I’m in Yantai, in Shangdong province in China. A costal resort with 9 miles of golden beaches overlooking North Korea, equidistant between Shanghai and Beijing. A beautiful place, the wine area of this global Superpower at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. I’ve been to all of the awards since 2008. Sitting on a bus knowing not knowing the destination with the worlds best food writers is my idea of heaven, the fun, the intelligent conversations about food and more importantly the global networking is my idea of work and a holiday. But Chinese food in China, what is it?
Thats a very good question. I have been to this fabulous country many times. Many many times. I’ve presented over 20 hours of TV here, I’ve had audiences of 100 million watch my shows, I’ve launched AGA cookers here, I’ve seen the most amazing landscapes and every bit I have treasured. But it’s taken me a while, one can not appreciate China through British eyes, one has to set aside all one knows from ones culture and realise that China has older and more history than the UK. That China is a country older than the UK and the history of that through the 24 Dynasties (Ming, Qing, Tang etc) and about 400 Emperors, right up to the modern day PRC (Peoples Republic of China).
After launching AGA in China in March past many comments were to be found on social media in the UK asking for Chinese recipes. I assure you, what the West knows as Chinese food is nothing but an insult to the Chinese. Food tells the story of a people, it’s history, its celebrations. And China does that better than any of the 40 other countries I have visited during my time on this Earth.
As a basic guide, Monsieur Andre Cointreau, president of Le Cordon Bleu famously stated there are 2 types of cuisine in the world, French and Chinese. The only technique that is similar through the two cuisines is boiling. There are 10 cooking methods in Western cooking and 15 in China. they don’t roast, bake or grill in China. But the level of skill here is stunning. Envious to even the highest levels of Western Cuisine. Where we eat for taste, the Chinese for texture. The Chinese eat for health and due to a poor past, quite rightly so waste nothing.
There are ‘8 cuisines’ of China, each of them very different in how they are made, it’s such a large place, that’s why! Shangdong where I’m currently situated is considered the “foundation of Chinese cuisine” when a chef is training. The food is fresh, brightly coloured, served beautifully and dinners go on for a long time and are an event in themselves. Each Chinese dish tells a story of history and this is prized more than the flavour, the texture is next, the health benefits followed lastly by the flavour. Completely the opposite to the West.
Wine in China has a different culture to the West. At a formal meal everyone has a glass of wine, the size of a thimble, a toast is made to each person at the table in turn and the wine is drunk in one go. Then the next and so on. Small wine glasses are appreciated if its a large table! Chinese rice wine is “hard liquor” and I have seen it referred to as 3 parts petroleum, one part French perfume. That is kind. I have drunk it many times, but I struggle with the flavour.
Yantai where I am is the new wine region of China. The size of the bonded warehouses, the hectare upon hectare of vineyards, the Scottish Castle – Treaty Port (complete with AGA), the German Schloss and French Chateau. Wine culture will change due to Yantai, the Chinese are masters at planning ahead. It’s a privilege to be here.
So back to sweet and sour? The future here is certainly not sour.