Day 29: Dongbei

It is impossible to measure the extent of Chinese influence on global food, or to do justice to Chinese cuisine by itself in a single article.  There are five major regional flavors and countless sub-flavors.  Through interaction with the West, regional immigration, and ancient trade routes, Chinese food is ubiquitous throughout the world.  The impact of Chinese food on global cuisine cannot be overstated.  Although most of what is served in the United States is very americanized, there are still many places that serve legitimate Chinese food.

Tea is a integral part of the culinary scene in China.  There are five main styles of tea.  For anyone who takes a trip to China, a visit to a tea market is a must.

Tea is a integral part of the culinary scene in China.  There are five main styles of tea.  For anyone who takes a trip to China, a visit to a tea market is a must.

Dongbei is the northwestern region of China.  The food their is distinct for its use of pickled vegetables, due to its harsh winters and shorter growing season.  With its proximity to the coast, fresh fish is also a staple.  Braising, the process of frying food lightly and then stewing in a sauce, typifies food from this region.  

Lucky Pot was our choice for Northeastern Chinese Food.  Its a small restaurant tucked away in chinatown which is frequented by predominantly Chinese clientele.  Ironically my first introduction to real Chinese food was in Cairo.  We lived on the border of Cairo's Chinatown.  With few westerners for clients and a significant population of Chinese, the restaurant there only had a menu in Mandarin and the staff only spoke Mandarin.  It was a guessing game every time we went in there, but we were never disappointed.  One of our personal favorites was the fried green beans and the stir-fried cucumber and egg.  The first time I ate at Luck Pot, I was immediately transported back to Cairo.  Our waitress at Lucky Pot recommended her personal favorite dish from the region, braised pork in black bean sauce.  She described it as a comfort food dish.  After trying it, we had to agree.  

Another game changing favorite of ours was the bacon and onion stir-fry dish.  If you have ever had the bacon at a Korean BBQ restaurant, it is cut thick like that.  Other things to try are fried green beans and stir-fried cucumbers and egg.



Is it Racist?

In a recent interview titled Pho Pas by Chase Purdy (Ironically the title is a faux pas),  Celeste Noche explores how racism influences many popular food photographers.  Racism is too strong a word; a better term would be ehtnocentrism, which implies more of the blissfull ignorance (though sometimes intentional) that people exhibit in assuming that their home culture is the correct lens for the world.  This manifests itself in statements of superiority or in assumptions which are uninformed about the culture under discussion.

Lets talk about how to avoid some cultural faux pas.  While one in five people in the world are Chinese, not all Asians are Chinese.  In fact, not all Citizens of China are ethnically Chinese.  China has a diverse past through, trade and conquest, which resulted in a diverse society.  Although more than 90% of the Chinese are Han Chinese (the ethnic group westerners typically associate with "being Chinese") there are more than fifty native ethnic groups in China, most of whom have their own language.

In addition to not all Asians are Chinese and not at Chinese are Han, not all Asians use Chopsticks.  Some countries in the region opt for the fork and spoon, such as Thailand and the Philippines.  In general, the place where most westerners get into trouble with Chopsticks is treating them like toys or props.  Imagine how offensive it would be to see adults playing with forks and knives like pitchforks and swords at a restaurant.  Avoid tapping chopsticks on the bowl or plate (an antic used by beggars for attention), letting them rest by stabbing them into rice (this resembles a ritual for venerating ancestors), or stabbing them into hard to eat food (a reflection of poor parenting).  Chinese culture shows deference to elders, so when in doubt, take a moment to sit and watch what older patrons in the restaurant do and then follow suit.