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The variety of Chinese cooking



Commenting on Paul Simon's account of donkey meat as food, I asked if there is anything the Chinese do not eat. Paul replies: "Of course, the Chinese have a saying about eating everything (they have a lot of "sayings" for a linguistic/phonetic reason but that's another topic entirely). "Fei Qin, Zou Shou, Shenme Dou Chi"--Whatever flies the sky and walks the earth, it all may be eaten. This saying is quite ancient but the modern PRC version is, "Anything with legs except tables and chairs, anything from the sea except submarines, and anything that flies unless Being made it" (presumably Airbus and Antonov products are tasty).

My theory is that during periods of famine, hungry Chinese citizens tried any bit of biomass around. Being great cooks, they found ways to prepare almost anything in a tasty fashion. I was recently in a squalid roadside eatery with some Chinese friends. They ordered a vegetable I'd never seen called "ho Pi Cai" (thick skin vegetable). They told me that, until the famines of the Great Leap Forward, they had regarded this plant as hog slops but later had tried it and found it good. Stir-fired with Sichuan peppers, it was quite delicious!

I can hold audiences spellbound for protracted periods with tales of all the fried scorpions, turtle bile, snake blood, puppy penis, jellied camel hoof, etc. Dog-eating is another topic entirely. Dog isn't popular is all of China, but is in Manchuria and some south coastal regions. Its also popular in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Korea. Right now there is a huge controversy in South Korea about whether to classify dog as "livestock". Seoul has two English-language newspapers with websites (the Korea Herald and the Korea Times) for anyone who wants to read up on the brouhaha".

Animal lover Linda Nyquist comments: "The college girl who has been living with me, Dana, is leaving for China in about 2 months. She has already mentioned "man's best friend" market in the town where she is going - apparently you can select the dog you plan to eat. Of course, I get nauseated at the thought of this. Paul McCartney once said that he didn't want to eat anything that had had a face."

My comment: "Had had", i.e. before cooking. Does a fish have a face? The French think they are very intellectual. My old professor at Oxford, Gustave Rudler, said he could not eat "cervelle" (the flesh of the brain, as opposed to "le cerveau", the brain). My guess is that he would have no compunction about eating horsemeat. I confess I am out of my depth. Do we eat brains, and what do we call it? I don't think it is "sweetbread", a crazy word which applies to the neck or pancreas of an animal. WAIS has an expert for everything. Is there one for cooking?

Ronald Hilton - 1/11/02


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