The Problem with "Chinese Food" | Speaking of China

17 Responses

  1. Whites Only? | August 11, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  2. Special-ism | The Skaian Gates August 11, 2010 at 9:07 am |
  3. Fabrizio
    Fabrizio August 11, 2010 at 4:41 pm | | Reply

    well stated. Whenever I would speak to Chinese about ‘Chinese Food’, they would give me a strange look, and then tell me to say ‘Chinese Dishes’. In a country with such strong passion food cuisine, generalization is not an option.

  4. Xiaoheng
    Xiaoheng August 12, 2010 at 1:24 am | | Reply

    Chinese food is always my favorite, especially the Dim Sum. Jocelyn, I like the photo of this post.

    By the way, I will start trying to talk about the relationship between Chinese men and western women. If anyone is interested in this, welcome to my blog. Your comment is always valuable.

  5. Thandelike
    Thandelike August 12, 2010 at 5:24 am | | Reply

    Thanks for this Jocelyn….

    The designation ‘Chinese food’ also seems to refer to a tradition of food served in American restaurants (often unlike anything I ever found in China). Just like food everywhere, Chinese food is regional, cultural (and religious sometimes — like the vegetarian versions of meat dishes often served at kitchens attached to Buddhist temples and monasteries).

    Once I went on a trip with a Chinese Malaysian family and the father wasn’t keen on me coming along because he thought they’d have to eat “American food” on his holiday. I didn’t even know what he meant by that. Turns out he understood American food to be McDonald’s. Poor guy had a real reason to be scared I was going to ruin his vacation with three visits a day to McDonald’s!

  6. Rose
    Rose August 12, 2010 at 7:21 am | | Reply

    This post not only makes me laugh because of your husbands reaction to his meal in X’ian (something I’ve heard from my husband’s mouth about some regional dishes in Turkey), but also makes me hungry. How amazing it would be to learn about each region’s speciality instead of lumping them all together. In Turkey, food from hot and southern Adana is very different from the lush and humid Black Sea region. Same goes for the Midwest, where I grew up eating pot roasts, casseroles, and Friday night fish fry’s. I would never equate all food in America to be of the same ilk, like some of my Turkish friends have about what they think American food is (McDonald’s like Anastasia points out, Pizza Hut, fast food, basically). I could have been accused of not knowing the vast richness of Turkish food when I first moved here, so I wonder if it about being exposed to a range of foods and flavors, that you have to have a relationship to the food you are eating.

    Thanks for a great post, Jocelyn!

  7. Sezin Koehler
    Sezin Koehler August 12, 2010 at 8:19 am | | Reply

    Hi Jocelyn,

    What a fascinating overview of the misnomer of Chinese food. I find myself explaining to people the difference between an Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani etc. curry, because people assume they are all the same just because the colonial label which used the name of a unique spice was given to all the dishes.

    “Chinese food” is a fascinating metaphor for the danger of generalisations. Like Catherine Yigit mentions in her piece, we are all special, and this extends to regions of countries as well. Even in the same place with people from the same culture they will find their own personal take on whatever issue it may be.

    Plus, thank you for the introductions to various Chinese foods. I think I would like your mother-in-law’s food style. Spicy food has always been one of my favourite things. Yum!

  8. Catherine
    Catherine August 12, 2010 at 9:11 am | | Reply

    This is such a wonderfully written piece. It makes me hungry for understanding as well as food.
    In Ireland I’m sure Chinese food means something completely different. It is adapted to the Irish palate, as that of a Chinese restaurant in Turkey is adapted to the Turkish palate. Unfortunately this leaves us without any real idea of what the range of cuisines in China is like.
    By taking too large a view of something we miss out on the detail included in it. We miss out on the diversity, the range, the quality. This is such a lovely reminder to take a closer look.

  9. Judith van Praag
    Judith van Praag August 16, 2010 at 3:10 pm | | Reply

    Dear Jocelyn,
    As Sezin already remarked, to show by example of your Chinese husband how diverse “Chinese Food” really is, presents us with a marvelous metaphor for generalizations and prejudices. Not all Chinese “like” or can even stomach all Chinese cuisines.
    For the same token you don’t have to be Chinese to like any of the Chinese cuisines. All we have to do is leave the words food or cuisine out of the equation and we see that we don’t have to like everybody, we don’t have to agree with everybody’s opinion, we don’t have to like everybody’s artworks or literature just for the sake of wanting to be P.C. or open minded. Sometimes showing dislike provides a greater sense of equality than pretense would or could.

  10. Catherine Bayar
    Catherine Bayar August 17, 2010 at 4:31 am | | Reply

    Jocelyn, I love this subtly written, excellent reminder to refrain from thinking of anything or anyone as merely part of an anonymous block. Diversity in food, faces, thought, expression, you name it, as we please. The freedom to agree or disagree as we choose, without fear of being condemned by those who offer no reasoned thought as to why they think differently. Like spices, conflicting opinions are okay when you know how to flavor your point of view without causing an upset stomach. Now that’s a cuisine I’m truly hungry for!

  11. Tara
    Tara August 17, 2010 at 6:25 am | | Reply

    Jocelyn, it is difficult to touch such a delicate topic without getting personal or putting people on the defensive. How successfully you’ve accomplished this. It brings understanding without the strong emotions. That and you’ve awakened an interest in me to explore China more. Well done.

  12. Hybrid ambassadors March 17, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  13. Circles July 17, 2012 at 5:27 am |

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