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The “Ethnic” Restaurant:Migration, Ethnicity, and Food Authenticity in Shanghai

Shajidanmu Tuxun
p. 59-68


Based on fieldwork at Xinjiang restaurants in Shanghai, this paper focuses on the social mechanism of the negotiation of food authenticity. Centring on how factors such as capital, ethnicity, and locality play out in defining and contesting the authenticity of “ethnic cuisine,” this research locates the rising Xinjiang food market in a broader context of migration, globalisation, and consumerism, and analyses an array of competing definitions about authenticity among the restaurant management, employees, and customers at the sites of production, presentation, and consumption. The trajectory of Xinjiang restaurants manifests the reproduction and transformation of cultural representations into potential economic value and unveils how conceptualisations of locality and ethnicity take on particular market‐driven forms. The contested claims over authentic Xinjiang food and the creation of authenticity in restaurants echo local people’s imagination about Xinjiang, ethnic identity politics in China and the development of the market economy in relation to migration.

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Editor’s notes

Manuscript received on 13 July 2021. Accepted on 31 May 2022.


Full text document will be published online on December 2023.


Migration, ethnic food, and the restaurants
Xinjiang, migration, and Xinjiang restaurants
Shanghai style Xinjiang cuisine
Consumption, ethnicity, and the local middle class

First lines


Food is one of the most essential and tangible elements of human life as well as a revealing index of social and cultural boundaries. As David Sutton (2001: 3) perceptively notes, food itself “hides powerful meanings and structures under the cloak of the mundane and the quotidian.” Food authenticity, meaning the “real,” “genuine,” or “original,” stands for an aptly, if not identically, reproduced regional or ethnic food culture and the larger world of sensory experience that the consumption of that food evokes. Authenticity claims linking food to place – what the French term terroir, or what Trubek (2009) calls “the taste of place” – rest on assumptions that geographic conditions contribute to food’s inherent characteristics and qualities. In global markets, food is increasingly valued for its authenticity, that is, its links to specific people, places, and times.

Authenticity is produced from cultural values and commercial practices that create economic value (Cavanaugh ...

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Bibliographical reference

Shajidanmu Tuxun, The “Ethnic” Restaurant:Migration, Ethnicity, and Food Authenticity in ShanghaiChina Perspectives, 2022/04 | 2022, 59-68.

Electronic reference

Shajidanmu Tuxun, The “Ethnic” Restaurant:Migration, Ethnicity, and Food Authenticity in ShanghaiChina Perspectives [Online], 2022/04 | 2022, Online since 01 December 2023, connection on 01 April 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Shajidanmu Tuxun

Shajidanmu Tuxun obtained her PhD in anthropology from the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity/Utrecht University. Currently, she is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Sociology, East China University of Science and Technology, 130 Meilonglu, Xuhui District, Shanghai, China. Her research interests include food and globalisation, gender and ethnicity, and migration and mobility (

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