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These are some terms that many english speakers describe the texture of certain Chinese dishes that they find disgusting (e.g., sea cucumber), according to Fuchsia Dunlop’s sweet-sour memoir “Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper”. I just finished the book in which she dedicated a full chapter (Ch. 8 The Rubber Factor) to tackle an often-maligned characteristics of Chinese food.

“For westerners, they evoke disturbing thoughts of bodily emissions, used handkerchiefs, abbattoirs, squashed amphibians, wet feet in wellington boots, or the flinching shock of fingering a slug when you are picking lettuce.”

She did a good job handling this issue that I cannot fully explain to my non-Chinese friends. She pointed out that it has nothing to do with economy (i.e., using every parts of the beast or eating whatever you can catch), as it was documented that many emperors had feasted on them. Mouthfeel is just another dimension of the gastronomic experience that is seldom explored in Western cuisine.

As a child, I enjoyed cold jelly fish in sesame oil which I described as chewy elastic bands. A few years ago, on my birthday, Sue treated me to a feast of Korean raw seafoods. There were more than 17 different species and most of them were kept in tanks until they were served. I had eaten many braised sea cucumbers in the past but never raw sea cucumber. It turned out to be crunchier and also fishier in flavor. I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. I was bumping against certain boundaries. And me, a Chinese.

The acceptance of mouthfeel is cultural.

Happy eating.

By the way, I ate the cooked sea cucumber (shown above) in a bowl of stewed seafood noodle at Chung Hwa Roo in Fort Lee, NJ.  And here’s Fuchsia’s book in the US.


One Comment

    • Jason Mark Anderman
    • Posted December 9, 2009 at 4:16 pm
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    • Reply

    This western white guy loves jellyfish in sesame oil. Let’s go for dim sum sometime.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Tagged language Shortly before the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government made an attempt to improve the translation of Chinese menu by publishing guidelines and samples.  I have to track that down as it would be quite a fun notice to read.   Finding and deciphering these hilarious English menu is now a sport.  The following is an excerpt from a light-hearted article on Chinese food culture written by Fuchsia Dunlop.  I blogged about one of her books in an earlier post: “gristly, slithery, slimy, squelchy, crunchy, gloopy” […]

  2. […] “gristly, slithery, slimy, squelchy, cru […]

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