Business & Economy

Spain and China sit down at the dining table in Beijing

By Lorena Canto

Beijing, Jun 21 (EFE) – With different cuisines but very close philosophies when it comes to dining, Spain and China combine their cuisines these days in Beijing to celebrate, either with chopsticks or forks and knives, the 50 years of relations between both countries.

Spanish products and dishes such as olive oil, Iberian ham and ribs, or black garlic will be adapted to China’s culinary techniques in dishes created jointly by Spanish chef Rodrigo de la Calle and Dadong, one of the most acclaimed Chinese chefs, both Michelin star winners.

This is an initiative promoted by the Spanish government to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Spain and China and also the Dual Year of Tourism Culture.

De la Calle, a Chinese cuisine lover who has been traveling to Beijing for almost a decade, told EFE the similarities between the two countries when it comes to sitting at the dining table, “the way of eating.”

“What in Spain we call the ‘picoteo,’ when we get a lot of people together and put many dishes in the center to share, is the essence of eating in China. Everyone eats with the food in the center and everything is to share,” he said.

With what unites the two countries in mind, the two chefs have created a fusion and avant-garde menu, consisting of eight dishes and a pairing of wines from four Spanish certificates of origin, served for several days at Dadong’s famous restaurants in the capital.

Among them, the “zongzi” of Iberian ham — a small cone of rice typical of the Dragon Boat Festival now celebrated in China — Chinese-style Iberian ribs with piquillo peppers, lacquered duck with olive caviar or tuna salad with tomato soup that evokes summers in Andalusia.

Also essential is the seafood paella, which according to De la Calle is “the icon of Spanish gastronomy in China” together with Iberian ham, “our calling card in the world.”

“In Spain, for us it is a dish that has remained for tourism, but it is the icon for anyone in China, when they think of Spanish gastronomy, they think of a paella and it also has to be seafood (…) they like it to have a lot of seafood on top, more than rice, unlike in Spain, where we like it to have rice and few pieces,” he said.

Although Chinese and Spaniards understand enjoyment at the table in the same way, they also sometimes differ in tastes.

According to the chef, the “great disadvantage” of Spanish chefs here is that “the Chinese taste is not able to assimilate the salt points of our cuisine,” which they find too salty despite their taste for powerful bases such as fermented sauces or soy.

Neither are they fans of the acidity of citrus fruits despite the fact that in their cuisine “they can tolerate vinegar at very high levels,” nor of excessive sugar in desserts, which De la Calle reduces in his recipes by half when he prepares them in China.

Not so Dadong, the other half of the pair that created the menu, who told EFE that during his career he has absorbed many ideas from Western gastronomy, “but above all from Spanish cuisine” and from mythical names such as Ferran Adria.

“We use Iberian ham to cook Chinese dishes, for example in small pieces to prepare Chinese fish, and we also use a lot of Spanish olive oil for its intense flavor,” he said.

Both chefs are also confident that initiatives such as this will bring the “real” recipes of their countries closer to the public, since, according to De la Calle, “fighting against the stigma of Chinese restaurants in the West is very complicated.”

“When a Chinese person sees spring rolls with sweet and sour sauce, he throws his hands to his head,” the Spanish chef said about a dish that does not really exist in China. The same goes for the famous special fried rice, which in China is a dish from the Sichuan region “made with cucumber, lotus root and green beans.” EFE


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