Shanghai cooks plan for Western tastes

Update:10 Mar 2007

With the Shanghai World Expo still four years away, many local chefs have started considering what food they could prepare for the anticipated 70 million visitors to the fair.

"The demand for dining is expected to be huge at that time," said Wang Huiqin, deputy secretary general of the Shanghai Cuisine Association."So it will be a good opportunity to promote Shanghainese cuisine, and we want to impress the visitors with the innovative Shanghai dishes."

The fi rst change pushed by Wang's association is in dining habits. "The traditional Chinese dining custom is to sit around one table and share all the dishes with other people.

But the Western separate dining style has been introduced into many local restaurants and become increasingly popular in the city,"she said.

The flavours of many traditional Shanghai dishes will be lightened to fi t a modern taste whilst Western seasoning and ingredients, such as butter and cheese, will probably be added. In a recent Shanghai cuisine competition, a local chef created a strange dish combining sauteed ribs with coffee, contradicting the traditional recipe's call for mashed garlic spice to season the ribs.

Wang said more and more locals would like to accept such a combination of Eastern and Western cooking methods, since Shanghai cuisine itself is famous for bringing together various recipes and forms of cuisine.

A traditional Shanghainese dish named Ju Hua Xie Dou (Fried crab with Chrysanthemum) has gained renewed popularity in the city since someone thought to cook the crab meat with cheese so as to make the dish more savoury.

"However, most of the creative recipes combining Western ingredients are experimental and will be further adjusted to meet different tastes of diners," Wang said.

Some foreigners in Shanghai are not so positive about the idea of culinary integration.Cameron Wilson, who is from Scotland and now works as a consultant in an international agency, said he prefers it if Chinese dishes would keep their authentic fl avour.

"When Chinese people try to make Western food, it just does not work, and it is the same when Westerners try to make Chinese food," he said.

A lover of spicy Sichuan cuisine, the Scot also said he does not like Shanghainese dishes much due to their sweet and oily tastes.

In fact, Shanghai cuisine is noted for its use of red-cooking, with heavy dark soy sauce as well as abundant use of sugar. Now,more and more local restaurants are starting to serve milder Shanghai dishes with an eye toward healthy dining.

Local chefs are also considering developing new Shanghai-style fast food that can easily be taken away, like hamburgers and sandwiches. One, Yan Huiqin, proposed the traditional He Ye Bao Fan, which is stir-fried rice wrapped by lotus leaves.

Yan, an executive chef from a local luxury hotel, said the He Ye Bao Fan represents the good characteristics of Shanghai cuisine with a history of thousands of years and it is still popular in the local dining market.

"A variety of ingredients can be added to the fried rice inside the lotus leaves," she said. "For example, additional ingredients like corns, chicken and chestnuts will fit the taste of Cantonese, while to add some butter to rice might be palatable for Westerners."

Miao Qing

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