I consulted a new book by Yu Zhou, a food expert who was born in Shanghai and has lived in Paris for years: “The Chopstick and the Fork: Tribulations of a Chinese Gastronome in France.”
He offered four historical differences between French and Chinese attitudes toward food:
Economic: In China, livestock farming was less developed than in France, so meat was scarce and had to be stretched by blending it with other ingredients.
Philosophical: Each meal must contain all five elements (metal, wood, water, fire, earth) and be as balanced as possible (the yin/yang theory).
Aesthetic: Chinese cuisine is more artistic than French, because the individual ingredients disappear to create a new taste — an art as admirable as painting or poetry.
Demographic (my favorite): China has always been an overpopulated country, so people were forced to be creative to survive. “We would therefore eat whatever we could find: chicken feet, fish livers and scales, jellyfish or beef stomach, which would probably be judged inedible in the eyes of Westerners,” he wrote.
Wish I could go see this exhibition. And I’m interested in that book too…