The Heartbreaking Truth: That’s Not Your Food
I know I know, a lot of our articles these days seem to be based around our China trip. But honestly – so, so many of our lessons-learnt have come from that experience alone. Just two minutes, I promise.
When we were preparing for our big China move, a
little HUGE part of me was doing it solely for the cuisine. I AM A BIG DUCK FAN, more to the point, a duck-squished-in-little-greasy-pancakes-topped-with-cucumber fan. Yeah, I fucking love those bad boys.
I never found it once in Shanghai.
Ok, ok..well, it’s my fault for living in the wrong part. In Shanghai, Peking Duck isn’t what gets people going. I mean sure, they eat Peking duck, but not once did I see it being served with their little doughy comrade’s or tantalizing Hoi Sin sauce that us brits are used to getting from our local Chinese takeaway. Peking duck, especially served with all the trimmings, is a Beijing thing.
According to the official website of Beijing, the dish Peking duck, also known as Beijing duck or simply Chinese roast duck, had its beginnings in the Yuan Dynasty (1271 to 1368), a time when the Mongol Emperors ruled China.
Now, that’s quite an impressive culinary history right there. Can you name any other dishes going back over 700 years, with royal lineage?! Nope, didn’t think so.
There are in fact eight regional cuisines of Chinese food. Hunan cuisine is associated with chilli and garlic flavours and its famous crispy duck; Fujian cuisine is known for its umami (savoury) taste and seafood dishes, and then there are others including Sichuan, Shandong and Jiangsu cuisines. Sichuan, for example, uses ‘numbing pepper’ in their dishes – something that totally took me and Thibault by surprise!!
In Great Britain, we were first graced with Chinese food in the early 19th century (approximately 1908) thanks to a lovely bunch of Chinese sea-men who began to open up restaurants in the London area. The majority were in fact from Hong Kong, who tamed down their authentic recipes to better suit local tastes. Of course, there is also the issue of finding Chinese produce, so recipes began straying further when restaurant owners were having to substitute ingredients as well. Did you know, you can’t actually find Chop Suey in China? Conversely, almost every Chinese restaurant back then was better known as a ‘Chop Suey place’, and it kind of all just took off from there.
From our time in China, I can tell you that the food is absolutely NOTHING like what you are used to back home. At best, the food your eating in your hometown is a westernised version of Cantonese food, a particular style of Chinese food from the Guangdong province and Hong Kong.
Chinese food is so absurdly different I can’t even…nope, I just can’t even. A lot of the food we ate in Shanghai was swimming (SWIMMING) in thick, spicy cooking oil – something that took our stomachs a LONG time to agree with.
Forget sweet and sour chicken, lemon chicken, sesame chicken. Forget egg rolls, spring rolls, and even fortune cookies.
You know what? Even anything with broccoli…yup, you can forget that too. Broccoli is just a naughty step-in for Bok Choi.
Sorry to break that to you.
So what about the Japanese and their famous cuisine of Sushi? Well, similar story I’m afraid my friend. You won’t find mayonnaise, avocado or cheese in any sushi dishes concocted in the Far-East. Japanese versions tend to include only three or four base elements: raw fish, vinegar rice, condiments and seasoning.
The oriental principles of Sushi – good food in small portions – are for the most part abandoned in Western restaurants in favour of sushi dishes that suit larger Western appetites. You’ll see an abundance of Sushi ‘all you can eat’ and ‘conveyor-belt’ diners, which were of course a western concept.
In fact, you can also scrap the idea that the Japanese spend every lunch-time grabbing some rainbow-rolls to snack on, too. In Japan, sushi is solely for very special occasions, prepared only by an expert who has been trained for 10+ years. It’s not a casual meal like it very well could be in the western world – it’s seen as much more important than that. Birthdays, Funerals, and important Business Meetings are usually a good enough excuse to head out for sushi in Japan.
It was made world-famous back in the 60’s, when a Japanese chef brought ‘California Rolls’ to the scene. They were unable to get their hands on good quality fatty tuna, so decided to replace it with avocado instead (err, okay). Since then, hundreds – I mean hundreds – of variations of sushi are now readily available in every Japanese restaurant you step foot in.
Thibault and I are both pretty ashamed to admit we do love propping ourselves up at a sushi bar and watching the conveyor belt go round and round. It’s even one of the first restaurants we went to when we first met – so here’s hoping I can blame our culinary ignorance on nostalgia…
Ahhhh Thailand. The land of Phad Thai.
For me, Thailand is everything BUT Phad Thai. I don’t know when or exactly why, but I developed a teeeeeny bit of UTTER LOATHING for this dish.
What I want to scream from the rafters, is Thailand has SO MANY BETTER DISHES!!!! Tourists flock to the land of smiles in search for an ‘authentic Phad Thai’ and often overlook the countless other mouth-watering dishes at their fingertips.
What about Phad Ka Prao, Laab Gai, MASSAMAN CURRY!?
Saying that Phad Thai is a representation or epitome of Thai cuisine, deserving of national delicacy status, is a stretch. It’s ultimately a VERY Chinese-inspired dish, that gained popularization back in the 1930’s/1940’s when Thai Authorities attempted to both westernize and modernize the country.
Since then, it’s bloody stuck, and is unfortunately many peoples ‘go-to’ thai dish. Enter Phad Thai into google, and you’ll see a disgusting 7.2 MILLION results – proving its world-dominating-eminence.
If you REALLY want to try Pad Thai, or have a nail-biting oil craving – please, for gods sake, promise me you’ll at least get it from a Thai street vendor and not order it back home in a pseudo-thai restaurant. There are so many westernized adaptations of this dish, including, wait for it…KETCHUP AND PEANUT BUTTER. If you must have it, make sure you have one freshly prepared on the bustling streets of Bangkok, fragrant of tamarind, spicy dried chilis, ground peanuts….and a nearby 7-11.
As for me, I’ll pass, thanks.
And how about Australia?
This is one I’ll briefly touch on, more of a passing thought than anything. Everyone that hasn’t been to Australia seems to have a strong image of Australian cuisine, involving shrimps, barbies, and ….well, shrimps and barbies. There’s really no better time to debunk this little myth, and let you in on one of Australia’s deepest, darkest secrets…So, you know those cute, little goofy-legged national emblem characters?
Yeah, they eat those.
Kangaroo is an extremely normal thing to eat in Australia, something that sounds absolutely monstrous to most non-aussies. Kangaroo burgers, sausages, fillets – they eat the lot. I had my first Kangaroo Burger back in 2013, and whilst I had to continuously resassure myself that the particular kangaroo I was eating LIKED being a burger, it was actually exceedingly tasty.
There seems to be much speculation when it comes to the ‘Roo meat industry in Australia, with what appears as a national divide over whether the mammal is overpopulated and deserved of their fate, or whether the industry as a whole is an unregulated and overtly cruel business that’s been fruitfully glossed over by the government.
On a lighter note, when they aren’t tucking into Skippy, many Australians (and almost every single penny-clinching backpacker) survives on a diet of Meat Pies, Fish and Chips, and Tim-Tams.
If you don’t know what a tim-tam is. Stop right there.
This is what Wikipedia had to say about them:
“Tim Tams is a brand of chocolate biscuit made by Arnott’s and available in several countries. A Tim Tam is composed of two layers of chocolate malted biscuit, separated by a light chocolate cream filling, and coated in a thin layer of textured chocolate.”
Errr, SNORE, who do you think your kidding, Wiki????
Tim Tams are essentially the penguin rival, and ohhhhh boy do they pack a chocolatey punch. There’s even a website dedicated to the great penguin-timtam debate – who did it best?
Whether it be westernized errors, general misconceptions, or history to blame – it’s clear that many loved dishes and even cuisines are not quite what they seem.
Whether you eat to live or live to eat, at the end of the day – who cares.
If you enjoy your food, awesome. If not, you now know who to blame.