The Chinese like Indian food

Learn to eat from the Chinese

Most people in China eat much better than in Austria. Not in the top field, but on average. Sure, the country has culinary problems: poisoned baby food is regularly withdrawn from the market or a street cook is convicted of using recycled oil from the sewer system for deep-frying. There is no appreciation for good products here, regional and seasonal are more swear words and something for poor farmers.

Expensive restaurants or wealthy Chinese only buy ingredients from abroad, and there is currently a trend among very wealthy Chinese to buy their own farm, where organic vegetables and meat are grown and raised for their own families. The less wealthy are increasingly going to western fast food chains that offer Chinese food here, which, unlike street food, is considered trustworthy.

Despite all these grievances, everyday food in China is amazingly good. Fermented, small river fish and grilled cicadas in Wenzhou, pork feet in seagrass soup in Kangding, grilled goose and rabbit heads in Cheng Du, smelly tofu in Shanghai or fish head with fermented soybeans in Hong Kong - everything is a pleasure. There are certainly many reasons for the great, great Chinese food culture, here four that I consider essential. Much of this applies to other countries and food cultures as well. Unfortunately not on ours.

First of all, thanks: To the wonderful Simon XieHong and his friends, first and foremost Mr. Li and his colleagues, whose names I have not written down and therefore, shame on me, have forgotten.

They fed me for four days in Simon's hometown of Wenzhou, and even pampered me with the best food several times a day - I have never experienced such hospitality before. Many of the pictures here are from the time with them.

1) The Chinese are willing to struggle while eating

And not only that, the eating work gives them great pleasure. To Westerners, closing, sucking and gnawing may appear to be signs of inadequate table manners - but it is much more a surrender to enjoyment, a joyful willingness to do something for some delicacies. And this willingness opens doors to closed culinary worlds in many Europeans.

Small and very small fish with wonderfully tender, tasty meat, but with some bones more than others; Crabs that have too little meat to be worth the crab cracker's efforts, but that are delicious if you just chew on them and spit the shells out (not to mention the lower threshold for even eating a crab if you not having to use several strange instruments for this); Sea and river snails, which are small, but all the more tasty and versatile; And chicken feet or meat on the palate of ducks, which are only enjoyable if you are willing to chew on small bones - all of this escapes the lazy eater.

These things not only make the menu more varied, it is also more environmentally friendly: The western fixation on large predatory fish, which are high up in the food chain, is one of the main reasons for overfishing. That is not to say that the Chinese, with their excessive consumption of aquatic animals, do not make a massive contribution to this. But the approach of attaching the same, if not higher culinary value to small fish than big ones, because they don't care about bones, is worth emulating - just like the joy of snails, mussels and other small, easy-to-breed animals, that some industrial pig saves.

2) Chinese eat (almost) everything

I don't mean the infamous preference of rich Chinese for rare wild animals, the appetite for shark fin or the (rather limited) desire for dogs and cats. I mean, on the one hand, the willingness to see everything as potentially edible and delicious, and on the other hand, to eat impressively consistent nose to tail.

Everything is eaten by the animal without exception: Roasted, spicy duck heads - delicious if you are willing, see above, to bother yourself a little - or sour fish skin and swim bladder salad are testimony to this.

But animals are not the only thing that is completely recycled. In the vicinity of Wenzhou, pumpkin leaf vegetables are part of the repertoire, velvety, slightly furry, with a delicate pumpkin flavor; in Canton the leaves of the sweet potato are served, and in Shanghai tofu skin is cooked, seasoned sweetly and braided into tasty braids. What is usually served in Austria with beets, Swiss chard, broccoli or corn is a fraction of what could be eaten (or made with).

In addition, everyone here collects and tries to find out that it is a pleasure: grilled cicada skewers, jellyfish salad, tree sap sauce - this ensures, just like point one, a variety that is almost closer to the varied diet of the hunter and gatherer than the comparatively one-sided, bland food of the arable farmer (sure, only if you can afford it, the Chinese rice farmer eats less exciting).

It also saves resources: those who enjoy cicadas need fewer pork factories. A fish becomes significantly more meals if you don't simply throw away your head, skin or swim bladder or just throw it in the soup (there is still enough left for that).

Again, the approach is good, the practice is not necessarily. Here the Chinese eat significantly more pig's ears than their pigs give, which is why the ears are flown in halfway around the world. Thanks to their irrepressible love of turtles and frogs, they are hardly available in the wild; And the nose to tail is juxtaposed with the culinary extravagance of the new middle class, whose members often believe they will lose face if they do not order so much in the restaurant that half will be left over.

3) The Chinese love rotten things

No matter what you order in Yunnan and Sichuan, you will get fermented vegetables with it. Noodle soup? Full of sour Chinese cabbage. Fish head? Overflowing with fermented chillies. Tofu? Fried in very well matured soy porridge. And the Yunnan tea, the pu'er, is first fermented before it is pressed and then left to mature for many years. In other provinces, rot is not so ubiquitous, but Hong Kongers also shovel millennial eggs into their morning congee, Taiwanese (ok, no province) really like tofu when it stinks, and almost every fine Shanghai restaurant offers a selection of pickles as an amuse bouche, such as delicious dried and fermented carrots.

The Japanese with their miso, kasu and nuka may be the grand masters of rotting, the Chinese, if perhaps less nifty, run it on at least as large a scale: hardly a restaurant or kitchen that does not have a few fermenting pots around - with the result, that the food just tastes better.

Fermenting produces incredible, versatile, unobtainable tastes and turns banal, bland ingredients into delicacies. This is not only possible with vegetables, everything that tastes good raw can also be fermented, from eggs to sea urchins. There is also a lot of evidence that this is extremely healthy. The idea that a disturbed intestinal flora is (partly) to blame for almost all diseases of civilization has been hotly debated for several years. And it looks like the bacteria that ferment food are pretty good at restoring that very flora. And their disappearance from our diet could be a reason for much more obesity and heart attacks. (If you want to know more: Michael Pollan's latest book has a lot to offer).

Fermentation is currently being rediscovered in the USA, but there are few indications in our country. Fermented here almost exclusively for yoghurt, cheese, bread, alcohol and the occasional sauerkraut - and mostly on an industrial scale that robs the result of its taste. ("Anyone who produces for the mass market wants fadesse - the less something tastes, the more people will at least not find it horrible", the beer pope once explained to me about what else, beer).

4) Chinese people share their food

Simple method, great effect. Sure, every Chinese person sips their morning noodle soup for themselves. But if food is celebrated as a social event - and it is almost always here - the whole table is ordered. Which has the big advantage that you can cost a lot more without overeating yourself.

In western countries it is at the very top of dining culture: with the tasting menu everyone gets their own divider, but very often it can only be ordered from the whole table and the portions are so small that ten, twelve or twenty courses are possible . In California, for example, there is currently a trend towards shared portions among the culinary middle class, but we only have rudiments here. How nice it would be if there was more to do. (Tobias Müller, derStandard.at, August 18, 2013)