Saturday, October 11, 2008
You are what you eat
I am now on my fourth semester of studying Chinese and in every single Chinese book that I have had so far, there is at least one chapter about food. On the more elementary levels it was all about how to order food, and some basic things to ask for... then came the whole 'what to eat and when' (eg: dumplings on CNY) and then we started exploring the five (six) different tastes....
Now we have moved on to more 'advanced food knowledge' (?), such as names of famous dishes (some names are just so weird when you translate them to English, I mean, how about some 'pockmarked grandma's bean curd?!' -I prefer to call it 'mapu dofu'). No kidding that the Chinese take their eating seriously?! Don't get me wrong. Eating is one of my hobbies, together with writing and sports, but over here it's almost like an art. Coming from a quite lame food culture (Swedish meatballs, anyone?!) I have never spent that much time THINKING about what I eat, but more like.... just enjoyed it. Here, however, u should know your stuff.
The five (six) Chinese tastes: 辣spicy, 苦bitter, 甜sweet, 咸salty and 酸sour (and '淡dan' -tasteless) are quite distinct depending on where in the country you are. I am quite a fan of every type of food except for the sweet stuff, so bummer me for ending up in the sweet food area of China (Suzhou-Shanghai-Wuxi-Nanjing are all known for their weakness of sweet food) but fortunately u can also get other kind of food here (actually, I never go to authentic Shanghainese or Suzhou restaurants) so it's not a problem.
I'm a huge fan of spicy food, especially Hunan, and Sichuan dishes. Although Hunan and Sichuan food are both spicy they are not spicy in the same way... Our teacher explained this to us yesterday. Gosh, so many rules/exceptions that I can barely remember, but I think he said that Sichuan food is both spicy (辣la) and known for giving a 'num feeling in the mouth' (麻ma) while as Hunan food is just spicy....? However, don't quote me on this, I might be wrong! (anyone who knows the difference feel free to explain)
An interesting thing I found out is that people from Shanxi that love sour food are especially big on vinegar. Some love it so much that they start every meal with a small cup of vinegar that they drink straight! There u go!!! Apparently there used to be a teacher from Shanxi working at Suzhou Uni.. every time they went for lunch together at a local little restaurant, he used so much of the complementary vinegar on the tables that the restaurant eventually took them away. When he asked for vinegar they told him that he consumed too much and that he from now on had to pay for it! Hihi!
Our teacher (obviously being very interested in the food culture of China) went on to tell us that food preference in China also reflects on personality... Meaning that girls from Sichuan and Hunan are often referred to as 'la mei zi' 辣妹子 meaning they have a fiery temperament and a talkative nature, meanwhile 'tian mei zi' 甜妹子, such as girls from Shanghai and Suzhou have a more sweet way, and also were more calm and laid-back... (hm.... really?! My Suzhou neighbour is everything but calm?! She's a ball of fire!!! Maybe she's got relatives from Sichuan?) He then went on to ask us what we taste was preferred in our country, and said that the Swedish taste (淡dan=tasteless/not salty) seemed to reflect my personality... (meaning: I am.... a tasteless person?! Nah, he more said I seemed very calm and humble -gosh, I sound like the most dull person in the world, no?!) meanwhile my south Korean classmates (known for loving their spicy kimchi) were described as fiery and straight-forward.
Obviously this is not to be taken too seriously but I guess in some cases it makes sense. At least it seems that spice-loving people are a little bit more fiery... But Shanghainese girls, sweet and calm?! Ehum... I don't think so!!! What do you think?