Flat Earth

An analysis of Chinese restaurant names in the Netherlands

Is it just me or do all Chinese restaurant names look the same?

Neko cat
Most Chinese restaurants in western countries are just as Chinese as neko cats and fortune cookies

There are plenty of things in life that I have never done, but one thing that surprises many people is that after thirty-something years on this planet I still haven’t eaten at a chin. ind. spec. rest., i.e. the average Chinese restaurant in the Netherlands. This doesn’t stop people from asking me questions about the many dishes that can be found in such restaurants, like nasi goreng and babi pangang (neither of which are Chinese).

This confusion arises from the fact that very few Chinese restaurants in the Netherlands are actually Chinese – most are technically Chinese-Indonesian. These Chinese-Indonesian restaurants serve food that is catered towards and western tastes. Of course, much of the food is still Chinese in origin, as are the staff and the names of the establishments.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that many of these names look very much alike, as if names for Chinese restaurants have to be picked from a very short list of approved names.

While that’s obviously not the case, I was still curious what patterns we can discover in the naming schemes that are used by Chinese restaurants.

The maintains a database that lists every single business in the Netherlands. This could have been a good place to start our search, but sadly the most interesting parts of the database are hidden behind a paywall. Instead, I retrieved a list of all Chinese restaurants in the Netherlands using overpass turbo, a free web-based data filtering tool for OpenStreetMap. I don’t expect these results to be entirely complete or accurate, but they should be usable enough for our (very informal) exploratory study.

According to OpenStreetMap, there are 802 Chinese restaurants in the Netherlands. Most are located in South Holland and North Holland, which also happen to be the Netherlands’ two most populous provinces. What’s possibly surprising is that the data suggest that there are fewer Chinese restaurants in Flevoland than in the sparsely populated Zeeland.

# Province Count
1 South Holland 176
2 North Holland 122
3 Gelderland 103
4 North Brabant 93
5 Utrecht 59
6 Limburg 52
6 Overijssel 52
8 Groningen 41
9 Drenthe 38
10 Friesland 33
11 Zeeland 19
12 Flevoland 13

Most Chinese restaurants can probably be found in large cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, which seems about right. I’m not so sure about the accuracy of the data in smaller cities. It seems unlikely that a tiny city like Middelburg has six restaurants, when Arnhem, a city that’s almost four times the size of Middelburg, has only five.

# City Count
1 Amsterdam 35
2 Rotterdam 24
3 The Hague 20
4 Groningen 14
5 Utrecht 12
6 Amersfoort 9
6 Eindhoven 9
6 Apeldoorn 9
9 Leiden 8
9 Zwolle 8
11 Amstelveen 7
11 Roosendaal 7
13 Kampen 6
13 Delft 6
13 Middelburg 6
13 Dordrecht 6
13 Hoogeveen 6
13 Breda 6
19 Assen 5
19 Arnhem 5

The twenty most common names for Chinese restaurants are shown below. At first, the winner appears to be “Kota Radja”, which isn’t Chinese – it’s what the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh used to be called during the Dutch colonial period.

On closer inspection “De Lange Muur” (“The Great Wall”) appears to be the actual winner, when we also include “Lange Muur” (“Great Wall”) and possibly “Chinese Muur” (“Chinese Wall”) in the count.

Some other names are also more popular than one would expect based on simple string comparisons due to translations and transliterations (e.g. “Lotus” and “Lin Wah”).

# Name Count
1 Kota Radja (Koetaradja) 18
2 De Lange Muur 15
3 Peking 14
3 De Chinese Muur 14
3 Lotus 14
6 Hong Kong 11
6 Rose Garden 11
6 China Garden 11
9 Happy Garden 10
10 Chinese Muur 8
10 Ni Hao (你好, hello) 8
12 China Town 6
12 Golden City 6
14 Tong Ah (東亞, East Asia) 5
14 Dynasty 5
14 China 5
14 Azië 5
18 China Palace 4
18 Golden Rose 4
18 Lin Wah (蓮華, lotus) 4

Quite a number of restaurant names include a reference to China. I already mentioned “Chinese Muur” (“Chinese Wall”), but the list above also includes a “China Garden”, “China Town”, “China Palace”, and simply “China”.

The table below lists the 40 most common words, along with their number of occurrences. You’ll probably recognise many of the words from the list above.

# Word Count
1 restaurant 90
2 garden 85
3 de 68
4 china 59
5 chinees 53
6 muur 46
7 city 36
8 chinese 32
9 lotus 30
10 wok 29
10 golden 29
12 hong 27
13 peking 26
14 kong 25
15 palace 24
16 wah 23
17 new 22
18 indisch 21
18 chinees-indisch 21
20 kota 19
21 radja 18
22 rose 18
23 happy 17
23 hao 17
23 nieuw 17
23 lange 17
27 fong 15
28 dynasty 13
29 kee 12
30 dragon 12
31 gouden 11
31 azië 11
33 ni 10
34 house 9
34 town 9
34 sing 9
34 oriental 8
34 afhaalcentrum 8
34 royal 8
34 mei 8

The word cloud below visualises all the words that appear within restaurant names. You can tap or click on the image to open a vectorised version.

A word cloud that shows the most common words in Chinese restaurant names.

Several naming patterns emerge from the data, which are listed in the table below.

Many names are created by pairing a reference to China or the Far East, or a positive adjective (e.g. “golden” or “lucky”) with a generic word that describes a man-made place or something that can be found in nature.

There are also quite a number of restaurants whose names refer to things from China’s long and rich history, like its Great Wall (“Lange Muur”) and its Ming dynasty.

One particularly surprising finding is how often the word “new” (or its Dutch counterpart, “nieuw”) appears in restaurant names, especially since most of these restaurants

Restaurants with a name that… Count
refers to a generic place (e.g. “City”, “Wall”) 247
refers to nature (e.g. “Garden”, “Lotus”, “Jade”) 186
tells you it is Chinese (e.g. “Chinees”, “Chin.”) 183
has Chinese name (e.g. “Ni Hao”, “Nam Kee”) 153
contains “restaurant” or “rest.” 97
emphasises strength (e.g. “Imperial”, “Royal”, “Dynasty”) 97
try to convey an experience (e.g. “happy”, “golden”) 96
tells you it is Indonesian (e.g. “ind.”) 72
contains Chinese place (e.g. “Hong Kong”) 64
tells you it is Asian (e.g. “Eastern”, “Oriëntaals”) 48
tells you it is “new” or “nieuw 45
describes food (e.g. “wok”, “dim sum”, “grill”) 34