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Differing tastes?


Fengyi
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Let me add my observations to this fun and interesting topic.

I've just had my parents stay with us for an extended period and it was fascinating and shocking to see how they responded to American food.

My father must have congee for breakfast. Not being able to get that in New Jersey at 8 in the morning, he resorted to cooking his own.

Every. Single. Morning.

Without. Fail.

He loves bacon and sausages though and would fry them up, along with eggs over easy, to go with his congee. He especially loves turkey bacon.

They were happy to eat buttermilk pancakes, however, when I make them for breakfast. My dad topped them with concord grape jelly and peanut butter and ate them with his congee. Sometimes he would dip them in orange juice.

Like Ah Leung's parents, my parents will not touch cheese, milk or almost any dairy product -- they claim mild lactose intolerance.

They shunned subways, paninis, any "Western" sandwiches, but would gladly eat those sandwiches sold in Asian grocery stores.

The "Asian sandwich" usually comprises a thin slice of rather bland cold cut, and sometimes a slice of very processed cheese (again bland), a leaf of lettuce, and a sweet mayonnaise-y sandwich spread on white bread, crust removed. It is quite delicious, actually.

My parents love bagels, however. Can't get enough of them. My mum ate them plain. My dad with concord grape jelly and peanut butter.

My parents quite like Americanized Chinese food and would be just as content with the local takeout as an "authentic" Chinese restaurant. My dad in particular loves the buffets.

Once, against my better judgement, we went to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner. After months of dining on nothing but Chinese, I'd wanted my mum to get some exposure to "American food". I ordered a muschroom and chicken penne with madeira sauce for her and she loved it. She made me specify "no cheese" though.

My dad declared that he'd be happy to have anything, as long as it came with congee or rice. At the Cheesecake Factory! So he got the mandarin chicken -- with rice. To me, it tasted unbearably sweet, but he seemed pretty happy he got his rice.

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One of the most extraordinary and fascinating food experiences of my whole life so far was taking three top Sichuanese chefs on their first visit to 'the West', and in particular taking them for dinner at the French Laundry in Yountville, California. I had known these chefs for years, and for years they had been feeding me the most fantastic Sichuanese food, so I was dying to show them some of the best the West could offer.

Given the near-omniverousness of the Chinese diet and the great curiosity and culinary talents of these men, I thought they'd love it - but the meal was a disaster! The whole structure of the experience was completely alien for them - dinner was too late, and they found it so slow and tedious having dish after dish, for hours into the night (we had the tasting menu). They were appalled by rare meat - raw blood is NOT good in Chinese cuisine, hated the taste of olives ('like Chinese medicine'), didn't much like the creamy things, and were not much excited by the exquisite procession of desserts. Beyond that, they just didn't have the tools to appreciate the meal - they had nothing to compare it with, no context, no idea at all. (Let me assure you that as far as I was concerned it was a magnificent meal.) One of them told me he found the food interesting , but had no idea if it was good or bad, he just wasn't qualified to judge.

It was just what you would get if you took Westerners with little experience of Chinese food and made them sit through a banquet of rubbery sea cucumbers and so on - little pleasure, just miscomprehension.

For me, all this was a revelation. I guess that even after all these years of studying Chinese food, I had somewhat naively assumed that Chinese food WAS inherently more challenging than 'Western food'. This experience showed that culture shock was really a two way thing. And personally I think taste is not the most important thing here - I think people are actually responsive to new tastes. What is most difficult to deal with is challenges to familiar STRUCTURES and CONTEXTS - eg having 'desserts' mixed in with savoury foods; having the wrong sort of food for BREAKFAST. This is really where most people's comfort zones lie, I reckon. And my Chinese friends seem better able to eat 'Western' foods when they can fit them into a Chinese meal context - eg cutting up roast beef into small chopstickable pieces and eating it with chilli sauce; having a small piece of apple tart with a mouthful of pig's ear etc. What they can't stand is a meal without rice, for example.

And of course texture is completely baffling to most non-Chinese, it takes ages to really enjoy eating goose intestines and things.

By the way, I wrote a piece about the French Laundry experience for Gourmet in August 2005 if anyone's interested - great fun to write!

Fuchsia

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By the way, if anyone is shocked at the culinary conservatism of Chinese tour groups in the West, they should see the dreadful way many Western tourists behave in China. I've been witness to many examples of extraordinary chauvanism and rudeness - mainly to do with the expectation that they will be served in China with the kind of food they are used to in Chinese restaurants in the West. Lots of tourists think they want to eat Chinese food but don't in practice - which is why they often get steered in the direction of such dismal restaurants by their tour guides.

Fuchsia

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One of the most extraordinary and fascinating food experiences of my whole life so far was taking three top Sichuanese chefs on their first visit to 'the West', and in particular taking them for dinner at the French Laundry in Yountville, California. I had known these chefs for years, and for years they had been feeding me the most fantastic Sichuanese food, so I was dying to show them some of the best the West could offer.

Given the near-omniverousness of the Chinese diet and the great curiosity and culinary talents of these men, I thought they'd love it - but the meal was a disaster! The whole structure of the experience was completely alien for them - dinner was too late, and they found it so slow and tedious having dish after dish, for hours into the night (we had the tasting menu). They were appalled by rare meat - raw blood is NOT good in Chinese  cuisine, hated the taste of olives ('like Chinese medicine'), didn't much like the creamy things, and were not much excited by the exquisite procession of desserts. Beyond that, they just didn't have the tools to appreciate the meal - they had nothing to compare it with, no context, no idea at all. (Let me assure you that as far as I was concerned it was a magnificent meal.) One of them told me he found the food interesting , but had no idea if it was good or bad, he just wasn't qualified to judge.

It was just what you would get if you took Westerners with little experience of Chinese food and made them sit through a banquet of rubbery sea cucumbers and so on - little pleasure, just miscomprehension.

For me, all this was a revelation. I guess that even after all these years of studying Chinese food, I had somewhat naively assumed that Chinese food WAS inherently more challenging  than 'Western food'. This experience showed that culture shock was really a two way thing. And personally I think taste is not the most important thing here - I think people are actually responsive to new tastes. What is most difficult to deal with is challenges to familiar STRUCTURES and CONTEXTS - eg having 'desserts' mixed in with savoury foods; having the wrong sort of food for BREAKFAST. This is really where most people's comfort zones lie, I reckon. And my Chinese friends seem better able to eat 'Western' foods when they can fit them into a Chinese meal context - eg cutting up roast beef into small chopstickable pieces and eating it with chilli sauce; having a small piece of apple tart with a mouthful of pig's ear etc. What they can't stand is a meal without rice, for example.

And of course texture is completely baffling to most non-Chinese, it takes ages to really enjoy eating goose intestines and things.

By the way, I wrote a piece about the French Laundry experience for Gourmet in August 2005 if anyone's interested - great fun to write!

Fuchsia

Thank you so much for posting this Fuchsia. I did read that article and although I couldn't recall the details and where I had read it, it was this experience I had in the back of my mind as I have been discoursing through this thread and prior to it. I find the whole matter fascinating. I would imagine that this phenomenon is not limited to westerners with non-westernized Chinese food or Chinese with western food. I would think that even within these broader cultural contexts and with other Asian and African cultures we would find the same things.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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For me, all this was a revelation. I guess that even after all these years of studying Chinese food, I had somewhat naively assumed that Chinese food WAS inherently more challenging than 'Western food'. This experience showed that culture shock was really a two way thing. And personally I think taste is not the most important thing here - I think people are actually responsive to new tastes. What is most difficult to deal with is challenges to familiar STRUCTURES and CONTEXTS - eg having 'desserts' mixed in with savoury foods; having the wrong sort of food for BREAKFAST. This is really where most people's comfort zones lie, I reckon. And my Chinese friends seem better able to eat 'Western' foods when they can fit them into a Chinese meal context - eg cutting up roast beef into small chopstickable pieces and eating it with chilli sauce; having a small piece of apple tart with a mouthful of pig's ear etc. What they can't stand is a meal without rice, for example.

I can't agree with this more. I've lived in Asia for five years now, and I've always found it fascinating when cultures collide over food. For example, in Korea, I was happy to eat kimchi chigae or dweonjang jigae for lunch or dinner, but when I was served it for breakfast, I just couldn't take it. Why? I'm not sure. I remember my husband and a friend travelling outside of Seoul on a hiking trip once, and scouring the whole town for something that would suit them for breakfast - they settled on kamja-jeon - potato pancake. Which appalled their Korean friends, as this is only eaten when drinking in Korea. But it was the thing that closest resembled a Western style breakfast item.

This same friend got roped into going on a Korean tour group for a trip to Thailand with his girlfriend. Excited by the opportunity to eat Thai, one of his favourite cuisines, he was shocked and saddened to find they ate in Korean restaurants the whole trip. Bad Korean restaurants. And they were issued tubes of gochu-jang on the plane - in case they found the food in Thailand "too bland".

Once, one of my well meaning co-workers offered me a sandwich at work. Her mom had made it, off of a recipe on TV. It was a sandwich with mashed potato, strawberries, and boiled eggs. I couldn't bear to eat it. Taste, texture, and context were all wrong for me.

As for how children react - mothers in Korea are known to feed their young children "washed" kimchi - kimchi that has been rinsed of the the chilis and seasonings in the soup, to get them used to the flavour. So I think there is some recognition that some foods are inherently challenging to children. I remember one of my good friends there confiding that she couldn't served dried fish in the morning as her son was sensitive to the smell.

Here in Vietnam, locals seem to prize parts of the animal that Westerners would avoid completely. Bits with completely unchewable bits of gristle, fat, and skin. I confess, I still have my pho ga with white meat, which suits the pho shop just fine, I guess. They get to get rid of what the locals won't touch, and I get get lovely white meat. And we all have a laugh about it.

Whenever I have a discussion with my Vietnamese friends, and they try to tell me they would eat anything, as they are more adventurous than Westerners, I pull out two trump cards:

Blue Cheese

Rice pudding

Some people will claim that they would try blue cheese, but no one will try rice pudding! I made it for one of my classes in Korea once, and one student actually cried.

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For me, all this was a revelation. I guess that even after all these years of studying Chinese food, I had somewhat naively assumed that Chinese food WAS inherently more challenging  than 'Western food'. This experience showed that culture shock was really a two way thing.

The two-way shock reminds me of when my (Chinese) grandmother inadvertently ordered an espresso in the Hotel Ciprani in the 60s on her first trip to Italy... She spent a surreptitious 10 minutes finding a potted plant into which she could empty her cup. She said it was the most disgusting thing she had tasted in her life and she found it completely unbelievable that people could ingest such a thing (and she never forgot it - even 40+years later).

And this came from a woman who ate sharkfin or birdsnest nearly everyday of her life!!!!

[snip great stories about life in Asia!]

Here in Vietnam, locals seem to prize parts of the animal that Westerners would avoid completely. Bits with completely unchewable bits of gristle, fat, and skin. I confess, I still have my pho ga with white meat, which suits the pho shop just fine, I guess. They get to get rid of what the locals won't touch, and I get get lovely white meat. And we all have a laugh about it.

After many years of being ‘terribly polite’ (well, trying to be!! :biggrin: ), I finally gave up and….

When at my (English) in-laws for Sunday lunch, upon being asked which bit of roast beef I would prefer, I finally said “I would actually love those bits of gristle and fat discarded on the carving board.” It was Heaven though I think the cat was slightly put out that I got all his bits!

The love of gristle/texture thing is definitely something divides people from various eating cultures...

But then again, I will eat Epoisses or Munster (super-ripe of course) -and rice pudding!- any day over Durian or stinky tofu...........

<a href='http://www.longfengwines.com' target='_blank'>Wine Tasting in the Big Beige of Beijing</a>

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Ha! That's great. That way nothing goes to waste.

I mean, I could try and make myself love the gristly bits, but since I'm doing the shop a favour anyway, I figure - go with what I love! I try to appreciate local tastes, but if no one's hurt or offended, I try to go with what I like.

Which is not to say I won't try new things. The whole point of me picking up and moving to Asia was to learn new things. But I've got to figure that a portion of the population in any country is set in their ways and doesn't want to adapt to new foods, contexts, structures.... whether they're meat and potatoes or shark fin and rice.

But if you are a person who does - then the whole world is a buffet! And if you're lucky enough to meet someone who wants to learn about your food and culture, that's a real treat, too.

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