Today (July 1st, 2010) a law prohibiting the possession, sale and distribution of shark fins goes into effect in the state of Hawaii. Hailed as a victory, albeit a small one, by conservationists, this law nevertheless is a major step in recognizing the need for government action to help save the shark. Sought after by the Chinese for millenniums, shark fins were a delicacy reserved for the elite, and served at important celebrations and banquets. With the recent rise of the middle class in China the demand for shark fins has skyrocketed. This Chinese fondness for shark fins is threatening the survival of the sharks. Although laws banning consumption of shark fins is a positive step in limiting shark fins trade we, as consumers, must also consciously make a choice not to eat shark fins if we were to succeed in preventing the shark’s extinction.
In her book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, Jennifer 8. Lee states that there are more Chinese restaurants in America than there are McDonalds, Burger Kings and Wendys combined. So why are there no outstanding Chinese restaurants in America?
Chinese American food is consistent, reliable, familiar and extremely boring. It has served the American public well and most Americans consider it comfort food. But when I yearn for good authentic Chinese food I usually end up at a small family-operated restaurant tucked away in Chinatown where the service is almost non-existent and the level of cleanliness leaves much to be desired.
In this second post of a series I am looking at trends in modern Chinese cooking that will be showcased at the James Beard Foundation’s Gala Dinner entitled Dumplings and Dynasties.
The menu for the Gala dinner is an extraordinary presentation of modern movements of Chinese cuisine globally. In my email interview with the vice president of the James Beard Foundation, Mitchell Davis, he says, “When we are dealing with immigrant cuisines, we often forget that food evolves after immigrants leave. Our increasingly global world means that chefs from all over are exposed to trends in ingredients and techniques from just about everywhere… Rather than try to recreate an old tradition, we thought it would be more interesting to see where Chinese cuisine is today. I think the chefs and the menu will do just that.”
As one of the most misunderstood major cuisines in the world, Chinese cooking has for the most part been relegated to a common and unsophisticated position in America. This is rather regretful since Chinese cuisine has a very long history and has developed into a refined and complex cooking tradition. After decades of political isolation and turmoil, China is now more open and is beginning to be politically and economically active on the world stage. Consequently the American public is paying a lot more attention to Chinese food. So it is not surprising that this year the James Beard Foundation decided to select Chinese cooking as the theme of their annual fundraising gala and educational conference. Known as “Dumplings & Dynasties,” the three-day event will begin on November 13th with a sumptuous modern Chinese banquet, at the historical Edison Ballroom in New York, prepared by distinguished guest chefs from China, Hong Kong and North America. The foundation will then host a two-day educational conference at New York University featuring experts on food and food culture of China.
I routinely read Asian news reports on several Chinese language Web sites, and this Friday morning was no different. But on that morning as I read the alarming and ever expanding number of news reports on tainted Chinese dairy products, I started feeling a growing unease at my regular consumption of Chinese food products. After an announcement on September 21st by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore that melamine was detected in the White Rabbit Creamy Candy from China, the candy was pulled off the shelves in many Asian markets. The Manufacturer finally announced a recall in China on Friday. As it happens White Rabbit Creamy Candy is one of my favorite candies. I’ve enjoyed them since my youth in Singapore and continue to purchase them here in New York’s Chinatown. After discarding my White Rabbit candies at home I wonder how I can keep my food supply safe.
Last Wednesday The New York Times published an article by Kim Severson about “Recipe Deal Breakers.” In it she asked if there is an ingredient or a technique that would stop you from using a recipe. The article was humorous and light-hearted, which I enjoyed immensely. However, that didn’t stop a firestorm of reactions from spreading all over the culinary blogosphere. Michael Ruhlman joined in the fray with his blog post the next day. Kate Hopkins at Accidental Hedonist continued the discussion with a poll. Now it’s my turn to ask a similar question. What is a deal breaker for creating authentic Chinese food in an American Kitchen?
This question came up during an Asian food panel discussion I attended at the Asia Society in New York on Monday. The discussion was titled “From Soy to Satay: Asian Sauces Going Mainstream.” A panelist put forward the idea that there is a difference in the definition of a sauce in Asian versus Western, or more specifically French cooking traditions. It was a revelation to … Continue reading When is a Sauce Not Really a Sauce?
I’m sure you’re very familiar with the hanging chickens and ducks in many Chinatown “charcuterie,” where you can get various kinds of roast meat and sausages. You are also probably familiar with how the shopkeeper hacks the chicken or duck with monstrous cleaver into bite-size pieces, unlike the common practice of cutting poultry at the joints by Western chefs. At a recent dinner party for … Continue reading Dinner and a Shattered Platter
I came across an article in yourcookingtips.com called “The Four Schools of Chinese Cooking.” It is one of the most blatantly misinformed articles about Chinese cooking styles.
Last Saturday Fred Ferretti wrote in a New York Times editorial about the poor state of Chinese food in America. Similarly last June Tim and Nina Zagat wrote an editorial, also in the New York Times, regarding the sorry state of Chinese restaurant food in America. These editorials highlight my biggest Chinese cooking complaints in America: 1) American public does not have good understanding of authentic Chinese food. 2) American food writers are not familiar enough with Chinese ingredients and techniques to write about them. 3) We always end up with writings about Chinese cooking with a fusion twist. How can you appreciate the play on fusion cooking if you do not even understand the bases?