We all know that fresh is best when shopping at Asian markets and patronizing Asian delis and restaurants. We poke, paw and sniff the wares to ensure that they've been recently made. If they're warm and soft, we know they're good. But health departments suspect that such practices aren't hygienic.
Last year, in California, the health and safety of leaving banh chung sticky rice cakes and banh trung thu moon cakes and banh tet (special sweets for the Mid-Autumn festival) out at room temp because the focal point of a legislative debate. The governor passed a law allowing such heritage foods to slide by.
RST, an avid Chowhounder, just alerted me to the fact that one of his favorite Vietnamese restaurants in Chicago was just raided by the health department. Here's RST's blow-by-blow account:
I saw the most upsetting thing today! Went to Dong Ky for a late lunch-this is the restaurant closest to my house and my go-to for a quick meal. Food usually comes out freakily fast; today, I was engrossed in a book and didn't realize that almost 20 min had passed since I gave my order. Looking up, I saw that several tables were also patiently waiting. Waiters and the owners were calm but obviously stressed out over something. Soon a lady in hairnet and a white lab coat and a ream of papers walked out and I realized that the place was being inspected. The inspector was upset about something and was scolding one of the ladies who own the place. Shortly afterwards, the inspector's supervisor (or that's what I assume he is) walked in to mediate the problem. Apparently the inspector had confiscated all the rice cakes, all the buns, sweets etc sitting on the counter on account of their being sitting at room temp (!!!) and while she was inside inspecting the kitchen, the staff had quietly packed them off in plastic bags to be hidden in a neighboring store and this infuriated the inspector. Those bags were promptly brought back as both sides quietly tried to resolve the problem. Still, all those rice cakes, sweetmeats etc had to be destroyed, thrown into garbage bags right there and then to the horror of all the Vietnamese in the house. These are cakes and buns that have millennially been served at room temp and sold just like this in markets all over Vietnam. They are also displayed the same way in virtually all of the other shops all throughout Argyle Street!!!! I don't know what perverted strain of zealousness (or cluelessness) made this inspector insist on poking her thermometer into every bun and insisting that they should either be refrigerated or kept in a warmer!!! Among the goodies thrown out (before my eyes) were banana cakes, leavened rice cakes, stuff that could have sat out for days without harm. Meatball stuffed buns were also all thrown out-if they do this here-they would also have to throw out all of Chiu Quon's buns for staying out (granted, inside bakery cases) at room temp. Also thrown out were com ruou, fermented rice balls sitting in a pool of the sweet wine exuded in its making-how could the woman have known that the thing is fermented already and have no chance of going bad under normal circumstances.
Curiously for all the chowhounding I do (i.e. the time I spend in restaurants), this is actually the first time I have actually seen an inspector in action. If such a thing could happen here, I wonder how many times over this misdirected zealousness has been applied throughout the city at eateries of widely diff ethnicities!!! It is this kind of blindered over-regulation (that we hear about, anecdotally, here and there, now and again, from small restaurateurs) that leads to the impoverishing of our food horizon!