What the Chinese think of German food | Lifestyle | DW | 29.08.2017
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What the Chinese think of German food

Popular Chinese TV chef and blogger Dong Jian Min came to Germany to try Bavarian cuisine. He told DW which dish he enjoyed most, how Chinese and German food are similar - and what his fans think of food from Germany.

Chinese food blogger Dong Jian Min with a Bavarian herb salt expert (Dong Jianxin/Chen Xiaowei

Chinese food blogger Dong Jian Min explored southern German cuisine - including herb salt - with local experts

Chinese food blogger and TV show host Dong Jian Min has some 1.18 million followers on Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblogging site. In addition to his own blog, Jimmy, as he calls himself online, writes longer travel reports that often go viral.

On Chinese television, he introduces viewers to culinary traditions from other countries. He recently visited southern Germany to explore the local cuisine.

DW: In your blog, you've written a lot about your impressions from Munich. How have people reacted to your culinary experiences in Germany?

Dong Jian Min: There have largely been two kinds of reactions. One side is more traditional and thinks that food in Germany isn't that exciting. But when they see in my blog the kinds of restaurants I have visited, they are astonished and ask how it could be that there is such good food there.

The other group, which tends to be younger, has never been to Germany and doesn't really have an idea of what it's like there. But they are very curious. They would love to try everything and come to Germany. They even ask me for the address and phone number of the restaurants. I've set up a special service for these users that they can use when they travel - with restaurant tips and menu recommendations.

Read more: Germans' insatiable love affair with potatoes

You visited both traditional and gourmet shops and restaurants in southern Germany, and you even made "Knödel" ("dumplings") and "Schweinshaxe" ("pork knuckle") yourself with a local chef. You also sampled exclusive coffee and Bavarian beer in Munich and drank wine in Würzburg. What did you enjoy the most?

Schweinshaxe interested me a lot because we also make it, in various ways, in traditional Chinese cuisine - either boiled or fried. It's easy to screw up. The hock can burn or get too soft. But in the restaurant Münchner Stubn, I saw how simple it can be thanks to modern kitchen technology.

Dong Jian Min prepares Schweinshaxe in a Bavarian restaurant (Dong Jianxin/Chen Xiaowei)

Dong Jian Min got a chance to make Schweinshaxe himself in a German restaurant

You just set the machine to cook it for 45 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit) and then grill it for 10 minutes at 200 degrees. I think it's great that you don't need people anymore, just a machine. In China that would be more difficult because everyone works according to their own experience. But here in Germany, tradition is combined with science and the result is a very progressive preparation method.

What makes German cuisine interesting for the Chinese?

German exports like cars and technical devices have a very good reputation in China. When the Chinese travel, food is very important to them. We don't necessarily have to have extremely comfortable accommodations, since we haven't developed particularly high standards in the 30 years that our economy has been prosperous. But good food is important to us, as it is to the Germans, the Italians or the Spanish.

We've also come to appreciate big portions of meat. And there are quite a few similarities between how the Germans and the Chinese eat. We both have big plates and large portions.

Read more: 10 German comfort foods for the winter

The Chinese want to know exactly how something is cooked and, when someone recommends a dish, then they want to try it.

In China, you don't say "Hi" or "How are you?" Instead, when you greet someone, you ask whether they've already eaten. Is that an indication of how important food is in China?

The Chinese were very poor for a long time. And technically we don't ask whether someone has dined, but whether they've eaten "fan." Fan literally means rice, but the question really means whether someone is full or whether they've eaten anything filling like rice or steamed buns. That would be the equivalent of German bread.

There used to be nothing else to eat. Now we're no longer so poor and people can eat a lot, including a lot of meat. But we also notice that that's not so healthy and people are starting to turn to vegetarian food. Many people strive to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Dong Jian Min in a Würzburg wine cellar (Dong Jianxin/Chen Xiaowei

Bavaria is world-famous for beer, but the region around Würzburg also has excellent wine

Why do the Chinese often leave half the food on the table when they eat in restaurants?

Up until the Song dynasty (960 to 1279 A.D.), it was the case that, like in the West, each person would get their own meal. It was also like that in Korea and Japan. Then things changed and since then, tables have been full of food. But the problem is that one person orders for the whole group, and since people want to be very polite, they order a lot - so much that it can't all be eaten.

We also have rules of seniority and hierarchy. If there is someone at the table who is older than you or has a higher rank, you are supposed to restrain yourself. The person who's paying wants to emphasize their social status and cannot order too little. So the solution is to package the leftovers, which has become common.

The habit of ordering too much is only changing very slowly - even though the Chinese, who had almost nothing to eat for so long, really hate wasting food.

Read more: 10 things you won't find at a German grill party

What do you most enjoy eating?

Hong shao rou - red braised pork. But of course there are a hundred ways to make it in China. Some put too much sugar in it, others too little; some use star anise or tomatoes.

But even though the taste varies, all the recipes have in common that the pieces of meat are firm while the fat crust is soft and juicy when you bite into it.

Pork is a big deal for the Chinese - at least for the Han ethnic group. We were so poor for so long that we really loved eating pork once we could.

Table full of food (Picture-Alliance/dpa)

The tradition of ordering too much food is only slowly changing in China, says Dong Jian Min

There are still a few Germans who believe that all Chinese eat dogs and cats, and maybe the occasional monkey brain. What would you tell them?

First, I would say that I respect the tradition. It's the Koreans who eat dog and generally not the Chinese. For us, dogs are friends. But the Koreans used to breed dogs like pigs. It is hard to keep pigs in the winter, which is why they kept dogs instead and fed them until they were fat. So they developed their own methods of preparation and got used to them.

But people in the West drink a lot of milk. When you think about how the cows are kept that have to endlessly give milk, or how the calves are taken away from their mothers just after birth so that they can give more milk, and how animals are kept in tight quarters and only milked by machines and not humans, then that is also very bad.

Why do you think there are so few truly authentic Chinese restaurants in Germany?

That's simple. The first Chinese to come to Germany had all fled China. They were poor, so they just cooked what they thought the foreigners could eat and altered their Chinese dishes. Now there are wealthy Chinese, but they prefer to open a Peking duck restaurant in New York. Maybe I should open a restaurant in Germany…

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