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Chinese confident in characteristic chicken cuisine
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09:53, September 21, 2009

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I've always believed that those who enjoy KFC chicken burgers definitely lack taste. Putting a hunk of fatty chicken between lettuce and bread into one's mouth is like forcing oneself to chew a piece of plastic sprinkled with spices. I never eat such food, because I'm quite confident in my own taste buds.

However, my confidence in my own culinary discernment was badly affected by a Mongolian friend recently.

He was born on the Hulun Buir grassland in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and I thought mutton or lamb must be his favorite dishes. This turned out to be a wholly mistaken assumption on my part hower, for when I invited him to Xiaofeiyang (a restaurant serving hot pot mutton), he shook his head like a rattle-drum, "You eat that kind of mutton?" The look on his face was the same as if somebody had invited you to McDonalds for a gourmet meal.

This Mongolian friend then told me with pride, "I knew their sheep were raised in sheep folds as soon as I had my first taste of the mutton, since the flavor is totally different from the mutton of sheep raised on grasslands. I eat the latter only. And if you want to take me to Xiaofeiyang, I'm afraid it's better to go to KFC."

Here is the difference between a Han people who grew up in the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and a Mongolian guy who spent his childhood living in the Gobi desert. My taste buds can break chicken into 100 classes – the best and the worst taste completely different. I would rather not eat chicken if I can't have the best piece; I feel it's beneath my dignity!
Unfortunately, my tongue can't tell good mutton or beef. Mutton is mutton, and I won't be picky if the chef cooks it normally. So it is with beef. I cannot understand why the beef from Kobe in Japan is much more expensive than that from Northwest China. If both are seasoned with soy sauce, I can barely tell the difference.

In contrast, my Mongolian friend is able to classify mutton into 100 different types, but chicken is just chicken in his dictionary. He doesn't care where his bird was raised, but he can taste the grass that his sheep ate.

Clearly Han are chicken experts, and it's no wonder that so many traditional dishes use the bird. For us, the battery-farmed chickens used to make the KFC chicken burgers taste obviously inferior, and the way the burgers are made clearly lacks the subtle blends of herbs and spices that constitute the finest Chinese cooking.

Based on such experience, I deeply believe that an ethnic group such as the Han, which has traditionally had an agricultural economy and relied heavily on chicken to acquire protein in everyday meals, probably has the best taste when it comes for chicken worldwide. Thus, in a long term, we'd better not allow others to define the industrial criteria of chicken. It's a wise choice to let Westerners, or Mongolians, or Uygurs to define the criteria for lamb chops and steaks. But why let Americans tell us what kind of chicken is good?

Such a conjecture was proven several days ago. I gathered together with some friends, and decided where to eat. We chose roujiamo (marinated meat in baked bun, a characteristic food from Northwest China) rather than KFC chicken burgers. We spent 9 yuan ($1.3) on each roujiamo – I remember the price was one-ninth of this several years ago. And a KFC chicken burger is about 10 yuan ($1.5), which means the price of roujiamo is now catching up. This was a pleasant discovery!

The ratio of the price of a chicken burger to that of roujiamo can be considered an important index to illustrate the rediscovery of Chinese cuisine.

The moment when local cuisine is more highly valued than cheap foreign fast food will be the time when Chinese cuisine starts to shine again. I hope it comes soon – although we still might want to go to Western steak restaurants!

The author is a Beijing-based journalist

Source: Global Times

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