China’s many capitals – regional food chauvinism in China

The leading port of export of canned food from China is Zhangzhou – China’s Canned Food Capital (Chinese news source, 19/7/2016)

I have yet to find out when the first city in China started calling itself ‘the capital of . . .’, where … is a slot for a certain product (group), one of which that city is a national production centre. However, it now has become so important for the local economy, that it has almost become an official designation, bestowed by an industrial association.

Icons are an important aspect of the construction of social identity in Chinese culture. Chinese like to identify a famous person who they would like to become. More than a few Chinese start-up cyber-entrepreneurs are dreaming of becoming China’s Steve Jobs. Some even go as far as to try to emulate their hero’s behaviour, clothing, and speech.

In an analogous fashion, Chinese cities that are leading in a certain industry have started picking a similar foreign city, calling themselves ‘China’s …’ A city with a major car maker may call itself ‘China’s Detroit’. Unfortunately, there are several cities in China that are the home of a major automobile manufacturer, resulting in almost as many ‘Detroits of China’. So far, this has not led to conflicts between the various local governments. Detroit doesn’t care either. The city has lost most of its car-related industry and virtually turned into a ghost town.

Several posts of this blog are introducing the growing importance Chinese local governments attach to their local culinary specialties. A representative post is that about Jinhua ham. Jinhua ham is so typical for that region, that Jinhua has applied for DOC status for this product, meaning that only ham producers of Jinhua are allowed to market their ham as ‘Jinhua Ham’.

A city with a DOC-status food is likely to have a relatively large number of manufacturers of that product, and/or the top producer in that business. Instead of finding its icon elsewhere, such cities endeavour to become an icon themselves, by calling themselves ‘China’s Capital of <their typical product>’. Unlike in the case of China’s multiple Detroits, this has been a cause for chauvinist strive. As societal harmony is a top priority in China, the government has started to regulate such designation through the various sector associations. The most famous issue was giving Huhhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia the status of ‘China’s Dairy Capital’. It was initiated by Mengniu, a well-known company for the regular readers of this blog. Mengniu want Huhhot to be the first city to apply for that status, lest another city would be the first to do so. Huhhot itself was not too keen at first, but gave in at the end. Once the Dairy Association of China had recognised Huhhot as China’s Dairy Capital, no other city in China was allowed to refer to itself in that way. I am not sure if there actually is a penalty for violating this rule, but so far no other city has tried. To mark its status of China’s dairy capital, a large monument was put up in Huhhot.

MilkCapMonument

In the remaining part of this post, I will list a few of the major Chinese food capitals. This list is by no means exhaustive and I will keep adding cities, whenever I encounter them in my scanning of the Chinese information streams. Some of these have a more or less official status, i.e. they are bestowed by the relevant sector association. However, most still seem to be self-assigned. This is probably why there are several capitals for some products.

This list may turn out quite useful. If you want to know quickly were a certain food is produced in China, this list can guide you directly to a/the major region. You will have to look further (e.g. using this blog’s search engine), but this is a good start.

  • China’s ‘Canned Food Capital’: Zhangzhou (Fujian).
  • China’s ‘Dairy Capital’: Huhhot (Inner Mongolia).
  • China’s ‘Chili Capital’: Guizhou
  • China’s ‘Capital of High Quality Maize’: Siping (Jilin).
  • China’s ‘Green Tea Capital’: Emei (Sichuan).
  • China’s ‘Seaweed Capital’: Rongcheng (Shandong), Fuzhou (Fujian).
  • China’s ‘Coffee Capital’: Pu’er (Yunnan).
  • China’s ‘Beverage Capital’: Sanshui (Guangdong).
  • China’s ‘Goat Milk Capital’: Fuping (Shaanxi).
  • China’s ‘Apple Capital’: Qixia (close to Yantai, Shandong).
  • China’s ‘Kiwi Capital’: Pujiang (Sichuan).
  • China’s ‘Flour Capital’: Damin (Hebei).
  • China’s ‘Noodle Capital’: Yiyang (Hunan).
  • China’s ‘Beef & Mutton Capital’: Chifeng (Inner Mongolia).
  • China’s ‘Potato Capital’: Ulanqab (Inner Mongolia).
  • China’s ‘Lemon Capital’: Ziyang, Anqiu (Sichuan).
  • China’s ‘Leisure Food Capital’: Longhai (Fujian).

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.

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Artificial jelly fish – Chinese can make it look, feel and taste real

In Chinese culture, artificial has a more positive connotation than in Western culture. We tend to regard anything artificial as less that ‘the real thing’. Chinese on the other hand perceive creating a good to perfect copy of the real thing as a skill and the product of that skill as something that has added value over the copied object.

This cultural difference is very visible in the different ways Chinese and Westerners deal with landscape. Many Westerners have their favourite spot of unadulterated nature that they frequently visit to recuperate. When Chinese find such a spot, they like to embellish it, to make it even more beautiful. You can accentuate a hill by adding a few metres of soil, dig a little lake, build a wooden bridge over a brook.

The Chinese word for ‘artificial’ is renzao (man-made). Man’s interference with nature makes it more renqi. This literally means ‘people spirited’ and refers to the cozy ambiance that you create, when people get together. In other words, a human hand will make nature more human.

In Chinese cuisine, and later carried on in the Chinese food industry, this positive perception of artificial has led to a large number of artificial versions of natural foods and ingredients.

For this post I have selected artificial jelly fish an example. Even the natural jelly fish is not something you will find on many menus of Western restaurants, let alone an artificial version.

My source for this post states that artificial jelly fish is novel food that can compare in look and quality with natural jelly fish. It adds that regular consumption can lower the glycemic level, and can prevent heart diseases and obesity. Wonderful!

While most industrially produced jelly fish starts from sodium alginate, this recipe uses seaweed as raw material. The seaweed is steeped in sufficient water and treated with sulphuric acid to take away the calcium and soaked in a sodium carbonate solution. The acidity of the filtrate of the resulting liquid is then lowered to 7.5 – 8 using diluted sulphuric acid.

The basic recipe of artificial jelly fish is:

580 gr of the processed seaweed; 20 gr gelatin; 90 gr calcium chlorate; 5 gr sodium hydroxide; 200 gr salt; 5 gr MSG; 100 gr water.

First solve the gelatin in 100 ml water and stir in the treated seaweed; leave for 6 hrs. Stir again and add the sodium hydroxide until pH 10.

Solve the calcium chlorate in water using a 1:5 ratio, and then add the solution to 450 ml of water. Poor 400 ml of the liquid on an enamel plate and wait until it sets into a sheet of 2 – 3 mm. Repeat that until all liquid is finished.

The sheets are seasoned with salt and MSG and left for 3 days. Then the product can be cut into shapes, most typically shreds, like the natural jelly fish. Sodium benzoate can be used as preservative.

Jelly fish is usually eaten as a cold appetiser. Some vinegar, chili and chopped spring onions can be added.

JellyFish

It is difficult to assess if the cost price for this product is lower than that of the real thing. This also applies to the balance of nature. We do not need to hunt jelly fish, but we are still harvesting seaweed. However, seaweed can be grown in coastal water, just as we grow wheat in soil, while jelly fish is hard to herd like some of the fish we like to eat.

This product is definitely high in dietary fibre, even though some less agreeable chemicals are needed to get it on our table.

I think that the real bonus for the creators of this recipe (and a long list of other recipes, including those for artificial chicken, honey, grapes, and shrimps) is that they derive pleasure from the very fact that they are able to create all this artificial food that is like the real thing . . . and a little bit more.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.