family members once, and it looked incredibly good. It never hurts to try, so when we came in next, I asked for it, and got it. Shrimp salad is not something people would order in a Mexican restaurant, so why should they offer it to the public?

When we lived in Italy, it was a normal practice to offer regulars special dishes that were not on the menu. The practice was done to show appreciation, or simply because the limited quantity of ingredients (not enough to make it a dish for the menu.)

I do not think there is an actual "secret menu" sitting in the back room of a restaurant waiting to be presented only to the regulars though. That sounds too much like secret handshake for a secret society. I believe it would be more like, "What do you have today that is special?" instead of "What is in the secret menu?" It would be able difficult to keep a straight face for that second question. (BTW, a menu in the owner's native language is not a "secret" menu, even if it offers different dishes than the one in English.)

Last edited by Ol' Wanderer; 04-01-2012 at 05:55 PM..
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