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Chinese restaurants taking 'takeout' to new extremes in global expansion push

By ZHU WENQIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-26 10:07
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A cook prepares Chinese noodles at a food market in New York in June 2023. LIAO PAN/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

Fueled by a growing appetite for authentic Chinese food outside the country, more domestic restaurants are opening branches overseas, driving higher demand for quality Chinese chefs in the international catering market.

Chinese dishes characterized by various local cuisines have become a highlight of consumption, and the government has encouraged the development of Chinese food business in foreign markets.

The government has actively supported Chinese chefs to work abroad, according to a guideline jointly issued by the Ministry of Commerce and eight other departments in late March.

"An increasing number of domestic chefs have landed jobs abroad, which also helps alleviate domestic employment pressure. The local government of Hunan province has introduced a series of favorable measures to support the development of Hunan cuisine overseas," said Luo Jixiang, a senior Chinese culinary master.

Hunan dishes, or xiangcai, represent one of the most popular regional Chinese cuisines overseas.

The guideline said it encourages the availability of more catering raw materials and accessories related to Chinese dishes overseas, and China may strengthen cooperation with key countries and regions in areas such as inspection and quarantine.

In addition, more Chinese culinary colleges may expand cooperation with overseas institutions, according to the guideline.

"The catering sector has become a leader in the consumer goods market, and the document has a guiding significance for China's catering sector to enter a stage of high-quality development," said Zhu Danpeng, an independent analyst tracking the food and beverage sector.

Last year, the British branch of Hunan Cuisine College, which is affiliated with Changsha Commerce and Tourism College, was launched in London.

The school signed a memorandum of cooperation with the University of Birmingham for cooperative education, with the aim of cultivating more international talent able to prepare Hunan cuisine and promote related cultural aspects.

The establishment of the school will help establish an internship base of Hunan cuisine catering and cooking in the United Kingdom, and solve difficulties related to talent recruitment and ingredient procurement for regional Chinese delicacies in the UK. It will also continuously provide high-quality and international Chinese cuisine experts for the UK, the school said.

"Hunan dishes are relatively affordable and satisfy taste preferences for spicy food by many young consumers. More than 15 local enterprises specialized in the preparation of Hunan dishes have promoted the meals in Europe, and some restaurants have also opened overseas branches in the United States and Japan," Luo said.

Meanwhile, British consumer goods conglomerate Unilever Plc said it would continue to expand its investment in businesses related to Chinese food and cooperate with more chefs in China — one of its three largest markets globally.

Unilever has been focusing on growing demand for Chinese food, and has set up five major research and development kitchens in Shanghai; Beijing; Guangzhou, Guangdong province; Chengdu, Sichuan province; and Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

Knorr, a condiment brand under the Unilever umbrella, reached a cooperation agreement with a group of famous chefs specialized in seven major styles of Chinese cooking in April, as the company hopes to integrate its resource advantages and chefs' personal strengths to further promote the development of Chinese food.

The two sides have established a Chinese food-related alliance. By 2025, the tie-up aims to achieve cooperation with more than 200 Chinese chefs and introduce over 200 kinds of new Chinese cuisines that integrate traditional features, thus further promoting Chinese food culture in China and other countries and regions.

"With the increasingly diversified growth of Chinese cuisine, regional dishes with distinguished features are expected to become a powerful driving force for the high-quality development of Chinese food," said Xing Ying, chairman of the World Federation of Chinese Catering Industry.

Last year, China's catering sector recovered rapidly after the country optimized its COVID-19 response measures in late 2022, and total catering sales reached 5.29 trillion yuan ($730 billion), up 20.4 percent year-on-year. The figure grew 13.2 percent over pre-pandemic levels in 2019, said the National Bureau of Statistics.

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