Cho-Sen Garden

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Michael Robinson sent in this photograph of a strip mall in Flushing Meadows taken by Spencer Kiser and posted on Flickr:

Underneath the photograph, it says: "The puns run thick on 108th St. Kosher Chinese / American / Japanese place on the way to the zoo." But the name of the restaurant makes me wonder whether the proprietors might be Korean or might at least want to evoke a feeling of Koreanness. "Chosen" (Joseon, Chosŏn, Choson, Chosun) 朝鮮 is an old name for Korea. The spelling "Chosen" indicates the Japanese name for Korea when it was under imperial Japanese rule.

"Chosen" 朝鮮 is usually understood as meaning "Morning Calm", but as S. Robert Ramsey has shown (see the second paragraph here), the two characters used to write the name cannot possibly have that interpretation. Instead, in this Chinese transcription, they were undoubtedly being used as phonograms to represent the sounds of a native Korean name, the meaning of which is no longer known.

Be that as it may, it would seem that the word was hyphenated as the name of this restaurant to avoid confusion with the English word "chosen" (which would be particularly salient in this Jewish neighborhood) and perhaps also to make it somehow seem more "Oriental".

Next door is the Registan restaurant. Registan is the name of the impressive public square in the heart of the ancient city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan, so I suppose it serves Middle Eastern or Central Asian food. Moreover, it seems that the Star of David on the sign above the Chinese-American-Japanese restaurant has been drawn to look as though it were a Chinese character.

At the far left of the photograph is a shop selling meat and poultry. All three of the establishments in this strip mall that sell food, including the Chinese and Islamic (?) restaurants, advertise that they are kosher.

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22 Comments »

  1. Daniel C. Parmenter said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 11:56 pm

    I suppose I should write to the Flickr photographer, but this is actually in Forest Hills, not Flushing Meadows. We live quite near here and go shopping in this neighborhood frequently.

  2. YM said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 1:25 am

    The online menu of Cho-sen has not a single Chinese character, nor any Korean food. It closes for the Jewish Sabbath. I think this restaurant's cute (or cheezy) name is aimed directly at a Jewish clientele, and the similarity to the name for Korea is coincidental.
    Chances are Registan is run by Bukhari (Tajik) Jews, whose community in Forest Hills is the largest in the U.S.

  3. maidhc said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 2:33 am

    It looks to me like the logo is supposed to be a Star of David made of chopsticks.

  4. Faldone said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 9:39 am

    And next to that we have a store with a Cyrillic sign offering films, books, and music.

  5. Ben said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 9:43 am

    Puns or attempts at cuteness and cleverness in names of kosher Asian restaurants are the norm in New York (and likely elsewhere). One that always amused me is Estihana, which sounds like two women's names and also like Benihana. There's also Gan Asia, which sounds a bit like Hebrew/Yiddish for "paradise" (lit: Garden of Eden), which in turn suggests the idiom "the flavor of paradise," meaning "delicious."

  6. languagehat said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 9:45 am

    From here: "Next to one of the most hilariously-named kosher Chinese restaurants in Queens (yeah, you know you're home with the Jews when you're parking Cho-sen Garden Restaurant!) is a restaurant with great appetizing options: Registan. Named for a high desert in Afghanistan, the place has a Central Asian menu that's not to be beat." If it's the same Registan I ate at a dozen or so years ago, it's sad that (according to the same web page) it's now closed; the food was Uzbeki and excellent.

  7. Cameron said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 10:05 am

    108th St. is near Flushing Meadows Park, but it's on the West side of the park, hence not in Flushing.

    Registan is almost certainly run by Bukhari Jews.

    I grew up in Iran, and can usually follow conversations in Persian. But on the occasions when I've overheard Central Asian Jews speaking among themselves, it's a somewhat surreal experience. I sometimes hear languages that sound at first as if they might be Persian, but which I decide are probably Pashtu or Kurdish, or some other such language. But in the case of the Jewish variants of Tajik I end up deciding that it actually is Persian, but I can't understand any more than a word here and there. There was a bagel shop not far from my place (closed a couple of years ago) that was run by Jews from Uzbekistan. I overheard conversations a few times between one of the workers there and a fellow who spoke with an Isfahani accent, and I had no trouble understanding both sides of that conversation. Plainly they can code-switch to something resembling "standard" Persian, but when the same guy spoke to his co-workers it was either in that weird language recognizable as Persian but completely unintelligible to me, or in Russian . . .

  8. Cameron said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 10:13 am

    Registan literally means "sand-land". There is a desert in Afghanistan that goes by that name, but the restaurant's name is doubtless a reference to the central square in Samarqand.

  9. KeithB said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 11:16 am

    Last night on NPR they were talking about the Johnson motor company of Hong Kong whcih makes little electric motors.

    The owner had originally started in the garment business with a name like "one stitch", when he started his motor company he transliterated the Chinese for "one stitch" into Johnson.

  10. julie lee said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 11:31 am

    Sorry, but how does "one stitch" in Chinese transliterate into "Johnson"? All I can think of is that "one stitch" in Cantonese Chinese (widely spoken in Hong Kong) is "yut jun" ("jun" here rhyming with English "sun"). Perhaps the Cantonese "jun" (literally "needle") inspired the Hong Kong owner to use the English name "Johnson"?

  11. John Lawler said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 11:32 am

    @Cameron: There's a Tadjik/Bukhori dialect of Judeo-Persian; that might be what they're speaking. It would be closer to Farsi than to central Asian Persian languages.

    Judeo-Persian is to Persian languages as Yiddish is to German, Ladino is to Spanish, etc. Lots of Aramaic and Hebrew loanwords, but recognizably a dialect of a language spoken where Jews lived.

  12. Faldone said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 11:36 am

    And I was introduced to the, to me, new term, Glatt Kosher.

  13. KeithB said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

    Sorry, it was "Make an inch"

    SIEGEL: By the way, we wondered why is a company founded in Hong Kong called Johnson Electric. According to a 1988 article in Forbes Magazine, the founder, Wang Seng Liang, was originally from Shanghai. Then he went to Hong Kong, and before motors, his business there was textiles. His chain of tailors was called Make an Inch which, as demonstrated by Google Translate, is, in Mandarin…

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

    SIEGEL: …which Mr. Wang transliterated to an English name that sounded close to…

    UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

    SIEGEL: Johnson.

    Here is the story:
    http://www.npr.org/2013/02/05/171179697/why-is-it-so-hard-to-make-a-100-percent-american-hand-dryer

  14. Howard Oakley said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

    There is another very apt and Western use of the name Cho-sen.
    In December 1950, during the Korean War, what was then known as Chosen Reservoir was the furthest north of a rapid push by UN forces, almost taking them to the Chinese border. Unknown to them at the time, around ten divisions of the Chinese Army then entered the war, forcing a bitter (and bitterly cold) retreat south to the coast.
    The UN veterans of that campaign are members of the Chosen Few. Although when I first got to know them, there were many, as they are now well into old age they are sadly becoming all too few.
    Howard.

  15. KWillets said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

    A few dishes there might be Korean-ish, like the scallion pancake (Pa-jeon in Korean).

    In modern Korean, Joseon-jok are people from the Korean ethnic region of China (within the borders of the old "Go Joseon", or the farthest reaches of historic Korea), so ironically the term refers to Chinese rather than Koreans. This doesn't seem to be their style of restaurant though.

  16. julie lee said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

    @KeithB

    Thanks Keith. How did the company-name "Make An Inch" become the English name "Johnson" for a company in Hong Kong?

    "Inch" is roughly CHON in Cantonese, spoken in H.K., and that is pretty close to JOHN in Johnson.

  17. Jongseong said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 5:00 pm

    A few comments/observations:

    1. As a Korean myself, I find it highly unlikely that an actual Korean proprietor would use the form Chosen outside of a Japanese context.

    2. The Russian/Ukrainian form of the name is Choson (Чосон) and I've seen an ethnic Korean establishment in Kharkiv use the name. Probably no connection to Cho-Sen Garden, though.

    3. Howard Oakley, you're thinking of the Chosin Reservoir and the Chosin Few. The name of the reservoir is is actually Jangjin 장진 in Korean, but the UN Forces only had Japanese-language maps of the area and Chosin is the Japanese reading of the Chinese characters for Jangjin, 長津.

    4. KWillets, let's not forget that for North Koreans, Joseon is still the name for Korea. And to clarify, Joseon-jok refers exclusively to ethnic Koreans and not just anyone from the Korean ethnic region, as it is a straightforward adoption of the Chinese term Chaoxianzu 朝鲜族 which means "ethnic Korean".

  18. Michael Robinson said,

    February 7, 2013 @ 5:39 am

    Note to those who are saying it is in Forest Hills, not Flushing Meadows. The Flickr poster geotagged the picture, meaning he placed it on a map. Flickr automatically chooses the location name, which is sometimes not quite right.

    The poster can manually edit the location if he wants. To point this out to him, you could post a comment on the picture, or send him Flickrmail, if you have a Flickr account. A basic Flickr account is free.

    You have to follow the link back to the Flickr posting, of course.

  19. Victor Mair said,

    February 7, 2013 @ 8:33 am

    From Zev Handel:

    I doubt that Korean has anything to do with it. Just as the Star of David, a Jewish symbol, is rendered with brush-stroke chopsticks to make it look more Chinese-y (or, if you will, "oriental"), similarly the English word "chosen", evoking the phrase "chosen people" (i.e. the Jews), is broken up with a hyphen to make it look more Chinese-y. Rather than trying to "avoid confusion with the English word", the owners are quite deliberately evoking the English word "chosen" to signal that this Chinese restaurant is catering to a Jewish clientele.

  20. Mike Koplow said,

    February 8, 2013 @ 9:10 am

    I was going to say what Ben (2/6, 9:43 AM) said, and I find it really annoying. Here in Chicago we have a kosher Chinese carryout place called "Tein Li Chow," "tein li" being Hebrew for "give me." The kosher Chinese restaurant that went out of biz a few years ago (shortly after Tein Li opened, which may not be a coincidence) was called "Mi Tsu Yun": "metzuyan" is Hebrew for "excellent." It's pretty obnoxious. If some Chinese (or other non-Jewish) people opened a restaurant for a clientele from their own ethnic group; that restaurant specialized in Jewish food; and they gave the restaurant some cutesy-poo name based on what they thought was a Yiddish-sounding phrase–if they did all that and we found out about it, we'd be complaining about anti-Semitism.

  21. John Swindle said,

    February 8, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

    Although I hadn't heard of kosher Chinese, it didn't seem a particularly strange combination. But you're saying the proprietors of these places are non-Chinese? Interesting.

  22. Alan Shaw said,

    March 3, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

    Don't forget Shang-Chai-Kosher Restaurant in Brooklyn!

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