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A taste of Chinese, with or without the tricky sticks

By MINGMEI LI in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-15 10:17
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From Wall Street to the Lincoln Center, whether it's in the Financial District or the heart of the arts scene, Chinese cuisine permeates almost every corner of New York.

However, the Dragon Fest, the largest outdoor Chinese food and culture festival, on until October, is bringing together all authentic local foods from many provinces of China to Manhattan.

"We hope that Chinese food and food culture can serve as a bridge connecting people from different countries," the founder of Dragon Fest, Xu Biubiu, said. "Food-tasting could be a good start."

Food has not only facilitated connections between people but also created a culinary diplomacy between China and the United States recently.

In a visit to China that concluded last week, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen did not limit herself to exchanging views on international economics, current financial situations and cooperation in addressing global challenges with Chinese officials. While traveling from Guangzhou to Beijing she tried a wide range of Chinese dishes, including Sichuan dumplings, Peking duck, mouthwatering chicken and craft beer.

Internet users have been captivated by what Yellen ate, as well as her proficient use of chopsticks, seen in a video of her dining at Taotao Ju, a restaurant in Guangzhou with a 144-year history.

"Many cuisines are indeed more convenient to eat with chopsticks, which appears more Chinese," Xu said.

"I've noticed many foreigners at our Dragon Fest using chopsticks, and many are exceptionally skilled at it.

"This creates a more relaxed dining atmosphere for everyone and facilitates cultural exchange through the shared experience of dining."

Many more vendors are offering chopsticks in addition to knives and forks to cater to preferences for eating certain types of food, Xu said.

"I love using chopsticks when I eat Chinese food or other Asian cuisines," Helen Pfeffer, 58, told China Daily. "Using chopsticks feels 100 percent more authentic to me.

"You know what they're really great for? … You can enjoy snacks like buttered popcorn or Cheetos with chopsticks. It's very neat."

The practice of combining Chinese utensils with US snacks serves as a fun symbol of cultural exchanges, she said.

"Things like noodles are easier to eat with chopsticks than with anything else. I think it's generally one of those situations where if you're in a restaurant and everybody's using a certain utensil, you feel like you should be using it, too," she said, adding that it helps immerse her in the food experience.

Alexandria Pryce, 24, said: "I really hope more people come out and truly enjoy the culture and try different things that they might not be used to trying on a daily basis."

Pryce said she likes Asian food and enjoyed trying different dishes at the Dragon Fest, appreciating not only the food but also the cultures.

Eating Chinese food from local vendors at the Dragon Fest is also a way of supporting small businesses, she said.

"I honestly don't know how I learned to use chopsticks; it took me a minute to pick things up, but now it's not that hard," she said.

"I don't want to settle for Americanized Chinese food because it's important to preserve the true culture."

Holding three boxes of xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings) and noodles and three pairs of chopsticks, Jackie Maragh, 28, said: "I think using chopsticks makes the experience more authentic, and it's better to eat the food the way that people traditionally eat it. It adds to the experience as well."

Her friend Alicia Forbes, 33, holding a freshly brewed fruit tea, said she liked it and was ready to try the food that they had just bought.

"I'm still practicing using chopsticks, though. And I'll be practicing more."

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