About the China Food Trail Project 中國食跡 20,000 km in search of the origins and evolution of Chinese cuisine.
The history of Chinese food has long been a source of fascination for me. I want to know how this extraordinary cuisine came to be; why the Chinese eat the way they do. To find out, at the end of April I'm setting off on the second trip of a series of journeys through China in search of the origins and evolution of Chinese cuisine. The project (research for a book) involves traversing twenty provinces, literally, and half a million years, historically.
Chinese is the world's most popular food. Not only does it sustain 1.3 billion people in its homeland, it is one of the most widely eaten ethnic cuisines on the planet. Did you know that in the United States alone there are more Chinese eateries than McDonald's worldwide?
But as familiar as Chinese food is, Chinesefood culture is not well understood, particularly in its native environment – anyone who visits China, no matter how briefly, returns with colourful culinary anecdotes. Some of these tell of surprising, and wonderful dining experiences, others are almost guaranteed to gross out friends or family.
For over ten years I have lived in Taiwan, an island with a predominantly, ethnic Chinese population. Though Taiwan is smaller than Switzerland, I am constantly discovering 'new' ingredients and dishes. But the variety available in Taiwan pales in comparison to China. The Middle Kingdom, a country with a more diverse climate and geography than any other, is two-hundred and sixty times larger than Taiwan. If measured by its range of ingredients, preparation methods, and dishes, Chinese is likely the world's most sophisticated cuisine.
In China I will be meeting people from all walks of life and discovering how they live and eat. But most of all I'll be eating; in palatial dining halls, in rowdy night markets, savouring a variety of foods, some of which have intrigued or repulsed foreigners for centuries.
Stage 2 On this stage of the project I will spend about six weeks in China, tracing the Silk Road (Chinese leg), and along the Grand Canal from Hangzhou to the Yangzi River.
I will be sharing experiences, anecdotes, photographs, and perhaps some recipes picked up along the way. I hope to provide some historical context, and some sense of the variety of Chinese food available today, as well as some of the fascinating minutiae of daily life in China.
Chinese rarely sit down to a lunch or dinner that does not include soup (in the case of noodle soup, soup is the meal). Unlike the Western custom of having soup before the main course, Chinese prefer to eat soup during or towards the end of a meal. At a casual meal people tend to pick up the bowl and drink directly from it; in a more formal setting, spoons are required. At a banquet several soup dishes may be consumed, always with the traditional flat-bottomed ceramic spoon.