The Classic American Diner: What is it?


In a further analysis of my geography/ mapping project, I have decided to take up Professor Kwa’s suggestion and investigate the Chinese-style diner. Before entering the diner, I was not exactly sure what I would expect. Would there be a mix of American and Chinese food? Did the inside look like a traditional diner, similar to the restaurant’s stainless steel exterior?

Chung 1Upon walking into Chung Sing, I realized that this restaurant was definitely not a diner. Although it was adorned with booths and a diner-stye tables, there was nothing in the interior of the restaurant that truly stood out as a traditional diner, especially in the context of Ruby’s Diner and Minella’s Diner.

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*Note: The clientele were solely Americans. There was not a specific age-group/ type of person that seemed to visit the restaurant.

The light fixtures were decorated with Chinese characters, the traditional counter that is a staple at any diner was missing and set-up of the table was akin to a fast-food Chinese restaurant. Taken aback, I was quickly seated by one of the two native-Chinese employees. Without inquiring, the waiter quickly brought me tea, fried wontons, duck sauce and water.

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But, something irked me right away about this set-up. After studying abroad in China, I expected mainly green tea (绿茶) with the exception of the occasional (红茶) to be served at a majority of restaurants. However, the tea that Chung Sing served me was clearly English Breakfast tea with honey in it. This was very unexpected and was the first sign of something more “diner-like” or “Western-like,” other than the architecture, at the restaurant.

The waiter also presented me with the  menu, which I eagerly perused.

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In terms of contemporary times and my experience with Chinese menus, this menu seemed more akin to a fast-food Chinese restaurant. It presented the essentials to any Chinese-American establishment, such as “Broccoli and Beef,” “General Tso’s Chicken,” and “Kung Pao Chicken.” However, after completing my projects this semester, it seemed to me that this menu was similar to the New York Public Library’s Archive of Menus and included dishes that were popular in the early 20th century during the height of Chinese food establishments. The menu included the dish that we re-created in our cooking project, Moo Goo Gai Pan, as well as the mix of a type of meat and vegetables congealed with a brown soy-sauce mixture. Because I was very hungry, I decided to start with pork-fried dumplings (which were delicious!) and the “House Special Duck.” I thought that this was a very interesting dish because it incorporated basically everything on the menu. It included: “sauteed with jumbo shrimp, chicken, roast pork and Chinese vegetables in a Brown sauce cover with deep fried duck.”

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All in all, I truly recommend Chung Sing. The food was phenomenal. And, I am not the only person to think that. Several Yelp reviews have confirmed that Chung Sing is a deadly combination of low prices and good food. Another interesting observation about the restaurant is that for certain dishes, it offered free dessert. These desserts ranged from cookies to ice cream to cake. If your dish did not include dessert, like mine did, you were still offered an orange and fortune cookies.

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This aspect of Chung Sing confirmed my initial hunch that the restaurant has been Americanized, as many other Chinese have adapted and change in order to create an unique cultural fusion of food. After a brief conversation with the waiter, who do not have a a lot of time to answer questions, I found out that Chung Sing is a family-owned businesses, which is similar to many other diners, including Minella’s Diner. The owners of Chung Sing have owned the building for 35 years. Beforehand, the restaurant actually was a diner. The waiter believed the name of the diner was called “Big Al’s,” which specialized in hot-dogs and hamburgers.  Overall, Chung Sing, in both the restaurant’s architecture and its menu, has adapted a classic American emblem into its own individual Chinese-American blend.

2 thoughts on “The Classic American Diner: What is it?

  1. This is really interesting, and I like how you incorporated your interviews of the two different kinds of “diners” in to your map. It might be interesting to have a map for comparison in which you show where your two diners are, but also one that shows all restaurants that identify themselves as diners or have the word diner in their name within a radius of where you were working. Have you seen the Chinese restaurant in Ardmore that is in a diner-like location? That might be a really interesting hybrid comparison for you! (

  2. I just read your updated post, and it is really fascinating! I am so glad that you followed up on my previous comment!

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