Today's Notables

Shanghai Business Travel Log (Part 4)

August 2002
Hisashi Furuichi

In this 4th report and final report from our trip to Shanghai, I would like to discuss food. China, as you know is a huge, geographically diverse country with an abundance of natural resources. Chinese culture basically developed around the Huang He, Chang Jiang and Xi Jiang rivers. Food is also highly influenced by these rivers and is basically divided into north, south, east and west styles. The climate also plays a significant part. For example, in the south where rice is grown, rice is prominent but as you move north, where winters are cold and dry, rice becomes less prevalent while wheat and barley play a bigger role in the Chinese diet.

In the 15th century, the capital was moved from Shanghai to Beijing so rice had to be transported along the rivers. People thought it strange that ducks were getting plump on the rice dropped in the river, which led to what became known as "Peking Duck". In the north, were rice was less prevalent in the diet, gyoza and noodles so familiar to Japanese were mainstays. By the way, gyoza is pronounced "chaotsu" in Chinese. Because of the crop growth patterns, milling practices in the north have a history of 5000 years, and with generally harsher conditions, food technology developed at a faster rate in the north.

Tastes and flavors also change with each region. There are generally four types of Chinese cuisine: Cantonese, Peking, Shanghai, and Szechuan. The southern or Cantonese is characterized by more subtle use of flavors, Szechuan is hot and spicy, Peking is salty, and western is sweeter.

Because of it's location at the mouth of the Chiang Jiang River, Shanghai cuisine is heavily influenced by the river with two representative types, chansu and chouchian in Chinese. The southern side of the river belongs in Cantonese region where fish and rice are in abundance. Just to the north of Shanghai is the providence of Jiangsu that has become a key center of economic development since the building of the canal. The region is largely influence by the large commerce of goods passing through to the rest of the country. During the Manchu dynasty, it was the gathering place for salt traders who came from Manchuria and China. Shanghai cuisine became the "haute cuisine" for official gatherings between Manchuria and China with sea bream fin, swallow eggs, and roast piglet as the representative dishes. As time went on, the feasts often lasted several days. Shanghai cuisine is generally lighter with slight sweetness and makes use of oils. Furthermore, it was influenced by all regions of China as well as the by the diet of monks. There is also a mix of Western tastes characteristic of a city that became an international thoroughfare to China. Shanghai is also the place to eat shrimp in chili sauce and mabu tofu. I was also surprised that there are many restaurants that pale Japanese restaurants by comparison when it comes to design, service level and flavor. Most of those establishments are fairly expensive and actually quite comparable to similar ones in Tokyo. Although those establishments have a tendency to cater to foreigners, there seemed to be quite a few young professionals working in the IT industry.

It is not too far into the future that the Japanese foodservice industry will be looking to Shanghai for new trends instead of Europe and the US. That's just how fast the city is growing.

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