Eating Beyond Sichuan – Nina Zagat and Tim Zagat

Nina and Tim Zagat, founders of the respected Zagat restaurant guides, have written an op-ed in the New York Times bemoaning the sad state of Chinese restaurants in the U.S. and calling for “dumpling diplomacy” to bring talented Chinese chefs to our shores:

Like so many other aspects of Chinese life, the culinary scene in China is thriving. As capitalism has gained ground there, restaurants have become a place for people to spend their newfound disposable incomes. Cooking methods passed down within families over the centuries have become more widely known as chefs brought the traditions to paying customers. Today, there are a number of regional cuisines known in China as the Eight Great Traditions (Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan and Zhejiang cuisines). Unless you’ve visited China, they most likely have never reached your lips.

That’s because the lackluster Cantonese, Hunan and Sichuan restaurants in this country do not resemble those you can find in China. There is a historic explanation for the abysmal state of Chinese cuisine in the United States.

…If Henry Kissinger could practice “Ping-Pong diplomacy,” perhaps Condoleezza Rice could try her hand at “dumpling diplomacy”? China and the United States should work together on a culinary visa program that makes it easier for Chinese chefs to come here. With more chefs who are schooled in China’s dynamic new restaurant scene, we would see a transformation of the way Chinese food is served in this country.

Imagine, if you will, what it would be like to discover for the first time Memphis-style barbecue, New York deli food, soul food and Creole, Tex-Mex, Southwestern, California and Hawaiian cuisines all at once. Eating food prepared by an influx of Chinese chefs would be like opening up a culinary time capsule. [Full text]

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