Sunday, December 31, 2017

Did You Eat Today?

For all it's history, politics and brand replication the heart of China is all about food. Nǐ jīntiān chī le ma or chī le ma? Did you eat today or did you eat?  This is a standard greeting in China, as common as "how are you" in the West. It may sound a little bit odd but spend time here and you will come to realize that everything in China revolves around food.

If you spend a little time observing you will see that people are either eating food and usually it is while they are walking and staring at their mobile device. They going to buy food, buying food, carrying food home, ordering food online for delivery or talking about what they will eat for their next meal. Food is everywhere. The food delivery service in Xi'an is massive. In 2015 food delivery in China topped 20 billion dollars. You want it delivered. Anything from local family run restaurant to Starbucks, KFC and yes even Dairy Queen. Naturally I had to challenge the DQ delivery. Sure enough they showed up and the ice cream was perfect having been delivered in micro freezers. The competition for the food delivery dollar is huge with both delivery services and mobile apps in competition with each other. Hell, even most restaurants have apps that will give you 10 to 15% off your bill if you order from the app.... while sitting at your table looking at the hard copy of the menu.

A few days before Christmas my friend Candy Bao asked me if I would like to go out and Christmas day for lunch. She wanted to make sure I celebrated Christmas knowing it was a big holiday in the West. It is virtually non existent here and she was very curious about the traditions. We spent 3 days talking about what we would eat. Finally we decided on roasted duck. It was the better part of the next day, chatting through WeChat that we needed to decided where to go. First what neighborhood was the best and finally what restaurant. They take this sh** seriously here.

Something that should be mentioned. No, I have not eaten dog or cat. and Yes there is a dog festival in n Yulin, Guangxi called the The Lychee and Dog Meat Festival. This is a minuscule fraction of the people in China. Not all Chinese people eat dog meat and most have dogs as pets, usually small yappy little bastards. They are loved and treated like we treat dogs in the west. Let's get one thing clear and that is I do not advocate the eating of dog nor do most Chinese. However in this rural area this celebration has been going on for over 400 years, well before dogs became household pets in our world.

Then there are the domesticated pigs, cows, chickens, sheep and other animals that we devour  without a second thought. Watch a video of any factory farm and you may not eat meat again. Sadly we are all fully aware of the brutal existence young calves but we continue to dig into our veal cutlet and our only thought during this meal is topping up our red wine. Cows are kept perpetually pregnant in order to increase milk production. You think a pig is not aware when it is about to die, guess again. How about the Seal Hunt in Canada. Sure there is outrage every few year but it still goes on. Why? It is a tradition that dates back hundreds of year and is vital for the survival of the people of the region both for food and revenue,. That is exactly what the Yulin Dog festival is.


It is not a popular thing for us in the West to imagine people eating dog, but it is actually extremely common in Asia and in the South Pacific. Dogs are a good source of nourishment and they are far larger than rats – thus feeding more people. We all feel awful about the thought of people eating dog, and it really is no worse (sentimentality aside) than someone eating beef (cows). Everyone knows that in China, Vietnam, South Korea and other Asian countries, dogs are eaten commonly. Turns out doggies were recorded as being eaten in ancient Rome, ancient Mexico and ancient China as well. Today, it’s common in Switzerland, and even President Obama has eaten dog meat. Again I am not advocating it. I am looking at it logically and not emotionally.

OK, back off that tangent. What do we usually consumer here? You guessed it. Beef, chicken, pork, duck, fish, tofu, fruits, vegetables, rice, bread and everything else you find at your local market. There are insects and spiders (which were delicious in Mexico), seaweed and in some back alley restaurants you can find snake, turtle and rat. Here in China, It's all about the street food.

Sitting on small plastic chairs eating on small plastic tables surrounded by smiling people doing the same at 2 am, 10 am or 4 pm. It does not matter. Its China, its food and people are happy.

Did you eat today? Go ahead and ask someone that. At first they may look at you strange but slowly a smile should come to their face. Ok, they are probably smiling because they think you have lost your mind but sometimes that can be fun.

We think about food all the time but its is usually a passing notion. In China they embrace it for the life force that it is.

No comments: