Food

Winter warmers: A bowl of rich mutton soup. (iStock)

China's thousand-year-old mutton soup

Northern Chinese mutton soup is rich, hearty and bold-flavoured, standing in sharp contrast to the delicate cuisine of the south. The dish is an emblem of the gruff and big-hearted heroism of civil wars past and the grandeur of the Han and Tang dynasties. Indeed, traces of history are left behind in every drop of a good bowl of mutton soup.
A long-awaited date with hairy crabs. (iStock)

From New York to Suzhou: A professor's guide to eating hairy crabs

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai recalls the very first time he tasted Yangcheng Lake’s famed hairy crabs, not in China, but in New York. Since then, he has been smitten with the Chinese mitten crab, and is in no doubt as to why this delicacy takes pride of place in China’s food heritage.
A humble plate of scallion pancake with chive sauce. (Facebook/蔣勳)

The simple beauty of Taiwan in a heavenly scallion pancake with chive sauce 

Chiang Hsun marvels at the way a chive sauce made with Taiwan-grown produce brings out the flavours of a street stall scallion pancake so well. No question about it — this dish would win hands down against any Michelin-starred restaurant’s version. When will we learn to appreciate the natural and the down-to-earth, and eschew the shiny bright lights of the material and the shallow?
Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Mei-ling in a boat on Sun Moon Lake. (Internet)

Chiang Kai-shek and the ‘President’s Fish’ at Sun Moon Lake

Visitors to Taiwan’s Sun Moon Lake are often awed by the hulking mountains and pristine waters. But notice a tiny pavilion on the water’s edge and you’d be reminded of the immense history this lake holds as a quiet retreat for the colourful leader Chiang Kai-shek — both to ponder the weighty political affairs and to reminisce about his hometown in mainland China’s Jiangnan region.
A man eats Lanzhou-style noodles at a restaurant that once served workers of the now decommissioned Liancheng coal-fired power plant in Heqiao village, Yongdeng county, Gansu province, China, 16 September 2020. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The power of food memories in shaping who we are

Food memories form part of our intangible cultural heritage. To lose them is to lose part of our culture, says cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai. The ancients certainly knew a thing or two when they laid down the golden rules of healthy eating. But they’re not the only bastions of wisdom. Every region, every village with its own terroir, has a unique food culture to pass down for generations to come — if only we’d let them.
People work in a rice field of Runguo Agriculture Development Company during a media tour organised by the local government in Zhenjiang, in China's eastern Jiangsu province on 13 October 2020. (Hector Retamal/AFP)

Pandemic, floods, locusts and shrinking farming population: Will China suffer a food crisis?

China feeds about 20% of the global population, but its overall self-sufficiency in food seems to be dropping. Even though it is self-sufficient in some staples such as wheat, rice and corn, it is less so in others. In fact, it is the largest importer of food in the world. Recent calls by President Xi Jinping to cut food wastage has people thinking that political reasons aside, China’s food supply is at risk. This risk could yet be amplified by changes in land policies, rural-urban migration and more.
Would you rather have a Michelin-starred molecular gastronomy extravaganza or a traditional Hakka feast? (iStock)

Above Michelin: These professors would rather have Hakka pork belly with preserved mustard

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai did not enjoy his taste of molecular gastronomy too much on a recent visit to a high-end restaurant. The experience taught him that there is little point hankering after what everyone supposedly wants. One is better off staying true to himself and savouring something that truly tickles his taste buds.
This file photo taken on 5 March 2020 shows farmers harvesting cabbages at Huarong county in Hunan province, on the border of Hubei. A national campaign to curb mounting food waste in China is feeding speculation that the supply outlook is worse than the government admits and fuelling warnings food could become another front in the worsening US-China rivalry. (Noel Celis/AFP)

Food scraps and empty new apartments: China’s fight against wastage

China has a problem of wastage, and two areas where this is clearly seen are food and property development. Hong Kong commentator David Ng reviews the impact on China’s economy.
The delectable miantuo liuyuehuang dish. (Internet)

Remembering a mother’s beautiful smile and Suzhou's ‘Sixth Moon yellow’ crabs

Every autumn, what a treat it is to savour hairy crabs, or Chinese mitten crabs as they are also known. Better yet if you can catch that tiny window in late summer when the mignon “Sixth Moon yellow” crabs from Yangcheng Lake in China’s Jiangsu province are in season. Harvested when they are on the cusp of adulthood, these crustaceans’ sweetness and vitality are a spitting image of carefree summer days of our youth.