Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Chinese people LOVE me! (11)

"Chinese people love me because..... I can eat spicy food."

As I have ranted before, Chinese food tends not to be long on sophistication, on subtlety of flavour. There seem to be no herbs, and very few spices in the cuisine. Apart from sugar and vinegar and just occasionally a little bit of star anise, the only flavourings are: garlic (which here tends to be hot rather than garlicky); ginger (hot); Szechuan peppercorns (mind-blowingly, tongue-numbingly hot); dried chilli; chilli flakes; chilli paste; chilli oil; chilli, chilli, chilli, and more chilli.

And yet Chinese wait staff will often query a foreigner's choice of dish, asking the supplementary question, "La de ma?" ("With chilli?") I don't know if this is out of genuine concern for our well-being or whether they just like to tease us. It's not a very pertinent question when the dish concerned doesn't really have anything going on in it except the chilli. And the fact is that, with the exception of the asbestos-intestined people of Szechuan and Chongqing, most Chinese are pretty wussy about hot spices. They little appreciate that we laowai, brought up on the eye-watering delights of Thai, Tex-Mex, and Indian food, can pretty much wipe the floor with them when it comes to a how-hot-can-you-take-it pissing competition.

As with the whole chopsticks thing, it's sometimes fun to be able to impress people so easily. But most of the time, it's just rather wearing.

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