Q&A with Ezra Klein, Megan McArdle, Mark Miller, and Eva Summer
EZRA KLEIN: Thank you for being here and for ordering this meal. What is the cuisine outside of Asia that, in its architecture and its structure, is most similar to Chinese cuisine?
DUNLOP: Outside Asia?
KLEIN: Outside Asia.
DUNLOP: I would say that if you’re talking about farmhouse cooking, and the cooking actually, particularly at this region, I see a lot of affinities with Italian cooking.
For example, one of the principles of the cooking of the Jiangnan region, xian xian he yi, unity of fresh and salted. The use of small amounts of cured pork and intensely flavored ingredients to bring life to vegetables and more gently flavored ingredients.
Also, with Italian cooking, you get some very interesting pastas with Chinese as well, so that’s one. I wouldn’t say that Italian cooking is anything like a match for Chinese in the complexity and diversity. Italy’s a tiny country by comparison, but there are some parallels that I see there.
MEGAN MCARDLE: I’ve read your books, and yet I find I’m kind of afraid to cook from them. My mom’s a caterer, and I grew up cooking a lot of really good American, and French, and so forth food.
When you skip cuisines that far, you feel like you go in, and even though you’re doing everything it says in the recipe, you realize how much little skill is required just to make a recipe come out right.
It’s stuff that you don’t even know you’re doing [laughs] because you know how it should be, you know how this thing works. What do people, who are starting out with a completely new cuisine, and for both Chinese and Western cooks going each way, how do you bridge that?
DUNLOP: Firstly, I totally understand where you’re coming from. I can remember before I went to China, cooking from a Chinese cookbook and already a keen cook in other traditions, but thinking, “I just don’t know the grammar of this cuisine. I’m just following step by step and I don’t know what it means or where it’s going.”
I do understand that. Of course, it helps to have tasted some of the food. Try to recreate recipes that you have maybe tasted as a starting point.
MCARDLE: I have cooked from your cookbooks, by the way.
MCARDLE: I always worry that I’m not doing it right in some way.
DUNLOP: Oh, really? The book before this one, Every Grain of Rice, was specifically designed to address this. Which is to introduce basic techniques and concepts, and fairly straightforward recipes which can be the building blocks for a sort of understanding what’s going on in Chinese cooking.
I would start with the basics, trying to understand simple stir-fries, the art of mixing flavors for a cold dish, a little bit of cutting. Just take it step by step. Also, you have to make one leap which, in terms of Chinese cooking, we’ve already discussed.
You have to go with a list of things, preferably in Chinese, too. Go to a Chinese supermarket, stock up on a few basics. Then, you’re not going to have to do that every time you make a recipe.
MCARDLE: I had everything on your list except the fava bean paste, which I will now buy.
MARK MILLER: I’m Mark Miller and a good friend of Fuchsia’s. In your books, you use a lot of the language that gets reinterpreted into texture or flavor.
I’ve been studying basically how we actually learn perceptional taste. Part of it is by memory of tasting something on the street. Part of it is the structure of how we approach perception and how we frame it.
Don’t you think that the example of your chef who couldn’t taste the food at The French Laundry, what he didn’t have was the framing of how to approach that perception?
My question is, one, within Chinese perceptional framing, why can’t they move over to, for instance, a meal at The French Laundry? Why can’t, when they say, “nature,” just appreciate like a roast squab, a roast chicken with nothing done. None of the fishiness or the wildness taken out, but just accept it as natural and then roasted?
DUNLOP: Well. I don’t think that their experience at The French Laundry is any different from a Western. You could get a very accomplished Western eater who’s eaten at many fine restaurants, but who will not get sea cucumber. The texture of sea cucumber is totally alien.
MILLER: But I only eat sea cucumber in Spain where —
MILLER: They actually do a better job because they don’t have that slimy part. They’ve actually perceptively changed it. They’re called espadrilles in the south of Spain.
DUNLOP: That’s the inner part, though, of the sea cucumber. Not the outer part.
COWEN: That’s sea cucumber? Oh I like those.
MILLER: Yeah, those are good.
KLEIN: And there is peace in the land.
MILLER: See? So there’s cultural framing, again. One culture doesn’t accept, it’s not the ingredient, but basically how we use our senses and frame that experience. One part is food that’s accepted to the body. The other part, “These things are very strange. I have no reference, and I really don’t like it.”
DUNLOP: I don’t think there’s anything remarkable about this. I think it’s just how people —
MILLER: No, it’s not. But the Chinese have this problem with accepting — you said you cooked a meal of Western food for your Chinese friends in your memoir. They said, “It’s so boring.” Yet, I think, roast chicken or roast squab, just by itself, is perfect. Roast game, roast beef.
DUNLOP: Yeah, but from a Chinese point of view, it is very boring.
MILLER: There are subtleties within aged beef, for instance, that they’re not getting. Like really good —
DUNLOP: Well, no. More cosmopolitan Chinese eaters who are now traveling are getting very interested in steak, actually, and aged beef.
MILLER: I’ll give you a good example. I’ve spent most of my time in Japan. We have a really developed rice culture in Japan. A Japanese person will pick up a bowl. They’ll smell it. It’s not fresh meaning that it’s milled more than a month ago. They can tell you where it’s from.
The chefs will talk about their mixtures of rice and sushi. In China, I have never, myself, personally, had seen that sort of connoisseurship about rice.
DUNLOP: Oh well I have about chilis, for example. Chefs I know in Sichuan who can go on for hours about the subtle distinctions of chilis. What you were saying, that lots of Chinese people — it’s absolutely hilarious. I’ve lost count of the number of Chinese friends who’ve said that “xi can hen jian dan, hen dan diao” which means, “Western food is very simple and very monotonous.”
The point is I can understand why. A roast chicken is a beautiful thing. Say you have a perfect roast chicken, but a roast chicken is even better —
DUNLOP: If you follow it with a light, refreshing broth and a stir-fried green. Then you have the contrast of the roasty skin, which is quite rich and heavy, and the flesh, and then this delicate stir-fried vegetable, and the refreshing soup.
Chinese food, it’s about the whole experience. That’s why you have a whole variety of flavors even in a relatively simple meal. It stimulates the palate. It also leaves you feeling very shufu.
Chinese people really understand the comfort of eating. You don’t go out and finish with seven courses of sugar, and butter, and cream. [laughs] You might have a great sensory experience, but it’s not going to leave you sleeping very well that night.
EVA SUMMER: Hi, I’m Eva from China, Shandong province. I know that you’re a fluent Chinese speaker. My first question for you, I want to ask you a question in Chinese: 中国菜有八大菜系，其中鲁菜是一个典型的代表，在你印象中，鲁菜最典型的一个菜是什么? [“There are eight great cuisines in China and Shandong cuisine is a very typical one in these eight. Which dish has impressed you most in Shandong cuisine and is the most representative one?”]
DUNLOP: [translating] It’s just that people often talk about, in terms of eight great cuisines in Chinese cuisines, one of which is the cuisine of Shandong province known as lu cai. Eva’s just asking me which dish I consider most representative of lu cai, of Shandong cooking.
One very representative dish and one which I adore is cong shao hai shen, which is sea cucumber.
KLEIN: Are you just trolling Mark and Tyler? Because that would be good.
DUNLOP: No, honestly.
MCARDLE: Or she is representing a sea cucumber firm.
KLEIN: Big sea cucumber.
DUNLOP: It’s sea cucumber braised in a dark sauce with jing cong, that kind of Chinese leek, which is a very big and very mild leek scallion vegetable. That’s a great classic.
In terms of Shandong cooking, it’s rather labor-intensive to prepare using a very expensive dried ingredient. Shandong cooking, lu cai, is associated with stately banquet cooking. You do have this gorgeous flavor, the fragrance of the leek onion, and then the lovely, slippery, crisp texture of the sea cucumber.
KLEIN: You’ve emphasized, in this discussion, the balance of the meals and the way that often gets overlooked. The way that American eaters will have a Chinese meal and think, “Oh, the bok choy is dull. I’m going to have more of the 700-chilied chicken.”
What are the other pieces of Chinese cuisine that Americans underrate their importance in the experience of the meal?
DUNLOP: Soup. Almost every Chinese meal includes soup. If you go out to a very casual restaurant on your own and have fried noodles or fried rice, like a one-dish meal, almost always it will be served with a bowl full of broth, maybe with just a couple of scallions or something.
The idea is if you have something fried it’s a bit drying, and it’s very comfortable to moisten the throat and refresh you with a soup. The way Westerners order Chinese food, often they wouldn’t have soup.
Almost every Chinese meal, whether at home or in a restaurant, you have soup. We don’t have a soup on the table here because there wasn’t room for it, so I didn’t want to order it.
KLEIN: An American eating problem.
DUNLOP: Also, with Chinese soups, the classic Chinese restaurant soups for Westerners are those thick, hot-and-sour soup or sweet corn and crab meat. That’s really not a tang — that’s one word for a broth-like soup. That’s a geng, which is a more substantial stew-soup.
I’m talking again about these broths, which, again, might be very, very simple. Like lovely, sour, umami pickled vegetable and tofu. Just that, and it’s like a refreshing drink.
MILLER: Do you think the Chinese will, because of their history of almost being repressed under the cultural revolution — culinarily, the cultures that seem to have been the most innovative in my generation were Spain, which emerged under Franco and became the most creative in Europe.
You have Nordic, which escaped this puritanism of the north which was always there in the Scandinavia. American, which was really repressed because they didn’t have confidence.
MILLER: Now American chefs are very confident and are very good internationally. Do you think that China will, after it goes through its flirting with this modernization and accepting Western brands whether it’s Starbucks or other, come out with a brand new authentic modern Chinese food? And the young chefs are going that way in China?
DUNLOP: I would say you can get very excellent contemporary Chinese food rooted in traditional techniques. The sad thing is that chefing has become rather fashionable in the West. Young people want to do it. It’s glamorous and exciting. That’s not the case in China. It’s still a low-status profession, although people love food.
Parents don’t really want their children to become chefs. I know outstanding chefs in China who, if they were in the West, would have queues of people from all over the world wanting to come and do stages in their kitchen, and they don’t have apprentices.
I always hear this complaint, “Young people in China, they’re not willing to chi ku, eat bitterness, to really apply themselves diligently to the craft of cookery.”
DUNLOP: There is a problem, this disjunct between people who are obsessed with eating, but not yet the idea that a young person might want to take over an artisanal soy sauce factory.
It may be coming because some people have this idea of going back to a simpler life, back to nature. There is a revival of interest in Chinese cuisine as culture.
MILLER: Neal’s Yard. When I went to London when I was a student in the ’70s, it was very hard to find a farmhouse regional British cheese. And then Neal’s Yard basically started the revolution, again, that sparked that.
In America, we now have over 10,000 beers made in the United States with 4,200 microbreweries, and I grew up with probably 30 or 40.
DUNLOP: That’s a really good thing. Actually, one of the inspirations for my most recent book was the Dragon Well Manor restaurant in Hangzhou. Which is an exceptional place where the owner, Dai Jianjun, otherwise known as A Dai, is trying to nourish the traditions of the region by supporting food artisans, peasant producers.
Trying to give people an honest living for producing what urbanites now consider to be premium, what we’d think of as organic, products. What I fervently hope is that more Chinese people will see what he’s doing is truly inspirational. As a wonderful example of how to nourish Chinese traditional culture. Make it economically viable and make it contemporarily relevant, too.
MILLER: Does he teach classes for Westerners?
MILLER: Oh. Because that would be good. I was just in Shanghai two weeks ago. I go into K11, and what do I see? It’s Chinese women taking classes on how to make birthday cakes for their kids. Then I see the kids’ school, which is all about Western cooking and I’m thinking — I looked at the whole directory for the next three months. There wasn’t one Chinese cooking class that was being taught there. [laughs]
DUNLOP: Also in Hangzhou — which you know, has been a center of gastronomy for 800 years — 800 years ago, they had a restaurant scene with regional restaurants, Buddhist vegetarian restaurants, restaurants specializing oyster dishes.
COWEN: Sea cucumber restaurants.
DUNLOP: In Hangzhou a few years ago, they opened the Hangzhou Cuisine Museum. A single city has a huge museum with fantastic reconstructions, like sushi models of all the classic dishes over 800 years, literally.
They also have a teaching element. They have a restaurant attached. They have activities and classes. That’s another example of big local investment in trying to promote local food culture to a new generation.
MCARDLE: Chinese desserts. To a Westerner, they seem kind of meh.
MCARDLE: I can come up with multiple theories on that, like, Chinese people just don’t like desserts that much, which you’ve actually suggested. One is that pastry cooking is fundamentally a wheat activity. If you’re in the rice half, you don’t get as much of it.
Also, the US, if you look at the history of dessert as a major thing, it actually starts in the US because we’re closest to the sugar. Then that spreads. As sugar spreads into China, does dessert get better?
MCARDLE: Or is it that they don’t like what we like and I’m missing the magic of Chinese dessert?
DUNLOP: The first thing to point out is that Chinese don’t have dessert as a course. You finish with fruit, usually. Sweet dishes tend to be either incidental snacks between meals, or something you have with tea, or you might have a mingling of sweet and savory dishes.
You can have some sweet dishes with quite a lot of sugar in them. There are also some regions where they have a lot of sweet foods. Suzhou and Wuxi in the Jiangnan region, for example, or the Chaozhou region of the Cantonese South. There are a whole range of wonderful, sweet pastries. Rice-based in the south, wheat-based in the north.
For me, you know, as a great advocate of Chinese cooking, and I do have to admit that the desserts and sweet things is possibly one aspect in which Western cuisines might have the edge.
DUNLOP: I think that’s because of the use of dairy products. You get the wonderful, umami richness of butter, the textures of cream. Chocolate, of course, is not used traditionally in China. Those things, if you take them out of Western desserts, you’re not left with very much in a way.
In China, a lot of the desserts, also they’re less sweet. People have less of a sweet tooth apart from a few regions. You have things like sweet meats based on dried beans like mung beans or sweet potatoes.
And they’re actually very delicious. They don’t hit that extreme sweet spot that Westerners like for their dessert.
MCARDLE: Could I ask a follow-up? Dairy, obviously, I know if you’re lactose intolerant as many Asians are, drinking milk is probably never going to happen, I agree with you. I don’t drink milk either, and my family are dairy farmers.
MCARDLE: But all of this dairy in Western cuisine, and you see — I grew up in New York City, and even so, if I look at the range of exotic ingredients that were available even to me, shopping in what was then the best food city in the US, and what is available now, it’s just so much better.
I think that’s true all over the world. I still remember eating Mexican food in London in the ’90s, and that was a bad, bad, bad, experience.
MCARDLE: I have British friends who swear that now, it’s different.
COWEN: Don’t believe them.
MCARDLE: I don’t quite, but I am willing to believe it’s better. I have a German cookbook with a recipe for guacamole in it now.
KLEIN: You probably shouldn’t believe that recipe specifically.
MCARDLE: No, no, I have never tried the recipe. As more Chinese people come to the West on vacation, to study, etc. — I met a grad student in Wisconsin of all places, a Chinese grad student, who was like, “I love cheese. I can’t — I don’t know what I’m going to do when I go home.”
I was shocked because this is the only Chinese person I’ve ever heard say this. Does dairy have a future in China? Is there going be more of a spread for —
DUNLOP: Absolutely. I think lots of Chinese parents now feed their children milk because they think it’ll make them grow big and strong. All this thing about baby milk being imported in large quantities and so on. Yes, milk specifically, is a nourishing thing for children.
Cheese is still a bit of a niche thing. You can buy it at supermarkets and cosmopolitan cities like Shanghai. China has a very dynamic, open food culture and people are always into the next best thing. And chocolate, also.
When I was a student in China in the 1990s, I craved chocolate, and the Chinese chocolate was awful stuff. It wasn’t chocolate at all. Now, you can get chocolate of some kind all over China. I think anything could happen.
SUMMER: 扶霞，刚才你提到饮食文化，在中国人们也经常讲饮食文化、酒文化等很多种文化。在你的观点中，中国的饮食文化和中国文化之间是什么关系？[“Fuchsia, you just mentioned food culture. In China, people often talk about “food culture,” “wine culture,” etc. In your view, what’s the relationship between Chinese food culture and Chinese culture?”]
DUNLOP: [translating] In China and everywhere, where people often talk about food culture and wine culture. In China, what’s the relationship between — sorry, what was the last bit?
SUMMER: Food culture and the Chinese culture.
DUNLOP: I think food is and has always been really at the heart of Chinese culture. And there are two very important reasons for this.
One is the ritual importance. Food is not just, and it hasn’t always been, just a social thing. That cement that binds families and friends together. Food was the means by which you communicated with your ancestors and gods.
Many of the rituals of state were to do with agriculture and with food. It’s been a serious business. Also, because food has, since the beginning of Chinese history, been understood as the absolute foundation of good health, there’s no difference between food and medicine in China.
They say yao shi tong yuan, the food and medicine come from the same source. Every food has its tonic properties. If you’re unwell, the first thing you do is address your diet. Food is very important in that way.
Another argument that’s sometimes given is that often Chinese people haven’t really been able to express themselves individually and there have often been political constraints on freedom of expression through history. Food has been a source of immense joy and fun, and something free of all that.
DUNLOP: Food in China particularly, it’s a culture that expresses itself intellectually through food. The lyrical names of dishes, the stories associated with them. Talking about food and gastronomy as conversation in this culture.
In all these respects, food is culture in China.
KLEIN: It’s often observed, sometimes a little smugly —
KLEIN: That a lot of what goes as Chinese food in America is not recognizable to the folks in China.
Is there anything Americans have done with Chinese food, either in the American/Chinese space or in the more Momofuku fancy Chinese fusion space, that is in your view an actual genuine advance? Something that would be valuable or valid in China?
DUNLOP: In recent years, the growth of regional cuisines, regional restaurants like this one. Here, we’ve got some authentic Sichuanese dishes, some dishes from Shanxi in Northern China. The opening up of regional cuisines and regional street food is changing perceptions of Chinese food.
KLEIN: You would have this in China, though?
KLEIN: Have we done anything interesting here to go backwards? Is there anything interesting in say the Momofuku efforts that is actually Americans contributing in some way to — ?
DUNLOP: I would say at the level of individual dishes, very interesting dishes, but China has it all already.
DUNLOP: Amazing combinations. [laughs] China is so diverse. Apart from dairy and some sweet things and so on. If you like hamburgers, that’s the Xi’an rou jia mo. It’s a kind of Xi’an hamburger.
DUNLOP: That’s one thing. They’ve got it all already.
COWEN: [addressing Klein] I think that means no.
MCARDLE: What does General Tso’s chicken taste like to a Chinese person?
DUNLOP: Interestingly, I did a whole research thing about this. [laughs] It’s supposed to be Hunanese dish, right? But I was very mystified when I went to Hunan to research my Hunan cookbook to find that nobody had every heard of it, really.
It turned out — anyway, to cut a long story short — it was invented by a very famous Hunanese chef in Taiwan. It went from him to New York when he opened a restaurant there near the United Nations. At one point, this chef, Peng Chang-kuei, did go back to his hometown Changsha, in the capital of Hunan province, and he opened a restaurant there.
One of the dishes he served was General Tso’s chicken. I heard from people who remembered that restaurant, that the food there was too sweet.
DUNLOP: That’s a dish that, in some ways, it has some characteristics of Hunanese food. The suan la, sour and hot, use of vinegar and scorched chilies. But for American tastes, there’s a whole load of sugar, which they don’t really add to savory dishes much in Hunan.
MILLER: When I’ve eaten dishes in Taipei, earlier on, the food in Taipei was better than mainland China because they had access to better ingredients. It was an educated, elite class that left China and brought their culinary traditions with them.
They had access to the recipes, the technique, and so forth. Is Taipei, you think, a repository of some of the more difficult dishes of the older style? A lot of that was interrupted, it seems like.
DUNLOP: In China?
MILLER: Yeah. Also, Taipei is a little bit more concerned about provenance of ingredient.
DUNLOP: I would say that in the early days, so 1949, the defeated nationalists fled to Taiwan with, as you were saying, the chefs and their food traditions.
At that time, the nationalists all thought they would go back. They were all missing their home provinces. They wanted to eat the classic traditional food of the elites of these provinces.
The restaurants, by all accounts in the ’50s and ’60s, were very, very traditional and authentic. But what’s happened since then is that there’s been a lot of mixing up. The younger generation of chefs are Taiwan-born, so they might work for a bit in a Hunan restaurant, then go into a Jiangnan restaurant.
They’re all very mixed up. You go to a regional restaurant in Taiwan, and they’re either very old school and somehow not so good anymore, or they tend to be a bit more fusiony in Chinese terms. Also in Taiwan, you have this whole Japanese influence from the colonial occupation.
DUNLOP: And also a particular regional bias for the Fujianese history of a many of the Taiwanese people. I think 60 years on from that, I don’t — there are some like there’s a fantastic Suzhou bakery in this food street in Taiwan where they make really traditional Suzhou pastries.
But a lot of it is a mixed up version of Chinese. Not to say there’s not excellent — Taiwan’s a fantastic place to eat. In China, sometimes it is difficult to find the real old-school cooking.
That’s why what the Dragon Well Manor restaurant is doing is so important. It’s recruiting retired chefs to teach the younger generation the old skills.
KLEIN: What is the dish in your cookbooks that is a place you would tell beginners to start? What is a dish that they will be capable of making, and the results will hook them?
DUNLOP: I think gong bao chicken is a really good introduction to stir frying because it’s not complicated. It doesn’t have many stages. You can assemble all your ingredients in little bowls first, and then they just go one by one into the wok.
It’s a knockout flavor. Everyone likes chicken. There’s no bones in it. A bit of spice. Lovely layering of flavors. That’s one dish that I think people are surprised to find how straightforward it is and it’s addictively tasty.
SUMMER: As we all know you have been to China many times. What’s your next destination in China? What do you want to discover most?
DUNLOP: I just feel like the more I find out about Chinese food, the more there is to discover. I feel like I’ll be learning my whole life. I would love to do more work on the northern pasta arts.
I’m currently learning a lot about the food of Yunnan, which is one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, and as you’d expect, has a rather extraordinary range of ingredients.
The thing about China is that its cuisines have been so relatively unexplored by the English-speaking world. There’s so much to discover and write about all over the country.
COWEN: Tell us what’s so unusual about Yunnan, because that to me was the big revelation. Every part of China I’ve been to, Yunnan surprised me the most. Dishes I’ve never even dreamt of and would not have thought of as Chinese.
You’d have some bread dipped in honey, or you’d have a donkey in a red sauce, almost in some ways like a curry sauce, or mushrooms in ways you had not imagined. What makes Yunnan special for you?
DUNLOP: It’s always been a marginal region with 20-something of China’s 56 ethnic minorities, so it’s extraordinarily diverse culturally. It borders Burma, Laos, and Vietnam.
If you go to the south and the southwest of Yunnan, you’re really getting into Southeast Asian flavors and cooking techniques and ingredients. Also you mentioned this incredible diversity of ingredients, insects, flowers, mushrooms.
COWEN: Bee larvae.
DUNLOP: Bee larvae, yes.
DUNLOP: You can’t really understand it in terms of the classical schools of Chinese cooking. It’s a bit more adventurous. Like the fact that there are a couple of notable forms of local cheese in Yunnan, which is just exceptional.
It’s that diversity in that sense of being on the edge of empire. It was a region that was sometimes part of China, and sometimes it was doing its own thing. You really feel that in the food.
COWEN: To close, four relatively quick questions. One from each of us. Eva, your quick question for Fuchsia.
SUMMER: Just you have said, you have introduced the gong bao chicken. What’s your most favorite Chinese dish?
DUNLOP: One of my first loves and my best loves is yu xiang qie zi, fish-fragrant eggplant. That, for me, it’s a really simple everyday Sichuanese dish, but it’s got knockout, incredible flavors.
It’s eggplant with a classic fish-fragrant combination of pickled chilis, ginger, garlic, scallion, a bit of sweet and sour. That’s, for me, an example of how you don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to be particularly accomplished in the kitchen to eat just fantastically well in China.
KLEIN: The opposite of that question. What is your favorite Western chain restaurant? And your favorite dish at it?
DUNLOP: It’s not exactly Western although the chain restaurant I eat at most often is the Royal China chain of dim sum restaurants in London.
KLEIN: This is not over. I’m not accepting this answer.
DUNLOP: OK. Chain restaurants? I don’t really eat at chain restaurants. [laughs]
KLEIN: There’s no part of you that loves a McFlurry, or — ?
MILLER: Pret? Do you go to Pret?
DUNLOP: Oh, yeah. I get sandwiches at Pret a Manger.
MILLER: Which one is your favorite there?
DUNLOP: I can’t really think.
DUNLOP: BLT sandwich at Pret.
KLEIN: All right.
MILLER: This beautiful picture in your new book of the hams, what did you call it?
DUNLOP: The Jinhua ham from Zhejiang province.
MILLER: Can you explain the taste of that? I love ham. Can you explain the difference? Which ham would it be closest to in my — would it be Spanish, Italian? How was it cured, and what’s the flavor like?
DUNLOP: It’s closest perhaps to Spanish hams.
MILLER: Like Jabugos?
DUNLOP: A lot of Chinese chefs in the West would use that, would use Spanish ham as a substitute because you can’t often import Chinese meats to Europe.
MILLER: So pretty intense.
DUNLOP: It’s very intense. It’s fairly dense, garnet-colored meat. It’s not eaten raw. It’s used as an umami flavoring in cooked dishes mostly.
MILLER: How was it aged?
DUNLOP: I’m not sure, actually. I think a whole range.
MILLER: Thank you.
MCARDLE: What is the last Western food that will become popular in China? What is the last Chinese food that will become popular in the West?
DUNLOP: The last Western food. Maybe a really ripe, heady, stinky brie.
DUNLOP: I have an experience of trying to feed it to people in China.
MCARDLE: I read that.
DUNLOP: The other way around, it would have to be something textural.
MILLER: [whispers] Sea cucumber?
MCARDLE: Sea cucumber is not allowed for this answer.
DUNLOP: I could mention one very extreme textural delicacy that I’ve only ever come across once in China. Probably most people in China wouldn’t eat it, but Sichuanese love their rubbery, crunchy, offal.
That is the upper palates of pigs, which they call tiantang, paradise. I found it at a late night street store covered in chili and Sichuan pepper oil. I don’t think that will be a big hit in New York or London anytime soon.
COWEN: Very last question goes to me to close. What is your favorite Chinese film and why?
DUNLOP: Eat Drink Man Woman, so Taiwanese. It’s a lovely story about food, but what’s extraordinary is the actual food you see in that film. Actually, by chance, I’ve come across the set of books that was clearly the source for that.
There was an amazing series of cookery books produced around 1980, I think, when they photographed the classical dishes of four great cuisines of China. They shot them beautifully in antique dishes.
This is, for me, the absolute pinnacle of classical Chinese cuisine. The people who researched the food for that film have done their homework. It is just ravishing, historically accurate Chinese food.
COWEN: I thank the panel and most of all, Fuchsia. Thank you very much for a wonderful time and for the ordering. Thank you.