Fuchsia Dunlop on the Unity of Chinese Food | Conversations with Tyler

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COWEN: Let me ask you a deep philosophicalquestion here, just for some background.

Someone once asked you, “What are your favoriteparts of Chinese food?” You gave a long answer, too long for me to repeat.

And a lotof it I can’t pronounce anyway.

You listed seven or eight different regionsthat all seemed quite different.

These Sichuan peppercorns and ma la is not in general donein Shanghai, as you well know.

What is the underlying unity that makes all of this Chinesefood — because you instinctively believe in that concept — but what is that unity,given the fantastic diversity? DUNLOP: There are some things you can pullout.

The use of chopsticks and its implications for the form of food, which is that you havefood that’s generally cut into small pieces or it’s tender enough to pull apart withchopsticks.

That’s one thing that Western observersthrough the centuries have remarked on about Chinese food, is having these — forthe early Western observers it was rather disturbing.

You’d have a dish with everything cut fine and you didn’t know what it was.

Maybe itwas something really outlandish.

The art of cutting and the cutting of food into smallpieces, the eating of shared dishes with a staple grain — rice in the south, wheatin the north — that’s the structure of a meal.

You can also pull out some very important seasonings, soy sauce, and other fermentedsoy pastes.

The use of vinegar and soy sauce in combination.

Ginger, scallion, and garlicin various combinations.

You can look at seasonings.

Also, cooking methods, and I know stir fryingis the most famous.

Relatively recent, historically.

Steaming, also, is a really important coreChinese cooking method, so looking at a combination of techniques.

When you talk about Chinese cuisine, you always have to take it with a pinch of salt and remember,as I always do, that Chinese people talk about something called xi can, “Western food,”and make outrageous generalizations about it too.