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Hot food adds spice to Hunan's economy
( 2004-01-13 23:41) (China Daily By Raymond Zhou)

It's spicy. It's homey. It's tasty.

It's Hunan, the cuisine that tantalizes and challenges.

The sight of someone with the food ever-growing in popularity sizzling on his or her palate is a delight to the local hospitality industry. And now, it has caught the government's notice, too.

Typical Hunan cuisine dishes offered at a northern Beijing restaurant, and some were among the favourites of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong. [newsphoto.com.cn]

At the second session of the 10th Hunan Provincial People's Congress in Changsha, capital of Hunan Province --held on Monday -- the topic of the provincial cuisine appeared in the government's formal Work Report.

"The traditional-style food industry will be further developed and the re-invention and growth of Hunan cuisine (will be) promoted" in the new year, the document states.

Just as it stimulates the taste buds, the cuisine is pushing the right buttons on the Internet and among amateur epicureans.

"This is a down-to-earth government report, which it should be," a netizen on Sina.com wrote.

"Indigenous gastronomy is a main attraction in Hunan. It makes sense for the government to promote it. It's good for the economy,'' said Yang Fan, associate professor of economics at China Academy of Social Sciences.

While Hunan food has spread far and wide, some are amazed at the extent of its popularity. Indeed, there are about 10 million Hunan people working across the country, according to New Weekly magazine. And the cuisine has spread like wildfire with them, in the spirit of Chairman Mao Zedong and other revolutionary pioneers of Hunan descent, who took their ideas to dizzying heights.

"Not spicy means not revolutionary," says He Shuqing in the magazine. Along with equally hot Sichuan food, it is fast ascending among China's "eight major culinary styles."

In Beijing alone, there are 1,300 Hunan restaurants, said Zhao Zaiyuan, director of investment and promotion at the Beijing office of the Hunan provincial government. The number has been rising quickly in recent years, and government endorsement may give it a further boost, she said.

"I'm just elated to hear the news that it's written into a government report," responded a worker, surnamed Wang, who works at Shaoshan Mao Family Restaurant, not far from the busy Wangfujing shopping district in Beijing. The owner of the restaurant said she is a descendent of Chairman Mao.

She recalled how local patrons gradually took to the strong flavour of the cuisine. "It took them some time to adjust to it. But once they get hooked, they come back for more."

She cited the case of a customer who keeps coming back. "I cannot help it, he said, and as a result he gained several pounds in one month," Wang laughed.

Wang attributed the growing popularity of her hometown food to its tartness and pungency, which make it go well with rice. It's usually reasonably priced, said Xiong, an employee at the National Environmental Protection Agency, and the service is folksy, just like back home.

Opinions like this sound nothing like a Hunan dish to Hunan officials -- they're just sweet.

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