One of the more baffling aspects of Chinese cuisine, something that I will probably never get used to, reflects both practical and cultural differences between China and the West. The average Chinese simply doesn’t care whether her food is hot or cold. Part of this lack of preference indicates an equal lack of excess in Chinese kitchens. Most city dwelling Chinese only have one or two burners on their stove, a rice cooker, one wok and maybe a pot for cooking soups. Their rural compatriots still use wood burning stoves and one wok with which to cook. Therefore, whatever dish is cooked first, sits and cools while the rest of the cooking takes place, whether two or twenty dishes follow.
But further still, certain meat dishes (think fresh Chinese-version deli meats), like 烤鸭 (kao ya, roasted duck) and 白切鸡 (bai qie ji, sliced chicken breast), and sweet porridges, like 八宝粥 (babao zhou, eight treasure soup), are always served cold, because the Chinese prefer it that way. In fact cold dishes are an important starter to any proper Chinese banquet. And these cold dishes are all well and good, but what is remarkably inexplicable to my Western palate, is when a dish which should be hot, which always tastes better hot and is inedible cold, unexplainably and without apology, is served lukewarm.
Surely they know that freshly cooked, piping hot veggies are better than ones that have been sitting for ten minutes….right? Well, unfortunately, the answer is no. Or at least the answer is seemingly no, at least for the vast majority. But like in every other country on earth, there are a group of organized dissenters of the average, the ordinary, the normal food.
They are picky, snobby, and often unsatisfied. The Chinese call them 美食家 (mei shi jia) or “beautiful food expert.” We call them foodies. They demand the best and are willing to pay for it. And unless the dish is traditionally served cold, they want it fresh and hot.
And while these 美食家 share some protein passions with most most foodies, they also have a thing or two to teach their Western counterparts. Here are three of their favorite dishes:
Unfortunately, I don’t know any 美食家 (mei shi jia) or any other foodies for that matter. Which means that for the time being, I will continue to eat lukewarm 青椒炒牛肉 (qingjiao chao niurou, Beef and Peppers), unless of course they bring it to me hot, which, thank God, they normally do.