Unauthentic local food

By David Lee Source:Global Times Published: 2018/6/12 18:03:39

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

Enjoying authentic Beijing food is a must for an authentic Beijing experience. A tour to Nanluoguxiang takes you to an amazing world of local culinary culture, and you'd be able to enjoy famous specialties such as lüdagun, a local Muslim desert made of rice with red bean filling, baodu (quick-fried tripe) and zhajiangmian (noodles with brown sauce paste).

Just beware though, the authentic hutong setting in these popular areas may well include less authentic Beijing food. It has been reported by multiple local media organizations that, in an area where people expect a genuine Beijing experience, some joints offer so-called traditional Beijing food that is not Beijing-rooted at all.

Suspicious tourists have reported such "traditional Beijing food" being offered as liangpi (cool noodles served with sauce) and suanlafen (sour and spicy noodles). Anyone with some basic understanding of the local variety of folk culinary traditions across the wide geographies that compose China would have known that liangpi is from Shaanxi Province and suanlafen is a Sichuan specialty.

According to a report by the Beijing Youth Daily, the local chamber of commerce has taken action following multiple complaints of unauthentic Beijing food found in the alley where true Beijing folk culture and cuisine is expected. Now it seems the dubious foods have disappeared from the alley. 

It's fair that non-Beijing food has been "banished" from the alley by the local chamber of commerce as part of its effort to safeguard the authentic Beijing experience. As such, I totally support the action taken.

However, liangpi and suanlafen are not to be looked down on. They are great representatives of local culinary traditions, though not that of Beijing. It's only inappropriate that such foods are offered in a place that is supposed to be "pure Beijing."

Nanluoguxiang is a large area. It's safe to say that such a big area may well offer enough space not only for local culture but also other highlights across vast geographies. The problem, therefore, lies in not whether it's appropriate to offer more than local dishes, but in whether proper zoning and identification of shops and products can be implemented in the alley so that visitors and tourists have a clear understanding of what they are being offered.

When it comes to proper zoning, it might be better to have sections of the alley offer pure Beijing goods and other sections offer a larger variety.

Compared with zoning, proper identification of shops and products is a much easier thing to do. In fact, I don't see any harm when liangpi and suanlafen are served side by side with traditional Beijing food. It's important, though, for the retailer to identify correctly what's what, instead of misleading customers by collectively labeling all offerings as Beijing local, as was the previous practice.

In this connection, a more humane approach by the local chamber of commerce is to guide and require shops to identify any food or product as it is.

Let's hope the next time we go on a tour in the iconic hutong area, we'll enjoy great eating food, but we'll also know more about the food we eat and the colorful culture and folk tradition behind it.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.


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