Food and Foodways in Asia: Resource, Tradition and Cooking

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Food and Foodways in Asia: Resource, Tradition and Cooking

Food and Foodways in Asia Food is an important cultural marker of identity in contemporary Asian societies, and can pro

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Food and Foodways in Asia

Food is an important cultural marker of identity in contemporary Asian societies, and can provide a medium for the understanding of social relations, family and kinship, class and consumption, gender ideology and cultural symbolism. However, a truly comprehensive view of food cannot neglect the politics of food production, in particular, how, when, from where and even why different kinds of food are produced, prepared and supplied. Food and Foodways in Asia is an anthropological inquiry providing rich ethnographic description and analysis of food production as it interacts with social and political complexities in Asia’s diverse cultures. Prominent anthropologists examine how food is related to ethnic identity and boundary formation, consumerism and global food distribution and the invention of local cuisine in the context of increasing cultural contact. With chapters ranging from the invention of ‘local food’ for tourism development, to Asia’s contribution to ‘world cuisine’, Food and Foodways in Asia will be a fascinating read for anyone interested in the anthropology of food and/or Asian studies. Sidney C.H. Cheung is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Tan Chee-Beng is Professor in the Department of Anthropology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Anthropology of Asia series Series editor: Shaun Malarney International Christian University, Japan

Asia today is one of the most dynamic regions of the world. The previously predominant image of ‘timeless peasants’ has given way to the image of fast-paced business people, mass consumerism and high-rise urban conglomerations. Yet much discourse remains entrenched in the polarities of ‘East versus West’, ‘Tradition versus Change’. This series hopes to provide a forum for anthropological studies which breaks with such polarities. It will publish titles dealing with cosmopolitanism, cultural identity, representations, arts and performance. The complexities of urban Asia, its elites, its political rituals and its families will also be explored. 1 Hong Kong The anthropology of a Chinese metropolis Edited by Grant Evans and Maria Tam 2 Folk Art Potters of Japan Brian Moeran 3 Anthropology and Colonialism in Asia and Oceania Jan van Bremen and Akitoshi Shimizu 4 Japanese Bosses, Chinese Workers Power and control in a Hong Kong megastore Wong Heung Wah 5 The Legend of the Golden Boat Regulation, trade and traders in the borderlands of Laos, Thailand, China and Burma Andrew Walker 6 Cultural Crisis and Social Memory Modernity and identity in Thailand and Laos Edited by Shigeharu Tanabe and Charles F. Keyes

7 The Globalization of Chinese Food Edited by David Y.H. Wu and Sidney C.H. Cheung 8 Culture, Ritual and Revolution in Vietnam Shaun Kingsley Malarney 9 The Ethnography of Vietnam’s Central Highlanders A historical contextualization, 1850–1990 Oscar Salemink 10 Night-time and Sleep in Asia and the West Exploring the dark side of life Edited by Brigitte Steger and Lodewijk Brunt 11 Chinese Death Rituals in Singapore Tong Chee Kiong 12 Calligraphy and Power in Contemporary Chinese Society Yuehping Yen 13 Buddhism Observed Travellers, exiles and Tibetan Dharma in Kathmandu Peter Moran 14 The Tea Ceremony and Women’s Empowerment in Modern Japan Bodies re-presenting the past Etsuko Kato 15 Asian Anthropology Edited by Jan van Bremen, Eyal Ben-Ari and Syed Farid Alatas 16 Love in Modern Japan Its estrangement from self, sex and society Sonia Ryang 17 Food and Foodways in Asia Resource, tradition and cooking Edited by Sidney C.H. Cheung and Tan Chee-Beng

Food and Foodways in Asia Resource, tradition and cooking

Edited by Sidney C.H. Cheung and Tan Chee-Beng

First published 2007 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 270 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2007 Selection and editorial matter, Sidney C.H. Cheung and Tan CheeBeng; individual chapters, the contributors This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2007. “To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks please go to” All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN 0–203–94712–6 Master e-book ISBN ISBN10: 0-415-39213-6 (hbk) ISBN10: 0-203-94712-6 (ebk) ISBN13: 978-0-415-39213-6 (hbk) ISBN13: 978-0-203-94712-8 (ebk)


List of illustrations List of contributors

ix x

Introduction: food and foodways in Asia




Ecology, resources and food production 1 Fermented marine food products in Vietnam: ecological basis and production




2 Namako and iriko: historical overview on holothuria (sea cucumber) exploitation, utilization, and trade in Japan



3 Fish in the marsh: a case study of freshwater fish farming in Hong Kong




Tradition and food production 4 Poonchoi: the production and popularity of a rural festive cuisine in urban and modern Hong Kong




5 Convenient-involvement foods and production of the family meal in South China SIUMI MARIA TAM


viii Contents 6 Edible mercy: charity food production and fundraising activities in Hong Kong



7 Estimating rice, agriculture, global trade and national food culture in South Korea




Restaurants and food production 8 A taste of the past: historically themed restaurants and social memory in Singapore




9 Indigenous food and foodways: mapping the production of Ainu food in Tokyo



10 Authenticity and professionalism in restaurant kitchens




Asian cooking and world cuisine


11 In search of a Macanese cookbook



12 Nyonya cuisine: Chinese, non-Chinese and the making of a famous cuisine in Southeast Asia



13 From Malacca to Adelaide . . .: fragments towards a biography of cooking, yearning and laksa



14 Asia’s contributions to world cuisine: a beginning inquiry






Figures 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 2.1 2.2 2.3 3.1 3.2

Principal causes of upwelling in the coastal waters of Vietnam Relationship between the fishing season of selected fish species and monsoon seasonality in Vietnam Hypothesis on fish behaviour and the monsoons (for a Western coast) in Vietnam Generic classification of fermented fish products in Asia The generic production process of marine fish sauce (nuoc mam) in Vietnam Trepang export from Japan 1756–1823 Volume and mean value of trepang production in Japan 1887–1906 Holothurian catch in Japan 1894–2000 HKNTFCA members’ distribution from 1955 to 1987 Historical development of freshwater fish farming in Hong Kong


27 28 43 45

Map of the Inner Deep Bay


17 17 18 19 26

Map 3.1


Akamine Jun is Associate Professor in the Department of Intercultural Studies at Nagoya City University, Japan. His research interests include human ecology, maritime ethnology, and Southeast and East Asian Studies; his most recent publications include ‘International intervention is not the only way to save depleting resources’, Journal of Chinese Dietary Culture, 1(2), 2005; and ‘Role of the Trepang traders in the depleting resource management: a Philippine case’, Senri Ethnological Studies, 67, 2005. Chan Kwok Shing is Tutor in the Chinese Civilization Center at City University of Hong Kong. His research interests include anthropology of welfare, gender, property inheritance, and cultural tourism; his most recent article is forthcoming in Maria Siumi Tam (ed.), Women of South China: Negotiating Traditions and Subjectivities (M.E. Sharpe). Sidney C.H. Cheung is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and concurrently Director of the Center for Cultural Heritage Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. His research interests include visual anthropology, anthropology of tourism, heritage studies, indigenous cultures, and food and identity; his co-edited books include Tourism, Anthropology, and China (White Lotus 2001) and The Globalization of Chinese Food (RoutledgeCurzon 2002). Jean Duruz is Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies in the School of Communication at the University of South Australia. Her research interests include space, food and identity, memory and nostalgia, and urban cultures and meanings of everyday life; her recent publications include ‘Eating at the borders: culinary journeys’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 23(1), 2005 and ‘Living in Singapore, travelling to Hong Kong, remembering Australia: intersections of food and place’ in Costantino, E. and Supski, S. (eds), Culinary Distinction (API Network 2006). Luke Y.C. Fung is Lecturer in the Department of Applied Social Sciences at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. His research interests include sociology of food, sociology of work, food and religion, and quality of life.

Contributors xi Alexander Mamak recently retired from the City and County of San Francisco where he served as Director of Communications and Public Affairs. His research interests include international race and ethnic relations, development issues, social research methods, and the dynamics of non-Western political systems; his publications include Race Class and Rebellion in the South Pacific (Allan and Unwin 1979) and ‘Urban native American Samoan development issues’ in McCall, G. (ed.), A World Perspective on Pacific Islander Migration (University of New South Wales 1992). Sidney W. Mintz is Research Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University, USA. He studies the social history of the Caribbean region of Latin America, and the anthropology of food; his publications include Worker in the Cane: A Puerto Rican Life History (Yale University Press 1960), Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (Penguin 1985), and Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom (Beacon 1996). Michael Reinschmidt is currently Visiting Professor of Korean Studies at Inje University, Busan and Research Fellow at the Korea Foundation, Seoul, South Korea. His anthropological interests revolve around culture, heritage, and identity with contributions in Hamilton, R.W. (ed.), The Art of Rice: Spirit and Sustenance in Asia (UCLA, Fowler Museum of Cultural History 2003) and Encyclopedia of Religious Practice (Thompson-Gale 2005). Kenneth Ruddle is Professor in the School of Policy Studies at Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan and Associated Member of the Institute for Fisheries and Food, Brazil. His research interests focus on human ecology in coastal areas, small-scale tropical capture fisheries, traditional resources and environmental management systems and traditional ecological knowledge, and integrated systems of aquaculture-agriculture; his authored and coauthored books include Gyosho to Narezushi no Kenkyu (Research on Fermented Fish Products and Narezushi) (Iwanamishoten 1990); Integrated Agriculture-Aquaculture in South China: The Dike-pond System of the Zhujiang Delta (Cambridge University Press 1988); and Administration and Conflict Management in Japanese Coastal Fisheries (FAO Fisheries Reports 1987). Satohiro Serizawa is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Nara University in Japan. He has been researching on the ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong and Vietnam from anthropological perspectives. His research interests include urban social institutions, religion and migration, ethnicity, and popular culture in Hong Kong and Vietnam; his most recent article is ‘Chinese charity organizations in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: the past and present’ in Kuah-Pearce, K.E. and Hu-Dehart, E. (eds), Voluntary Organizations in the Chinese Diaspora (Hong Kong University Press 2006). Siumi Maria Tam is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology, and concurrently co-chairs the Gender Studies Programme,

xii Contributors The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Her research interests include identity in relation to family, gender, migration, ethnicity and work, and her area focus is Hong Kong and South China, and Hong Kong immigrants in Australia; she co-edited Hong Kong: The Anthropology of a Chinese Metropolis (Curzon 1997) and Tung Chung Before and After the New Airport: An Ethnographic and Historical Study of a Community in Hong Kong (Antiquities and Monuments Office, HKSAR 2005). Tan Chee-Beng is Professor in the Department of Anthropology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He has carried out research in Malaysia and China; his books include Chinese Overseas: Comparative Cultural Issues (Hong Kong University Press 2004), The Chinese in Malaysia (co-editor) (Oxford University Press 2000), Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia (co-editor) (Chinese University Press 2001), Southern Fujian: Reproductions of Traditions in Post-Mao China (editor) (Chinese University Press 2006) and Chinese Transnational Networks (editor) (Routledge 2007). Mark K. Watson is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Comparative Study of Indigenous Rights and Identity in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. He is currently developing a research programme with Inuit and James Bay Cree populations in Montreal and Ottawa. His most recent article is forthcoming in Bogdanowicz, T. and Hudson, M. (eds), Visions of the Ainu: Changing Academic and Public Perspectives (University of Hawaii Press). Wong Hong Suen is a Curator with the National Museum of Singapore. She is the curator-in-charge of the permanent Food Gallery and the Colonial History Gallery at the museum. Her research interests focus on Singapore’s cultural history and include the history of representations, art history and colonial photography.

Introduction Food and foodways in Asia Sidney C.H. Cheung and Tan Chee-Beng

This book arose from an international conference, held in March 2004, on ‘The Production of Food and Foodways in Asia’ which was jointly organized by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and the Department of Anthropology of The Chinese University of Hong Kong. With original data and new findings of scholars from different disciplines, the publication of selected and revised papers from this conference serves to broaden our knowledge of food and foodways in East and Southeast Asia. It contributes to the anthropological inquiry on how food is related to ethnic identity and boundary formation, consumerism and global food distribution, and the invention of local cuisine in the context of increasing cultural contact. The fourteen chapters in this book provide rich ethnographic description and analysis on food production as it interacts with social and political complexities in Asia’s diverse cultures. Early anthropological research on food and cuisine centred largely upon questions of taboo, totems, sacrifice and communion. With the cultural symbolism approach, the analyses emphasize how food reflects human understandings of themselves and their relations with the physical world as well as the supernatural world. Structural anthropologists focus on edibility rules — why food is a symbol through which the ‘deep structure’ of humanity can be investigated, and also how corresponding concepts of the body and spatial territories can be discerned (Douglas 1966; Lévi-Strauss 1969). With the publication of Jack Goody’s Cooking, Cuisine, and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology (1982), anthropological study of food has turned attention to many socio-cultural issues in the larger political economy (cf. Mintz and Du Bois 2002), which broadens our understanding of urbanization, modernization, class, social hierarchy and the meanings of taste from a cultural and political perspective. The publication of Sidney W. Mintz’s Sweetness and Power (1985), for example, is a significant development in this direction. In the last few decades, anthropological studies on Asian foodways have brought attention to changes in the local dynamics of production, consumption, adaptation, identity construction, and post-modern consumerism (Watson 1997; Cwiertka and Walraven 2000; Wu and Tan 2001; Wu and Cheung 2002; Watson and Caldwell 2005). In particular, they have highlighted the internalization of local foodways as well as the localization of foreign foodways in various East and Southeast Asian countries,


S.C.H. Cheung and Tan Chee-Beng

reminding us that foodways are simultaneously local and global in terms of production, manufacturing and marketing (Ohnuki-Tierney 1993; Cwiertka 1999; Bestor 2004). Indeed, food is one of the most important cultural markers of identity in contemporary Asian societies, and it has provided a medium for the understanding of social relations, family and kinship, class and consumption, gender ideology and cultural symbolism. Much scholarly attention has been on the social and cultural construction of foodways; however, a truly comprehensive view of food cannot neglect the politics of food production, in particular, how, when, from where and even why different kinds of food are produced, prepared and supplied.

Global mode of food production There is no doubt that the mode of food production has changed dramatically after the discovery of the New World. The voyages of Columbus marked a revolution in the globalization of food sources and use of food ingredients, while colonization facilitated the speed and scale in the ‘migration’ of food ingredients from one part of the world to another. Many of the daily ingredients we use today are in fact global in origin, brought about by a process of globalization. In other words, regarding their origin and circulation, we can trace how various kinds of food have spread through imperialism, colonialism, cross-border networks and global trading; of course, all these involve world politics, power relations, cultural exchange, national and transnational trade network formation and economic development, etc. Of the vegetables we consume in our daily meals, the tomato, potato and maize, for example, are native to South America (Brandes 1999). Many vegetables that are common in Asia have come from different parts of the world. To give another example, cucumber and watermelon came from the Old World (Heiser 1981: 196). Asia also contributes many kinds of plant food and spice to the world, such as pepper and eggplant from India (Heiser 1981: 199, 208), while Southeast Asia is the source of many kinds of spices, including clove and nutmeg. These are vivid examples of the global movement of ingredients which travel from region to region and even across oceans from continent to continent. Most importantly, they not only remind us of how objects and materials move, but also of the changing concepts of food, as well as eating and cooking styles among human groups. By focusing on a single food item as well as the meanings associated with sugar in various social contexts, Mintz (1985) has shown that the consumption of sugar is actually a complicated social development in the modern history of cultural interaction. Furthermore, with the detailed studies on specific items such as tea, tobacco, coffee, etc., Roseberry et al. (1995), Gately (2003), Macfarlane and Macfarlane (2003), Schivelbusch (1993) and others show that the study of food and foodways is indeed significant in the understanding of modern history. These studies of foodways enable us to investigate the changing social taste and cultural values during the last few centuries.

Introduction 3 With the increasing mobility of people and goods around the world, the exchange of food and foodways is inevitable. Transnational trade development, migration, new manufacturing technologies and forms of transport all pose challenges to traditional concepts of food and its production and consumption in both local and global contexts. New trends of food production came with the ‘New Age’ and the post modern world. One of the important trends is the Slow Food movement that originated in Italy. It reminds us that we must pay greater attention to the way food is produced and that we should support and encourage ‘slow’ and traditional food production in contrast to the fast and modern massive production, albeit the latter is cheaper and more convenient (cf. Petrini 2003). Thus food production does not follow a lineal evolution from the ‘traditional’ to the ‘modern’, or from small scale production to massive manufacturing. The reverse can also be true. In addition, Leitch (2003) shows how a special food, lardo, which was made for some local purposes, is now re-invented for different purposes. With the ethnographical approach focusing on the changing mode of production, we would be able to understand people’s changing life styles, how values have changed, policies are made, meanings are associated and identities are constructed. In this book, we focus on the changes taken place in Asian food systems since the 1990s. They include not only the consumption side but more importantly the production side of the process. Questions related to food production have been overlooked by social scientists, as it is commonly believed that they should be taken care of by the professionals working in the field of agriculture, biology and nutrition. In fact, cultural aspects of food production have significant impact on how and what we eat. To cite just a few examples: environmental resource management, inter-cultural interaction and migration of people and food production technology, all have a role in influencing food consumption and food security. However, as Bian (2004: 9) has observed in the case of China that, ‘[t]he improvement of food safety is not only driven by safety concerns, but also by trade interests’. Along the same line, in the Introduction of the edited volume The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating: A Reader, Watson and Caldwell (2005: 1–10) show that the major concern of food security is no more about whether we have enough food to eat, but whether our food is up to safety standards, and whether the supply is sustainable and the quality can be maintained. This is obviously true of the industrial societies. People in Hong Kong, for example, are very aware of this, as the mass media now and then report about the safety of local food as well as problems of food security in mainland China, such as the over use of pesticide on vegetables, illegal use of chemicals by irresponsible fish farmers, making of fake soy sauce, even the sale of fake baby milk formula. The occurrence of mad cow disease and bird flu causes people worldwide to be more conscious of the importance of paying attention to the production side of their food sources. While this book does not focus on food security, our focus on the production side helps draw attention to the need of studying the production side of food and foodways.


S.C.H. Cheung and Tan Chee-Beng

Structure of the book Thematically divided into four parts, this edited book engages in the discussion of contemporary modes of food production in various East and Southeast Asian countries. In Part I: Ecology, Resources and Food Production, we begin by looking at natural resources and the ecological dimensions of food production; the three chapters in this part are written by scholars who observe the origins and manufacturing process of food and foodways from different perspectives, such as the environment, migration, business networking and welfare in various Asian countries. They discuss the development of foodways and explain the historical backgrounds of specific dietary cultures in Hong Kong, Japan and Vietnam. In Chapter 1, Kenneth Ruddle looks into the local production of fish sauce in Vietnam in relation to its environmental background and local fermentation practices. This indigenous food product is popular among local people and Ruddle discusses its value as a low cost, simple and important item for food flavouring. In Chapter 2, Akamine Jun looks into the indigenous side of the social organization of sea cucumber cultivation in Honshu and Hokkaido, Japan. With the changing patterns of domestic consumption and growing market demand in mainland China, Akamine shows us how balance is maintained between coastal resource management and financial returns from a socio-cultural perspective. In Chapter 3, Sidney Cheung examines the historical development of freshwater fishpond cultivation in Hong Kong in order to reveal not only the rise and decline of the freshwater fish farming industry but also the local community’s relationships with the government, developers and environmentalists during the last few decades. He reminds us that even though the industry has shrunken because of lack of manpower and high cost operation compared to the mainland, the importance of these traditional practices should not be overlooked. It is simply because Inner Deep Bay’s traditional fishpond farming system serves not only as mitigation zone and farming ground of the ‘Local Fish’ but also as a major food supplier for migratory birds, adding the conservation value of Mai Po marshes and Inner Deep Bay at large. Human food is mediated by culture, and cultural tradition plays a crucial part in food production. Part II: Tradition and Food Production describes tradition and food production in Hong Kong and Korea, which is influenced by both urbanization and globalization. In Chapter 4, Chan Kwok Shing uses poonchoi to illustrate how a rural culinary tradition is maintained, changed or modified by different parties to serve their needs and interests in a rapidly changing modern, global society like Hong Kong. He examines the development of this rural festive culinary tradition, which has long been perceived by the majority of the Hong Kong Chinese as something rural, exotic and ethnic, and discusses the popularity of this rural festive cuisine, which has received increasing social recognition in both urban life and the catering industry. Another obvious change on the food market in Hong Kong over the past decade is the increasing popularity of convenient-involvement food products. Whether in the traditional wet market or in supermarkets, convenient-

Introduction 5 involvement food in the form of marinated meats or cellophane-covered packs of cut vegetables and meat, have become regularly available choices for the consumer. Often explained as a sign of efficiency in the modern city, the phenomenon, in fact, reflects the production and reproduction of cultural expectations for specific tastes as well as social relations in the family, and thus deserves a closer analysis. In Chapter 5, Maria Tam examines the cultural implications of the convenient-involvement food phenomenon, and proposes explanations to the family institution and to social change in the context of contemporary South China. Tam shows us that Hong Kong convenience-involvement food assumed its significance after the economic restructuring since 1997, as a way to minimize the cost of producing the family meal, and thus has been developed mainly as a household strategy to maintain the family during hard times. In contrast, convenience-involvement food has not been popular in Guangzhou, especially among the working class who considered it a luxury item. Guangzhou informants seldom used convenience-involvement food to produce their daily family meals, and they found it to be a fad among middle-class, double-income young couples, especially those who originated from non-Cantonese parts of mainland China. In Chapter 6, Satohiro Serizawa describes an interesting aspect of food production, the making of cookies for fundraising. He directs us to an understanding of the culture of donation and charity in Hong Kong and the ‘symbolic meaning imbued in food’. Although sold for charity, the taste of the cookie matters a lot, since people buy the item at a higher price to contribute to the funds which a charity organization collects and will donate for a public cause. Contrary to appearance, the company producing the charity food does not donate any money, while the charity organization is responsible for ‘the production and circulation of charity food’. Despite the traditional concept of food as a gift for the poor and needy, Serizawa reminds us the associated meanings of food as a returned gift to the donor is related to the changing social values among Hong Kong people during the last few decades. What happens when a food is so imbued with a cultural heritage and its production is perceived as threatened by global trade that facilitates the importation of substitutes? The campaign by Korean rice farmers in South Korea against the World Trade Organization is well known. This issue is discussed by Michael Reinschmidt in Chapter 7. He points out that ‘food in its globalizing aspect cannot be seen as an agronomic product or a biological specimen’ as people do ‘attach distinguishable meanings to their home-grown foods’. While many Koreans may agree that home-grown rice is embedded in their traditional Korea culture, and are sympathetic to the plight of rice farmers, many will buy imported rice if the price is right. With industrialization and the receding of agricultural visibility, Reinschmidt points out that ‘the immediate “rice reality” for most South Koreans consists of the rice bowl on the table (often not thrice a day anymore) and the steamer that cooks it well enough’. ‘Does it still matter to people where their rice comes from?’ asks Reinschmidt. Foods are not just cooked for eating at home; they are also cooked in restaurants for sale. The production of food in restaurants deserves more attention by


S.C.H. Cheung and Tan Chee-Beng

scholars, not just about management, tourism but also creativity and cultural meaning. In Part III, three scholars discuss various aspects of restaurants and food production. Cultural traditions are significant in the production of food. This is also true in restaurants, where history and culture is as relevant as the taste of food. In Chapter 8, Wong Hong Suen describes historically themed restaurants and social memory in Singapore. In the House of Peranakan Cuisine, for example, the cultural heritage of the Chinese Peranakan, popularly known as the Baba (see below) is featured to stage authenticity and to ‘evoke the Peranakan past in its dishes’. In The Soup Restaurant, which features the sale of the traditional cuisine of Chinatown, the memories of teahouses, Chinatown street life, Cantonese Samsui women, etc., are evoked and commoditized through food. Wong concludes that the historically themed restaurants where ethnic memory is constructed, ‘is especially resonant in Singapore where food is an icon’. Restaurants can also serve to bring the food of indigenous minorities beyond their rural or remote homeland. They help to provide a space for the indigenous people in a city to live in their tradition. This is the theme of Mark Watson in his discussion of the production of Ainu food in Tokyo. Rera Cise is one of the very few Ainu restaurants to have existed. The production of traditional Ainu food in an urban setting in the context of the global economy actually reinforces cultural continuity. The restaurant is in fact a ‘home’ to the urban Ainu and a ‘focused site of Ainu social relations’. In other words, the restaurant, in providing Ainu food away from the Ainu territory, reproduces traditional foods for the lived experience of the Ainu in Tokyo and reinforces ethnicity. Of course chefs are important agents in restaurants. This is examined in Chapter 10 by Luke Fung who is both a sociologist and a chef. His experience as chef and doing research in a hotel kitchen help to give us a vivid picture of chefs’ lives in a kitchen, which is not just a place where food is prepared and cooked. It is also a place where a chef’s professional identity as well as the authenticity of a food is constructed. Fung describes how chefs build up their ‘working knowledge’ in the kitchen. He stresses the importance of studying chefs as food producers, as it is they who define ‘gourmet’ cuisine. He argues that it is more accurate to say that ‘patrons consume what chefs define as delicious dishes’. There are many distinct ethnic and regional cuisines which contribute to not only the richness of foods and foodways in Asia but also to world cuisine. There are also cuisines that have grown out of inter-cultural interaction within Asia. In Part IV: Asian Cooking and World Cuisine, in addition to the concluding chapter by Sidney Mintz on Asia’s contribution to the creation of a world cuisine, we have three chapters which describe inter-cultural contacts and the creation of new cuisines. The Portuguese were among the earliest Europeans to come and live in East and Southeast Asia, having conquered Malacca in the Malay Peninsula in 1511, and established themselves in Macau around 1557. The long history of the Portuguese with the Chinese and other Asians in Macau not only gave rise to the Macanese – people from Macau with Portuguese ances-

Introduction 7 tors (cf. Pina-Cabral 2002: 39), but also the Macanese food, which reflects the history of cultural interaction between the Portuguese and the Chinese. In this book, Alexander Mamak, himself a Macanese, describes the search for a Macanese cookbook. While there are many recipes, Mamak tells us that until recently it was difficult to find a Macanese cookbook. There is much Chinese contribution to the creation of Macanese cuisine, and Mamak informs us that the Macanese housewives of Chinese ancestry and the domestic cooks played important roles in this. Mamak explains that given the ‘complex mix of cooking styles, ingredients and flavours’ as well as class and ethnic influences, there are many versions of Macanese cuisine and it is impossible to find ‘one and only’ traditional recipes. He concludes that the Macanese ‘are both the inheritors and creators of their own customs, including a very rich repertoire of recipes’. In Chapter 12, Tan Chee-Beng brings us to the food heritage of the Baba in Southeast Asia. While the Macanese are a product of Portuguese and mainly Chinese cultural interaction, the Baba community is a product of cultural interaction between Chinese migrants and the indigenous people in the Malay Archipelago, Malays in particular. Because those in Melaka (Malacca in English) speak creolized Malay and they are known to be chilli eaters, the Babas have been perceived by the mainstream Chinese and other Malaysians and Singaporeans as Malay-like, including their food. In this chapter Tan selects six recipes from his field research, to show us in detail, the nature of Baba (often called nyonya) food and the creativity involved. He tells us that while the food is much localized, its symbolism is very traditionally Chinese. Thus nyonya food is significant ‘in the symbolism of being Chinese and local’. It is promoted as a unique cuisine in the tourism of Malaysia and Singapore. The Babas associate their food with their cultural heritage, and claim that it is most delicious; in this, the other Malaysians and Singaporeans generally agree, even when they are prejudiced against the Baba as not so Chinese. The innovative local food of the Chinese in Southeast Asia, such as nyonya food, has travelled beyond Southeast Asia, as the Chinese migrate to different destinations worldwide. In fact, we can find various kinds of Southeast Asian Chinese food in Hong Kong, including the laksa described by Jean Duruz. Laksa is a popular rice noodle in gravy made by the Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore. Duruz describes its popularity in Australia. She describes not only the production of food, but more significantly the production of memory. As Chinese from Malaysia and Singapore residing in other countries will agree, laksa is one of the foods that they feel nostalgic about. Duruz describes how Chinese migrants from Malaysia introduced laksa to Australia. Chinese migrants from Malaysia and Singapore who opened restaurants to sell such Malaysian Chinese food as laksa in fact infused ‘their tastes of childhood’ with their ‘creative expertise and knowledge of global trends’. Duruz shows how laksa is not only ‘part of specific processes of food production and migration’ but ‘part of the production of memory itself’, it is also ‘re-produced in specific Australian cultural imaginaries’. This is because ‘laksa’s means “settle” in “new Asian” spaces and intersect with stories of a particular generation’s history of longing and loss’.


S.C.H. Cheung and Tan Chee-Beng

The last chapter by Sidney Mintz discusses world cuisine as a process and the contribution from Asia. Globalization has been a long historical process and is not something recent. Mintz points out there has been a long history of diffusion of non-Asian food and food ingredients to Asia, and food ingredients have also a long history in the spread of Asian food to Europe, America and the rest of the world. Mintz’s discussion is not just about Asia but also very much about the West. For example, he describes rice as Asia’s greatest gift to the West and that it reached the United States in the seventeenth century. Mintz discusses a number of food items that had diffused to the West, including soy sauce, tamarind, ginger, even monosodium glutamate. There was tea, and of course soybean, whose use in the United States was transformed to providing cooking oil and animal feed, among other things; although soy milk consumption ‘is flourishing in the US’ The interpenetration of cuisine leads some people to think about the standardization of food worldwide. Mintz ends his chapter with an interesting example of an American product, Tabasco sauce, whose ingredients include soy sauce, sesame oil, bean sprouts, ginger, rice and peanut oil.

Concluding remarks Overall this book discusses various aspects of food production and provides some examples from different East and Southeast Asian countries. The topics discussed include the supply of food from nature and from human farming; ethnicity, culture and food production; restaurant and food production; as well as inter-cultural penetration, globalization and food production. By considering the changing cultural-political situations in East and Southeast Asia, the social relations between food production and consumption are examined, ranging from government policy to individuals’ everyday life practices. With the changing mode of production of food and foodways as our common focus for this book, we look forward to bringing our readers’ attentions to the social change taking place in Asia through which the construction of cultural identities are investigated. This is not just about the study of the food itself but also about aspects of cultural life in East and Southeast Asia.

References Bestor, T.C. (2004) Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World, Berkeley: University of California Press. Bian, Y. (2004) ‘The challenges for food safety in China: current legislation is unable to protect consumers from the consequences of unscrupulous food production’, China Perspectives, 53: 4–13. Brandes, S. (1999) ‘The perilous potato and the terrifying tomato’, in L. Plotnicov and R. Scaglion (eds) Consequences of Cultivar Diffusion, Pittsburgh: Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh, Ethnology Monographs No. 17, pp. 85–96. Cwiertka, K. (1999) ‘The making of modern culinary tradition in Japan’, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Leiden University.

Introduction 9 Cwiertka, K. and Walraven, B. (eds) (2000) Asian Food: The Global and the Local, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon. Douglas, M. (1966) Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, London and New York: ARK. Gately, I. (2003) Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization, New York: Grove Press. Goody, J. (1982) Cooking, Cuisine and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Heiser Jr, C.B. (1981 [1973]). Seed to Civilization: The Story of Food, 2nd edn, San Francisco: W.H. Freeman Company. Leitch, A. (2003) ‘Slow food and the politics of pork fat: Italian food and European identity’, Ethnos, 68 (4): 427–462. Lévi-Strauss, C. (1969) The Raw and the Cooked, trans. J. and D. Weightman, New York: Harper and Row. Macfarlane, A. and Macfarlane, I. (2003) Green Gold: The Empire of Tea, London: Ebury Press. Mintz, S.W. (1985) Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, New York: Viking Penguin. Mintz, S.W. and Du Bois, C.M. (2002) ‘The anthropology of food and eating’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 30: 99–119. Ohnuki-Tierney, E. (1993) Rice as Self: Japanese Identities Through Time, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Petrini, C. (2003) Slow Food: The Case for Taste, trans. W. McCuaig, New York: Columbia University Press. Pina-Cabral, D.J. (2002) Between China and Europe: Person, Culture and Emotion in Macao. London and New York: Continuum. Roseberry, W., Gudmundson, L. and Kutschbach, M.S. (eds) (1995) Coffee, Society, and Power in Latin America, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Schivelbusch, W. (1993) Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants and Intoxicants, New York: Grove Press. Watson, J.L. (ed.) (1997) Golden Arches East: McDonald’s in East Asia, Stanford: Stanford University Press. Watson, J.L. and Caldwell, M.L. (eds) (2005) The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating: A Reader, Malden: Blackwell. Wu, Y.H.D. and Cheung, S.C.H. (eds) (2002) The Globalization of Chinese Food, Richmond, Surrey: RoutledgeCurzon. Wu, Y.H.D. and Tan, C.B. (eds) (2001) Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia, Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press.

Part I

Ecology, resources and food production


Fermented marine food products in Vietnam Ecological basis and production Kenneth Ruddle

Eastern mainland Asia is the realm of umami (‘good taste’; cf. Kawamura and Kare 1987), where the amino acid and salty tastes of fermented products enter the cuisine. There, much of the salt intake is from either the daily consumption of fermented foods or condiments. It is also the principal region of irrigated rice cultivation. Generally, in most of East and Southeast Asia, where rice is the staple carbohydrate, there is a high consumption of fish and fish products. So the predominant dietary pattern is fish combined with rice, which provides vegetable protein, amino acids and energy. Thus in this dietary culture a side dish used to facilitate consumption of large amounts of rice is indispensable. Such dishes are characteristically small in quantity and highly salty. Fermented products are the most suitable items for this purpose. They also have the advantage of being simple to preserve and have a long shelf life. Further, they do not require elaborate cooking for each meal. Fermented products also impart umami and a salty taste to vegetable dishes, which inherently lack these flavours. The seasonal pattern of the monsoon is the main ecological driving force of Southeast Asia, when seasons of abundance and scarcity of food resources alternate according to the stage of the monsoonal circulation. Fermentation of fish and other aquatic organisms is one ancient technique used throughout East and Southeast Asia to provide an animal protein as well as a savoury side dish and condimental complement to rice in the seasons when fresh fish is either scarce or unobtainable. Fermentation is used to produce soy and fish sauces, the dominant condiments throughout the region (Ishige and Ruddle 1987, 1990; Kimizuka et al. 1987). Despite a long and close cultural association with China, fermented soybean products did not develop in Vietnam. Instead, fermented fish products have always been used. In Vietnam, as in the rest of the region, the marine fish species deliberately targeted for use in the fermentation industry share three basic characteristics. They are (1) readily available in large quantities to permit bulk, low cost fermentation; (2) caught easily and in safe locations, to reduce labour costs and hazard, respectively; and (3) require little highly specialized or expensive fishing gear to catch. In addition, all the species meet certain physical criteria to ensure easy and even bulk fermentation, and are inexpensive, with few if any more valuable economic uses. Therefore, most marine species

14 K. Ruddle routinely preserved by fermentation are small, of low economic value and are seasonally abundant in inshore marine and brackish waters, in large shoals, that are easily captured with relatively simple gear (Ruddle 1986). In contrast, at other times of the year they are scarce or absent in the same locations. Since, with few exceptions, the fish utilized are juveniles, they are of low economic value and, apart from conversion into animal feed, have few alternative economic uses. Although any species of fish can be fermented to produce fish sauces and pastes, by preference, because of the inherent chemical characteristics of certain species, as well as biological rhythms that favour uniform harvesting in bulk, only relatively few species are used in Vietnam. There, apart from the IndoPacific mackerel (Rastrelliger sp.), Gizzard shads (Anodontostoma chacunda and Nematolosa nasus) and Round scad (Decapterus spp.), the fish fermented are all clupeoids (Round herring [Spratelloides spp.], sardines [Sardinella spp.] and anchovies [Coilia spp., Setipinna spp., Stolephorus spp. and Engraulis spp.]) (Ruddle 1986). Thus, the fish used are mostly planktivores that depend on the plankton blooms generated by the upwelling induced by the offshore monsoon. And most of the marine fish utilized to make fermented sauces and paste are either juveniles or young adults, since the length of those used is about 50 per cent of the total body length (TBL) of adults. In all cases the species used and the size needed are abundant, at particular coastal locations, only during certain times of the year. I have demonstrated elsewhere that the fundamental biological rhythm exploited by this fishery is the feeding and recruitment migration of juvenile planktivores (Ruddle 1986), which depends on the seasonal location of coastal upwellings induced by the prevailing offshore monsoon winds that give rise to phytoplankton blooms (Ruddle 2005).1 In other words, the seasonal and diel2 behavioural characteristic exploited by the fisheries that supply the fermentation industry is the tendency of the juveniles of the finfish species utilized to aggregate in vast shoals in shallow inshore marine and brackish estuarine waters for feeding. In all cases, this behavioural characteristic permits large quantities of fish to be captured, using relatively simple fishing gear, and in relatively shallow, sheltered and safe inshore waters.

The ecological basis of the fishery The ecological basis of the fermentation industry in Vietnam are the physical oceanographic factors associated with the monsoons that cause local upwelling and, therefore, increase primary productivity in marine waters, and the seasonality of their biological rhythms. The driving force is the pattern of monsoon seasonality. The large-scale atmospheric circulation in Southeast Asia is characterized by the northeast monsoon, the southwest monsoon, and two inter-monsoonal periods. The northeast monsoon lasts from about mid-October until March, when air flows basically north to south across Southeast Asia. At this time of the

Fermented marine food products in Vietnam 15 year strong onshore winds and heavy precipitation are experienced along the coasts of Vietnam, apart from the southern and west-facing coasts in the south of the country. The southwest monsoon season lasts from mid-May until September, when wind and precipitation patterns are essentially the reverse of those prevailing during the northeast monsoon. The two inter-monsoonal periods are transitions between the two monsoons. One occurs from late-March through May, and the other from late-September through November. Inter-monsoonals are characterized by frequent changes in the direction of the prevailing winds, and by variations in duration; from three to twelve weeks with the March–May transition period generally being longer. That pattern of monsoon seasonality drives the seasonal pattern of vertical water movements. A very simplified explanation of the mechanism is that the fish production of any sea area depends on the fertility of its water,3 or on the level of primary production of phytoplankton, the photosynthesis of which in tropical seas occurs in a euphotic zone that extends to a depth of about 200 metres.4 However, in tropical seas a strong and persistent thermocline usually inhibits the water mixing5 and so limits primary production because dead organisms and excreta, which provide the nutrients for phytoplankton growth, sink into the deeper waters beneath the thermocline. Nutrients are therefore gradually depleted in the euphotic zone, the fertility and fish production of which declines. Thus, upwelling or vertical water movements that seasonally disrupt the thermocline and restore the temporarily lost nutrients to the productive cycle in the euphotic zone are fundamental to the fertility of the sea and to fish production. When nutrient-laden waters are thus restored to the surface a ‘burst’ of phytoplankton growth occurs, followed by a growth in the zooplankton population, and, in turn, an increase in the population of both planktivorous fish and those piscivores that predate on them. The spawning and feeding patterns of fish are adapted to this seasonal sequence of the loss and restoration of nutrient levels. Thus the occurrence of upwelling, which is caused by a variety of physical factors, is of fundamental importance to both the fish production of an area and the fishery based on it (Figure 1.1). In Southeast Asia coastal upwelling is caused mainly by the prevailing offshore monsoonal wind flow.6 Thus the location of areas of coastal upwelling, and therefore of fishing activity, changes seasonally according to the prevailing direction of the monsoonal winds. During the season of the northeast monsoon upwelling occurs on western, southwestern and southern coasts, and during the southwest monsoon it occurs on eastern, northeastern and northern coasts. Conversely, during the monsoon season with prevailing onshore winds the reverse process operates. At this time of the year nutrient-rich waters are kept below the thermocline by the piling-up of surface water against the coast, under the pressure of the prevailing wind. Thus, without replenishment from below the thermocline, the euphotic zone undergoes a decline in nutrients and a concomitant decline in populations of phytoplankton and fish.7

16 K. Ruddle (a) Offshore monsoon wind Prevailing wind direction Euphotic zone Thermocline LAND


SEA Upwelling

(b) Island obstruction Wind

Upwelling Island


Figure 1.1 Principal causes of upwelling in the coastal waters of Vietnam (after Ruddle 1986).

The relationship between fishing season and monsoon seasonality For the physical and biological reasons discussed above, most coastal fishing in Vietnamese waters is conducted during the monsoon, when the prevailing winds are offshore, when coastal upwelling, therefore, occurs, and during the intermonsoonal (IM). In the coastal waters of Vietnam, anchovies (Stolephorus spp.) are taken from September until November, i.e. from the end of the offshore southwest monsoon (SW), through the inter-monsoonal, and into the beginning of the onshore northeast monsoon (NE). Coilia spp. and Rastrelliger spp. are caught for a somewhat longer period, from July to December. Anchovies of the genera Setipinna and Engraulis are caught only from July to September, i.e. only after the prevailing offshore winds of the southwest and the coastal upwelling that it induces are firmly established (Figure 1.2). Hypothesis on monsoon seasonality and the biological rhythms of fish Since most of the fish fermented are small, pelagic, schooling planktivores, their feeding behaviour depends on spatio-temporal variations in the location of plankton, which, in turn, depends on monsoonal seasonality. Further, since these fish are subject to high predation pressures it can be supposed that in their repro-

Fermented marine food products in Vietnam 17




IM Species








Southwest monsoon

Stolephorous spp. Decapterus spp. Rastrelliger spp. Coilia spp. Spratelloides spp.


IM Intermon




NE Northeast monsoon

Fishing Season

Figure 1.2 Relationship between the fishing season of selected fish species and monsoon seasonality in Vietnam (after Ruddle 1986).

(a) Southwest monsoon Prevailing wind Water movement


g Eg


Nutrient–poor Plankton–scarce Fish–scarce Little/No fishing LAND


Adult Spawners

Spawning ground

(b) Northeast monsoon


Nutrient–rich Plankton–rich Fish–rich Major fishing activity

Surface Water Movement

Juveniles and Maturing pre-adults older fish moving offshore ent r movem te a w g n Upwelli

Prevailing wind


Highly productive nursery and feeding ground

Figure 1.3 Hypothesis on fish behaviour and the monsoons (for a Western Coast) in Vietnam (after Ruddle 1986).

ductive strategy they migrate away from inshore zones, where predation rates are extremely high, to spawn in offshore areas where the pressure is less intense. For the small pelagic fishes of concern here, however, I hypothesized (Ruddle 1986) that intense predation inshore leads to offshore spawning migrations at times and in places where the eggs and larvae are assured of being swept coastwards. They should also spawn at times and in locations where their eggs would not be flushed further offshore, and, on the contrary, when winds, currents and gyres would ensure a steady coastwards drift of eggs, larvae and post-larval forms. Thus at an early juvenile stage they would arrive at their plankton-rich inshore feeding grounds (Figure 1.3).


K. Ruddle

Thus, depending on the distance offshore of the spawning grounds, spawning of the migratory species should occur towards the latter part of the onshore monsoon. This would ensure that the post-larval forms reach inshore waters, where phytoplankton blooms are rich, as a consequence of the upwelling induced by the offshore monsoon, either before the winds of the offshore monsoon cause them to drift further out to sea, or just after they have developed the swimming ability as newly recruited juveniles. In the latter case they could swim against the wind-induced current and reach the inshore feeding grounds prior to the intense and persistent development of the monsoon (Ruddle 1986).8 Types of fermented fish product A wide range of fermented fish product is produced in East and Southeast Asia. A simple generic classification is shown in Figure 1.4, based on the nature of the final product and the method of preparation. The prototypical product is probably shiokara, made by mixing fish and salt, and which preserves the original whole or partial shape of the fish. When comminuted shiokara yields shiokara paste, which has a condiment-like character. Fish sauce is prepared from the process of making shiokara. If no vegetable materials are added the salt-fish mixture eventually yields fish sauce, a liquid used as a pure condiment. The intent, however, particularly in commercial situations, is to prepare fish sauce and not shiokara. Narezushi is produced if cooked plant materials are added to the fish and salt mixture (Ishige and Ruddle 1987). Fish sauces (nuoc mam) in Vietnam Fish sauce is a condiment widely used throughout Asia, and especially in continental Southeast Asia, where processes range from simple procedures to satisfy household needs through large-scale factories using industrial techniques. In Fish and salt


Boiled/steamed rice or other vegetable

Comminuted NAREZUSHI

Emergent liquid



Figure 1.4 Generic classification of fermented fish products in Asia.

Fermented marine food products in Vietnam 19 Foreign matter removed Fish salted Packed in vat and fermented 3–4 days Nuoc boi drained, vat covered Nuoc boi returned to vat Fermented 3.5–12 days First grade sauce drawn-off Boiled seawater added to vat Second grade sauce drawn-off Caramelized sugar and parched rice flour added

Figure 1.5 The generic production process of marine fish sauce (nuoc mam) in Vietnam (adapted from information in Nguyen and Vialard-Goudou 1953).

Vietnam the mainstay of the fish sauce industry is large-scale production in specialized communities, using highly elaborate techniques, but household and cottage industry production is widespread and varied. The generic production process for fish sauce manufacture in Vietnam is shown in Figure 1.5. Three stages may be distinguished: (1) preliminary processing; (2) salting the fish and filling the fermentation container; and (3) drawing-off the sauce. Where whole fish are used, preliminary processing consists just of removing all foreign matter. Elsewhere it is more complex. The fish are classified according to size and inherent salt content when a system of compression and just one salting is used. The different sizes and salt content types are treated differently. Further, the level of the inherent saltiness of fish varies by season, being higher in summer. The fish is also classified by the number of scales and thickness. Large ones are cut into pieces prior to salting. Salting rates and the method of filling the container depend on the species used and their inherent salt content. When Round scad (Decapterus sp.), miscellaneous stolephorid and other anchovies (Engraulis spp.) are being used, the fermentation container is divided into three sections. In the bottom section the fish are salted (by weight) at 1:0.5, in the centre the rate is 1.5:1 and at the top 1.2:1.

20 K. Ruddle The fish are left thus to disintegrate slowly. The time required for this varies according to species. Dorostoma nasu and miscellaneous species require 12 months, since they are bony and their flesh tough. But Decapterus requires four months and Engraulis mystax and Stolephorus sp. will disintegrate in 3.5 months. The precise length of the fermentation period depends on the seasonal climate. It is faster in summer. It also depends on the size and type of fish being used, as well as on the attention paid to the processing. Small, soft-boned fish ferment faster than large fish with many scales and thick flesh. The first grade of sauce (nuoc mam nhi) is drained from the container, then boiled seawater with salt added is poured in. This drains through the fish-salt residue and yields a lower grade sauce. Where there are many small fermentation containers in a factory, they are divided into groups of five. The water is passed through all five and so becomes enriched.

Conclusion The principal ecological driving force in Southeast Asia is the seasonal pattern of the monsoon. In the physical environment this is clearly visible in the alternation of dry and wet seasons in terrestrial and freshwater biomes of the region, and in the alternating constraints and opportunities for resource procurement that this regime presents. Since most people in Southeast Asia remain highly dependent on primary industry, climate is of major importance in their daily lives and the seasonal round of economic and social activities. That this monsoonal regime is of equal magnitude and socioeconomic importance in the marine environment of the region has been less than thoroughly appreciated, apart from a generally superficial interpretation of its impact on fishing schedules and the like. I have demonstrated here and on other occasions (e.g. Ruddle 1986, 1987) that in the aquatic environments of Southeast Asia, as in their terrestrial counterparts, seasons of abundance and scarcity of potential food resources follow each other according to the stage of the monsoonal circulation. To balance such extreme fluctuations in food availability, techniques were devised centuries ago to store and preserve at least the rice and fish staples. The fermentation of fish into various types of paste, sauce and other products is one such ancient technique that remains of vital culinary and economic importance in Southeast Asia. The research on which this contribution is based began in the early-1980s, when I did a collaborative study of fish fermentation throughout East Asia. From the outset it was clear that attempts to account for the ecological basis of the fish fermentation were hampered by a paucity of marine biological research on the seasonal behaviour of the species involved, and the biological and physical bases for it. The occurrence of seasons in tropical environments, in general, is still little appreciated. So I was forced back to basic principles of physical oceanography and fisheries biology to make several hypotheses about the likely physical and biological basis for the fermentation industry (Ruddle 1986). About a decade later I was able to test these assertions over several weeks in the field

Fermented marine food products in Vietnam 21 by analysing the traditional fisheries management techniques and their basis in local marine ecological knowledge at Van Thuy Tu, Phan Thiet, a major and old-established fisheries base (Ruddle 1998). Extended and multiple interviews to elicit fishers’ ecological knowledge on the seasonality of fish behaviour then provided the verification of the hypotheses (Ruddle 1998, 2005). I would commend this combination as a useful but time-consuming approach, particularly when scientific data are either absent or depauperate.

Acknowledgements It is my pleasure to acknowledge the financial support of the Ajinomoto Co. Ltd (Tokyo) that permitted initial field research in 1984. Work on the whale shrine management system was conducted during the course of a three-year project (1995–1998) on the socio-economic aspects of coastal fisheries in Central Vietnam, funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Notes 1 The constraints on this kind of study have been elaborated by Ruddle (1986, 2005). 2 Diel refers to a 24-hour cycle that includes a daylight and a night period. 3 Here, ‘fish production’ means ‘biological production’ as opposed to the ‘yield of a fishery’. The latter obviously depends also on a variety of cultural, economic and technical factors. 4 A euphotic zone refers to the upper layers of a body of water into which enough sunlight penetrates to permit the growth of green plants. 5 A thermocline is a layer of water in a thermally stratified area that separates an upper, warmer, lighter and oxygen-rich zone from a lower, colder and oxygen-poor zone. 6 These vertical water movements in the marine environment are extremely complex. The discussion here has been greatly simplified. Local upwelling is also caused by obstructions such as islands or submerged raised areas of the seabed. They obstruct the surface current flow induced by the prevailing wind. 7 But those broad patterns of coastal upwelling are locally distorted by such phenomena as the impact of currents, a major influx of nutrients via discharge of rivers swollen by monsoon rains, and by the rain itself. 8 Thus, for example, if the hypothesis is correct, spawning on western coasts should occur at the end of the southwest monsoon so that juveniles can utilize the food supply at the inshore upwelling areas induced by the northeast monsoon, as is the case with the anchovies (Stolephorus heterolobus and S. punctifer) and slipmouths (Leiognathus blochii) in Manila Bay waters (see Ingles and Pauly 1984). The spawning of Rastrelliger brachysoma and R. neglectus off both the west coast of Thailand and the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, together with Decapterus spp. off the latter, is also consistent with this hypothesis that seasonality in food availability influences reproductive seasonality and therefore the fishery (Ruddle 1986).

References Ingles, J. and Pauly, D. (1984) An Atlas of the Growth, Mortality and Recruitment of Philippine Fishes, ICLARM Technical Report No. 13, Manila: ICLARM. Ishige, N. and Ruddle, K. (1987) ‘Gyosho in Southeast Asia – a study of fermented

22 K. Ruddle aquatic products’, Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology, 12 (2): 235–314 (in Japanese). —— (1990) Gysho to Narezushi no Kenkyu (Research on Fermented Fish Products and Narezushi), Tokyo: Iwanamishoten (in Japanese). Kawamura, Y. and Kare, M.R. (1987) Umami: A Basic Taste, New York and Basel: Marcel Dekker. Kimizuka, A., Mizutani, T., Ruddle, K. and Ishige, N. (1987) ‘A chemical analysis of fermented fish products and discussion of fermented flavors in Asian cuisines’, Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology, 12 (3): 801–864. Nguyen, A.C. and Vialard-Goudou, A. (1953) ‘Sur la nature de l’acidité volatile de la saumure vietnamienne “nuoc-mam” ’, Comptes Rendues des Séances de l’Academie des Sciences, 236: 2128–2130. Ruddle, K. (1986) ‘The supply of marine fish species for fermentation in Southeast Asia’, Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology, 11 (4): 997–1036. —— (1987) ‘The ecological basis for fish fermentation in freshwater environments of continental Southeast Asia, with special reference to Burma and Kampuchea’, Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology, 12 (1): 1–48. —— (1998) ‘Traditional community-based coastal marine fisheries management in Viet Nam’, Ocean and Coastal Management, 40: 1–22. —— (2005) ‘The use and management of small clupeoids in Viet Nam’, in N. Kishigami and J. Savelle (eds) Indigenous Use and Management of Marine Resources (Senri Ethnological Studies 67), Osaka, Japan: National Museum of Ethnology, pp. 215–236.


Namako and iriko Historical overview on holothuria (sea cucumber) exploitation, utilization, and trade in Japan Akamine Jun

Growing concern over environmental protection has caused some unease about the extinction of certain food cultures in the world. Whale, for example, has been consumed by the Japanese for centuries but whaling is currently limited only to that carried out for scientific purposes or small-scale coastal whaling. From an eco-political perspective, three viewpoints concerning the whaling issue should be pointed out (Akimichi 1994). First, whale is a general term that covers more than seventy species of which only some species are in danger of extinction. Therefore, discussion on biodiversity conservation has to be species specific. Second, whale must not be considered only as a food resource. In Japan, it has been utilized in many ways as non-edible resources: its flexible baleen has been used in traditional puppet shows as well as a fishing tool; whale oil has been used for insect repellent in rice fields; and bone meal has been used for fertilizer. The users of these by-products do not always live in whaling communities. Indeed, most of them live inland but still utilize whale byproducts. Third, the Japanese not only make good use of the entire whale, they also worship the whale as a symbol of good luck for all kinds of fishing. Japanese people appreciate their existence and pray for the ever-lasting symbiotic relationship between men and whales. Thus, each whaling community worships the whale’s soul at temples and shrines. Evidence for this can be seen in the many tombs for whales on the Japanese Archipelago. A total ban on whaling would destroy the whalers’ cultural and religious system in Japan. The whaling issue in Japan, thus, cannot be properly understood simply from the black and white viewpoint of whether to protect them or not. Nevertheless, it may be reasonable to manage highly migratory marine resources such as whale and tuna among stakeholder nations, because no country can claim them as their own resource. On this ground, I appreciate the efforts of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and other international organizations to conserve pelagic marine resources. However, international intervention may not be suitable for management of all kinds of marine species, especially for demersal or benthic species which are used almost exclusively by coastal people. Trepang, also known as beche-de-mer or dried holothurian, is a good example for examination since (1) it is a benthic animal which lives nearshore that is usually managed by the local residence; (2) it has been used for the last several hundred


Akamine Jun

years by the coastal people; and (3) the USA, in the twelfth Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in November 2002 (CITES n.d., CoP12 Doc. 45),1 proposed that the international holothurian trade be controlled or banned. As I will discuss later, the trepang market is almost exclusive to Chinese dietary culture.2 It has been a part of the Chinese cuisine for, at least, 400 years. Trepang has been a major export commodity from Japan and Southeast Asia to China for at least 300 years; however, it has never been a static industry and has experienced changes throughout its history. The major change is the globalization of the production sites. For example, trepang is, nowadays, produced and exported to almost everywhere around the globe; in particular, Hong Kong imported trepang from at least fifty-five countries and regions in 2004 (Hong Kong 2005). Interestingly, most local producers do not consume trepang themselves. It has been developed as an export-oriented commodity from the beginning. In other words, the fisherman harvests trepang not for subsistence but solely for commercial purposes, regardless of a fishery’s size, equipment, and capital. This is one characteristic of the holothurian fishery industry. The second characteristic of trepang is its high commercial value. In Japan, although prices of other types of fish remain low under deflation, trepang is one of the few items with its price going up. This is simply because of the expansion of the Chinese market as a result of its active economy; and is why international pressure on holothurian conservation is mounting. CITES excludes cultured species from its jurisdiction and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations encourages culturing holothurian. However, culturing holothurian has several problems, including species availability and cost (Lovatelli et al. 2004). First, the only species currently being cultured is the temperate spiky Stichopus japonicus in Northern China. Yet, not all trepang species are equally consumed in China. Strong local favourites exist. For example, Northern Chinese prefer S. japonicus, while Southern Chinese prefer tropical non-spiky species such as Holothuria scabra and H. fuscogilva. Since cultivation of the tropical species is still in the experimental stage, aquaculture of the temperate spiky species cannot fill the demand of the consumer in Southern China. Even the Northern Chinese preference for the spiky S. japonicus is for that only produced in Northern Japan. Therefore even if Northern China were able to culture enough volume of S. japonicus, the problem would remain. Second, holothurian cultivation is a capital intense enterprise. Therefore, the CITES agreement will leave a small but relatively rich group of holothurian cultivators unscathed, but will surely threaten coastal societies worldwide which depend on holothurian fisheries. Thus, the CITES decision may not only damage the coastal village economy and fishery cultures in the world, it may also affect the dietary culture of the Chinese, which appreciates trepang dishes. Before banning trepang trade worldwide, we need to investigate diversity in ‘trepang culture’ around the world. In order to better understand the structure of the industry, especially between Chinese consumers and producers from other

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countries, it is necessary to look at the historical development of the industry: how it expanded and how the neighbouring countries were involved. To this end, Japan is probably the best case to examine because the Japanese have exported trepang to China for at least the last 300 years and the history of the trade can be traced systematically. Price of the dried Japanese holothurian has been rising. In addition, Japan has been practicing communal resource management for a long time and it is highly appreciated (Feeny et al. 1990). How could Japan produce trepang for such a long time? How were the holothurian resources exploited? What is the fisheries system in Japan? To explore these questions, this chapter will briefly introduce: (1) the history of the trepang industry in Japan; (2) fisheries regulations regarding resource management; and (3) efforts to manage holothurian resources by local fisheries cooperative associations in the Rishiri district, Northern Hokkaido, where people depend on the stationary coastal resources such as sea urchin, kelp, and holothurian.3

History of the trepang industry in Japan Just when trepang became popular in China is controversial. Conand (1990: 14) simply noted that more than a thousand years ago, the Chinese started seeking trepang in Indian, Indonesian, and Philippine waters. However, from socioeconomic and historical viewpoints, we need more accurate and precise information about the trepang industry and its development because first, Chinese trepang culinary culture has involved neighboring maritime peoples; and second, most of the producers, except Japanese and possibly the Koreans, do not eat trepang, but they began to produce trepang only to meet demand from other nations. Although it is difficult to provide historical evidence on exactly when the trepang culinary culture began, it is reasonable to assume that the popularity of trepang increased in China around the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries. This idea is supported by Chinese literature and evidence of trepang trade occurring between China and neighbouring nations. First, in Chinese literature, the earliest record about trepang as food is said to come from a book called Wuzashu or Miscellanies of Five Items written by Xie Zhaozhi in 1602 (the late Ming period).4 In this book, it is explained that trepang mildly invigorates the body of man, similar to ‘ginseng’, which is the reason it is called ‘hai-shen (sea ginseng)’ (Dai 2002: 21–23). From descriptions in Wuzashu, we can assume that eating trepang became popular in China at the end of the sixteenth century.5 The second piece of evidence which supports the above supposition would be records of trepang trade between China and neighbouring countries; one such country was Japan. In the Edo period (Tokugawa period, 1601–1867) the Shogunate government controlled all foreign trade. It was in 1698 that the Japanese officially began exporting trepang, called iri-ko in Japanese, to the Qing dynasty in exchange for Chinese silk and medicines.6 During the same period, trepang, harvested from tropical waters, was also one of the important trade items that European countries brought into China in exchange for tea, silk, and porcelains.7


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Japan started producing trepang as early as the eighth century. It was used as a kind of tax to the ruler, though it is not clear how it was cooked and consumed in those days. In this sense, it was different from other neighbouring trepang producers such as the Philippines and the Pacific Islands, where people had never produced trepang for their own consumption. In other words, Japan already had the know-how for producing trepang when China’s market expanded in the late sixteenth century. However, this does not mean that Japan simply exported surplus trepang out of its domestic market. The Tokugawa feudal government not only encouraged coastal people in the existing maritime communities to produce more trepang for export but also encouraged newly opened Hokkaido, in the northern most part of the Japanese Archipelago, to be a major trepang production site for export purposes. The reason Hokkaido was chosen for the major production site was two-fold. First, the cultural minority, the Ainu, who lived in Hokkaido provided a source of labor for trepang production (the Ainu were often forced into such work). Second, trepang produced in Hokkaido had more spikes than those from elsewhere in Japan, a factor highly appreciated by the Chinese. Under Tokugawa’s trade regulations, trepang had to be gathered in Nagasaki, an official trading port, and classified into ten categories depending on its quality and size.8 Figure 2.1 illustrates the trend of trepang exports from Japan in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries based on Catalogue of Imports and Exports in Chinese Trades (Nagazumi 1987).9 Although the catalogue is not complete, it can greatly contribute to reconstructing a picture of Sino-Japanese trade. There Volume (MT) 600 500 400 300 200

















Figure 2.1 Trepang export from Japan 1756–1823 (compiled from Nagazumi 1987). Note Q is indicated by metric ton and mean value JPY/kg.

Namako and iriko 900

900 Volume (MT) Mean value (yen/kg)


800 700


100 1905


























Figure 2.2 Volume and mean value of trepang production in Japan 1887–1906 (compiled by the author from the statistics of the Ministry of Agriculture and Trade [1889–1909]).

is no doubt that a considerable amount of trepang was exported every year, but only the number of straw bags, known as ‘hyo’ and not actual volume, was marked on the original record. This is the reason it is impossible to draw a bar in Figure 2.1.10 In 1763, the volume exported reached 317 tons. This was the year when imports of gold and silver from China to Japan began. Since the Tokugawa government did not have sufficient copper in exchange, more trepang was needed for trading with China. In 1785, the year the Tokugawa government began to operate directly by appointing contractors throughout the archipelago to collect trepang, exports reached 371 tons (Arai 1975). Thereafter production continued to increase and exports reached a record high of 487 tons in 1805. Tokugawa’s monopoly in the trepang trade lasted until 1865, after which, European traders came into this trade together with Chinese traders. Two years later, Japan experienced the Meiji Restoration and free trade was encouraged. In the Meiji Government, trepang continued to be one of the major profitable commodities. This, in particular, encouraged the Government to open more fishery grounds in parallel with the inland cultivation in the Hokkaido area. Hakodate in southern Hokkaido, in addition to Nagasaki, became one of the leading trading entrepôts for the Japanese trepang trade. Though the trepang in Hokkaido is comparatively small, they have thick spiny bodies which are highly appreciated by the Chinese market, especially people in northern China. Thus, trepang produced in Hokkaido became important and Hakodate played an important role in the trepang trade. Unfortunately, no concrete trade statistics of trepang exports after the Meiji period are available.11 We have only trepang production statistics from 1887 to

28 Akamine Jun 14,000

Volume (MT)

12,000 10,000 8,000 6,000 4,000

























Figure 2.3 Holothurian catch in Japan 1894–2000 (compiled by the author from the statistics of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries [1950–2002]).

1906 as shown in Figure 2.2. According to Figure 2.2, an average of 435 tons per year was produced during that period, which is more than the highest record in the Tokugawa period. Since there was little domestic trepang demand in Japan, it is reasonable to interpret that almost all of it was exported. On the other hand, we have conclusive holothurian landing statistics as shown in Figure 2.3. In 1968, holothurian landings marked a peak of 13,023 tons, while a low of 5,996 tons was recorded in 1993. After 1993, the holothurian catch became stable at the 6,000 tons level. Two possible reasons for the recovery of landings are, first, due to aging fisheries populations, forage pressure may have decreased, and second, holothurian fisheries are well managed under the current fisheries policy. This policy will be examined in the next section.

Fisheries law system in Japan12 To understand Japanese holothurian fisheries, it is necessary to explore the fisheries system regulated under fisheries law since 1949. The basic principle of the law is to maintain order in fisheries through adopting the ‘fishery rights’ system for fisheries that are strongly fixed in coastal waters, and adopting the ‘fishery permit’ systems for fisheries that are highly mobile in offshore waters. In addition, the law directs that decision-making concerning important matters be administrated by fishery adjustment agencies such as Fishery Adjustment Commissions (FAC), which are mainly composed of fishery operators and fishery employees. Fishery rights In order to maintain order and adjust fishery operations among operators, a system of fishery rights over the public waters has been established. The fishery

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right, controlled by prefectural governors, allows certain fisheries to be operated exclusively in given waters.13 Only local fishery cooperative associations are eligible for the right. To regulate the application and the exercise of this right, local fishery cooperatives have pre-determined regulations for exercising fishery rights, i.e. target species, fishing seasons, and the method of catching. They also oversee the fishing activities conducted by individual members. The ‘fishery rights’ can be divided into three categories: common fishery, fixed (set-net) fishery, and demarcated fishery (aquaculture). The first category is further classified to three types: (1) a fishery operated to gather or take seaweed; (2) a fishery operated to gather or take shellfish, or (3) a fishery operated to gather or take the stationary aquatic animals and designated by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. The holothurian is one of the animals designated to the third category. Thus, no one can gather holothurian without a fishing right in the given waters. Fishery permits Certain types of fisheries may not operate without a fishery permit. A fishery permit is different from a fishery right. Issuing the permit means an administrative action to lift the prohibition in a specific case is required, and in general fishery is prohibited in order to conserve marine stocks. There are numerous types of fisheries, and at present almost all important fishing types require a fishery permit. There are two types of permits: those issued by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries and those issued by the prefectural governor.14 The latter type, called a ‘Governor Permitted Fishery (GPF)’, observes the regulations of each prefecture. Small-scale trawl fisheries that employ a powered vessel of less than fifteen gross tons are regulated under the GPF. Dredge net fishery for holothurian also falls under this category. The GPF is valid for ten years. To renew the GPF, the fishery is required to discuss with the prefectural government the fishing-ground plan. For conservation reasons, it is more difficult to apply for new permits than for renewal of old permits. Fishery adjustment system There are two types of fishery adjustment commissions: the Sea-area Fishery Adjustment Commission (SFAC) and the Broad-area Fishery Adjustment Commission (BFAC). Taking fishery conditions into consideration, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries divides the sea into sixty-six sea-areas across the nation. In principle, an SFAC is set up for each sea-area in each prefecture and is under the authority of the prefectural governor. Each sea-area is a unit for fishery adjustment and therefore, fishery management. The SFAC is generally composed of fifteen commissioners. Of the commissioners, nine members are to be elected from fishermen through official election, and six (four academics with fishery expertise and two persons representing the public interests) are to be appointed by the governor. The SFAC plays an advisory role and

30 Akamine Jun all matters handled by the administrative agency in regard to fishery rights and permits must not be implemented until after consulting the SFAC. As for the GPF, each prefectural fishery adjustment regulation provides that a governor has to consult with the SFAC before granting a permit. In addition, the SFAC has the authority to make decisions concerning the arbitration, instruction and authorization of the permit. To conclude this section, according to the observed Fisheries Law in Japan, regardless of commercial or self-consumption purposes, no one, without fishing rights, can freely collect holothurian because the animal is designated as a species regulated by common fishery rights. Even if one has the fishing right, they can fish only by using hooks, clips and twists, or by diving. Those who wish to fish holothurian with dredge nets have to apply to the prefectural governor for a permit because the dredge net fishery is designated as a GPF. Thus, the prefectural governor, together with the SFAC, plays an important role in resource management especially for holothurian fisheries in Japan.

Holothurian fisheries in Japan In Japan, fresh holothurian is generally called nama-ko while the dried form, trepang, is called iri-ko. Apart from species found in subtropical waters in Okinawa, the most common species in the Japanese Archipelago is S. japonicus. In his classic study, Choe noted two other holothurians that are commercially harvested in the temperate waters around the archipelago. These are Parastichopus nigripunctatus, called oki-ko, the offshore holothurian, and Cucumaria japonica called kin-ko, the golden holothurian (Choe 1963: 1). However, I understand that these two species currently are rarely harvested and thus only a small quantity is processed.15 In the following discussion, holothurian or trepang refers only to S. japonicus. Until the nineteenth century, well-off Japanese often ate trepang but this is currently not the case.16 On the other hand, in the domestic market, holothurian is commonly consumed as raw in slices soaked in a mixture of vinegar and soy sauce. For contemporary Japanese, holothurian is a seasonal delicacy preferred only in winter, especially during the winter solstice and the New Year, since it is believed that body temperature rises after consuming holothurian. The body colour of S. japonicus varies from red to green to black. For raw consumption, the red one is preferred and its price is almost double that of the green and black varieties.17 Most of the processors, therefore, prefer to process the green and black ones into dry product.

An example of a fishery organization: Semposhi Fisheries Cooperative Association, Northern Hokkaido Rishiri is a small island lying at the northern tip of Hokkaido. The island has two municipalities: Rishiri Town and Rishiri Fuji Town. Field research was conducted in the Rishiri Town Municipality in July 2003 and July 2004. Rishiri

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Town currently has a population of about 3,000, of which 400 are engaged in fishing. Apart from holothurian, Rishiri is famous for kombu/kelp (Laminaria ochotensis Miyabe), sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus intermedius and S. nudus), octopus, and Atka mackerel (Pleurogrammus azonus) fisheries.18 Most of the fishermen are engaged in small-scale kelp and sea urchin fisheries that takes place nearshore, only in summer. There are two fishery cooperative associations in Rishiri Town: Semposhi Fisheries Cooperative Association (SFCA) and Kutsugata Fisheries Cooperative Association (KFCA). Their fisheries are governed by the Soya SFAC (SSFAC). A S. japonicus fishery is classified into the following four types according to the fishing gear used and the methods employed: (1) dredge net fishery, (2) hook fishery, (3) clip and twist fishery, or (4) diving. Spear and dart fishery is not common because of the damage inflicted on the holothurian body by the tools are employed. Most of the catch is by dredge net fishery. For instance, in the SFCA, more than 98 percent of the catch is from dredge net fishing. In July 2003, eleven dredge net operations were permitted. In the Semposhi district, dredge net fishing was once very common and the fishermen processed their catch into trepang themselves. However dredge net fishing had stopped by the end of World War II. It became active again in 1982 with three fishing vessels being employed. The reason for the revival was coincidental. The municipality tried to transplant deep-sea sea urchin collection by dredge net to the shallow waters. During the experiment, holothurian was discovered in abundance. The municipality thus subsidized dredge net fishing. This was the beginning of the current holothurian dredge net fishing in SFCA. Dredge net fishing is conducted in waters forty to fifty meters deep because there are fewer holothurian in shallow waters. The closed season for holothurian fishing is regulated under SSFAC. In the case of the Rishiri district, holothurian fishing is not allowed from 1 May to 15 June, since this period is thought to be a spawning season. Following SSFAC’s regulations, the SFCA divides the fishing period into spring (March and April) and summer (end of June and July) periods with a break between 1 May to 15 June.

Resource management at SFCA The SFCA practices an integrated resource management program that combines several management tools such as size limit, quota limit, closed season. In 1990, the SFCA decided that holothurian under 130 g should be released. The reason is that undersized holothurian was not profitable because the trepang processors would under-price the catches. Though there were no trepang factories on Rishiri Island, the islanders fished holothurian for trepang processing purposes and earned their living by selling to the trepang processors located on mainland Hokkaido. As mentioned earlier, Japanese prefer to eat raw holothurian only in winter; thus catches at SFCA would be out of season. There is little demand even in the big cities in spring and summer. Therefore, their catch has to be dried into


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trepang, which helps to introduce the size limit practice. According to an SFCA marketing officer, if 95 per cent of the weight is lost when trepang is processed, then, 130 g of holothurian becomes 5 to 6 g of trepang. This means there are about 100 to 120 pieces for 600 g (‘kin’ in traditional Chinese volume unit) and this size is considered the minimum in the Chinese market.19 The market prices are very low below this size so it is reasonable to introduce a size limit under 130 g. From 1999, the SFCA voluntarily limited their catches to not more than fifty tons a year. The reason for the quota is economical rather than scientific. At that time, there were ten vessels engaged in dredge net fishing and they discussed what quota was reasonable for the operators.20 The result was five tons per vessel per one season. The quota limit may be raised or lowered if the situation changes. According to the SFCA personnel, fishermen are aware that holothurian demand remains steady, so they try to maintain the current level of catches. This is because in Hokkaido, generally fishermen had learned hard lessons in previous years from abalone and sea urchin fishery. They rushed for them and exploited the resources entirely. Therefore they would like to maintain the current level of landings even though their annual income may be reduced.21 The dredge net fishermen have long felt that the spawning season should be different from what the SSFAC had ordained. In 2001, they co-worked with extension officers on the research of the spawning season in their district. The result was that the period from the end of July to August would be the spawning season. Based on the research results (Rishiri District Fisheries Extension Office 2001), the SFCA applied to the SSFAC for changing of the closure period of holothurian fishing from 20 July until the end of September. The proposal is still being examined by the SSFAC. If the application is approved, the SFCA will begin fishing holothurian from the beginning of March to the day the total catch reaches fifty tons. According to the SFCA, they are not sure what are the best measured to implement for resource conservation. However, they are eager to put into action any worthwhile suggestions that would benefit the environment. The SFCA wants to enhance the stock of holothurian juveniles but they are not able to get surplus fries. They asked several fishery experimental agencies, both governmental and private, even some beyond prefectural boundaries, but none of them yet produces enough fries to enhance the supply. The SFCA is eager to exchange ideas and learn more from other fishery associations and organizations. In January 2001, representatives from holothurian fishermen from the SFCA visited the Aomori City Fisheries Experimental Station and other fisheries associations in Aomori Prefecture to exchange ideas about resource conservation. There, they learned that starfish are considered a natural enemy of the sea cucumber and they ordered starfish caught by dredge nets not be thrown back into the sea.

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Conclusion The dredge net fishermen do not rely solely on holothurian at the SFCA. Most of them engage in kombu kelp and sea urchin fishing when it is in season. Some work part-time as carpenters and construction workers as well. For better resource management, it is important to allow multiple usage of marine resources. Reading the market and multiple usage of waters and marine resources are keys to holothurian resource management. The SFCA is good at reading the market as evidenced in the size limit imposed on S. japonicus. In addition, the SFCA assessed the profit level and concluded that only larger fish should be caught. SFCA totally closed abalone fishing in 2003 until today for resource conservation. In 2002, they opened abalone fishing only twice and found that the abalone were too small. The SFCA, therefore, decided to close abalone fishing until the abalone grew large and profitable enough. Sea urchin fishing is another example of reading the market. Even during the sea urchin fishing season, the SFCA does not allow its members to fish sea urchin every day. Reading the market price, the SFCA decides when to fish and what to fish, either Strongylocentrotus intermedius or S. nudus. If the market is low, they ban sea urchin fishing even though the weather is suitable for fishing. The SFCA has successfully managed the stationary coastal resources so far. However, the situation is changing. For example, the small specimen of trepang under 5 g is now marketable in China. This is mainly because of changes in Chinese consumption habits. Traditionally, the Chinese cut a large specimen into pieces and guests shared the food served on a big plate. However, with the recent fashionable trends, some call it nouvelle chinoise, each person is served one whole specimen served on a small individual plate. The result is the smaller specimen is valued more highly and fetches a higher price than the larger specimens. The SFCA is aware of this trend but they decided to continue the 130 gram regulation to ensure the sustainable use of the resources. However, not all fisheries cooperative associations act as the SFCA. Some fisheries cooperative associations in Hokkaido have no size limit, exporting not less than one gram dried specimen. According to one trepang importer in Hong Kong, starting in 2005, he began to receive specimens of around 2.4 g, something which had never happen before. He was worried about resource depletion. According to him, the experienced fisheries cooperative association, that has long been dependent on trepang, knows how to manage the resources, but the fisheries cooperative associations, which had recently began trepang fishing, did not care about sustainability. He requested the Japanese government take action against over-fishing. However, since the spirit of the post-war fishery reform is democracy and decentralization, each fisheries cooperative association has to consider their own resources utilizations in consultancy with the SFAC. Also, situations are different from region to region and country to country, meaning it may be unrealistic to establish holistic or comprehensive regulations for resource management. The problem lies in how to set up a division of management similar to the Japanese

34 Akamine Jun SFAC, and how to take into consideration the regional historical characteristics while planning resource management. Toward this end, we have to understand the diversity of ecology, culture, and human beings.

Acknowledgments This research was partly supported by the Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Japanese Society for Promotion of Sciences. The title of the grant is ‘Ethno-networks in Holothurian Fishing and Trepang Production’ (#14710221). I would like to thank Nishiya Eiji of Rishiri Municipal Museum and Yonewaki Hiroshi of Semposhi Fisheries Cooperative Association who greatly helped my research in Rishiri Municipality in 2003, 2004, and 2005. I would also like to thank Mark Rebuck of Nagoya City University who gave me technical assistance.

Notes 1 The present chapter uses the term ‘holothurian’ for fresh animals and ‘trepang’ for

2 3 4



7 8 9

dried holothurian products. CITES is an international agreement between Governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival (CITES n.d.). The CITES held an expert meeting on holothurian trade in March 2004 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and I had an opportunity to attend the meeting. Technically speaking, it is not totally for exportation, since Japanese also consume holothurian in various ways such as raw meat in slices with vinegar and soy sauce, dried ovaries, and salt-fermented intestines. An earlier form of this chapter first appeared in the proceedings of the workshop on advances in sea cucumber aquaculture and management (ASCAM) organized by FAO in Dalian, China October 2003 (Akamine 2004). Jiaxin Chen, a Chinese leading marine biologist noted that the medical effect of trepang was first recorded in Bencao Gangmu published at the end of sixteenth century (Chen 2004: 25). However, to my understanding, there is no mention of trepang in the Bencao Gangmu but in the Bencao Ganmu Shiyi (Zhao 1765 reprinted in 1971: 495). The animal should be dried for at least a month in storage and the dried form must be soaked in water overnight and be repeatedly simmered for about a week until re-hydration. From production to consumption, it requires complicated and timeconsuming procedures. This is one of the reasons why trepang is considered a delicacy. Even earlier than this date, Korea exported trepang to China by land in 1648 (Sasaki 2002: 219). It is also confirmed that an Annan ship also exported some amounts of trepang in 1683 (Yamawaki 1995: 223), and in 1861 three Taiwan ships exported a total of 0.9 metric tons of trepang (Nagazumi 1987: 254–255). Macknight, who wrote an exhaustive archeological study on Makassan trepang fisheries in northern Australia, assumed the beginning of the trepang industry to be between 1650 and 1750 (Macknight 1976). Trepang was the top export commodity in value followed by ‘kombu’ or kelp. Also, trepang was the second top exporting commodity in volume after kombu. Nagazumi researched Dutch archives on Japanese trade with China because there are, unfortunately, few records on Sino-Japanese trade left both in Japan and China. Interestingly the Dutch were so concerned about their Chinese competitor that they intensively recorded information about the Sino-Japanese trade.

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10 For example, in 1788, a total of 4,630.5 bags of trepang, at least, were exported by eleven ships. The bag was originally used to pack rice but its weight for trepang would be equal to 120 kin (72 kg). Thus, the number is estimated at 333.4 t of trepang exported in that year. 11 There are no independent statistics available on trepang export in contemporary Japan, since the figures are lumped together with other marine animals. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing how much trepang is produced in Japan. One possible way to estimate the amount is to ask independent exporters, which is beyond the competence of the present author. 12 As for description in this section, the author relied on information given by Kaneda (1995) and Overseas Fishery Cooperation Foundation (n.d.). 13 The fishery right was first officially announced by the former Fisheries law in 1901 but a similar custom was widely practiced under Tokugawa’s feudal system. 14 The small scale coastal whaling falls under the Minister Permitted Fishery (MPF). 15 In 1999, I saw dried P. nigripunctatus in retail shops in Chinatowns in Yokohama and Kobe, where dried S. japonicus cost 25,000 yen/kg and dried P. nigripunctatus 18,000 to 20,000 yen/kg. Several shop owners said that dried P. nigripunctatus was processed in fishing communities facing the Japan Sea and its total production was estimated to be not more than 200 kg a year. It was once popular in the Korean market. However, the author has never seen the dried C. japonica, though dried C. japonica was exported to China before World War II from northern parts of Japan. Several newspapers reported that there was one processor who experimentally processed dried C. japonica in Kushiro, eastern Hokkaido and exported it to Shanghai in June 2005. Interestingly, the Japanese name for C. japonica, kin-ko, is commonly used to refer to dried S. japonicus among trepang processors in Japan. 16 The ovaries called ko-no-ko (holothurian’s baby) are dried and the intestines called ko-no-wata (holothurian’s entrails) are salt-fermented. These by-products are rare and expensive, and thus they were good income sources for trepang processors. One of the processors in Yamaguchi once said to me, ‘Sales from konoko and konowata cover expenses and all running costs while the sales from trepang becomes net profit.’ However, due to the recent health-conscious trends, salty fermented food no longer sell very well. Processors have to make more trepang in pursuit of profit. This situation may affect resource management in the future. 17 The red holothurian lives in reef areas so that the dredge net cannot be used for collection. The ama divers collect the red variety manually. This may be another reason for the high price. 18 Lying in the northern tip of the Japanese Archipelago and having beautiful mountains, Rishiri is also famous for tourism, especially in the summer season. 19 According to a processor in Yamaguchi Prefecture, the larger holothurian is not always better for processing. There are two groups of dried holothurian that the Chinese market prefers: individuals with a dried weight of 11 to 17 g and those of 18 to 23 g. They would be equivalent to 220 to 340 g or 360 to 460 g in fresh form. Thus, holothurian over 500 grams, when wet, is not suitable for processing into the dried form. 20 Coastal fishing based on the common fishery right allows use of vessels of 0.4 gross ton with a 9.9 hp engine. Fishermen are free to engage in holothurian fishing as long as they do not use dredge nets. 21 The SFCA does not expect to have more fishermen beginning dredge net fishing for the following reasons – A dredge net is made of iron and costs around 330,000 yen (US$2,800) for one set. The dredge net weighs around 400 kg and, including wires, it weighs 700 to 800 kg. The fishing vessel is regulated under 15 gross tons and it is common to employ 240 to 300 hp engines. Most of the fishermen in SFCA enjoy kombu and sea urchin fishing with small boats and there are only a few fishermen who have fishing vessels over 3 t. Thus, the cost is considerably high to begin dredge net fishing.

36 Akamine Jun

References Akamine, J. (2004) ‘The status of the sea cucumber fisheries and trade in Japan: past and present,’ in A. Lovatelli, C. Conand,S. Purcell, S. Uthicke, J.F. Hamel, and A. Mercier (eds) Advances in Sea Cucumber Aquaculture and Management (FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 463), Rome: FAO, pp. 39–47. Akimichi, T. (1994) Ethnography of Man and Whaling, Tokyo: Tokyo University Press. Arai, E. (1975) Studies on Marine Products Trades in Early Modern Times, Tokyo: Yosikawa Kobunkan. Chen, J.X. (2004). ‘Present status and prospects of sea cucumber industry in China,’ in A. Lovatelli, C. Conand,S. Purcell, S. Uthicke, J.F. Hamel, and A. Mercier (eds) Advances in Sea Cucumber Aquaculture and Management (FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 463), Rome: FAO, pp. 25–38. Choe, S. (1963) Biology of the Japanese Common Sea Cucumber Stichopus japonicus, Selenka, Tokyo: Kaibundo. CITES. n.d. Online, available at: (accessed 27 January 2004). Conand, C. (1990) The Fishery Resources of Pacific Island Countries, Part 2: Holothurians (FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 272.2), Rome: FAO. Dai, Y. (2002) ‘Food culture and overseas trade: the trepang trade between China and Southeast Asia during the Qing Dynasty,’ in D.Y.H. Wu and S.C.H. Cheung (eds) The Globalization of Chinese Food, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, pp. 21–42. Feeny, D., Berkes, F., McCay, B., and Acheson, J. (1990) ‘The tragedy of the commons: twenty-two years later,’ Human Ecology, 18: 1–19. Hong Kong (2005) Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics, Hong Kong: Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong Special Administration Region. Kaneda, Y. (1995) Fisheries and Fishing Methods in Japan, Tokyo: Seizando. Lovatelli, A., Conand, C., Purcell, S., Uthicke, S., Hamel, J.-F., and Mercier, A. (eds) (2004) Advances in Sea Cucumber Aquaculture and Management (FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 463), Rome: FAO. Macknight, C.C. (1976) The Voyage to Marege’: Macassan Trepangers in Northern Australia, Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press. Ministry of Agriculture and International Trade (1889–1909) Agriculture and International Trade Statistics, Tokyo: Ministry of Agriculture and International Trade. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (1950–2002) Fishery and Aquaculture Production Statistics, Tokyo: Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. Nagazumi, Y. (comp.) (1987) Catalogue of Imports and Exports in Chinese Trades 1637–1833, Tokyo: Sobunsya. Overseas Fishery Cooperation Foundation (n.d.) Fisheries Administration and Policy of Japan, Tokyo: Overseas Fishery Cooperation Foundation. Rishiri District Fisheries Extension Office (2001) Research Result on S. japonicus Spawning Season in the Semposhi Fisheries Cooperative Association Fisheries Area, Rishiri: Rishiri District Fisheries Extension Office. Sasaki, M. (2002) Food Culture in Korea: Interaction Japanese and Chinese Food Cultures Through Chosen Peninsula, Tokyo: Akashi Shoten. Yamawaki, T. (1995) Chinese Trades at Nagasaki, Tokyo: Yosikawa Kobunkan. Zhao, X.M. (1971 [1765]) Bencao Ganmu Shiyi, Hong Kong: Commerce Press.


Fish in the marsh A case study of freshwater fish farming in Hong Kong Sidney C.H. Cheung

Hong Kong’s major commercial fishponds are located at the buffer zones of its world-class wetland conservation area. Currently, they are facing the threat of obsolescence due to many factors, such as infrastructure development, aging of the local fishing community, pollution and competition resulting from low-cost fish imported from mainland China. These factors may lead to the decline of the freshwater fish farming industry and a total loss of traditional freshwater/ brackish fish farming skills, which were such an important part of the post-war social and economic development of contemporary Hong Kong society. In addition, the fish farming industry plays an important role in the maintenance of the natural heritage of the Hong Kong wetlands, which serve as vital refuelling stations for many migratory birds travelling between the North and the South every year. Freshwater fish farming began early in the twentieth century and was one of the most important primary industries of the Hong Kong post-war era. Thus, the historical development of the fishing community reflects significant social change, not only in the north-western New Territories but also in contemporary Hong Kong society. Nevertheless, there is an insufficient number of in-depth case studies illustrating the complexity of freshwater/brackish fish farming (except Chu 1995; Irving and Morton 1988; Lai and Lam 1998). In this chapter, I describe freshwater fishpond cultivation as a traditional occupation, and also the history and social formation of the local fishing community in Inner Deep Bay. In particular, I chronicle the rise and decline of this industry in Hong Kong during the last half century. Further, I extend the investigation to include the relationships between the local community and the government, developers and environmentalists in a cultural-political context and identify future challenges.

Freshwater fish farming and Hong Kong society According to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), the current situation of freshwater fish farming can be briefly summarized as follows: The pond fish culture industry is centred in the north-west New Territories. Fish ponds are either freshwater or brackish. In 2004, the local inland


S.C.H. Cheung ponds, covering an area of approximately 1026 ha, produced 1980 tonnes of freshwater fish amounting to $33 million. About 96 per cent of the farms are engaged in polyculture (bighead carp, silver carp, common carp, grass carp in combination with tilapia or grey mullet). The remaining 4 per cent practice monoculture of carnivorous species such as freshwater snakehead and sea bass, as well as seabream and spotted scat in brackish fish ponds near to the coastline. Majority of the fry and fingerlings are imported from the mainland and Taiwan. Some of the grey mullet fry may also be caught in local coastal waters. Traditionally, fry are stocked in early spring and most fish species reach marketable size in eight to twelve months. (AFCD 2006)

Compared to the 2001 AFCD data, in 2004 there was a drop of 23 hectares of fishpond land, and the total production was reduced by 20 per cent.1 In order to obtain a complete picture of the fish farming industry in Hong Kong, we must understand the development of the industry in the last century. How did the freshwater fish farming industry develop in the New Territories? Who were the farmers/cultivators and where did they come from? What traditional or modern techniques did they use in freshwater fish cultivation? Most importantly, what is the significance of freshwater fish farming in present-day Hong Kong? In order to have a comprehensive understanding of the socio-historical development of freshwater fish cultivation in Hong Kong, I will focus on three areas: the regional development of fishpond land, the social history of a fishing community in the north-western New Territories and the role of freshwater fish farming in the changing cultural and political context of contemporary Hong Kong society. Before detailing the development of the fish cultivation industry, a brief introduction to Hong Kong is warranted. Hong Kong, part of the previous Xin’an County in Canton (Guangdong in Mandarin) province, was taken by the British in the middle of the nineteenth century. The southern part of the Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island and the surrounding islands was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Nanking in 1842; however, a large part of the peninsula called the New Territories was leased to the British government in 1898 for ninety-nine years.2 Under the colonial administration, the British Government was the highest policy-making authority in Hong Kong. Still, Chinese residents (94.9 per cent of the Hong Kong population, based on the 2001 population census) were given enough religious, academic, press and economic freedom, and there was little hostility towards the British, at least in comparison with other colonies. The alternative to remaining in Hong Kong was to emigrate overseas, which many did, or to return to China, which had its own turbulent history. In 1941, Hong Kong had a population of 1,600,000, which by 1945 had dropped to 600,000 as a result of almost four years of Japanese occupation. Most of the population decline was attributed to emigration back to China. After two large-scale waves of immigration during 1945–47 and 1949–52, the population of Hong Kong had risen again to 2,340,000 by mid-1955. These two

Fish in the marsh 39 massive influxes included both former Hong Kong residents who had fled the Japanese occupation and mainland Chinese who left China after the Communist revolution in 1949. On the one hand, this sudden population increase was considered the primary cause for the formation of large squatter settlements, including roof-top huts, houseboats and overcrowding of existing tenements in the early 1950s. On the other hand, the migrants brought with them capital, skills and urban mentality, which met the needs of Hong Kong’s capitalist economic system at that time. With the stability offered by the public housing policy for most working-class people, a large low-cost labour force emerged, this helped to develop Hong Kong’s light industry. Thus by the mid-1960s, Hong Kong had achieved great success in light industry development and large-scale infrastructure. Since the late 1970s, Hong Kong’s living standard improved with the increase in its economic achievements, and people were able to spend more to improve their living environments, which accounted for the large-scale property development in the New Territories. Land use and fishpond development in Inner Deep Bay Inner Deep Bay has its own traditional freshwater fishing industry that probably dates back more than eighty years (Fung 1996: 62). Nevertheless, there has been little study of either the social and historical development of this primary industry or the people working directly and indirectly in the freshwater fish cultivation industry in the area (Barker 1954; Bromhall 1954; Tubb 1954). The information presented in this section is derived from interviews with farmers and from relevant research theses submitted to the University of Hong Kong on this topic. Several of those interviewed reported that the many existing fishponds were once rice land, gei wai (a kind of local shrimp farm) or farming land for low value products. The field research began with interviewing people about their knowledge of the origins of freshwater fish farming in the area. These individuals indicated that the fishponds originated as fung-shui ponds located in local villages. Villages were members of the same lineage; therefore, grown fish were caught and shared among lineage members instead of commercially sold or exchanged. It was further learned that the commercialization of freshwater fishponds in Yuen Long and the north-western New Territories began in the 1920s, especially in such areas as Shan Pui Tsuen, Wang Chau, Nam Shan Wai, Nam Pin Wai3 and Sai Pin Wai in the Yuen Long area (see Map 3.1). Shan Pui Tsuen is an indigenous, single-surname village located near the Yuen Long Old Market and is owned by the Lams. It is surrounded by fishpond land and, as Fung (1996: 62) described: Fish pond farming began to gain popularity in Shan Pui Tsuen in the 1930s. Rain water diluted the salinity of the pond water, making it possible to rear different species of fish. Still later, fish nurseries such as the Tai Lee Co. emerged, making Yuen Long a fish-producing centre in Hong Kong.


S.C.H. Cheung Shenzhen


Inner Deep Bay

Deep Bay

Lok Ma Chau

San Tin

Mai Po Nature Reserve

Wo Sang Wai

Tai Sang Wai Tin Shui Wai

Nam Sang Wai Wang Chau

Yuen Long Old Market

Map 3.1 Map of Inner Deep Bay.

Although some of these fishponds are no longer operating and have been reclaimed for residential usage, the village of Shan Pui Tsuen played an important role in the development of freshwater fish cultivation and trade at that time. From the data collected in the field studies, the Shan Pui Lams can be considered significant not only because they had pond land for cultivation, there were also people who played important roles in the promotion of fishpond cultivation in the post-war period. Near the Yuen Long Old Market, while Nam Pin Wai’s fishponds were Kam Tin Tangs’ ancestral property,4 research indicated that the tenants were actually Shan Pui Lams. Wang Chau was also reported to be one of the original locations of freshwater fish cultivation in Hong Kong. The owner of the Tai Lee Co. was apparently Mr Ho, who was a non-indigenous Wang Chau resident. The construction of fishponds was assumed to be the beginning of the company’s freshwater fish cultivation. Suen (1955: 4) reported that: ‘In 1930, Tai Lee Co. spent more than $120,000 in constructing thirteen ponds covering an area of three hundred mows. The greatest pond (about 62 mows) in Un Long belongs to this company’.5 The interviews revealed that half of the fishpond was located in Wang Chau and the other half was located in Kam Tin. For the fishponds in Nam Shan Wai, Yeung (1968: 10) stated: The fish farm was constructed around 1927. Before it was turned into a fish farm, the area was swampy and of little value to agriculture because the brackish soil there is not suitable for most crops or plants. Its first owner was Mr. Wu Nam Shan. That is why the pond is named Nam Shan Wai. Afterwards the pond was transferred to Mr. Fu Yam Chui who is the present owner of Nam Shan Wai. In 1993, the proposed development of Nam Shan Wai ‘would comprise one 18hole golf course and 2,550 residential units’; in return the nearby Lut Chau would be turned into a nature reserve (Lai 1999: 216); nevertheless, Nam Shan

Fish in the marsh 41 Wai has neither been developed according to this plan nor continued operation as a fish farm. According to Lin’s 1940 article there were five big fish farming groups during the early development of this industry; ‘each with an area of 100 to about 500 mows or 20 to 100 acres, were constructed in the low swamps on the south border of Deep Bay near Un Long Market. As in the case of salines and rice fields they are enclosed by high dykes to prevent flooding at high tides or by storms or by heavy rain’ (Lin 1940: 165). Lin (1940: 169) also added: It is estimated that the total number of ponds owned by the six fish farms of Un Long district cover an area of about 1,300 mows or 260 acres, of which 300 mows belong to the Tai Lee farm, 500 to the Poon Yau, 100 to the Leng Sang and 200 to the Man Fong Cheng farm. If other small solitary ponds are included there would possibly be 1,500–1,800 mows altogether in the New Territories. At present only 30 mows of the 500 mows owned by the Poon Yau farm are actually used for fish rearing, the rest though completed have not yet been stocked. Therefore, according to Lin’s data, there were 2,800–3,100 mows (about 500 acres or 200 hectares) of fishpond land in 1940.6 As these data show, the land used for fishpond cultivation was approximately 200 hectares. The brackish fishpond area was also small before the 1940s. From the mid-1940s, Inner Deep Bay became the main site for cultivating gei wai (or tambak) shrimp, grey mullet, snakehead and other freshwater fish and it has continued to be the major source of freshwater fish for domestic consumption. Until the late 1960s, other places, such as Tai Shan Wai and Wu Shan Wai, were converted from paddy fields to fishponds; however, the information about the local development in these areas is incomplete and few details are known. Regarding the differences among fishponds operated in Hong Kong, Grant described five main types of fishpond commonly found: (1) freshwater fishponds, (2) fish fry nursery ponds, (3) stream screening ponds, (4) slightly brackish water ponds and (5) gei wai (Grant 1971: 38). Between the freshwater and fish fry nursery fishponds and the latter two in brackish areas, some stream screening ponds that were previously paddy fields along rivers can be found. For example, about 450 hectares of stream screening ponds in Tin Shiu Wai were paddy field before being converted into commercial fishponds; of course, this area is now only recognized for its New Town appearance. Tin Shiu Wai was created along the Ping Shan River, which used to go all the way to the Pagoda in the Ping Shan area. As Fung (1963: 15) reported: There is only one such pond in the New Territories of the Colony and it is the biggest of all the commercial fish farms in the Colony. It is called Luen Tak Fish Farm in Tin Shiu Wai in Ping Shan. A portion of the Ping Shan River just before it reaches the sea is blocked by wooden planks to form the pond. The farm has five screens altogether, so that fish cannot escape so


S.C.H. Cheung easily. The salinity of this river screening pond is low, and therefore carp are the main kind of fish reared.

In addition, even though Tin Shiu Wai is located in Ping Shan, the land was owned by the Chiu family – founder of the Luen Tak Fish Farm – and not the Ping Shan Tangs, whose family settled there several centuries ago. According to a source working for the management company of Luen Tak Fish Farm, Tin Shiu Wai was developed as rice fields in 1911 and was mostly converted into fishponds in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, it was developed into a major residential area of the north-western side of the New Territories and has become the densely populated New Town. With similar geographical characters and development backgrounds as Tin Shiu Wai, Wu Shan Wai was developed into Palm Spring – a low density private housing estate, with some of the fishpond area and one village remaining. Wu Shan Wai was originally a place with paddy fields but was converted in the late 1960s into fishponds because the profit from rice cultivation was insufficient for farmers to keep pace with the rising living standards in Hong Kong, and fish cultivation was more profitable.7 Tai Shan Wai was also developed in the 1970s into the present Fairview Park, a low-density private housing estate. Beginning in the 1970s, fishpond land was sold to private developers, who were not interested in a sustainable fishing industry but in more profitable developmental proposals. However, most of these proposals were rejected at the very beginning and in the absence of concrete development plans, fishponds were leased to local farmers (some of whom were former owners of those fishponds), who sustained the fish farming industry in the area. In order to understand the fish cultivators’ network in the north-western part of the New Territories, it is helpful to examine the fish cultivators and their backgrounds. While perhaps not a typical neighbourhood or traditional local community, the drawing power of people involved in the same industry did exist since the early 1950s, when a fishermen’s association was formed to unite them. Freshwater fish farmers There are few records describing the backgrounds of freshwater fish farmers working in the New Territories. The data presented in this section are mostly derived from three sources: (1) documents and records kept in the Hong Kong New Territories Fish-Culture Association (HKNTFCA), (2) oral history recorded through in-depth interviews with senior fish farmers and (3) relevant research theses in this area submitted to the University of Hong Kong. As mentioned earlier, until the 1940s the total fishpond area was relatively small, which might be explained by the relatively small population and less developed techniques. Large-scale fishpond farming probably began after the Second World War, when the increasing demand for fish was paralleled by the rapid increase in land for fishpond cultivation. For example, Grant (1971: 36) reported that the fishpond area rose from 500 to 2,000 acres between 1958 and

Fish in the marsh 43 1968. Furthermore, according to Fung: ‘During 1954–55 period when the Chinese Government in the Mainland restricted export of any kind of fish fry to Hong Kong, attempts had been made to stock Tilapia instead of Chinese Carp in the New Territories ponds’ (Fung 1963: 78). Therefore, the replacement of the shortage of imported fish by the expansion of local cultivation might be an explanation for the rapid increase in fishpond areas during that period. In order to create ties for all fish farmers, the HKNTFCA was founded in 1955, with its office located in Yuen Long, although the interviews revealed that an informal association was actually formed in Shan Pui before 1955. With the help of the HKNTFCA Chairperson, 580 membership registrations, accumulated from 1955 until 1998, were examined and a database created with the limited information about their members. Using 1998 membership renewal records, the number of existing members was estimated to be approximately 195. With the data generated by registration forms, it is possible to view the association membership over the course of time (see Figure 3.1). The two peaks in 1967 and 1972 probably reflect the increase in the number of freshwater fish farmers from the late 1960s until the early 1970s (Cheung and Lau 2005). Based on the 480 member registrations from 1955 to 1987, it appears that most members came from the southern part of mainland China. In fact, they were a combination of indigenous inhabitants in the New Territories and early migrants from mainland China. The majority were migrants from South China, including Bao’an (157) and the coastal areas of Shenzhen and New Territories, Dongguan (122), Panyu (50), Zhongshan (41), Shunde (29), etc. According to the results of interviews with present and past fish farmers, the existing fishponds were actually rice fields, gei wai and coastal mud fields during different periods. Again, apart from freshwater fish farming, duck, chicken and bloodworm farming (for ornamental fish) were all common between the late 1960s and the late 1970s. Moreover, the large-scale export of fish fry

Number of new members

80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 1987

















0 Year

Figure 3.1 HKNTFCA members’ distribution from 1955 to 1987 (total of 480 cases; compiled by the author).

44 S.C.H. Cheung from Hong Kong to Taiwan and southeast Asian countries played an important role in freshwater fish cultivation in Hong Kong (Fung 1963). Even though the fish fry trade was on the decline in the 1970s, increased local demand made inland freshwater pond cultivation a major industry, which indeed supplied most of the freshwater fish for the Hong Kong market. The fishpond area grew from 186 hectares in 1954 to the recorded peak of 2,130 hectares in 1986, after which it declined to 1,125 hectares by 1998 (Cheung 1999). In addition, until the 1980s, grey mullet, widely used for banquets and festive ceremonies, made up approximately 40–50 per cent of the local inland fish in Hong Kong. Examination of HKNTFCA documents revealed that the association supported its members in various ways. For example, the association issued approval letters needed for farmers to export fish fry. It helped farmers experiencing financial difficulties to obtain low interest loans from the government and other organizations and provided legal support concerning farmers’ status, etc. Regarding local affairs, the HKNTFCA formed a Tin Hau goddess worship group in 1955, and since the 1950s it has joined the celebration of the Sap Pak Heung Tin Hau festival. Obviously, fish farmers have gradually involved themselves in certain local and regional social functions in order to integrate with the larger society, but they also have to look for individual ways to survive. Although 150 to 200 households continue to farm fish in the area, some farmers have given up the cultivation of freshwater fish and have started to cultivate marine fish. Some farmers now use scientific management techniques, such as direct sales service (in Chinese, it is called ‘one-dragon service’) instead of the traditional wholesale–retail system. In general, the industry is facing challenges, such as the lack of manpower and the high cost of operation in comparison with mainland China. With various social, economic and physical pressures, Hong Kong is in danger of losing the fishponds, and thus the buffer zone areas of the wetland in Mai Po Reserve. The fishponds of Inner Deep Bay serve not only as a mitigation zone and as a source of a traditional local food, but also as a major food source for migratory birds. As such, they contribute to the conservation value of Mai Po Reserve and Inner Deep Bay at large (Cheung 2004). Nevertheless, by making their own labels and gaining the socially recognized Q-mark of quality assurance, fish farms may become more profitable and the industry may retain its viability. Fish farming in the marsh The concept of fish farming in the marsh has been changing during the last century and its relationship with the cultivators has to be re-examined in a more comprehensive way. As can be seen in Figure 3.2, the relationship between fish and their cultivators was quite simple and direct before the 1940s. Apart from a portion of lineage-owned fishponds cultivated for their members’ consumption rather than for commercial trade, commercially farmed fish were consumed locally. According to Lin (1940: 188):

Fish in the marsh 45 Until 1940s

Local people (common fishponds of lineage members)



Society (fish fry exportation, increasing demand for fish/food)



1980s–present Society


Cultivators (farmers/conservation workers)

Wetland conservation (WWF-HK)

Figure 3.2 Historical development of freshwater fish farming in Hong Kong.

The Un Long people, regard the grey mullet as a fish of the highest delicacy and a large portion of the local pond production is used to satisfy the local market demand. Unless the price in Hong Kong is much higher than that in Un Long, the locally produced mullet seldom come to the former market for sale. The other pond fishes also are mostly consumed by local people in the New Territories. It must be stressed that fish fry exportation did not merely start after the Second World War, as Lin indicated (1940: 176): There is one fry-dealer in Un Long who possesses about 10 ponds entirely devoted to fry raising. . . . In 1939, in a 5 mow pond he reared about 10,000,000 fry for one and a half months with success. Many of these fry were subsequently exported to Java, Malaya and Thailand. As mentioned earlier, several important changes took place in the fishing industry between the 1950s and the 1970s. For example, the fish auction system

46 S.C.H. Cheung was introduced in 1950, the HKNTFCA was established in 1955, the Hong Kong population grew, creating an increasing demand for fish over these two decades, fish fry were exported until the late 1970s, duck farming began in fishpond areas, etc. As Lai and Lam (1999: 257) reported: From the 1960s to the early 1980s, the industry expanded rapidly in response to an upsurge in demand due to a population explosion in Colonial Hong Kong. In this golden age of the industry, local production contributed as much as 10–16 per cent of the total local consumption of freshwater food fish. Nevertheless, since 1985 a period of secular decline has set in. The resumption of agricultural land devoted to fishponds for suburbanization, the increase in costs of production and the availability of abundant cheaper substitutes from Mainland China are threatening the survival of the local pond fish industry. Both the area of land devoted to freshwater food fishponds and the total local fish output have been declining since the mid1980s. On the other hand, staff in the AFCD reported that they had imported new species in order to help local farmers compete with low-cost fish imported from the mainland. However, there was insufficient demand for these species in the local market, and the majority of the local supply is limited to grey mullet, grass carp, tilapia and big head.8 On top of the decline of fish fry exportation, fish farming, duck farming and bloodworm farming, I would like to put an emphasis upon the conservation aspect of traditional freshwater fish farming since the beginning of the Mai Po marshes reservation. The Mai Po marshes, situated in the north-western part of Hong Kong, are an internationally renowned wetland area, known for decades as a resting place for migratory birds travelling between Siberia in the north and Australia in the south. Currently, the Mai Po marsh area is an environmentally significant site: on average 55,000 (with a peak of 68,000) migratory waterfowl including twelve globally endangered species; visit during the winter; in addition, it is a popular rest and refuelling station for migratory birds during the spring and autumn. The ecological characteristics of Mai Po have received special attention since 1976, when they were designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Its surrounding fishpond areas of the Inner Deep Bay are integral buffer zones that serve as water storage facilities, hence, reducing seasonal flooding; they also contain species similar to the ecological system in the Mai Po marshes. In 1984, the World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong (WWFHK) assumed active management of the reserve land from the government and started the Mai Po Marshes Wildlife Education Center and Nature Reserve. The management model involves short-term leases of licence, which are granted for one year and thereafter are renewable on an annual basis for a fee of HK $1 (US $0.13). In 1995, the 1,500-hectare Mai Po wetland, including the neighbouring Inner Deep Bay area, was designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.9 It is the seventh Ramsar Site in China, which

Fish in the marsh 47 possesses the sixth largest remaining stand of mangrove forest along the coast of China, and one of the largest reedbeds in Guangdong Province. Each year, about 40,000 school students and members of the public visit the wetlands. Since Mai Po is a restricted area managed by WWF-HK, entrance is permitted only to those who apply in advance for guided tours or to individuals with special permits. Guided tours are available for the public during weekends and public holidays with payment of a tour fee. These tours are very popular and often must be booked several months in advance. In order to promote public education and awareness of wildlife and the natural environment, part-time interpreters are trained and hired as guides for public tours. They are usually graduates or undergraduates from one of the universities of Hong Kong. In addition, volunteer groups of WWF-HK members are organized twice a month to work with field staff on particular weekend projects. The management of the area involves several parties. Overall, the managing body is WWF-HK, one of the non-governmental organizations (NGO) dedicated to conservation work and environmental education in Hong Kong. It was established in 1981 as an independent part of the international WWF network, and is responsible for its own expenses and income. WWF-HK manages the area in close cooperation with the governmental body, the AFCD, which is responsible for the overall conservation management of the Ramsar site and for enforcing regulations and issuing and checking of permits. The local community also participates in the management of the area by helping with traditional shrimp farming and fishponds preserved in the area for research and educational purposes. Significantly, one of the objectives stated in the brochure regarding the area’s management plan is ‘to realize the full potential of the Ramsar site for education and raising public awareness with respect to wetland values’. Its purpose, to promote and facilitate community involvement in all aspects of management to enhance the area’s effectiveness.

Discussion: Local fish in the twenty-first century The ‘Local Fish’ campaign was launched by the local farmers after they learned that freshwater fish sales dropped significantly after confusion arose regarding the use of malachite green.10 Of the local fish, grey mullet was the most common because of its relatively high market value and its long cultivation history among local farmers in Inner Deep Bay. However, there are no programmes for technical improvement in the farming of grey mullet, grass carp, big head, tilapia, etc. Here, it is proposed that scientific experiments be performed to explore options for improvement of traditional cultivation techniques including feeding grey mullet with peanut residue after oil extraction or feeding grass carp flat beams in order to change its texture in some popular dishes. On the government side, the AFCD has introduced new species, though not all of them have been successful. The request in 2005 of a labelling system to distinguish between local and imported fish; an accredited fish farm scheme supported by the AFCD, would be another means of promoting local fish production.11

48 S.C.H. Cheung Regarding the relations between fish farming and wetland conservation in Mai Po, some farmed fish were consumed by migratory birds resting in the marsh. Even though the relationship between fish farmers and WWF-HK has been largely improved in the last several years, the industry is continuously shrinking because of the lack of manpower and the high cost of operation in comparison with the mainland. As a result of various social, economic and physical pressures, there is the danger of losing those fishponds and the buffer zone areas of the Mai Po wetland reserve. Most importantly, the fact that Inner Deep Bay’s fishpond serves not only as a mitigation zone and as a source of traditional local food but also as a major food supplier for migratory birds, adds to the conservation value of the Mai Po marshes and Inner Deep Bay at large. However, this remote area has recently been targeted for residential development. In December 1999, the Cheung Kong Group proposed developing Fung Lok Wai (south-west of the Mai Po marshes) under the conditions that they would build a complex of 20-storey apartments on 5 per cent of the targeted land area while donating 95 per cent of the land for wetland conservation. Regarding the future of Inner Deep Bay, a number of questions might well be asked: What will happen when aged farmers can no longer work? Who will assume responsibility for the traditional fishpond cultivation so that migratory birds can still come to rest and feed from the fishponds? Will it be possible to continue traditional ways of freshwater pond cultivation? The blueprint of Fung Lok Wai’s development with an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report was expected to be the model for the future development in the area, and it seems that a large part of the area will be kept for wetland conservation and be monitored by a company set up for the purpose of conservation management.12 Finally, before developing a master plan for future policies concerning natural heritage conservation in the area, it is necessary to have a holistic understanding of the socio-historic development of the Inner Deep Bay. The study of the fishing industry should be one of the best showcases for wetland conservation and environmental issues in contemporary Hong Kong society.

Acknowledgements The research for this chapter was made possible by the CERG Earmarked Research Grant for the research project entitled ‘The Threat of Obsolescence to the Freshwater Fish Farming in Hong Kong’ (#2120231).

Notes 1 Data posted on the AFCD website in 2003 stated that: ‘In 2001, the local inland ponds, covering an area of approximately 1059 ha, produced 2550 tonnes of freshwater fish amounting to $41 million’. 2 The area of New Territories extends from Boundary Street in the southern part of the Kowloon Peninsula to the border between Shenzhen and Hong Kong in the north. 3 ‘Nam Pin Wai, adjacent to the old market in Yuen Long, was established by Kam Tin villagers more than 700 years ago. At one point, all inhabitants of Nam Pin Wai were

Fish in the marsh 49

4 5 6 7 8





Tangs. Upon the suggestion of a geomancer, who believed that if some families of other surnames could live in the village as well, the place would prosper, the Tangs sold some of their land to five other clans (the Tai, Lung, Yip, Au, and Tu). Of these, only the Tai, Lung and Yip families still live there’ (Fung 1996: 55). The information is based on a Chinese daily, Huagiao Ribao, reporting the situation in Nam Pin Wai on 20 September 1958. Mow is Cantonese for mu in Mandarin. 1 mu = 0.0667 hectares or 0.1667 acres. Lin’s calculation was based on 1 mow = 0.2 acres; however, the more accurate scale should be 1 mow = 0.1667 acres. While reporting the development of Palm Spring, the historical change in land use was mentioned in Huagiao Ribao on 15 May 1981. In order to increase the benefits from fish farming, in the last few decades freshwater fish farmers cultivated some popular marine fish, upscale fish and new imported species. The AFCD imported into Hong Kong sea bass in 1987–88, milkfish in 2000–01, jade perch, tench and Chinese long snout catfish in 2002–03 and hybrid striped bass and sleepy cod in 2004–05. The technique of artificial bleeding was introduced in 1968–75, mainly for grass carp and big head. ‘The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971 is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are presently 138 Contracting Parties to the Convention, with 1369 wetland sites, totalling 119.6 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance’ (The Ramsar Convention Secretariat). According to people interviewed, malachite green was not used in Hong Kong’s fish farming but was commonly used for farming eels, especially when the fish were small. As was reported: ‘Mainland experts have admitted a carcinogenic industrial dye, malachite green, has long been widely used in fish farms to protect eels, softshelled turtles and other animals from fungal infection’ (Cui 2005). ‘The accreditation scheme was launched in mid-year after a health scare about the use of the banned preservative malachite green in mainland fish products. Under the scheme, farmers must meet certain conditions including the size of ponds, drainage, source of water and protection from contaminations, as well as submitting to regular government checks. Tests of drug residues and heavy metals are also part of the scheme before the products are sold in markets’ (Sun 2005). The update of the project was announced again. It was mentioned that: ‘The project will cover 95 per cent of an 80-hectare site in Fung Lok Wai which is owned by a subsidiary of Cheung Kong (Holdings) Limited. The rest of the land will be reserved for housing. Under the partnership, the World Wide Fund for nature (WWF) will advise the developer on the planning, construction and operation of the wetland nature reserve. It also will help the developer prepare the environmental impact assessment of the site and provide advice on establishing a wetland nature foundation’ (Lam 2005).

References Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) (2006) ‘Marine fish culture, pond fish culture and oyster fish culture’, Hong Kong: Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Online, available at: (accessed 16 August 2006). Barker, D. (1954) ‘The development of fisheries research in Hong Kong’, Hong Kong University Fisheries Journal, 1: 53–62.

50 S.C.H. Cheung Bromhall, J.D. (1954) ‘A note on the reproduction of the grey mullet, mugil cephalus linnaeus’, Hong Kong University Fisheries Journal, 1: 19–34. Cheung, J.Y.M. (1999) ‘The socio-economics of pond-fish farming and its implications on future land use in and around Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay Ramsar Site’, unpublished MSc thesis, Department of Environmental Management, University of Hong Kong. Cheung, S.C.H. (2004) ‘Keeping the wetland wet: how to integrate natural and cultural heritage preservation’, MUSEUM International, 56 (3): 29–37. Cheung, S.C.H. and Lau, T.S.K. (2005) ‘A brief account of social and historical developments in the cultivation of freshwater fish in Inner Deep Bay, New Territories, Hong Kong (in Chinese)’, HKIAPS Occasional Paper Series No. 160, Hong Kong: HKIAPS, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Chu, W.H. (1995) ‘Fish ponds in the ecology of the Inner Deep Bay wetlands of Hong Kong’, Asian Journal of Environmental Management, 3 (1): 13–36. Cui, V. (2005) ‘Fish farmers using toxic dye because it is cheap, easy to get’, South China Morning Post, 18 August 2005. Fung, C.M. (1996) Yuen Long Historical Relics and Monuments, Hong Kong: Yuen Long District Board. Fung, E.W.Y. (1963) ‘Pond fish culture in the New Territories of Hong Kong’, unpublished BA thesis, Department of Geography and Geology, University of Hong Kong. Grant, C.J. (1971) ‘Fish farming in Hong Kong’, in D.J. Dwyer (ed.), The Changing Face of Hong Kong, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, pp. 36–46. Irving, R. and Morton, B. (1988) A Geography of the Mai Po Marshes, Hong Kong: World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong. Lai, L.W.C. (1999) Town Planning in Hong Kong: A Review of Planning Appeal Decisions, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Lai, L.W.C. and Lam, K.K.H. (1998) ‘Pond culture of snakehead in Hong Kong: a case study of an economic solution to common resources’, Aquaculture International, 6: 67–75. —— (1999) ‘The evolution and future of pond and marine fish culture in Hong Kong’, Aquaculture Economics and Management, 3 (3): 254–266. Lam, A. (2005) ‘WWF and developer in wetlands project’, South China Morning Post, 15 December 2005. Lin, S.Y. (1940) ‘Fish culture in ponds in the New Territories of Hong Kong’, Journal of the Hong Kong Fisheries Research Station, 1: 161–193. Suen, C.S. (1955) ‘Fish ponds in Un Long’, unpublished thesis, Department of Geography and Geology, University of Hong Kong. Sun, C. (2005) ‘Tags offer peace of mind – at a price’, South China Morning Post, 7 December 2005. The Ramsar Convention Secretariat ‘The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands’. Online, available at: (accessed 16 August 2006). Tubb, J.A. (1954) ‘Introduction of Tilapia to Hong Kong’, Hong Kong University Fisheries Journal, 1: 63–65. Yeung, W.W.H. (1968) ‘Pond-fish culture in brackish water ponds of Deep Bay area with Nam Shan Wai as an example’, unpublished BA thesis, Department of Geography, University of Hong Kong.

Part II

Tradition and food production


Poonchoi The production and popularity of a rural festive cuisine in urban and modern Hong Kong Chan Kwok Shing

Poonchoi is a traditional village cuisine among indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories of Hong Kong. It consists of a variety of food items which are cooked separately but served together afterwards in a large basin called poon in Cantonese (pen in Mandarin). In the past the basin was made of wood but is now made of zinc. Eaters use their own pair of chopsticks to dig into the different layers of ingredients making up a poonchoi to find their favourite food. Poonchoi is not a typical dish served daily but a banquet fare for celebrating major events such as important religious ceremonies, weddings, the birth of a son or moving into a new house. This village cuisine is referred to by Cheung (2005: 251) as ‘low cuisine’, meaning that it is not prepared by people with professional culinary skills, nor is it served through labour intensive catering services. Also, the food items are inexpensive and ordinary and the preparation is a local home style. It is in great contrast to high cuisine with its expensive, exotic and imported ingredients to be served in an atmosphere of fine dinning.1 Since the 1980s, this rural festive cuisine has gained a great deal of popularity in Hong Kong. It is frequently served at large-scale social events and gatherings held by political and charitable organizations or major business enterprises. For example, in the past three years, a poonchoi feast was co-organized by the catering, fishing and farming industries and the government in urban Hong Kong. It was to promote the high quality of local products (fish, meat and vegetables) from the New Territories. In January 2006, there were about 14,000 people sitting at 1,100 tables at HK$1,800 (US$230) per table, with the profits going to charity (Lam 2006). Notably, giant groupers bred in local fish farms were used in the feast. Moreover, among participants there were about 200 tourists from the mainland, Japan and Southeast Asia (Lam 2006). Poonchoi is, therefore, no longer a festive food among the indigenous villagers in rural Hong Kong as more and more urbanites and tourists become familiar with it. Since the late 1990s, the demand for poonchoi has increased, especially during the Lunar Chinese New Year, due to the influence of extensive advertisements by commercial caterers. Various types of poonchoi have been created, produced and marketed to cater to the different needs and tastes of customers. Eating poonchoi has, therefore, become something trendy and it even forms part of the social life of city dwellers in a modernizing and globalizing Hong Kong society.


Chan Kwok Shing

This chapter uses poonchoi to illustrate how a rural culinary tradition is maintained, changed or modified by different parties to serve their needs and interests in a rapidly changing modern, global society like Hong Kong. The first part examines the development and transformation of this unique culinary tradition, which has long been perceived by the majority of the Hong Kong Chinese as something rural, exotic and ethnic. The second part examines the popularity of this rural festive cuisine, the increasing social recognition in both urban life and the catering industry, and the mode of production and combination of ingredients. The data are drawn primarily from anthropological fieldwork conducted during 2004 and 2006, including participant observation in a single-surname lineage village, interviews with a number of poonchoi manufacturers, and visits to two poonchoi shop kitchens to gain an understanding of the production of the dish.

A culinary tradition of a lineage village Hong Kong is geographically divided into Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. The rural New Territories is notably dominated by single- or multi-surname lineage settlements (Baker 1968; Faure 1986). Many of these lineage settlements were established in or before the twelfth century. They shared such common characteristics as descent from a common founding ancestor, sharing a common residence, owning corporate holdings, holding collective religious ceremonies and having self-regulating political leadership and security organization. Serving poonchoi to celebrate social and religious events has long been a tradition of these lineage communities, and the practice is still maintained to this day. In Fanling, the northern part of the New Territories, there is a Pang lineage settlement where I conducted my fieldwork. The Pangs claimed that their ancestors had arrived there at the end of the Song Dynasty (AD960–1279) and they built a walled settlement, a lineage hall and a temple. In the lineage, there are different collective activities such as the worship of an ancestor, in whose name a trust is held. After the worship, poonchoi is served to the worshippers. An excellent example of this practice is the worship of Pang Kai Bik. Pang Kai Bik is one of the three focal ancestors of the lineage’s major segments. He is worshipped twice a year, with the support of the rental income from the trust held by his descendants. The first worship is held in the second lunar month in the lineage hall and the second one in the ninth month at the ancestral grave, at both of which poonchoi is provided. In the latter worship, no tables and chairs are provided for the worshippers, who squat or sit down to enjoy the basin of food placed on the ground. In this lineage segment, one man is usually in charge of the cooking duties and he is paid a small sum of money for his services. In addition, three to four villagers, both men and women, are paid for assisting him, cleaning the kitchen and the utensils. Originally, these culinary duties were fulfilled by a number of male trust members (ten before the 1980s and twenty after that), according to birth order. They are called saantautau (the leader of the grave mound). The



purpose is to secure enough labour to organize the worship and prepare a proper meal after it. Particularly during the grave worship, besides preparing a feast for the worshippers, the saantautau is also responsible for clearing away the wild grass surrounding the ancestor’s grave before the ritual and for setting up a temporary stove for cooking.2 If he is not available to fulfil the duties, it is often his wife or mother who undertakes theses duties. However, since the 1980s, more and more saantautau and his family have not been free or able to assume these hereditary duties. Consequently, the trust members have decided to pay some villagers to help. The present chef is a retired villager. He has voluntarily been the chef for more than twenty years. Before retirement, he had worked as a security guard, a butcher and a chopper in a Chinese-style barbecue store. He learned his cooking skills from the previous chef and through personal observations on the production of poonchoi in the public hall. He insists on buying all the ingredients of poonchoi by himself to make sure that they are of good quality. These include fat back pork, chicken, seasonal vegetables (e.g. celery and white turnip), dried pork skin, dried bean curd skin, squid and dried eel. All these are inexpensive ordinary foods which are commonly available in local market towns. Since there is no refrigerator in the public hall, the meat and vegetables will only be bought in the early morning of the day of worship to avoid spoilage. When all the ingredients are prepared, the fat back pork will be cooked first. A giant iron wok is used, and wood is used as fuel. The wood is collected by the chef at public garbage stations from time to time, and stored in the public hall. He prefers wood to gas because, he explained, it is easy for him to control heat, especially when the stove is made of bricks which easily transmit and retain heat. Whilst the pork is cooking (which is expected to take one-and-a-half hours), he will use another giant wok to fry the remaining ingredients. His recipe for the seasonings includes black pepper corns, ginger, garlic, fermented bean curd paste and Chinese pickled mustard stem. When each ingredient is cooked, it will be stored in a separate container. It is not until just prior to eating that he starts to layer the ingredients into a number of basins. In this lineage segment, there are around twelve to fourteen basins of poonchoi provided for villagers after the worship. The zinc basin is about twelve inches wide and six inches high. At the very bottom of the basin are white turnips. They are then covered by a variety of food items in the following order: dried bean curd skin, dried eel, pig skin, braised fat pork, squid, seasonal vegetable, cold cooked chicken and roast pork. Apparently, this order of arrangement places the cheapest foods at the bottom and the expensive ones on top. White turnips are placed at the very bottom because they will absorb the sauce of the different food items which have been cooked with a variety of seasonings, and will help to prevent the dish from getting soggy. When all the basins are filled with the various food items, they are quickly delivered to different small groups which are usually composed of eight to ten eaters. For this communal dining, steamed rice is also provided.3 Without a word or any rules of etiquette to follow, villagers quickly start digging into the different layers of ingredients to


Chan Kwok Shing

search for their favourites. Also, everyone feels free to leave when they have finished eating. Village elders recalled that before the 1980s only male trust members aged sixty-one or above were allowed to attend the worship and share the poonchoi served after the ceremony. They also reminisced that the ingredients in the basin were limited. These typically consisted of fat pork, salt-preserved vegetables or white turnips, dried bean curd skin and salted eggs. The choice of food was limited because of the trust’s meagre rental income. At that time, eating this cuisine was the privilege of the elders especially when meat was a luxury item in the village diet before the 1950s (Baker 1968: 52; Watson 1987: 395). In the lineage context, this practice was to maintain and reinforce the notion of seniority among males, and the marginality of female villagers (unmarried daughters and married-in women). Yet, after the 1980s, all trust members have been welcomed and encouraged to take part in the communal dining. Moreover, soft drinks, beer and whisky are also provided. Villagers explained that this was due to the significant increase in the trust’s income (mainly from the rent of the valuable corporately-owned real estate instead of being limited to agricultural land as in the past).4 Thus the Pangs can afford to invite more trust members to the feast. As Watson (1987: 397–398) rightly argued, poonchoi was served in the past as a levelling device to remove the social barriers or negate the status differences of the eaters – among the male villagers, albeit momentarily. But in today’s Pang lineage such a cuisine now serves as a levelling device to transcend age and sex differences and barriers in a patrilineage, thereby attracting more young members’ participation. Such redefinition of the entitlement to food and its associated meanings is a clear case of re-invention of tradition and a revitalization of the lineage identity in a changing society. This communal dinning serves to maintain or reinforce group membership and cultural identification with the past among the Pangs. As noted above, more food items such as roast pork, chicken, squid, dried eel and mushroom are added in the basin. But notably, no matter how much villagers like eating beef, they have strictly followed the tradition of not including it in the poonchoi. This is because, as village elders stated, cows made a significant contribution to the villagers in the past in rice cultivation.5 Although the contribution of cows has declined today, it is still a taboo to eat. Also, duck is not included as an ingredient of this festive cuisine. This is because the flatness of the duck’s mouth looks like an unhappy human face with the upper and lower lips tightly pressed together and flat. Duck is therefore considered to be an inappropriate food item in a festive cuisine which celebrates happiness or an enjoyable event. While poonchoi is found throughout the New Territories, its ingredients are not standardized. For example, the poonchoi among the Lius of Sheung Shui, the Mans of San Tin and the Tangs of Yuen Long all include dace or dace balls, but the Pangs have never had this item in their cuisine. Despite this, as many Pang villagers repeatedly told me, fat pork, white turnips and dried fish are three core items of this village cuisine. Without them, it can hardly be called authentic



poonchoi. Moreover, they insisted that in this culinary tradition there are no vegetables such as broccoli, beans and lotus root, which are often included in the different types of poonchoi sold on the market. This is because, as they explained, in the past when villagers’ livelihood was mainly based on agriculture, vegetables were daily food and they were cheap. Therefore, it was not served in a special cuisine prepared for the honourable lineage members.

The Popularity of poonchoi In the early 1970s, a few shops selling this traditional village cuisine came on the scene in Yuen Long. They were mainly run by local villagers. According to Mr Kin, who has been running a poonchoi business for nearly thirty years, customers at that time were mainly fellow lineage members or neighbouring villagers. They wanted to hold banquets at home but could not manage to cook. His shop therefore acted as a party organizer. He cooked at the residence of his customer with a temporary stove and provided eating utensils, tables and chairs. Mr Kin is not a local lineage villager. He learned the cooking of poonchoi from his wife’s brother, who comes from a single-surname settlement in the Yuen Long region. Mr Kin still remembers that at the time he ran this culinary business the shop was operated on a part-time basis. This was mainly because the sales volume of poonchoi in those days was small. It can hardly be compared with today’s figures of more than 300 orders a day during public holidays or some major Chinese festivals, especially in the spring and winter seasons. Mr Kin recounted that poonchoi caught the attention of the people of Hong Kong only after the early 1980s when a film, starring Chow Yun Fat (a famous Hong Kong actor), about the life of a lineage villager was shown. The movie encouraged many people, especially those living in the urban areas, to look for and try this exotic village cuisine. At that time, no takeaway service was available. People often visited the countryside during weekends, or public holidays, and finished their trip with a poonchoi lunch or dinner. As a basin of poonchoi usually serves eight to ten persons, it was common for visitors to go in a group. As time went by, the rural cuisine became more and more popular through the 1980s and 1990s. Now in the 2000s it is in great demand. Some scholars suggest that the revival of Hong Kong style Hakka food, Cantonese herbal drinks and the popularity of Hong Kong style yumcha6 among Hong Kong migrants had to do with the development of a cultural nostalgia of the Hong Kong Chinese as they prepared themselves for the handover of sovereignty to China in 1997 (Cheng 1997; Tam 1997; Cheung 2001, 2005). Unconsciously or consciously, revitalizing traditional Chinese food and drinks helped to recapture and emphasize Hong Kong’s cultural linkage with China or the Chinese identity. However, it would be difficult to apply this argument to the case of poonchoi, because poonchoi was only a rural dish and a sporadically used festive cuisine among a comparatively small number of lineage villagers. I propose that the popularity of poonchoi among city dwellers is due to the changing circumstances in Hong Kong, which I will examine below.


Chan Kwok Shing

In 1982, prior to the handover, a district board was established in eighteen districts throughout Hong Kong. Its elected members were responsible for advising the government on policies concerning local affairs. These elected members paid much attention to the welfare of their local communities and often organized an array of activities to increase the local sense of belonging. One of the more popular activities was a one day or half-day trip to the rural New Territories. The trip would usually include a visit to some religious or historical buildings such as monasteries, temples and ancestral halls of the local major lineage settlements. In addition, a local specialty such as a vegetarian meal or a poonchoi lunch would be included. This kind of rural visit, with the inclusion of local cuisine, was popular with city dwellers. This was not only because, with government subsidies, the fee for the trip was low and thus encouraged many people to join on a family basis, but also because the magnificent historical and religious buildings in the rural areas are cultural attractions for the urbanites, as well as for some who would like to enjoy the rural atmosphere. Second, the opening of the Ping Shan Heritage Trail to the public in late 1993 also promoted cultural visits to the rural lineage villages. The heritage trail is a joint project of the government and the Tang lineage of Ping Shan in Yuen Long. It aims to present to the public, mainly the urban inhabitants, the long history, the valuable historical buildings and the unique living style of a wellestablished Chinese lineage in the New Territories.7 Since its opening, the trail has attracted a huge number of visitors,8 many of whom joined guided tours organized by the elected members of the various District Boards. The development of the heritage trail into a major sightseeing attraction has indirectly introduced the rural cuisine to visitors. This is because poonchoi forms part of the living tradition of the local lineage community, which usually receives special attention during these cultural visits. In 1999, the opening of the second heritage trail in Fanling, by another major segment of the Tang lineage, further promoted the history and culture of the rural lineage villages. This kind of cultural tourism enables the visitors to gain a better understanding of the cuisine, which has, historically, been perceived as exotic and ethnic, and gives them the impulse to taste it. Third, an improved transportation network between the urban centre and the rural region developed in the past two decades also resulted in the removal of geographical barriers. As a result, more and more people can easily gain access to the rural villages and market towns in the New Territories and learn more about poonchoi. Because of the above factors, the number of potential consumers of poonchoi has continued to rise, especially after the late 1990s when the sale of poonchoi has seen a substantial increase. There are two popular explanations for this increasing demand. One is related to the serious economic setback of posthandover Hong Kong after the Asian financial crisis. With an unstable and deteriorating financial situation, many Hong Kong families could not afford an elaborate or lavish meal when celebrating the Chinese New Year. Under such circumstances poonchoi became a popular alternative to replace the traditional



multi-course meal because it provided a variety of food items at a reasonable price (to be shared by all eaters). In other words, the popularity of this rural festive cuisine is attributed to the careful economic calculation of the people of Hong Kong in that particular context. Another explanation has to do with the advantages of this all-in-one and convenient festive cuisine as it significantly saves the time and trouble of the cook in the family, usually mothers or housewives, in preparation, cooking and dishwashing. Under all these circumstances, more and more shops offering poonchoi have been opened in the New Territories, followed by some in Kowloon and on Hong Kong Island. Some of them even develop their own home pages, introducing their history of, rich experience in, and also special recipe for, cooking what they refer to as traditional or authentic poonchoi.9 Some shops allow customers to consume the cuisine on the premises and also provide takeaway services, while others may specialize in either one of these operational modes. In recent years, some major fast food chains (such as Maxim’s and Cafe de Coral), highclass restaurants and hotels, have also provided a sanitized and upgraded version of the rural festive cuisine (Cheng 2001: 31).

The making of a commercial village cuisine The price of poonchoi ranges widely, from several hundred to several thousand Hong Kong Dollars, depending on whether it contains expensive fresh seafood or dried marine products. In the 2004 Lunar Chinese New Year, for example, Maxim’s offered what it called a ‘Chinese New Year Super Pot’ for five persons at HK$238 (US$30). It consisted of sixteen ingredients including: sea cucumber, dried scallop, fish glue, shrimp, chicken, roast duck, fish balls, dried oysters, bean-milk stick, vegetables, black moss pinch, mushrooms, white turnips and pork. Cafe de Coral also offered two similar kinds of poonchoi at HK$298 (US$38) and HK$398 (US$50). Apparently, the selling price of this commercialized village cuisine set by these two large fast food chains was much lower than that sold by the shops which are run by local villagers like Mr Kin, mentioned earlier. The shops sold poonchoi on the market for around HK$500 (for five to six persons) to HK$900 (for ten to twelve persons). It highlighted braised fat back pork to be cooked with a secret recipe. The poonchoi Mr Kin proudly calls ‘authentic home-style/walled-village poonchoi’ is in great contrast to the types of luxurious poonchoi which have been introduced to the market in recent years. A high-class restaurant, for example, offered one type at HK$1,788 (for six persons) or HK$3,688 (for twelve persons), with many expensive food items such as abalone, shark’s fin and Kobe beef tongue. The restaurant did not put any emphasis on offering the so-called authentic local (village-oriented) cuisine, instead, it just borrowed the name of the cuisine and mimicked its form to promote a new style of lavish meal to customers who are in favour of conspicuous consumption. Compared with the poonchoi produced by the indigenous Pangs, the mode of production and combination of ingredients of that sold on the market are quite


Chan Kwok Shing

different. Mr Lee’s product is an excellent example. Mr Lee grew up in a rural village in Yuen Long. He is now working with his father-in-law who has been running a poonchoi business there for seventeen years. He had been a chef of Cantonese seafood and Shanghai restaurants. These cooking skills and experiences have helped him run a kitchen and learn the cooking of poonchoi (with a special recipe provided by his father-in-law). Mr Lee provides only one type of poonchoi. The dish includes braised duck, soy sauce chicken, shrimp in tomato sauce, fish balls, braised fat pork, pork skin, squid (fried with celery), black mushrooms in oyster sauce, bean-milk stick braised with jews ear fungus and steamed taro. Braising duck with seasonings from cooked dog meat is the highlighted feature of this product. Mr Lee stated that this is an invented cooking method and it makes the taste of duck meat unique. In addition to this specialty, Mr Lee has also taken out the dace which is considered a major ingredient of the so-called authentic poonchoi. This is because, as he explained, this kind of fish meat has many bones so that many customers do not like it. It is therefore replaced by fish balls, a local food item which is made of lizard fish or mackerel as its meat is tender and has a fresh, sweet flavour. He, like many of his competitors, also welcomes customers’ special requests to add their favourite items such as duck feet, scallop, black moss pinch and abalone. Mr Kin’s shop in particular has also complied with his customers’ list of suggested food items which can be added, with a standard surcharge, to the cuisine. Thus, what these shops have produced clearly reveals that the notion of ‘authenticity’ is always subject to manipulation and, importantly, their role is not to maintain but to recreate this rural festive cuisine. Moreover, what these shops have produced are much more individualized or customer-oriented, something in complete contrast to those produced by fast food chains in Hong Kong such as Maxim’s and Café de Coral. The products of these two catering firms are far more standardized. They fix the ingredients of the food, customers therefore cannot suggest having their favourite food items added into it. This facilitates their management and production process in all their branches, with the raw materials purchased and distributed by their headquarters. In addition, like McDonald’s (Watson 1997), all branches strictly adopt the centrally distributed cooking manual, aiming at further ensuring the standardization of the quality of this product. In addition to featuring the special cooking and taste of duck meat, Mr Lee also puts emphasis on the freshness and quality of the poonchoi’s ingredients. He states that poultry, seafood and vegetables are all provided by renowned local suppliers, and that dried products are from reputable wholesale stores in Sheung Wan, urban Hong Kong, thus, avoiding customers’ complaints against the quality of the food. Due to this business consideration, the quality ingredients are imported from all over the world. Shrimp from Australia, jews ear fungus from Japan, squid from Mexico, mushrooms from China and Japan are examples. Actually, Mr Lee’s product is not unique. Some other commercialized poonchoi also reveal a wide range of ‘country of origin’ for their ingredients. They include canned or dried abalone (from South Africa, Australia, New



Zealand, Mexico or Japan), lobster (from Australia or China), dried scallops (from Japan or China), dried mushrooms (from Japan or China), dried and frozen oysters (from China, America, Japan or South Korea), dried fish maw (from the Indian Ocean, Japan, New Zealand or Indonesia), shark’s fin (from Australia or South Korea ), and dried, canned and frozen sea cucumbers (from China, South Korea, Vietnam, Mexico, Chile or Canada). From the above, it is obvious that the ingredients of this commercialized village cuisine are no longer exclusively local products or inexpensive items. What it emphasizes is a global recipe which amalgamates many foreign foodstuffs. It thus ‘adds unknown flavours to well-known tastes’, to borrow Cwiertka’s (2001: 7) words, to the village cuisine, leading to its apparent ‘creolization’ in Caplan’s (1997: 7) terms. It satisfies customers’ desire for enjoying manifold varieties of food in a meal and for conspicuous consumption, which are, as Mathews and Lui’s (2001) study revealed, a central focus of most people’s lives in the modern and affluent capitalist society of Hong Kong. Today, poonchoi is very much like the popularity of yamcha, which is a pervasive form of eating in Hong Kong (Tam 1997). In her study of the consumption of a wide variety of food called dimsum (small appetizers) in yamcha in contemporary Hong Kong, Tam (1997: 292) demonstrated that ‘yamcha manifests the value placed upon diversity and inclusiveness, and change and adaptability which are considered by the people of Hong Kong to be integral components of the social ethos and represent their society and its civility as a metropolis’. The present study of poonchoi is another illustrative example. This commercialized village cuisine is, both metaphorically and physically, a melting pot. It incorporates or absorbs into one dish (basin) a wide range of food items (usually more than ten, including both local and imported, fresh, canned, frozen or dried, and expensive and inexpensive ones) and tastes (both exotic and familiar) that eaters desire to have. Thus, eating poonchoi has become a symbol and an act of ‘eating metropolitaneity’ in Tam’s (1997: 291) terms. Poonchoi is no longer a cuisine situated at the periphery of the eating culture of contemporary Hong Kong. Food hygiene is also a major concern for Mr Lee in the production of poonchoi. He has taken a number of measures against food poisoning. This is because cooking poonchoi involves a number of steps that demand serious attention to prevent the growth of bacteria and cross contamination. He insists on having all the food cooked thoroughly. He also strongly insists on himself and his culinary staff wearing plastic gloves when they touch the cooked food in the process of what they call tapoon, meaning the orderly placing of the food into a basin. He explained that, in so doing, it can avoid hand-sweat contaminating the food as sweat easily makes it go bad within a short period of time. Moreover, disposable plastic gloves are not to be used, again, in order to ensure the hygiene of every final processing step. Furthermore, tapoon will only be done when the customer arrives to collect the poonchoi, or the product will be delivered to the customer within one hour after it is assembled. He also advises his customers to eat it within three hours after collection. Mr Lee said he has put more emphasis

62 Chan Kwok Shing on taking the above measures against food poisoning after two food poisoning cases happened during the 2005 Lunar Chinese New Year period in which sixteen persons felt ill after eating poonchoi from a reputable restaurant in Yuen Long (Wong 2005). Since the occurrence of these two cases, the government has warned the public to pay more heed to food safety. It published safety tips for purchasing, preparing and enjoying the village cuisine.10 The government also prepared additional guidelines for food manufacturers on the safe production of poonchoi. These mention that food manufacturers should note the risk factors involved (such as preparing food too far in advance, which may increase the chance of cross contamination of cooked food) and preventive measures (such as hot food should be kept at over 60°C after cooking and advising customers to reheat poonchoi immediately upon arrival).11 The introduction of these guidelines not only illustrates how food manufacturers should, as the government claims, better understand the safety in preparing poonchoi. They also demonstrated that the government will take action against the food manufactures for failing to meet the standards. According to the government, from 2002 to 2005, there were twelve food poisoning cases in which a total of fifty persons were affected after eating poonchoi. In numerical terms, the number of this type of food poisoning cases was very small compared with others which number 2,808 cases (11,284 persons fell ill) (HKSARG 2002–06). Notwithstanding the insignificant number of food poisoning of the former, the popularity of poonchoi has aroused the government’s serious attention to the safe production and consumption of this commercialized village cuisine sold on the market.

An atypical type of poonchoi While considerable efforts have been made by many caterers to promote different types of poonchoi by adding a variety of meat, seafood and marine products into the cuisine, they have also introduced so-called ‘vegetarian poonchoi’. This newly created cuisine has been launched to catch up with an increasing concern among many Hong Kong people over eating habits and health, which falls in line with the global health trend. In recent years some local magazines and newspapers have revealed how unhealthy poonchoi is, especially to those who are suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease. Based on a number of laboratory tests and interviews with doctors and nutritionists, the magazines and newspapers highlighted the fact that poonchoi contains too many fatty foods as well as few vegetables and little fibre. They also illustrated that poonchoi’s vegetables are unhealthy because being on the bottom of the dish they absorb the oils and fat. Therefore, people are advised not to eat too much of them. Promoting this healthier eating habit ultimately gives rise to a type of vegetarian poonchoi which features less meat, oil and fat. Mr Kin’s shop, for instance, started to offer vegetarian poonchoi a few years ago after frequent requests of customers. Mr Kin stated that it was something he could never have imagined when he started his business nearly thirty years ago.



This is because the new dish totally excludes typical or major ingredients of traditional, authentic poonchoi dishes such as braised fat pork, dried eel and pig skin. In other words, vegetarian poonchoi which features abstinence from meat radically deviates from the fundamental meaning of the original village cuisine, that meat is a conventional food item for celebrating happy events. The dish Mr Kin offers includes gluten shrimp, gluten chicken, four types of mushrooms (straw, abalone, shiitake and enoki), four types of vegetables (white turnips, broccoli, Chinese mustard greens and celery), jews ear fungus, soy-bean stick and dried bean curd skin. They are cooked with ordinary seasoning. Since the dish includes neither Mr Kin’s special recipe nor his famed cooking of braised fat pork, it is not especially promoted nor is it the shop’s best selling product. This is also true of many other poonchoi shops which are similarly run by local villagers. They commonly do not put any emphasis on advertising or promoting this new dish. Some even do not offer it. However, unlike Mr Kin’s product, there are shops featuring the production of special vegetarian poonchoi, which includes a particular recipe and/or a wide range of (special) food items in the dish. The following two are examples of these vegetarian poonchoi. One offers a dish, not only containing ordinary food items (such as abalone mushrooms, bamboo fungus and pea pods), but also some unusual ones (namely, curry gluten, gluten duck’s kidney and wax gourd stuffed with black moss pinch) which are not commonly found in other similar products. In addition, it highlights the sauce, which is especially made of soy beans, bean sprouts, wax gourd, night blooming cereus and Chinese pickled mustard stem, that even strict vegetarians find attractive. What the shop promotes is a lower fat cuisine which gives eaters a sense of freshness and lightness in relation to a healthy diet. To further cultivate and enhance this sense, the shop even uses medium-sized, slim ceramic pots instead of the large zinc basin as food containers. This way of presentation, coupled with a nice mixture of mainly green, white and yellow coloured food items12 reveals a plain dish and the perception of a healthy cuisine for sale on the market. This dish is in sharp contrast to the one introduced by a high-class restaurant which highlights the notions of richness and elaborateness with a total of twenty-eight food items being offered. In the dish dried fungus, chestnuts, water chestnuts, walnuts, ginkgo, jujubae fructus, white truffles and Japan abiu caimato are specially introduced. The combination of these food items, together with a fine-tuned sauce to be served with it, makes the vegetarian dish unique and desirable in the market. To sum up, the introduction of the newly invented vegetarian poonchoi illustrates how a radical form of a century-old village festive cuisine is created and promoted in an affluent and commercialized society of Hong Kong. Meat is, therefore, no longer an indispensable food item to the commercialized rural festive cuisine. This is because reducing and avoiding meat out of the fear of fatness and the desire for slimming has become a prominent concern today.


Chan Kwok Shing

Conclusion Food and eating, as numerous anthropological or sociological works have demonstrated, are lenses through which issues such as identity, the social construction of memory, social change, gender, class, ethnicity, beliefs and practices about health, and nationality can be revealed (Goody 1982; Mennell et al. 1992; Duruz 1999; Mintz and Du Bois 2002). The present study of production and consumption of poonchoi is a fine example of how it reveals a number of these issues in the contemporary society of Hong Kong. The Pang lineage case demonstrates that in the context of collective ancestral worship, poonchoi is a code deciphering the structure of, and the interplay between, kinship and hierarchy in a Chinese corporate descent group. In the past, poonchoi was not primarily held to signify ‘togetherness’ (implying that all members are equal or socially similar). Rather, it marked out status difference not only between male and female but also between young and old. Nowadays, many villagers said that all are entitled to this cuisine on the special occasions. Nonetheless, I have observed that eaters are still largely dominated by the invited male village elders. In other words, poonchoi continues to be a privileged food enjoyed by some lineage members in the particular context of collective ancestral worship in the lineage. This embedded symbolic meaning has never received any serious challenge over time. To the majority of the people of Hong Kong, poonchoi is definitely an ethnic cuisine which is, as Mintz and Du Bois (2002: 109) note, ‘associated with a geographically and/or historically defined eating community’. It serves to maintain and reinforce lineage identity among the Pangs and to set them apart from other people of Hong Kong. In the past, about twenty years ago, the majority of Hong Kong people, mainly urban dwellers, perceived poonchoi as something rural and exotic because the cuisine was not part of their own culture. Poonchoi was therefore seen as a dish that only villagers living in rural and remote areas of Hong Kong had. But social, economic and political changes in Hong Kong in the past two decades have contributed to the growing popularity of this village cuisine among urban people. More and more people in Hong Kong are therefore familiar with it and regard eating it as part of their social life. So, in many cases, poonchoi can be seen as an alternative or socially acceptable meal through which the notions of sociality and commensality are expressed among eaters. In other words, eating from a common pot allows family members or friends to define and reaffirm social relations or intimacy with each other. Because of its increasing popularity, the cuisine has become highly commercialized and its ethnic character diluted. Many new varieties of poonchoi have come into existence to cater to the different needs and tastes of customers, and are gaining an increasing status in the social life of the majority of Hong Kong people. In recent years, this rural festival cuisine has even been promoted by a renowned poonchoi shop as a so-called Hong Kong cuisine. In other words, poonchoi is no longer an ethnic cuisine among rural villagers. It has gained a popular status in the eating culture of Hong Kong today. The introduction of many types of this



festive cuisine demonstrates how the people of Hong Kong have made, for their own, a new culinary tradition of poonchoi in the specific urban context of Hong Kong.

Acknowledgement In writing this chapter, I would like to thank Estelle Kennelly for her help and support.

Notes 1 For more discussion on the classification and meanings of low and high cuisine, see Goody (1982: 97–153). 2 According to village elders, the villagers had ceased constructing such a temporary stove for more than thirty years because of its inconvenience. Now all the foods are cooked in the community hall where there is a permanent stove. 3 Chang (1977: 7–8) noted that rice and meat/vegetable are a core feature of Chinese cuisine, so this distinctive feast in a Cantonese lineage village does not violate this culinary tradition. See also Watson (1987). 4 For details, see Chan (1999: 199–211). 5 Abstinence from the flesh of the cow is also practised in Egypt (Goody 1982: 118) and India (Harris 1985: Chapter 3) for the same reason. 6 It is a practice to eat various foods in a restaurant where Chinese tea is served. For more details, see Tam (1997, note 2). 7 The Ping Shan Heritage Trail is about one kilometre long, linking up a number of traditional Chinese structures including a three-storey pagoda that is more than 600 years old, a walled village, a lineage hall with a magnificent three-hall structure and two internal courtyards, two century-old temples, and a study hall built in 1870 to provide facilities for worship and education. 8 According to a local Chinese newspaper Sing Pao Daily News, dated 28 May 1995, the trail attracted approximately 300,000 visitors during the first two years. 9 There are some examples:; www.;; ecmanage/page1.php;; and www.pakkapunchoi. 10 The guideline is available on the department’s website: safefood/food_safety_plan/fsp_index2c.html 11 For details, see 12 Yellow colour refers to curry gluten, gluten duck’s kidney and bamboo shoot; white colour refers to wax gourd, bean curd and bamboo fungus; and green colour refers to peapods.

References Baker, H. (1968) A Chinese Lineage Village: Sheung Shui, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Caplan, P. (1997) ‘Approaches to the study of food, health and identity’, in P. Caplan (ed.) Food, Health and Identity, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 1–31. Chan, K.S. (1999) ‘Managing corporate estates and social change’ (in Chinese), in South China Research Center, HKUST, and South China Research Circle (eds) Managing

66 Chan Kwok Shing Culture: Chinese Organization in Action, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Educational Press, pp. 199–211. Chang, K.C. (1977) Food in China, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Cheng, S.L. (1997) ‘Back to the future: herbal tea shops in Hong Kong’, in G. Evans and M.S. Tam (eds) Hong Kong: The Anthropology of a Chinese Metropolis, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, pp. 51–73. —— (2001) ‘Eating Hong Kong’s way out’, in K.J. Cwiertka and B. Walraven (eds) Asian Food: The Global and the Local, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, pp. 16–33. Cheung, S.C.H. (2001) ‘Hakka restaurants: a study of the consumption of food in postwar Hong Kong society’, in D.Y.H. Wu and C.B. Tan (eds) Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia, Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, pp. 81–95. —— (2005) ‘Consuming “low” cuisine after Hong Kong’s handover: village banquets and private kitchens’, Asian Studies Review, 29 (3): 259–273. Cwiertka, K.J. (2001) ‘Introduction’, in K.J. Cwiertka and B. Walraven (eds) Asian Food: The Global and the Local, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, pp. 1–15. Duruz, J. (1999) ‘Food as nostalgia: eating in fifties and sixties’, Australian Historical Studies, 113: 231–250. Faure, D. (1986) The Structure of Chinese Rural Society: Lineage and Village in the New Territories, Hong Kong, Hong Kong: Oxford University Press. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government (HKSARG) (2002–06) Department of Health, Statistics on Communicable Disease, from 2002 to 2006. Goody, J. (1982) Cooking, Cuisine and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Harris, M. (1985) Good to Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture, Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press Inc. Lam, A. (2006) ‘14,000 turn up to gorge on local delicacies’, South China Morning Post, 9 January 2006. Mathews, G. and Lui, T.L. (eds) (2001) Consuming Hong Kong, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Mennell, S., Murcott, A., and Otterloo, A. (eds) (1992) The Sociology of Food, London: Sage. Mintz, S.W. and Du Bois, C. (2002) ‘The anthropology of food and eating’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 30: 99–119. Tam, S.M. (1997) ‘Eating metropolitaneity: Hong Kong identity in Yumcha’, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 8 (3): 291–306. Watson, J. (1975) Emigration and the Chinese Lineage: The Mans in Hong Kong and London, Berkeley, CA and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. —— (1987) ‘From the common pot: feasting with equals in Chinese society’, Anthropos, 82: 389–401. —— (ed.) (1997) Golden Arches East: McDonald’s in East Asia, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Wong, Benjamin. (2005) ‘16 fall ill after eating poon choi in Yuen Long’, South China Morning Post, 22 February 2005.


Convenient-involvement foods and production of the family meal in South China Siumi Maria Tam

The increasing popularity of convenient-involvement food (CIF) products is one of the obvious changes in Hong Kong food culture in the last decade of the twentieth century. Whether in the traditional wet market or in supermarkets, CIF in the form of marinated meats or cellophane-covered soup packs have become a regular and common feature. In contrast to its predecessor, convenience foods (CF), which are not cooked but rather thawed in the microwave oven, CIF requires consumers to cook in the conventional way but using minimal time and skills to prepare the meal. CIF provides a third option aside from ‘cooking from scratch’ and ‘thawing a meal’. Thus, though using both CIF and CF is explained as a sign of efficiency in the modern city, the consumer’s preference for CIF reflects more structural changes in the production and reproduction of cultural expectations for specific tastes as well as social relations in the family, and thus deserves a closer analysis. CIF products are marketed as meals that require little time and cooking skills while they still allow the family to enjoy a feeling of home cooking. As the market demand for CIF increased, the food production industry has stepped up supply and expanded choices continuously. Convenience foods such as microwaveable prepared meals, have originated from the need to save time and allow the meal to be ready in a matter of minutes. Yet while efficiency is still an important consideration in the preparation of the family meal today, convenience foods are now blamed for taking away the pleasure of cooking and the fulfilment of mother–wife duties. They are also responsible for the decrease in participation in family meals, and for changing expectations of women’s and men’s domestic responsibilities, and thus have altered the norms in familial relationships. The emergence of CIF then may be taken as a backlash to thawing convenience foods as home cooking, as it reinstates the romance of the family dinner, and on a deeper level reclaims traditional family values. The current study examines the cultural implications of the CIF phenomenon, especially as it relates to the definition of domestic responsibility and knowledge in the context of contemporary South China. This chapter will describe the phenomenon in Hong Kong, and as a comparison, it also looks at how CIF has been received in the South China city of Guangzhou. Field studies were carried out in the cities of Hong Kong and Guangzhou which share the same cultural roots and

68 S.M. Tam speak a common language of Cantonese. Many of Hong Kong’s families have come from in and around Guangzhou, and often they still have family members living there. While, physically, the two cities are separated only by a two-hour trip on the rail line, socio-culturally they have been separated for 30 years, that is, until 1979, when the open policy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) allowed the interchange to resume on a more vivacious level. This present study focuses on how CIF was perceived and used in the production of the family meal in Hong Kong, and as a comparison data was collected in Guangzhou to identify issues on the financial, social, and cultural levels in relation to the family meal. The study was based on individual interviews and participant observation in Hong Kong in 20041 and in Guangzhou in 2005. All interviews lasted around 60 minutes and were conducted in Cantonese. The informants were invited through snowballing and convenience sampling, and all were the primary person responsible for cooking in their respective families. They were interviewed in their homes, and where possible their activity in preparing the family meal was observed.

Defining CIF, Hong Kong style CIFs are those food products that are partially prepared – such as cleaned, cut and marinated – and are ready for cooking. In addition, different quantities of ingredients are pre-selected and combined in a package in order to make up a single dish. Thus consumers may simply put the content of the package into a pan and turn the raw ingredients into a cooked dish. In the process, while the consumers are still involved directly in the cooking, most of the drudgery of washing and cutting, and the trouble of assembling different kinds of ingredients and spices – and cleaning the mess afterwards – are avoided. Using CIF seems to let consumers enjoy the best of both worlds; while there is increased convenience in preparing a home-cooked meal, a level of involvement is also guaranteed, albeit on a minimal level. The CIF products found in Hong Kong can be divided into two types: soup packs and dish packs. Field data from 2004 show that soup packs came in only one size, which was good for three to four people. The most common soup packs were savoury ones, which included cut wedges of carrot, turnip and corn on the cob, or peeled water chestnut and sectioned sugar cane; other kinds of soups may include meat and Chinese medicinal plants. The variety of savoury soup packs in different supermarkets varied significantly. Observations in January 2004, in three different supermarkets, showed that on any one day, the choice ranged from five or six kinds in a middle class setting (Seiyu Department Store in New Town Plaza), to about ten in a working class setting (Wellcome Supermarket in West Kowloon Centre), and up to eighteen in a mixed class setting (Lucky Plaza Superstore in Shatin Plaza). All of the soup packs were ‘generic’ products packed by the supermarkets, and were placed in open refrigerators in the frozen food section. Regardless of content, these packs always came in a styrofoam tray wrapped in cellophane. All these soups required only a

Convenient-involvement foods and the family meal 69 simple wash and could then be placed in a pot of water to be boiled for the necessary time – between 30 minutes and two hours. In terms of price, most of the packs were sold at around HK$12 (US$1.5). At the upper price range was the black chicken (wuji2) soup pack which included a whole black chicken, feathered and cleaned, and a few medicinal plants such as dried lotus seeds and Chinese wolfberry seeds. It was sold for HK$40 (US$5). While the price of this soup pack was higher, it was considered a speciality, and a tonic soup which was not to be eaten daily. Despite the variation of these soup packs, conspicuously, there were no instructions whatsoever for preparing them, meaning that the knowledge of cooking these soups was assumed to be generally shared by members of this culture. An interesting twist could be seen in the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) soup pack – a related product. These were not packed by the supermarkets, but manufactured by companies related to the Chinese medical industry. They came in vacuum-sealed plastic bags that contained only dried herbal ingredients based on TCM formulae. There was no meat or other fresh vegetables. Title of the soup, the intended medical purpose or indications, as well as instructions to process the different ingredients were all printed on the bag in relative detail. In February 2004, observations in three different branches of PARKnSHOP, one of the two biggest chain supermarkets in Hong Kong, showed that on average there were over twenty kinds of pre-packed TCM soups on the shelf. Depending on the ingredients, these soup packs cost between HK$15 and HK$40 (US$2 and US$5). Many of the soups claimed to perform certain specialized functions, such as reducing heat in the body and or brightening the eyes. Others claimed to be more generally health-enhancing. One soup, for example, was called shichuan dabu tang or literally the ‘ten perfect great tonic soup’, which promised to ‘provide internal moisture and fill up voids within’ and ‘improve the functions of the stomach and intestines’. Another pack was called paidu soup, or ‘get rid of poison’ soup, and promised to ‘beautify the face and prevent ageing’, and was ‘suitable for all men and women, old and young’, to be taken any time of the year (nannü laoyou, sishi heyong). It was also common to see promotional activities regarding these soup packs. Usually a middle-aged woman wearing a brand-name uniform would be stationed at a make-shift stall near the frozen food section, and she would have prepared one or two pots of soup in electric cookers. Shoppers were invited to try the soups, and invariably the promoter would use TCM terminology to explain the benefits of drinking these soups. It was obvious then, that as TCM was considered more specialized knowledge, more information on the product was necessary in order to convince consumers. This also showed that while TCM was a prevailing belief, it was not common knowledge. Like the soup packs, observations showed that regular size CIF dish packs catered for three to four persons. These included a combination of marinated meats and vegetables, also sold on a styrofoam tray and wrapped in cellophane, and packed by the supermarkets. Common dishes were mostly local Cantonese favourites. Some examples were minced pork with salted egg, chicken with


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black fungus and mushroom, and a whole fish with pieces of green onion and chilli. These did not need washing, but consumers needed to transfer the contents onto a plate and steam it for ten to fifteen minutes. There were also dishes for stir-frying, such as broccoli with slices of marinated beef, and string beans with pork. In 2004, the meat dishes were priced between HK$12 and HK$15. Those without meat were much cheaper – a cauliflower, broccoli and snow peas pack cost only HK$4.5. There was a much more limited selection of sweet soups in all the supermarkets visited. In the Lucky Plaza Superstore, for example, in contrast to the eighteen kinds of savoury soups, there were only four kinds of sweet soup packs. An example was fresh lotus seeds and ginkgo fruits, sold for HK$6. Unlike the savoury soup which was a regular component of the local dinner, sweet soups were used as desserts, and while they were a popular item after dinner, they were considered only optional, or an extra treat after a meal. In addition, most dessert soups were made with dry goods such as red and green beans, or dried bean curd sheets, so they were not significant CIF products. To prepare dinner with CIF foods, one would consider buying two dishes and a soup – one simply added more dishes if there were more people joining the dinner. The soup would take about one and a half to two hours to cook, and pork and salt would have to be added. Sometimes one could add ginger and/or garlic to the dishes when stir-frying. The preparation time would be about 40 minutes, excluding the time for cooking the soup. Rice was assumed to be available in the household and would be cooked separately and would not be included in the cost of the meal. The total cost for two dishes and one soup would come to between HK$36 and 45 for three to four persons, so the average cost per person could be as low as HK$9, or an average of HK$15. If for a particular meal, dessert was included, there would be an additional cost of HK$1.5 to 2 per person. Thus, the use of CIF in the family meal can be summed up as having meal components that require little assembly and processing but may include additional ingredients. Meat and vegetables may be pre-combined in any one dish, but they can be bought separately, thus allowing flexibility in the contents. They are eaten together with the staple white rice which is bought and cooked separately. A savoury soup is normative, while dessert soup, after the meal, is optional. CIF packs are catered for the nuclear family of three to four persons, and not individuals. Usually the mother–wife is responsible for shopping for CIF packs and their preparation, that is, if a division of labour in the household is assumed. Convenience foods, or CF, in contrast, are packed in single portions, and are ready-to-eat dishes with minimal processing, such as heating up in a microwave oven. CF is primarily designed for one. According to a 2002 survey by the market research company, AC Nielsen, the most popular convenience foods sold in the supermarkets in Hong Kong in 2002 were frozen dimsum, dish meals with a staple Cantonese style congee and Hong Kong style soup noodles (Financial Times 2002). Because dimsum, in the local context, is usually consumed as a

Convenient-involvement foods and the family meal 71 snack, we will not include them in our analysis. Thus, we may characterize the typical CF meal as follows. First, it includes meat, usually in the form of a partially-cooked local dish. Second, at least half of the contents is a staple, mostly steamed or fried white rice; but sometimes this can be congee or noodles. And third, there is a conspicuous lack of vegetables. One good example is the fast-growing brand ‘Eat East’ (the Chinese name is Bozai, or ‘young boy Bo’), which concurrently markets one frozen line and one refrigerated line. The refrigerated line involves set meals contained in a plastic tray divided into two sides – one side is filled with steamed white rice, and the other, a cooked dish such as beef flank in zhuhou3 sauce, curry chicken and pork in tomato sauce. The consumer should cut a slit in the plastic film covering the tray and microwave it for five or six minutes. There were usually three kinds of these products for sale. In 2004, the cost of a box of refrigerated Eat East rice was around HK$15. Products of the frozen line were marketed differently. The food was contained in a non-compartmented plastic tray and sealed with clear plastic film, and then covered by an outer paper box. There were usually six or seven kinds of frozen meals on sale. The consumer needed to discard the paper box and clear plastic film, and microwave the food for seven minutes. The contents were usually rice based, with more meat and less vegetables, such as deep-fried pork chop on a bed of rice, and the portion was similar to a plate of rice served in a Hong Kong style café. In 2004, these sold for HK$9 to 11. Judging from the much larger variety of products which occupied a prominent space in the freezer compartment in supermarkets and the relatively lower price of the product, we could assume that the low-end market was a more important target for the Eat East company. If we complement the Eat East meal with a ready-to-eat soup and dessert (such as sweet bean curd, cost HK$5), the CF dinner would cost around HK$28. There are different kinds of CF soup – none of which required adding ingredients or spices – such as sour-and-spicy soup that comes in a microwaveable bowl which costs HK$8. At the upper price range is one soup pack imported from Korea: ginseng chicken soup. Vacuum-sealed in aluminium foil and contained in an outer paper box, the pack needs to be placed in boiling water for ten minutes to be heated up. The pack catered for one person and was sold for HK$74 – convenience foods are not necessarily cheap. In any case, the time needed to prepare a CF meal for one was about 15 minutes, and involved only heating up. From the quantity of food in the pack, to the combination of ingredients and the price, it is obvious that convenience meals take after the meal for one in the local café. The two are also similar in that no cooking by the consumer is involved, and that they are catered towards the lone diner. Put another way, when someone eats alone, convenience meals are the food of choice, or may even be the food of course. Cooking, then, is not an individual matter, but rather a group, or mostly family matter. By comparing CIF and CF meals, we find that the nature and content of CIFs closely resemble the conventional dinner for the family, while CF is a meal for a

72 S.M. Tam single individual. In addition, while CIF lessens the total time spent on preparing the meal, it does take much longer than preparing the CF meal, and hence would require a family to designate someone to do the cooking. In terms of costs, an economy of scale is achieved through using CIF as the cost per person is lessened considerably when people eat together rather than alone. In the next sections, the following questions will be asked regarding the emergence of CIF in Hong Kong. Did the economic downturn necessitate a change in the structure of the family meal? Did it make people return to the family for support, most noticeably, by having to eat together to cut down household costs? If so, as the family meal resumed its important status, did it remind people of the traditional role of the mother–wife as the family cook, and reinstate the domestic hierarchy? Did the financial concern re-ignite traditional family values? The family meal in the economic downturn The emergence of CIFs came at a time when the Hong Kong economy suffered severely as a result of the Asian financial crisis of 1997. By the time this study was conducted, the economic downturn was aggravated by the attack of SARS, and had worked its way into different social classes. Taking household grocery spending as an indicator of living standards, we could track how the economy was doing at ground level. According to a survey carried out by AC Nielsen over the first nine months of 2004, which captured ‘actual consumer purchase information from a panel of 1,350 randomly selected households’ throughout Hong Kong, after Chinese New Year in January, there was a continuous drop in spending on grocery products for the following five months. This was taken to reflect on the post SARS socioeconomic conditions (AC Nielsen 2004). But if we consider the 2002 survey conducted by the same company, we will find that this was a continuation of the downward trend since 1997, when the Asian financial crisis struck Hong Kong. The upsurge in January 2004 would be due to inevitable spending in celebration of the Lunar New Year, and after that Hongkongers resumed a gloomy outlook of their economic prospects. In the 2002 survey, AC Nielsen’s data showed that 22 per cent of families were eating out less due to a worsening financial situation in the household. While another 13 per cent of the families said they dined out more, they were mostly frequenting low-end venues such as Hong Kong-style cafés and fast food restaurants, especially the two large restaurant chains Maxim’s and Café de Coral. The same survey also showed that 25 per cent of those regularly eating dinner at fast food restaurants took their children with them. In other words, the dinner at home was replaced by eating at the fast food restaurant. Between January and September 2002, there was a significant decrease in grocery spending for staples and fresh food, but in contrast there was a 19 per cent increase for convenience and frozen foods (Financial Times 2002). Thus, we see several strategies used by Hong Kong’s households in reaction to the economic downturn, as they had to cope with a decrease in income and

Convenient-involvement foods and the family meal 73 increase in job insecurity. The guiding principle was to minimize the cost of producing the family meal and increase the time that they could spend on their jobs to increase income. The first strategy was to use less expensive ingredients in the production of the family meal, as illustrated in the decrease of grocery spending. Second, they chose more foods that required less time to prepare, as shown in the increase of sales of convenience and frozen foods. And third, they had their meals in low-cost outlets such as local style cafés and fast-food restaurants if they did go out to eat. Using a combination of these strategies, Hong Kong families were trying their best to keep the family together and at the same time innovated ways to minimize the cost of producing the family meal. Thus using CIF was one of the adaptive strategies employed, but not the only one. Has CIF done in Hong Kong what Hamburger Helper did in the USA? In Eig’s 2001 article, he traces the development of the product called Hamburger Helper. In 1971, General Mills, USA’s second largest food company, developed and marketed a product called Hamburger Helper which was a mix of pasta, cheese and seasonings. It was designed for the housewife who had trouble coping with soaring beef prices, as all she needed to do was to add meat to the product and cook it in the pan – and there was enough meat to feed the whole family. Hamburger Helper promised ‘to help a family stretch one pound of meat into a hearty dinner for four or five’, and it turned out to be a hit. It would seem totally natural that Hamburger Helper became extremely popular at a time of weak economic growth. But the product out-lasted hard times. It took everyone by surprise as it continued to increase sales by 7 per cent annually in the 1990s when the economy was doing well. By 2001, Hamburger Helper was still the leader in the market despite competitors flooding the market with variations of the product. Thus, it was not simply the need for cheap and convenient products that made Hamburger Helper successful. According to observers of the food industry, it was the sensation of an old-fashioned home-cooked meal that Hamburger Helper created that earned it its continued popularity. The jingle ‘You’re Stirring, You’re Browning’ epitomized the sense of achievement and participation in the construction of the family dinner (Eig 2001). This case4 leads us into thinking about the emergence of new food products and how they relate to consumers’ behaviour and values. A comparative study of seven European countries by Traill shows that ‘perceived value is a strong moderator of behaviour and combines quality, cost, income constraints and other personal traits such as attitudes’. She finds that packaging, guarantees, choice of sizes, etc. are of minimal consequence in the consumer’s decision-making (Traill 1999; cited in Queensland Government Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries 2003). Van Trijp (1994) also argues that consumers ‘do not seek variety across all products to the same extent’. In sum, variety seeking behaviour is linked to products that have more well-linked alternatives and that evoke a higher degree of involvement (Van Trijp 1994). These will shed light particularly on our understanding of the increasing popularity of CIF soup packs in Hong Kong. In studying the material expansion of CIF on the Hong Kong market, we should also examine


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the social implications and ideological factors involved. On the material level, we ask how Hong Kong and Guangzhou families were choosing CIFs over traditional products, and whether they were spending less time on cooking as a result. If more CIFs were used and women were cooking less, did men and children cook more? And, as a result, did the family dinner have the same cultural significance as before? Conveniencing the family meal According to AC Nielson’s 2002 survey, the most popular convenience foods sold by supermarkets were pre-packed and ready-to-cook dimsum, sushi/sashimi and roasted meats. Fanny Chan of AC Nielsen predicted that ‘the concept of a home cooked traditional family dinner may soon be replaced by an assortment of convenience fast foods instead’ (Financial Times 2002). Looking at the sales of CIF soups and dish packs, it seems Chan’s prophecy is not likely to come true. To explain this, we need to understand first the constitution of the family meal in Hong Kong. For local families, the everyday dinner follows the basic pattern of three dishes and one soup. It usually requires a variety of meats and vegetables showing a balance of different tastes, shapes and textures. White rice as the staple is assumed. Popular cookbooks very frequently design and provide set menus that reflect these culinary expectations. One good example is the cookbook by popular TV programme host Lisa Yam (Putonhua: Ren). Called Mrs Fang in Chinese, Lisa Yam has taught cooking on TV since 1984, owns her own cooking school and is author of over 20 cookbooks. Her Lisa Yam’s Cook Book: Set Menu of Four (1994) has the Chinese title, literally, Three Dishes One Soup. The book consists of 12 menus each of three dishes and one soup, and in the original preface of 1992, she wrote, It is always our wish to make a meal that is admired by the family. . . . It is particularly difficult for a working mother to figure out several matching dishes in a busy day. . . . You will agree that [these] recipes are easy to prepare and therefore you can give your friends a treat with ease! (original in English) It is clear that when Lisa Yam authored the book in the early 1990s, she had the working mother–wife in mind, those who had a double burden of employment and domestic duties, when foreign domestic helpers were not so popular. Making the family meal more convenient for the working woman ironically reinforced the traditional expectation that it was the mother–wife who should be responsible for making her family and friends happy by cooking a proper meal – even though she had a job too. Interestingly, in Cookery Class for Filipino Maids (Wen 2000) the family dinner was reduced to two dishes and one soup. The book was written after the Asian financial crisis, and there may be several reasons for this change in the

Convenient-involvement foods and the family meal 75 structure of the family meal. First, it was a household strategy to reduce the cost of producing the family meal by decreasing the number of dishes. A second reason may simply be that not so many dishes were necessary, as the average number of children in the nuclear family has been gradually decreasing over the 1990s from two to one. So the number of persons eating together has reduced from four to three. And third, it has to do with the increasing or complete reliance on the foreign domestic worker in preparing the family dinner. As foreign workers were deemed inadequate cooks, families turned to using CIF which required little or no knowledge of local cooking. Wen’s cookbook also includes a section that explains how to select good ingredients, in particular what is meant by freshness. Its intended target reader, the Filipino domestic helper, is made clear as the book is entitled Cookery Class for Filipino Maids. While Filipino maids are generally considered to be unknowledgeable in Chinese cooking, the author spends the first 18 pages of the book explaining how to buy fresh meat, fish and chicken etc., as well as providing information on how to identify and store vegetables and Chinese herbs (Wen 2000: 4–21). Assuming an authoritative stance, these cookbooks thus contribute to the construction of the discourse around the family meal – its form, content, structure and standards of health and aesthetics – and draw up an important frame of reference in creating and maintaining cultural identity (Appadurai 1988; Allison 1997; Tam 1997; Cheung 2005). As Wen (2000) says on the first page of her book: ‘Apart from doing the cleaning and taking care of your children, a Filipino maid is also responsible for preparing meals for your family. If your maid does not know how to cook Chinese meals, you may need to do it yourself; if she cannot tell the ingredients of Chinese soups or Chinese vegetables, she may have great trouble in buying food from the market; if she cannot treat the food properly, it will be a waste of time and money’. It would be useful to contrast this with Lisa Yam’s original preface when her book was first published in 1992. While in 2000 Wen’s book shows us that the mother–wife has basically assumed a managerial role and would not cook for the family directly (rather she would tell the helper what to cook), but she would still have to gather information and instruct/supervise the domestic worker. The solution however was not to provide more personal training or supervision for the domestic worker, but instead was asking her to imitate the cookbook. Many of these cookbooks were written in both English and Chinese, so that the employer, whose English was assumed to be not so good, would be sure about what her helper was doing. Some cookbooks were trilingual – in addition to Chinese and English, there is Tagalog or Bhahasa Indonesian, etc., to cater for different linguistic groups, but all cookbooks came with colour pictures. To reduce the difficulty further, the number of dishes per meal has been reduced from three to two. In the following sections, I will discuss how CIF is a logical extension of conveniencing the family meal for the mother–wife who lacks time, money and knowledge.


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The attraction of CIF to Hong Kong mother–wives The interviews with seven Hong Kong mother–wives carried out in 2004 revealed that CIF (canyushi fangbian shipin) was a very remote concept. None of the informants had heard of the term before. But once explained, all of them were able to identify CIF products and cite examples, and confirmed that they had had the experience of using CIF. All of them only began to use CIF products regularly quite recently, with the average being two years before the interview. They tended to be cautious about the use of CIF at the beginning, and only bought them ‘for a try’ of different tastes. So while they knew about the product earlier, they only used them for making the family dinner regularly beginning in 2002. The interval of using CIF ranged from once a fortnight to five times a week. The reasons for using CIF were quite varied, but could be categorized into the following three types. The most common reason concerns ‘convenience’. Convenience to different people, however, meant different things. Ms Li5, 48 years old, part time worker, said, [I use CIF] when I don’t know what to cook. . . . It’s so troublesome having to buy grocery and decide what to cook. At home one person likes something this way and others like it some other way. To her, CIF provided a variety of ready choices. With different varieties, CIF makes it easy to design a proper menu for different family members day after day. Mrs Wang also considered CIF a good product, because with it she did ‘not have to use [her] brain’. So CIF was able to relieve the mother–wife from the boredom and pressure to cook every day. ‘Convenience’ also concerned the ease to access and process the necessary ingredients. Mrs Wang, again, believed that, CIF are much more convenient [than the usual way of cooking, there’s] no need to cut [meat and vegetables etc.], [so CIF helps to] save time. [There’s] no need to buy condiments, and they’re cheaper. She added that she liked to use CIF because she did not have to go to different parts of the market just to get different ingredients for one dish. Indeed, CIF is also more easily accessible in terms of time and place. For the women who have full time jobs and long working hours, grocery shopping could be a highly rushed matter as the wet market was closed by 6.30 pm or 7.00 pm. When fresh food like meat, fish or vegetables would become unavailable in the wet market after 7.00 pm, CIF could still be easily bought in supermarkets, and these did not close until 9.30 pm or 10.00 pm. For the working mother too, taking a trip to the supermarket will help her complete shopping for other household needs as well. In addition, some interviewees used CIF as a supplementary dish, when

Convenient-involvement foods and the family meal 77 unexpected guests suddenly showed up, or when there were many people eating together. Ms Cheng, 50 years old, who was a full time store assistant, made the following comment: I use CIF soup packs during festivals, not every day. . . . Why? Because I spend a lot of time on making the dishes [during festivals], so there is no time to get all the ingredients of the soup. Likewise, Mrs Liang chose to use CIF during Lunar New Year, especially when she needed to prepare a large amount of food in a short time. She said CIF was ‘convenient and quick, and family members would be able to eat in a short time’. Aunt Tao echoed this view, saying that when her grown-up children came home for dinner, she would buy CIF to ‘add dishes (ga sung)’ – a Cantonese phrase literally meaning to increase the number of dishes but with an implication to celebrate. A visit to Mrs Kao on Chinese New Year’s Eve in 2004 showed that the above were common practice among other Hong Kong wives, and the gender concept hidden therein was shared by men as well. On that day, Mrs Kao’s family would be joined for dinner by her elder brother’s and younger sister’s families. The day before, she had bought five soup packs in the supermarket, including two fotiaoqiang (‘Buddha jumps the wall’) packs. But she clarified that she only did this very infrequently. The two fotiaoqiang packs would be used for the New Year’s Eve reunion dinner, only because she would be too busy making other dishes and would not have enough time to make soup. At 5.00 pm on the day, her sister Mrs Lin came to help out, bringing with her a chicken that was already slaughtered and cleaned. They promptly put the soup packs and the chicken into a big pot, and cooked it for two and a half hours, although the soup pack only asked for one and a half hours. Mrs Kao opined that this would make the soup taste better as the soup would thicken over a longer time. The six litres of soup was quickly consumed at dinner, and Mrs Kao received a lot of compliments. When her sister-in-law asked for the recipe, Mrs Kao proudly announced that it was soup packs, whereupon her sister-in-law said she must go and buy some. Mrs Kao’s brother concluded that soup packs tasted great and they were perfect for women who had to rush home to cook after work. The second reason for Hong Kong mother–wives to use CIF was to minimize waste and therefore cut down costs. Mrs. Wang, in her mid 40s, for example thought CIF packs made it unnecessary to buy extra amounts of ingredients, and therefore would avoid wastage and make the meal more economical. She said, When you buy the ingredients separately yourself, you also have to buy different kinds of condiments. For example, if you need some black fungus, you buy at least $10 – you can’t tell the shopkeeper to sell you 20 cents of black fungus. But with $10 you can already buy a CIF pack including chicken and black fungus and other necessary condiments.

78 S.M. Tam Having to keep a stock of dry goods at home that are not used immediately, to Mrs Wang was a waste of limited family revenue. It was better to spend the money on the day-to-day production of the family meal. For the third reason, CIF was perceived by some informants to provide the right kinds and proportions of ingredients, making it easy to (re)produce the correct taste and correct format of a Cantonese meal. Among these interviewees was Mrs Chen, 28 years old, who was a full-time clerk. She usually bought soup packs from Wellcome, another big supermarket chain, and bought dish packs in the small Chinese restaurant in the wet market near her home. She used CIF four to five times a week in preparing dinner for her husband and daughter. When asked why she used CIF so regularly, she said, You know how awful Wati’s (her Indonesian domestic worker) cooking can get. I try my best to buy CIF for her to cook, so [dinner] doesn’t taste that bad. Interviewer: Does your family like the food? Well my husband never said it tasted bad, and I thought it was okay. When asked about the importance of soup, Mrs Chen gave a very typical answer. Interviewer: How important is soup in your meal? It’s important. A meal should consist of three dishes and one soup. . . . I always cook soup when my husband comes home for dinner. . . . I don’t know why, but when there is soup [in a meal] there is more warmth in the family. . . . A housewife must know how to make soup, this is a norm. For her, CIF was related to the power to define the Cantonese cuisine. On the one hand, for younger wives like her, there was an anxiety as they felt themselves not totally capable of producing the family meal properly; but on the other hand, as she had to supervise a foreign domestic worker, she felt pressurized in commanding the knowledge. Since everything is pre-assembled in CIF packs, for Mrs Chen the ability to pick a good pack (she defined this as ‘fresh ingredients and good taste’) was sufficient to secure compliments from her husband and manifest her superior cultural capital over her maid. CIF therefore helped to simplify the production of the family dinner considerably. Hart (2001) sums it up aptly when she writes on her experience with dinner-in-a-bag in the USA: I felt like I’d struck gold. They are relatively cheap, so easy, even nutritious and yes . . . I actually feel that by shaking the ingredients around in some hot oil and a pan for a few minutes before putting it onto my family’s plates I’m actually, dare I say it, ‘cooking’. To all the interviewees in Hong Kong, eating together helped to re-enact the family as a collective; and the mother–wife was able to fulfil her responsibility

Convenient-involvement foods and the family meal 79 in maintaining the unity of the family through providing a proper dinner. While there were observations of the trend of men in industrial societies taking a more active role in planning family meals (Harnack et al. 1998), among the families involved in this study, none of the husbands, nor the children, were actually contributing to cooking. Thus, with CIF, the Hong Kong mother–wife could increase her efficiency, avoid wastage, provide variety and guarantee taste. She could even enhance the family’s health though she may not have any knowledge of TCM. As CIFs were cheaper than the conventional method of producing the family meal, they served the needs of the family during tough times. To younger women, CIF was also a ready source of knowledge on enhancing health through food. CIF thus helped to prepare the family meal with increased flexibility and efficiency. As CIF use becomes a habit, family meal production is transformed; CIF will therefore stay in the family meal even though the economy improves.

CIF in Guangzhou Compared to Hong Kong, residents in Guangzhou were introduced to CIF later, mostly via Hong Kong, where the varieties of CIF available were similar. But the situation of how CIF was adapted and the perceptions of the residents in the two cities differed greatly. As argued above, CIF gained popularity largely after the economic downturn. That is, using CIF in Hong Kong was a household strategy to adapt to worsening financial conditions. In Guangzhou, however, the opposite has occurred, that is, CIF was not used as families had to cut down costs. In summer 2005, I visited a big supermarket in an older, working class district of Guangzhou on a weekend afternoon. It had a much bigger floor space than Hong Kong’s supermarkets, and on the second level I found myself in front of two mountains of CFs, mostly various types of Chinese buns: from chashaobao to mantou and custard buns, conspicuously called ‘Hong Kong style buns’. There were relatively little herbal soup packs, only enough to fill two four-by-five feet racks. The soup packs were sold at around RMB5.8 or 6.8 (US$0.7 or 0.85) each, and on the pack was very detailed instructions and explanation on what the different kinds of soups were for. As I went to the refrigerator section, it was very different. There were over ten kinds of soup packs, all wrapped up in cellophane on styrofoam trays. There were soups similar to those in Hong Kong, such as carrot and corn soup, but it was also easy to find more exotic ones like duck and winter melon soup. They were all sold at RMB11 each. On the other side of the open freezer were numerous dish packs. These included such common Cantonese dishes as salted fish with minced pork, or very exotic ones to the Hong Kong eyes – such as silkworms and water snake stir-fry. Most of these packs were priced at RMB10 each. While in absolute terms, the price was lower in Guangzhou, if we take into consideration the average worker’s monthly salary of RMB600, it was much higher. Like informants in Hong Kong, interviewees in Guangdong had not heard of the term ‘convenient-involvement foods’, but after the interviewer’s explanation


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all were able to point out the kinds of products that would fit the definition. They noted that CIF became more popular in the last two or three years, and were mostly available in big supermarkets. Ms Zhen, a 47-year-old factory worker who had a teenage daughter, said she would not buy CIF because they were about 20 per cent more expensive than the wet market. She said she had only bought soup packs before, and she would add meat to those to make soup. But she did not think highly of the packs since they were ‘always missing something’. She would rather buy the various dry ingredients and keep them at home for use. Further discussion however found that she had also bought marinated meat before, but as she did not like the taste, she would only buy minced pork now as it was convenient and saved her time in chopping meat herself. I asked if she would buy more CIF foods if the price came down, she gave an interesting answer: Well I may try some [new ones] just for fun, but I’d rather go to the wet market. . . . For festivals, I would rather go out to eat. To Ms Zhen, CIF just did not match her expectations – it was either not worth the price, if it was for a daily meal, or it was not good enough for a celebratory dinner. Mrs Hu, a retired teacher in her late 60s, on the other hand, stressed the issue of health in eating. She distrusted generally of CIF products as it was not easy to tell what went inside the ingredients. To her, soup in particular was primarily drunk to enhance health, so one must be sure of doing it right. She said she herself had the knowledge to combine different ingredients to make soup for various needs of the family, and if necessary she could easily consult others, such as shopkeepers, on the kinds of herbs and formulae to be used for particular bodily needs or ailments. There simply was no place for pre-packaged soups. Mrs Hu’s health-related views of food were interestingly similar to her European counterparts. In a study in Sweden, Gustafsson and Sidenvall (2002) found, that among women interviewees between 65 and 88 years of age, health was an important factor in food-related decisions, and some interviewees admitted that not eating according to health recommendations would result in bad conscience. In addition, women who cohabited with partners perceived food and cooking as a central task in their lives (Gustafsson and Sidenvall 2002). Mrs Hu also challenged the existence of supermarkets, as she did not find use for them. She cited herself as an example, and said that she had only been to the huge supermarket across the street a few times in the last decade. She concluded that CIF, like the supermarket, was a fashionable item, and a status symbol for double-income, middle-class young couples. Her daughter, Mingzhu, joined us in the interview. She was laid off earlier when the factory she worked in was ‘re-structured’, and as a 40-something she could only find a part time job. She agreed with her mother, that it was better to ask for advice from older folks or fellow workers, rather than buying soup packs. She felt that one could not be confident about the ingredients in the packs,

Convenient-involvement foods and the family meal 81 and it was always better to buy the different ingredients separately. The only kind of CIF she would buy was glutinous rice balls, and that was only during festivals, and these must be manufactured by famous and reliable factories or restaurants like Guangzhou Jiujia (in English: Canton restaurant). This brief visit to Guangzhou shows that while financial considerations seemed to be dominant in informants’ decision to use or not use CIF, it was also obvious that other social and cultural factors were just as important. Knowledge of food continued to be an important source of cultural capital in this former culinary centre in South China. While the women interviewed did not mention that it was the wife’s role to cook or produce the family meal, it was clear enough that they knew the cultural expectations and had internalized and put them into action. As Allison (1997) notes, ‘motherhood as a state ideology is carried out by women onto themselves’.

Conclusion The study finds that in Hong Kong CIF assumed its significance after the economic restructuring since 1997 as a way to minimize the cost of producing the family meal, and thus has been developed mainly as a household strategy to maintain the family during hard times. Informants also considered CIF a means to achieve the Cantonese taste expected of the family meal, albeit on an unsatisfactory level, when the duty of home cooking is executed by foreign domestic workers. In contrast, CIF has not been popular in Guangzhou, especially among the working class who considered it a luxury item. Guangzhou informants seldom used CIF to produce their daily family meals, but rather found it to be a fad among middle-class, double-income young couples, especially those who originated from non-Cantonese parts of the country. Thus CIF as a class-related phenomenon is defined differently in the two cities. It is a low-end food in Hong Kong, and a higher-end product in Guangzhou. Despite these differences however, for residents of both cities using CIF is a manifestation of a lack in the Cantonese taste and in the knowledge of health-related cooking. On the material level CIF has brought about changes to the pattern and content of the family meal in Hong Kong, as more and more women choose to incorporate CIFs in the everyday production of the meal. But on the social level, relations of the patricentric family have been strengthened: men and children have not contributed more in preparing the family dinner; rather, mother–wives shouldered cooking as their domestic responsibility regardless of their employment status. CIF has helped to preserve the aura of home-cooking by allowing the not-so-knowledgeable mother–wife to imitate a proper meal, and by preserving the personality of the cook as it allowed her to vary the ingredients according to individual taste. Thus CIF appeared as an extension of homemade food and sometimes its supplement, but it has not become its replacement. It has not challenged or destroyed homemade food and its cultural symbolisms. Rather it has worked to reinforce them.

82 S.M. Tam

Notes 1 I would like to thank my students in the Anthropological Field Methods course for their contribution in data collection. 2 Chinese emic terms in this chapter are transliterated based on Putonghua. 3 Zhuhou sauce is a common sauce used in cooking Cantonese meat dishes, in particular beef brisket. Originated in Foshan, it is made of fermented soy beans, sugar, shallots and ginger and various spices. 4 Thanks to my colleague Joseph Bosco for bringing Hamburger Helper to my attention. 5 All informants’ names are pseudonyms.

References AC Nielsen. (2004) ‘Hong Kong’s household spending on packaged goods sees growth for three consecutive months’. Online, available at: archive.asp (accessed March 2004). Allison, A. (1997) ‘Japanese mothers and obentos: the lunch box as ideological state apparatus’, C. Counihan and P. van Esterik (eds) Food and Culture: A Reader, New York and London: Routledge, pp. 296–314. Appadurai, A. (1988) ‘How to make a national cuisine: cookbooks in contemporary India’, Comparative Study of Society and History, 30 (1): 3–24. Cheung, S.C.H. (2005) ‘Consuming “low” cuisine after Hong Kong’s handover: village banquets and private kitchens’, Asian Studies Review, 29 (3): 249–263. Eig, J. (2001) ‘Hamburger Helper faces new rivals in the race to offer homemade feel’, The Wall Street Journal, 7 March 2001. Financial Times (2002) ‘HK leads fast food junkies in ’02’. Online, available at: (accessed March 2004). Gustafsson, K. and Sidenvall, B. (2002) ‘Food-related health perceptions and food habits among older women’, Journal of Advanced Nursing, 39 (2): 164–173. Harnack, L., Story, M., Martinson, B., Neumark-Sztainer, D. and Stang, J. (1998) ‘Guess who’s cooking? The role of men in meal planning, shopping, and preparation in US families’, Journal of American Diet Association, 98 (9): 995–1000. Hart, B. (2001) ‘Validation in a Bag’. Jewish World Review, 26 June 2001. Online, available at: (accessed March 2004). Tam, S.M. (1997) ‘Eating metropolitaneity: Hong Kong identity in yumcha’, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 8 (3): 291–306. Traill, B. (1999) ‘Prospects for the future: nutritional, environmental and sustainable food production considerations – changes in cultural and consumer habits’, cited in Queensland Government Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2003. Drivers of Consumer Behaviour: Conventional Food. Online, available at: businessservices/17162.html (accessed September 2006). Van Trijp, H.C. (1994) ‘Product-related determinants of variety-seeking behavior for foods’, Appetite, 22 (1): 1–10. Wen, X. (2000 [1998]) Cookery Class for Filipino Maids [feiyong ciaoshou taocan], Hong Kong: Haibin Tushu. Yam, L. (1994 [1992]) Lisa Yam’s Cookbook: Set Menu for Four [fangtai taocan shipu zhi sansong yitang], Hong Kong: Mingchuang.


Edible mercy Charity food production and fundraising activities in Hong Kong Satohiro Serizawa

This chapter aims at presenting some characteristics of the production, circulation and consumption of food for local charity activities in contemporary Hong Kong society. In the 1990s when the author was conducting field research into the significance of fundraising for charity organizations in Hong Kong, it was an affluent society that could afford to give material and financial relief to other societies, especially mainland China. Although the Chinese traditions related to charitable activities, and the connections between Hong Kong and other Chinese cities does, of course, have a long history, a new pattern of food production on fundraising in Hong Kong has emerged in recent decades. In this chapter, this noteworthy trend is described. It is based on data the author collected during field research in Hong Kong from 1994 to 1996 and again in 2003. In China, voluntary groups started by members of the elite strata began to organize charitable activities in the seventeenth century in the Jiangnan area of the Yangzi River Delta, which was the centre of social and economic networks at that time. Since the mid nineteenth century, this kind of independent charitable organization, called Shantang in Chinese, began to be much more common in the Guangdong area (Fuma 1983). In 1870 the Hong Kong Tung Wah hospital was established as a charity hospital through a similar process. Now the Tung Wah group of hospitals is a major charitable force in contemporary Hong Kong society. Following the traditions of Shantang, it provides, in addition to its medical services, educational services through schools and various social services at numerous facilities. The charitable works conducted by Shantang, including food relief for the poor and the victims of national calamities, has been a much studied area of Chinese history. In particular, the pioneering work on the urban life of Hankow details the social welfare encouraged by civic power in an early modern city in China (Rowe 1989: 91–134). However, research into charitable works in contemporary Chinese society is relatively sparse. In addition, the developments in recent food relief deserve more attention from anthropologists interested in dietary culture and social change. As Mintz and DuBois have pointed out, anthropological works on the industrialization of food production and distribution are still scant (Mintz and DuBois 2002: 104). This is partly because anthropologists often take the agricultural sector as the focal point for researching the

84 S. Serizawa problem of food production in global industry (Pottier 1999). I hope that the presentation in this chapter of ethnographical data from an urban commercialized setting will in some way address the bias towards the agricultural-sectorbased research.

Charity and foods: a paradox The custom of the gift economy could be regarded as the most basic social phenomena opposing the historical dominance of the contemporary market economy. Sharing food at a special event symbolizes shared identities and common lifestyles and values within the group. Many ethnographies show some of the special rites of rural life including the foods and drinks served on such occasions. In Hong Kong, many charitable organizations conduct fundraising activities in the form of a feast through history. However, the food served at such an event is not related directly to the distribution of food resources. The feast is an occasion for rich people to raise funds for charity, not to share the food with their poor compatriots on the same table. For most charity banquets, income gained from ticket sales is the most important source of revenue. Banqueting has been considered a good opportunity for business networking in terms of making contacts. Ambitious merchants are also keen to get to know celebrities and renowned people in Hong Kong through attending these social gatherings. According to an official in a small charity organization in Hong Kong, who I interviewed in the mid-1990s, the price for the seat next to the governor at their fundraising banquet was the most expensive one. There were, however, many people willing to pay for the opportunity to talk with the governor. The charity food discussed in this chapter is the food used in the fundraising campaign for the ordinary populace, not that which is served in the banquets for the wealthy celebrities. Yet paradoxically (or perhaps ironically) both types of food for charity are not related directly to the poor and hungry people that need to be fed. The production of charity food is not necessarily used directly as a solution to problems of food insecurity. Although the food is originally intended to be eaten by the needy, the presence of the needy is not obvious in charity fundraising. People therefore have difficulty in conceiving the system of food relief as a whole. There is a need for the image of food to be used for helping people to associate their contributions with the reality of charity programs. An interesting monograph on food relief to the poor in contemporary American society, Poppendieck (1998: 5) points out that people’s participation in charity activities creates an illusion of a ‘moral safety value.’ In the United States, a highly industrialized and commercialized society, the food program, a charitable service to feed the poor, flourished in the 1980s and 1990s (Poppendieck 1998: 2–3). In Hong Kong, the economic decline due to the Asian financial crisis in 1997 brought about the birth of the same kind of food programs. In such charity programs, poor people relying on governmental assistance can receive food, includ-

Edible mercy 85 ing cooked dishes at charity organizations in the city. One of these organizations is St James’ Settlement, which opened its food bank in 2003. People donated their spare food through a campaign organized by a radio station and a newspaper (Evans 2005). However, this relatively new activity of food relief charity is still the exception, and contributions to charity campaigns are not in the form of food but money. Financial donations to charities are often made with only limited information on the charity. Several informants told me that they sometimes donated money on the streets without knowing anything about the aims of the organizations to which they were contributing. Over the past few decades, the financial support given by the government to social welfare programs has been very important to the management of charity organizations in Hong Kong. Since the mid-1970s, many small organizations were emerged as the agencies of the governmental subvention system (Chow 1994: 325). Consequently, compared to the past, the proportion of the revenue from fundraising activities has decreased in proportion to the total revenue of many of the charity organizations. Raising funds from the public is, in a sense, a symbolic social action that evokes a cherished idea that ‘blood is thicker than water’: we, as Hong Kong residents who have been helping each other, are reminded that as Chinese we are ‘all in the same boat.’ The image of food is also used for this kind of symbolic conception of ‘moral safety value.’ Furthermore, the food product itself serves as a commodity in fundraising campaigns. It is perhaps psychologically easier for pedestrians to pay money in exchange for a pack of food rather than a one-way donation. It is also easier for the organizer to package the food for the campaign in the form of charity goods. In other words, the production of charity food in a fundraising campaign is a process of transmission and transformation of meaning of food in production, circulation and consumption. In industrial society, the food and its meanings are not transmitted to the needy directly. Through a complex process of fundraising and rich imaginations of various people toward ‘charity,’ a new meaning of food has been created, transmitted and transformed. In this chapter, this kind of symbolic meaning imbued in food is to be illustrated in the next three sections with the situation of charity food in Hong Kong. In the first section the history of fundraising for charity in post-war Hong Kong is introduced briefly. The second section will examine how the meaning attributed to rice has changed through a comparison of old charity events, which include a free gift of rice at special religious rites, with its contemporary role: rice as charity food. In the final section the practice of fundraising campaigns that use cookies is described in detail.

From recipients to donors: changes in Hong Kong society The Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s and a civil war in the mid-1940s were times when many people in the mainland fled to Hong Kong to take refuge from the turmoil. While the colonial government set up refugee camps in the suburbs, it was the charitable organizations that took care of the refugees on a

86 S. Serizawa daily basis. In 1947, a body was set up by these international associations to discuss the common problems facing Hong Kong society. This organization was later to become the Hong Kong Council of Social Services, which as the umbrella association of charitable organizations provided a common arena for cooperation between various organizations and services. Most of the international relief organizations active in Hong Kong at that time were overseas Christian missions including the following organizations: Catholic Relief Services, World Council of Churches Refugee Services, Lutheran World Federation, Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief, Caritas, and Co-operative for American Remittances to Everywhere (CARE) (Jones 1990: 169). In order to provide food for the refugees, centres were set up by these organizations, from which milk powder, cheese, canned food, flour, and other basic foodstuffs were distributed (Hong Kong Council of Social Services 1987: 17). In addition to charitable bodies with a Western origin, local Chinese organizations also provided relief for the new immigrants. For example, the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals was active in the distribution of free food after the Japanese army retreated from Hong Kong. From 17 September 1945 until the end of October 1946, the Tung Wah Group provided over 400 tons of rice and 150 tons of noodles for three million people (Tung Wah Group of Hospitals 1971: 94). At that time, many Chinese residents in Hong Kong relied heavily on foreign aid and the assistance of their wealthy compatriots. However, as the local economy began to grow, Hong Kong was no longer considered an appropriate recipient of international charitable support. In the 1960s, many international organizations started to close their branch office in Hong Kong and concentrated on other less developed Asian countries. As a result, charitable organizations in Hong Kong were compelled to raise their own funds. As Hong Kong developed as a centre of light industry with the concomitant growth in the economy, people could enjoy a better life with more material choices. International organizations began to pay much more attention to Hong Kong again, as it entered the rank of countries affluent enough to help others. In the 1970s and 1980s some of these organizations came back to Hong Kong and re-opened their offices. Hong Kong successfully raised its world status with her economic miracle in the post-war decades. Now the people of Hong Kong were not the ones to be fed but were the feeders of others. This dramatic change may be clearly illustrated with reference to the fundraising activities of World Vision. World Vision is an international charitable organization established by a Christian group in the United States in 1950. Its presence in Hong Kong started in 1962, when a severe typhoon hit the then colony. However, World Vision conducted no fundraising activities in Hong Kong until 1982. Although the public housing program of the Hong Kong government had been providing safe homes with inexpensive rent through the 1960s and 1970s, the residents devoted themselves to many children in their families at that time. A new program aimed at recruiting patrons in Hong Kong to support the less-privileged children in other countries began in 1982.

Edible mercy 87 One year later, the famous fundraising campaign of World Vision, the Thirty Hours’ famine, was launched in Hong Kong. The Thirty Hours’ famine is a fundraising event which seeks to solve the world’s food problem. Participants gather and fast for thirty hours. The participation fee or the minimum donation per person was HK$1,600 (US$200) when the author conducted his field research in the mid-1990s. The event takes the form of a ‘feast’ where no food is served.

Changing meanings of rice In this section the changing significance of food in post-war Hong Kong, in particular in relation to charity, will be illustrated with the example of rice. Rice is one of the most important types of food, as it is the staple food in South China, including Hong Kong. Rice is also the main grain used for foods such as congees and vermicelli. For Cantonese people, having a meal, sihk faahn, literary means the partaking of cooked white or, less commonly, red rice. It can also symbolize an indispensable element required for subsistence. For example, the phrase sihk faahn meih – ‘Have you taken a meal?’ in English, is often used as a daily greeting in everyday life. Such idioms using the word for cooked rice to signify food itself can be found in other East Asian societies like Japan (OhnukiTierney 1993). In Hong Kong, the elderly still pay much respect to rice, even though the shelves of big supermarkets are crammed with a vast selection of imported food. Many of those people have knowledge of the severe starvation in mainland China in the 1950s and 1960s and are careful not to throw away leftovers. When the author lived in Hong Kong in 2003, he observed his mother-in-law collecting the rice stuck to the metallic pot of her electric rice cooker as she washed up. This rice was saved for the next meal. There is a close relationship between rice and charitable activities in Hong Kong. This can clearly be observed in the Hungry Ghost Festival, which takes place in summer and is an occasion for elderly people to collect rice. In the seventh month of the lunar calendar, there are many events to celebrate the Festival in numerous districts in Hong Kong. Most of the organizers are a group of Chaozhou residents in Hong Kong. In a public area in the city, they build a temporary theatre for the Chaozhou opera that they hold in dedication to the deities. After several performances over several days, the event climaxes with a ceremony, held in front of the theatre, in which a free pack of rice is given to the poor. Every year, articles appear in local Chinese newspapers reporting on the mayhem and even injuries that ensue at the Hungry Ghost Festival, as elderly people queue to get their free gift of rice. The author has not witnessed such an event first hand, but he has observed people queuing in the morning waiting for the evening when the packages of rice are distributed. Elderly people seem to approach this long day of waiting patiently for a free gift almost as if it were a one-day job.


S. Serizawa

The Chaozhou people are the second largest sub-ethnic group in the Hong Kong Chinese society. They are very well known as merchants and have long been engaged in the rice trade business in Hong Kong. Many sub-ethnic groups in Hong Kong also practice the Hungry Ghost Festival in the seventh month of the lunar calendar, but the organized style of the Chaozhou opera and the free gift of rice are typical to the Chaozhou group. Other sub-ethnic groups of the Chinese community in Hong Kong often regard the ritual as a representation of the conservativeness of the Chaozhou people (Sparks 1978: 62). The involvement of Chaozhou merchants in the rice trade made it is easier for them to provide rice for donations compared to other sub-ethnic groups. Moreover, because Buddhist beliefs are widespread among the Chaozhou people, their motivation for alms giving is possibly stronger compared to other groups. The legend of a disciple of Buddha, Mu Lian, is well circulated in the Chinese Buddhist community. In the legend, Mu Lian has to offer food and drinks to all ghosts on the fifteenth of the seventh month of the lunar calendar to help his mother in hell (Sparks 1978: 154–155). In addition to the act of rice distribution itself, the Hungry Ghost Festival can be considered an important occasion for the Chaozhou merchants to make inroads into a society dominated by the Cantonese. For the Chaozhou merchants, the poor unfamiliar Cantonese neighbors would be the same as the poor lonely souls that have no descendants to feed them. However, in a practical sense, the wealthy Chaozhou use the festival as an occasion on which to distribute their wealth to their poor Cantonese neighbors. Although many Chaozhou residents are not wealthy, the rapid growth of their numbers due to immigration to Hong Kong after 1949 brought about hostility and difficulty in communication between the Chaozhou and the Cantonese (Sparks 1978: 62–63). The Cantonese term for Chaozhou Music, ‘Chiuh Jau yam ngohk,’ is sometimes used jokingly, to refer to a self-centered person. The word suggests that the Cantonese in Hong Kong tend to view Chaozhou as people who do business only for themselves. The largest and dominant group, the Cantonese often feel threatened socially, politically, and demographically by the Chaozhou, the second largest group. The Cantonese stereotypes of Chaozhou are, in general, negative although they are in truth an industrious group (Sparks 1978: 62). In this regard, the distribution of rice on this festival is a valuable occasion for them to show good will to their poor neighbors from other ethnic groups. The annual event of the Chaozhou people described above offers an example of a charity structured around rice. The wealthy Chaozhou merchants provide rice to their poor Cantonese neighbors. The rice has been imported to Hong Kong from Thailand, Vietnam, or mainland China through business networks among the Chaozhou people. While this simple practice of charity still continues, a new relationship between charity and rice has appeared in contemporary Hong Kong. Next, this new form will be compared with the more traditional one typified by the Hungry Ghost Festival. World Agriculture (pseudonym) is an international organization that has been working in Hong Kong since the mid-1970s. Most of the services provided by

Edible mercy 89 World Agriculture are now directed to foreign countries rather than Hong Kong. Although its office in Hong Kong organizes local fundraising activities, money raised is for use abroad. In the mid-1990s, the office started a long-term development project in mainland China and fundraising to finance the project began. In 2001, World Agriculture launched a fundraising campaign for the development fund in China. A small pack of rice was sold on the street for HK$20. The names of the sponsor, Enterprise Corporation (pseudonym) and Fortune Corporation (pseudonym) were added to the package in 2002. According to an official in World Agriculture, the rice is selected as a symbol that can make each person appreciate the value of human life. The officer also commented that although the rice is sold to raise money for the fund, for many who make donations, the packet of rice also serves as a souvenir. Both Enterprise Corporation and Fortune Corporation were asked to be the sponsor directly by World Agriculture. Enterprise Corporation is a trading firm, based in Hong Kong, which imports rice from Australia, but not Mainland China. World Agriculture sent a request to become a sponsor to several companies trading rice before Enterprise Corporation accepted. Fortune Corporation is an international insurance company, which has a department of philanthropy. The company provides volunteers for the campaign and sells tickets which can be exchanged for a package of charity rice at the price of HK$20 on the sale of its insurance. Enterprise Corporation is run by a Chaozhou family and was established in Hong Kong in the 1920s. One of its previous directors was a devout Christian, and he established a charity fund for Christian education. However, during an interview with the present director, the Company denied that they had been heavily involved in charity activities in Hong Kong. As they are Christian, they cannot join the Hungry Ghost Festival Ceremonies, which are held in the district with a concentration of Chaozhou-run firms, including their own. Two years ago, they began to donate their rice to World Agriculture, and also donated their Australian import rice bearing their brand name for charity sale. Enterprise Corporation donates about fifteen tons of rice to World Agriculture, which packs the rice and puts the name of the company and the brand name on the package. The package is very small but the rice included can be cooked by blending it with other rice at home. World Agriculture has another food-related program, the sale of coffee with the label of origin. It appeals to the fair-trade consumer who can picture what country they are contributing to and for which purposes. In contrast, it is difficult for charity rice that is sold to raise funds for the development of China to evoke a picture of the country in the mind of the consumer. Of course the package may be associated with an Asian country and the lives of fellow countrymen, but the rice itself is not from China, but a product of Australia. The World Agriculture campaign differs from the Hungry Ghost Festival because the receiver of the rice is not the same person as the one who needs the rice. The consumer of the rice is only expected to imagine the hunger. In this new type of charity rice, the material or substantive basis of production,

90 S. Serizawa circulation, and consumption of rice is no longer a factor. Rather, the meaning of food is transmitted in production, circulation, and the consumption of charity goods.

Cookie in a fundraising campaign In this and the next section, another example of the production of charity food in contemporary Hong Kong is examined. In this study, the author focused on a small charitable organization, the Home for the Elderly (HE, a pseudonym). Field research in Hong Kong was carried out from 1994 to 1996, and additional interviews conducted in 2003. HE was established in the late 1970s, and it launched a large-scale fundraising campaign called ‘Cookie Campaign’ in the mid-1980s. This involved selling cookies for fund raising during the Chinese New Year. This campaign is now well known by the Chinese residents of Hong Kong. As the fundraising campaign in the mid-1990s is discussed in detail in Serizawa’s paper (2004), more recent changes in the production of charity cookies will be examined below. In the mid-1990s, charity cookies for the campaign were produced by a confectionery company. Aster Corporation (pseudonym) is well known in Hong Kong and it had a store located in a famous hotel there. The image associated with the Cookie Campaign and the brand name of the confectionery producer contributed to the success of the campaign. In recent years, however, HE has changed the style of their cookie annually, as well as the company that produces and supplies them. In the interview with the author in 1995, a Chinese committee member commented that ‘the Western people’ (the expression he used for the non-Chinese residents including the local Caucasian and Indian elite) dominated the HE. While the majority of those who purchased cookies were local Chinese, committee members of the HE often seemed more concerned about their image in the English-language media, targeted at non-Chinese residents. In the late 1990s, advertisements for the HE became more oriented toward Chinese popular culture than it did before. For example, one advertisement featured a picture of old people with a famous Canto-pop star, Jacky Cheung; a Chinese-style cookie was also introduced into the campaign. There are many fundraising events in Hong Kong before the Lunar New Year, which is usually in January or February. Summer and winter are the seasons for charity activities due to the severe weather conditions characterized by typhoons, rains, and low temperatures that make charity during these seasons even more necessary. Traditionally, people who want to welcome in the Lunar New Year with wealth and health are willing to help those people who do not have enough money to prepare them for the coming year. People who are financially comfortable enough to spend money to celebrate the New Year tend to contribute to charities generously in expectation that they will be rewarded for their generous acts. Therefore, many charitable organizations believe this is the most effective time to raise funds. In recent years, however, the HE has avoided this season and concentrates its campaign after the New Year.

Edible mercy 91 There has been one more recent innovation in the Cookie Campaign. Another item is now for sale, besides the cookie, namely a panda doll. As pointed out elsewhere (Serizawa 2004: 14–15), the seller of the cookie consciously utilizes children’s liking for the cookie and their parents can hardly refuse to buy it, especially since it is for charity. Children are therefore very important customers in the fundraising campaign. Goods that one cannot buy at ordinary shops in ordinary commercial transactions are likely to be used as a gift given to close friends. The panda doll is also used for the proper goods for gift in Hong Kong, like a small doll promoted in a special campaign of fast-food restaurants. The Hong Kong Chinese are sometimes fanatical about collecting this kind of small souvenir including the ‘Snoopy’ dolls sold at the MacDonald’s hamburger shops (Bosco 2001). During the 2003 campaign, the price of the cookie was HK$35 (US$4.5). The special discount package, which includes a pack of cookies and a panda doll, was sold for HK$50. The doll was also sold separately for HK$20. However, according to a fund raising officer in the HE, most customers desire the cookies and there is little demand for the panda doll on its own. Although the price of the cookie in 2003 had increased compared with its price in 1996, the price, according to an officer of the HE, is not of great importance to the donor. People who want to donate their money to the charitable organization are often willing to buy the cookie at any price. This is also true of simple charitable donations in Hong Kong, but the cookie campaign also represents an economic transaction. In an ordinary charity donation on the streets of Hong Kong, for example, the Flag Day on Saturdays, people can freely choose the amount they contribute. However, with sales of charity goods in streets, people do not have this option. They have to decide whether or not to buy an item at the price set. For the customers who buy the cookie on the street, the product that they get for the price is more important than the name of the charitable organization conducting the campaign who is seeking donations.

Production of charity cookie After a two-year trial selling the Chinese-style cookie, the HE adopted the Western-style cookie again in 2003. However, the foreign image of the HE generated from its connection with Western people and Western food could not be utilized efficiently this time because the producer of the cookie that year was a local company, Bak Wah Corporation (pseudonym). The company had had a number of years experience in producing Western-style bread and cakes for sale at local supermarkets, and had been popular with the Chinese residents in Hong Kong. The original association of the charity cookie with a high-class hotel and the foreign connection did not attract the Chinese customers in Hong Kong this time. A popular weekly Chinese magazine wrote that it suspected that the HE used Bak Wah Corporation in order to lower the production costs of the cookie. This suggests that many people in Hong Kong have an interest in the cookie campaign and its cookies.


S. Serizawa

According to an HE official, one of the popular producers of the charity cookie in previous years has been Country Corporation (pseudonym). However, the type of American cookies produced by Country Corporation did not match with the image of the HE, a company that also managed homes for the aged. In addition, the author was also told by the official that cookies with chocolate chips had become less popular due to the recent trend of people paying more attention to their health. Furthermore, the taste is too sweet for the elderly, although young people in Hong Kong do enjoy chocolate. Country Corporation also had a problem with the production of charity cookies because the material needed to be imported from abroad and the finished product’s shelf life was relatively short. Some of my informants in the HE are sensitive to the fact that the ingredients used may greatly affect the taste of cookies. Because less butter is used, the flavour of the cookie is compromised. However, it is very difficult to produce a good charity cookie at a low cost. Besides the taste of cookies, the production schedule and the shelf life are also very important. The design of the charity cookie for the following year must be finalized by September. The first batch is sent to the HE at the end of October. The HE prints the package and packs the cookies in their office and in old-age homes. The first batch of cookies is then sent to schools in mid-November and later to companies in December. The cookies are already being sold by mail order before the New Year. The HE prepares the form for mail-ordering and sends it to individuals and schools. At schools, an event at which charity cookies are sold is held every year. Students can buy a pack of cookies at the special price of HK$20. In companies, the charity cookie is used for Christmas presents for office staff. Thus the cookie should reach the customers before the season. Country Corporation must order the raw materials needed for the production of cookies three months in advance for this annual schedule of the production of charity cookie in Hong Kong. On the contrary, Bak Wah Corporation is a local company producing many local foods in the local factory. The company can prepare the products in one month after an order from the HE is received. In addition, there is a discrepancy between the shelf life of the cookie produced by Country Corporation and the duration of the cookie campaign. The shelf life is only half a month, while the cookie is sold for three weeks. At two months, the shelf life of Bak Wah Corporation’s product is much longer. As the cookie is sold for several months through a number of retailing channels, production orders by the HE to Bak Wah Corporation need to be made five or six times. The cookies are stored in nine old people’s homes run by the HE. In the 2003 campaign, the name of the sponsoring company was added to all cookie packages except those produced in the first order. The sponsoring company donates a few hundred thousand Hong Kong dollars to the HE. This amount is sufficient to cover the administration cost of the campaign but is not used for producing and selling cookies. According to an official at the HE, many people in Hong Kong wrongly believe that the producer will sponsor the production of charity food, but the

Edible mercy 93 reality is that the company producing the cookies does not donate any money to the HE. Both the company and the HE do not expect any kind of special services, such as a discount. The producer is not the sponsor. In modern industrial society, charity is like a business in which the producer and the customer carry out transactions according to the rules of commerce. The officials at the HE are business professionals who have been immersed in the cut-throat world of commerce. They are thus, well aware that a company has to produce the proper commodity at the proper cost and price for the customer. In planning for the 2003 campaign, the fundraising committee of the HE selected Bak Wah Corporation for several factors. One reason was its lower production cost in comparison to Country Corporation. The HE hoped that lowering the cost of production would raise more money. However, this strategy cannot be a direct factor in the success of the fundraising campaign because the transaction of charity food is not merely the giving of something to eat in exchange for people’s donations. People place additional values and meaning on the goods and the transaction, by using the image or illusion of ‘charity.’ It is both of ‘Western culture’ and ‘Chinese culture’ that people utilize in production, circulation, and consumption of the charity cookie. The over-localization toward the Chinese residents this time could not match the ‘taste’ of them. The focusing of the campaign on Chinese residents in 2003 was, unlike the situation ten years ago, unable to match changing consumer preferences against the expectations of the campaign organizer. Donors now prefer more expensive and authentic ‘Western’ cookies to the inexpensive products of the local company.

Conclusion Hong Kong society experienced a great transformation in the second half of the twentieth century. There are now many charitable activities that target the public in order to help raise funds for mainland China as well as for foreign countries. Most of the people in Hong Kong are now no longer passive receivers of charitable gifts. In such a social environment, the meaning attached to food has changed dramatically. Food used for charity loses its meaning as something for sustenance to be replaced to a large degree by the symbolic images that are common in the commercial world. As we have seen above, there are meanings associated with rice both in rituals and everyday life. Fundraising has now become like a business transaction and a charitable gift is comparable to a commodity sold on the street. However, charity food is a special commodity. People cannot buy it anytime from any shop. It is sold only once a year and for raising funds, not for profit. Although, in such an environment, the majority of small charitable organizations in Hong Kong do not adopt a systematic plan of marketing, they need to carefully monitor the production and circulation of charity food. The taste is of particular importance because people buy the item at a special price, which can be higher than that paid in an ordinary transaction. Moreover, as people buying the food expect what they pay should be used for charitable purpose as far as possible, the production cost of food should be reduced as far as possible. The

94 S. Serizawa scheduling of production and the shelf life of food are also very important factors because the item will only be sold during the campaign period. It is also important for a charitable organization to look for sponsors, but the sponsor is not the producer of the charity food. Even if the raw materials are provided by the sponsor, the charitable organization is responsible for the production and circulation of charity food, a fact which is not widely known by the customers of Hong Kong. Those who are accustomed to charity activities in contemporary Hong Kong tend to expect much more from what they buy from charity organizations than from their donation of small change. The committee members and officers of charitable organizations are always thinking of how to organize fundraising campaigns successfully. While they have used and preserved the image of their charity food through the years and have gained the trust of their customers, at the same time they have introduced, each year, new ideas to the charity cookie concept in order to continue to develop the market. This chapter has described how the companies also sometimes put on to the market small souvenirs, for example the HE’s panda dolls, in addition to their charity food. This is to satisfy the demand of those customers whose wealth and generosity does not match the merchants from the traditional Chinese elite.

References Bosco, J. (2001) ‘The McDonald’s Snoopy craze in Hong Kong,’ in G. Mathews and T.L. Lui (eds) Consuming Hong Kong, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, pp. 263–285. Chow, N. (1994) ‘Welfare development in Hong Kong: an ideological appraisal,’ in B.K.P Leung and T.Y.C. Wong (eds) 25 Years of Social and Economic Development in Hong Kong, Hong Kong: Centre of Asian Studies, The University of Hong Kong, pp. 321–335. Evans, A. (2005) ‘Charity banking on help to feed the hungry,’ South China Morning Post, 23 November 2005. Fuma, S. (1983) ‘Shindai engan rokusho ni okeru zendo no fukyu jokyo (The diffusion of Shan Tang in the six coastal provinces in the Qing dynasty period) (in Japanese),’ The Bulletin of Faculty of Humanities at Toyama University, 7: 15–45. Hong Kong Council of Social Services (1987) 40th Anniversary: A Commemorative Issue, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Council of Social Services. Jones, C. (1990) Promoting Prosperity: The Hong Kong Way of Social Policy, Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press. Mintz, W.S. and DuBois, C.M. (2002) ‘The anthropology of food and eating,’ Annual Review of Anthropology, 31: 99–119. Ohnuki-Tierney, E. (1993) Rice as Self: Japanese Identities Through Time, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Poppendieck, J. (1998) Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement, New York: Penguin Books. Pottier, J. (1999) Anthropology of Food: The Social Dynamics of Food Security, Cambridge, MA: Polity Press. Rowe, W.T. (1989) Hankow: Conflict and Community in a Chinese City, 1796–1895, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Edible mercy 95 Serizawa, S. (2004) ‘Fundraising for charity on the streets of Hong Kong: an anthropological approach,’ HKIAPS Occasional Paper Series No. 147, Hong Kong: HKIAPS, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Sparks, D.W. (1978) ‘Unity is power: the Teochiu of Hong Kong,’ unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, Austin, Texas. Tung Wah Group of Hospitals (1971) One Hundred Years of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, 1870–1970, Book 1, Hong Kong: Tung Wah Group of Hospitals.


Estimating rice, agriculture, global trade and national food culture in South Korea Michael Reinschmidt

When a Korean farmer killed himself in protest against the World Trade Organization (WTO) power, during a conference in Cancun, Mexico on 10 September 2003, the world gained a glimpse into the agony of thousands of South Korean rice farmers. Lee Kyung-Hae was fifty-six years old when he died of selfinflicted stab wounds. The banner he carried during the demonstrations read ‘The WTO Kills Farmers!’ He avowed his death against WTO rule, but also in protest of what he saw as a betrayal by the South Korean government (henceforth Korea) seeking nothing but the opening of overseas markets for the country’s powerful finance and manufacturing sectors. His desperation resulted from the disruption of farm life based on the old rice cycle surrounding the rice paddy, from what he saw as an irreversible decline of the Korean landscape, and from his own and his fellow farmers’ confusion over lost meanings in their lives. These disturbances, as he had repeatedly alleged, came from the hubs of global finance and commerce. The Cancun conference failed largely for the same reasons that farmer Lee wanted to brandish with his suicide. A coalition of developing countries refused to negotiate new WTO rules until the United States and European Union would discontinue their heavy farm subsidies that effectively excluded developing-world farmers from fair market participation for so long. In Korea’s on-going processes of riding out the turbulent post-development waves of industrialization, the topic of rice has largely been ignored as a means of understanding important aspects of the country’s cultural heritage that are now facing waves of globalization. Rice has been the hub of the old Korean agricultural cycle that gained strong symbolic meaning as a crop, staple, work, building material and spiritual offering. Thus rice functioned as a multifaceted icon for life itself. Due to increasing globalization in agriculture, however, today’s processes from seeding to eating are not as obvious anymore, and neither are the symbols of the traditional rice context. Given the many ambiguities of Western food commodification and ill-nutrition, as well as the globalization of many local foods, a new demand for more information is emerging world-wide to educate people not only about the functions of global food cycles but also about the original heritages of foods. In interviews with Korean rice farmers, one recurring complex of questions

Estimating rice in South Korea 97 emerges as an essential discourse: What would become of the country when the domestic agro-market opened for international competition in 2004? What would be the future of rice farmers in the face of cheap rice imports? How would Korean society define itself if it forsakes rice? What would Koreans think of themselves with less and less homegrown rice and their countryside adorned with less and less ‘typical’ paddyscapes? How would the state of public health change as the country yields to a tide of foreign foods? This chapter provides insight into a topic that has seen much treatment from scientific and quantitative work in biology and agronomics. Studying rice as an agent of formation for Korean culture and identity, however, provides a new approach to understanding Korean cultural heritage. Considering both historical and contemporary aspects, this chapter looks at global events unfolding and local strategies employed in a struggle over rice as a food staple and a cultural icon. The cultural context surrounding rice has strong roots reaching down far in history so that its presence and future in Korea remains still prominent (Reinschmidt 2003).

Making sense of rice globalization Most of the world’s rice is produced in Asia (around 90 per cent) but only a small percentage of that harvest enters the export market. This indicates that Asians consume almost entirely what they produce on their own. One fourth of the global export market is shared by Europe, the United States and Australia. The rest comes from Thailand, Pakistan, mainland China, Vietnam and India – being Asian countries, between which rice is traded, indeed, but still never leaves Asia. It is thus obvious to ask, just as Korean farmers do, whether or not there is a need for rice imports to Asia in the first place. Paradigmatic global trade theory – in an eclipsed description – envisions all commodity products coming to a ‘level field’ where they compete. Equal rules apply to all players who enter their products into the game. Players can form teams who seek trade agreements about a predetermined set of products. For example, Korea is allowed to bring a large variety of electronics, automotive, steel and textile products onto member markets, ideally without tariff restrictions by the trade partners. Team members without a strong electronics industry (e.g. Chile) in turn want to trade off their own specific surpluses, e.g. agricultural products, for Korean electronics, and in expectation of open and tariff-free Korean agromarkets (Wailes 2002: 149–152; MBN 2005). That is the starting point for this account: I describe how Korean rice as a material culture context came to the point where it confronts incompatibility at a global economic interface. A harsh ‘new social reality’ is emerging out of new socio-economic conditions in complex social worlds that, as Durkheim (1993: 82–90) would have it, require new skills and awareness based on new knowledge for society to cope with existential hardships such as the ones experienced by farmer Lee Kyung-Hae. Addressed by calls for a ‘global ethnography’, Burawoy (2000: 2) presents an information model for contemporary scenarios

98 M. Reinschmidt where people see that ‘the local dissolves into ephemeral imagery while the global becomes invisible’, thus not understandable. What the government has been unable to explain to Korean farmers and consumers, is why time-honoured traditions around rice ‘must dissolve’ or be sacrificed in order to help advance the country into the realm (Durkheim’s ‘new social reality’) that Burawoy calls ‘all-encompassing ephemeral globality’ (2000: 32–35). As the context of farmer Lee’s case shows, the government has further failed to explain why sufficient domestic rice production has to yield to what farmers term ‘unnecessary imports’. Although high domestic rice production costs help the government justify a reduction of a rice-producing area, it fails to maintain what trade writers call the costly ‘multifunctionality of agriculture’ (Wailes 2002: 149). The multifunctionality concept includes services that (subsidized) agriculture provides in addition to food production, namely guarding against rural unemployment, continued rural–urban migration, moral decline in rural areas, collapse of rural lifestyles, dilution of proven work ethics and the disruption of grown heritage environments. What the concept is lacking, however, is the provision of self-empowerment for rural people to fully understand globalization and how they personally fit in – or not. Borrowing from Burawoy, global ethnographies are thus needed to trace specific local ‘genealogies’ for local and global policy makers to counter the ideologies of ‘global pressure’ behind which corporations, governments, unions and political parties hide too easily to justify their interests and actions (Burawoy 2000: 5, 31).

Food staples East are not perceived the same as food staples West Although the central topic here is rice, the discussion is also about agriculture, protectionism and the cultural roles a food staple may assume for lending meaning to individual and social life. The argument of my research is that food in its globalizing aspects cannot only be seen as an agronomic product or a biological specimen. Although foods technically blend relatively easily for the sake of testing global markets for new culinary commodities, one has to realize that people attach distinguishable meaning to their homegrown foods. Thus they are important representations of cultural contexts in autochthone time–space relations (Cook and Crang 1996). Although Hanks (1972), Bray (1986) and Hamilton (2003) provide well for a springboard into cross-cultural comparisons of ways with rice in Asia, not enough culture-specific anthropological research has been carried out to come to a more refined understanding of the Asian realities and meanings of rice as food, work ethic, eco-space, trade item, memory aid, religious object, symbol of value, segment of political front lines and global agricultural commodity. As this chapter does not engage in comparative pursuits of globalizing situations for rice in several Asian countries, its themes may very well serve as pointers for researchers and policy makers in addressing similar developments of other regions discussed in this book.

Estimating rice in South Korea 99 In studying the contexts of rice used as a cultural and national demarcation and agriculture as a Korean industry with a ‘highly protected border’ (Diao et al. 2002), I examine how constructed and reconstructed boundaries around Korean rice subsequently have facilitated contest and dispute as well as negotiations across social, cultural, intra-national and international borders. Especially via its white varieties, rice has served, increasingly, as a social class demarcation since the sixteenth century, as a cause for vehemently disputing this demarcation during the nineteenth century, as a vital nutritional object of excessive extraction during the Japanese colonial period, as an object of political gesture and brotherly benevolence across the intra-Korean demarcation line during the late twentieth century and as an important contemporary cultural and culinary symbol signalling ‘Korean’ and ‘Asian’ difference in contrast to Western foods and cuisine.

Korean rice in free-trade negotiation (1994–2004) Opening the gates of Korea’s agricultural market has slowly unfolded, beginning with the GATT Uruguay Round’s agricultural trade liberalization in 1994. Since then, trade has been relaxed for an increasing number of agricultural products resulting in difficult challenges for the Korean agricultural sector. A determined fight by farmers staved off the inclusion of rice as an import product for ten years. Despite pressure from the Korean industrial sector, which wants to expand its own foreign trade volume with luxury items such as cell phones, automobiles and computer software, the government limited the import of several foreign-grown agricultural products including rice. Against the wishes of the WTO in so doing, special attention has been given to the protection of national rice production, due to the culturally privileged status that this crop holds as a premier food staple and as a symbol of national heritage (Gulati and Narayanan 2002: 1–27; Choi and Yoon 2003; Choi 2004: 93–98). The government did not opt for such protection, but rather kept yielding to a decade-long internal pressure that large agricultural cooperatives were able to mount together with broad public support repeatedly in order to halt imports, maintain the status quo and reject sweeping reforms that could have increased international competitiveness. External pressure from WTO trade partners and the drawing nigh of deadlines are now, more and more, determining the course of events pushing to honour old Free Trade Agreements (FTA) while new ones are negotiated. Countries seeking to import rice to Korea in a new FTA round are China, the United States, Canada, Thailand, Egypt, Pakistan, Australia, Argentina and India. Impending trade with these nine partners will change Korea’s agricultural market profoundly. But it will also redefine the boundaries of what and how Koreans eat, how they nutritiously thrive, what they will do with their shrinking farming communities, how they will tolerate urban sprawl into parts of a still ‘heritage-pristine’ countryside, and how they will come to terms with being exposed to the world in relationships that were never before as intensive and extensive.


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Instead of initiating reform, as requested by Korean and non-Korean economists, pertinent agricultural agencies, politicians and their succeeding electoral challengers yielded to voter pressure, further resulting in protection costs which continued to bolster rice production standards that had been established in the wake of the Saemaul-village development plan and the introduction of the Green Revolution during the 1970s. With too little communication that could have introduced a new round of reforms for the progress of farmers and their advocates, leadership collectively failed to provide far reaching adjustment to the scheduled liberalization. This lack of grounding left many farmers ill-adjusted to the realities of more instead of less global trade. Despite the protective barrier – and because of it – the general effectiveness of Korean agriculture on global levels declined significantly over the past several decades, while other segments of the economy wholeheartedly embraced globalization. Costs of production kept increasing, small-farm cultivation methods often remained outdated, and a new generation of farming technology has not readily entered agricultural production sites. The government advised younger farmers to shoulder new loans for large investments in larger farm facilities. This measure mostly failed because complimentary areas of the agroeconomic context (such as rice over-production, limited marketing of agro-products, transformation of paddy-land to non-rice farming land, and ill-advised fertilizing chemicals for targeted organic production) were left unadjusted for the needs of larger farms. In addition, farmers were largely left in the dark as to what precisely adjustment to global markets would bring and at what cost. As a fact, the average debt for farming families increased from about US$20,000 dollars in 2000 to US$27,000 in 2003 which is high considering annual farming incomes for small farms were around, or below, US$10,000. Such financial tension counts among leading causes for thousands of farmers forced out of business in the period from 1990 to 2005. The feasibility of innovative approaches – while shields of protection never lifted, though – has been shown to be possible by farmers who developed individual strategies leaving enough flexibility to react to small, or counteract even larger agronomical shifts. In a quintessential appeal, at once encouraging and scolding, the KNN (2004b) quoted in-coming trade minister Kim Hyun-Jong as a new voice in the agricultural free-trade battle ground: ‘Closed markets erode our global competitiveness. Stop being so repelled at the thought of opening markets.’ The statement reflects much of the national and international critique that the degree of border protection for rice indicates one of the highest among Korea’s agricultural trading partners. It also reflects an economics consensus deriving from numerous studies using economic methods to investigate the reasons why agricultural reform in Korea has failed (Ban 1987; Moon and Kang 1991; Krugman 1994; Kim 1996). Their findings were then used by critics to seek blame with successive regimes and governments of the 1980s and 1990s. Diao et al. (2002) convincingly show an overall loss of competitiveness of Korean agriculture from 1975 to 1990 along with a corresponding increase of significant

Estimating rice in South Korea 101 costs to protect it from foreign contest. A 1987 equilibrium calculation, for example (Anderson 1989), reveals a transfer of US$11 billion from consumers and taxpayers to farmers to finance the protection of the Korean agricultural sector with special allocations earmarked for the maintenance of rice selfsufficiency. Although the economic logic against protectionism is convincing, such studies lack to provide qualitative data explaining the cultural importance of rice as a heritage. The powerful cultural politics that emanated this heritage in the late twentieth century left administrations without options to ignore the confirmed will of the people. Finally, the critique of agricultural protectionism in some countries must be weighed carefully vis-à-vis extensive agricultural subsidies in others.

The paradox of heritage versus agricultural protectionism A glimpse into a contradictory situation can be taken from a sound-bite given in early 2003, during a protest of the Korean Farmers League, apparently supported by some 5,000 demonstrators. The protest targeted legislation by the Kim Dae-Jung administration to lower the domestic rice price in addition to lowering the overall domestic rice production. The same set of laws decreed the reduction of the total size of the national paddy area by 12 per cent until 2005, from about 1.1 million to 950,000 hectares. The League’s director, Park Heung-Sik, was picked up by the Korea Net News (2003) as having said: ‘In terms of economic logic it is right to import more foreign rice and lower the domestic price. But rice is not just an economic product – it’s a food staple for people here.’ Opponents to trade liberalization say that increased rice imports threaten national food security and sovereignty because imports undermine a ready supply of the country’s own basic staple. They claim that domestic rice, as a vital heritage food, is a human right and warn that with a loss of home-grown rice self-sufficiency the country will invite a vulnerability that in emergencies cannot swiftly be remedied, with big trade volumes resulting from electronic and automotive luxury items. Although WTO policy permits participating countries their home-based food supplies, trade opponents demand that food in general should not be subjected to free trade at all. This stance is unacceptable for trade proponents who favour WTO participation. If the 2004 rice trade negotiations remained unresolved among current rice-trade partners – Korea, China, the USA, Canada, Thailand, Egypt, Pakistan, Australia, Argentina and India – matters would have turned complicated for Korea because then this ten-year-old case would have been decided by the WTO. As a result, the government was vehemently seeking a tariff moratorium with the nine mentioned partners by mid-summer of 2004. On 31 December 2004, Agriculture Minister Huh SangMan announced an increase of the minimum market access for importers from the current 4 per cent to almost 8 per cent by 2014 (KNN 2004c). Korea had to accommodate several massive waves of urbanization following the Korean War. In 1945, 13 per cent of the population lived in the cities, a


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figure that was at 80 per cent in 2000. In 1960 the farm household population was 15 million (58 per cent of the total population) compared to 3.5 million (7.4 per cent) in 2003, while heads per family decreased from 6.2 to 2.8 in the same period. Recent administrations have been determined to initiate renewed migration but this time away from the cities with hopes to revive the quality of rural life. Despite these efforts, the farming population has further shrunk from 4.03 million in 2000 to 3.53 million in 2004. While production costs for rice keep edging upward, farmers’ profit margins for rice are currently at a ten-year low. This fact marks only one circumstance which, along with state protection costs, indicates the tough situation for rice growing in South Korea. When for example the consumer price for homegrown rice was officially set at 42,333 won (about US$40) per 20 kg in 2001, imported rice prices remained stable over the past years to be about four times lower. With such cheap foreign rice, the Samsung Economic Research Institute calculated that opening the rice market to imports would force the Korean GDP down by US$4 billion and slash domestic rice production by two million tons or 41 per cent of Korea’s current rice producing capacity during the next couple of decades (KH 2004: 21–24). In 2004 South Korea imported 205,000 tons of rice with roughly 115,000 tons (55 per cent) from China, 60,000 (30 per cent) from the United States and 30,000 (15 per cent) from Thailand. Until Minister Huh’s announcement, this amounted to 4 per cent of an otherwise self-sufficient domestic rice supply. Importers demanded a continuous and stable access to the Korean market. Until their protests the government entirely channelled this 4 per cent into the production of processed rice foods so that Korean consumers had no direct access to imports on store shelves. Under the new agreement 10 per cent of imports can be directly offered to consumers and that the percentage will increase to 30 until 2010. But experts predict that with full market liberalization the national selfsufficiency rate for rice (momentarily at 97 per cent) would come down to about 60 per cent of the current total domestic rice market. Rice production has been accounting for roughly 50 per cent of farmers’ income over the past four decades, a level that will not be sustainable in the face of increased imports and/or under global means of production. (KH 2004) Why did it have to come to the decline of Korea’s rice production? In 1994, the government’s Uruguay negotiators returned to Korea telling farmers and their associations they had succeeded in postponing the opening of the rice market until 2004, the year of the ultimate deadline for the opening of the rice market gates. While they had to promise the WTO (previously known as GATT) to reform the agricultural sector within a decade, they also assured the farming community that the task could be done. In actuality, however, not much was moved. Especially, since the 1997 economic crisis, the new Kim Dae-Jung government focused on heavy IMF obligations for the bailout then received along with IMF demands for far-reaching economy and finance restructuring (Koo 2001: 202). After the election of the Roh Moo-Hyun administration in 2003, farmers still feel left behind without a reliable plan as to how they should reform rice production and still survive the stiff competition from international agro-markets.

Estimating rice in South Korea 103 Not paying full attention to the development of the agro-sector, according to one farmer-informant, three elected administrations since 1992 made the mistake to keep doling out farm subsidies that reinforced an anachronistic status quo. Although damaging for state coffers, subsidies not only discouraged reform throughout the 1990s, but also benefited via personal savings the assets of farmer’s associations and their bank branches. The powerful National Agricultural Cooperative Federation (NACF, or Nonghyob in Korean) is an interesting case in point. Founded in 1961 as a farmer’s cooperative, the federation boasts almost three million members who have accumulated total deposits of almost US$200 billion, a financial amassment which in 2004 was identified as one of Korea’s largest bank assets. While NACF is representing farmers’ political interests on one end of the spectrum of the rice battle, its Nonghyob Bank branch can no longer prevent its financial volume from spilling into global finance on the other end (NACF 1998).

The corrosion of a Guinness record In the early 1990s the farming community was only reluctantly responding to new demands for another reform as they had just settled in following the reforms dictated to them by President Park Chung-Hee’s Saemaul and Yushin policies of the 1960s and 1970s. Also, farmers had successfully adapted to new production methods of the Green Revolution. With this achievement to their credit the nation’s farmers were then hailed as the heroes of long-awaited rice self-sufficiency in 1984. It seemed as if right after reaching the finish line they were told they had performed admirably but their foreign colleagues had been more effective with lesser means of production. With democracy achieved in the early 1990s and with globalization looming everywhere – including culinary globalization along with related material culture trends signalling strong competition for Korean-grown foods – everything in Korean agriculture had to be reinvented all over again. But rice culture has been a sensitive tradition to interfere with beyond the 1990s. A slowly grown peninsular heritage of three thousand years of life with rice cannot be eradicated easily, neither from public memory, nor from the durable defaults of Korean cultural behaviour. Farming associations and rural movements enjoyed enormous public support for stemming torrents of foreign attacks on the market of a national symbol throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Perhaps most powerfully of all, the conscious or subconscious reality of rice in people’s daily life is, what so far has let them come forth to defend, their homegrown primary food staple. There is a room of honour in Nonghyob’s Agricultural Museum, near the Sodaemun Subway Station in Seoul, where visitors can find a framed certificate bestowed by the Guinness Book of Records publishers. Installed between vitrines and frames displaying golden agricultural trophies and awards, it states that NACF was able to sign up the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time to fulfil a government referendum decree. Between 10 November and


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23 December 1991 (forty-two days) NACF collected well over thirteen million signatures in a stunning nationwide anti-rice import campaign. According to the Federation this drastic measure had become necessary to reverse government plans for opening the market gates to foreign rice. Only eleven years earlier, in 1980, imports of over two million tons had become necessary following a drought and one of the smallest harvests in a century. Older informants vividly remember this year with an abundance of personal stories (and facial grimaces) that stigmatize the flow of foreign grains as an unwelcome dilution of their homegrown first-loved food. The perceived ‘bad taste’ of foreign rice only reinforced the 1970s views – or rather ‘tastes’, for that matter – on the ‘purity’ of Korean rice when the propaganda machine of the Park regime exhorted the country only to ‘Buy Korean!’ Today there are signs on the horizon that such defence mechanisms may not last forever. Certain camps are polarizing into groups who would adhere to buying domestic rice at a higher cost and those who welcome cheaper foreign rice. New consumer trends are splintering social segments away from the old majority of domestic rice supporters, indicating that global market forces have corroded the shore up for homegrown rice. The fast life in the cities, the advertised promises of the free market and increasing supply and demand of Western foods can be observed gnawing on the rice bastion. These new representations of Korean modernity reshape the endless debates over what to do with national agriculture, shifting agro-policies of each new administration, agricultural subsidies and agro-industry protection costs that many reject. Pessimists claim them to be causes for labour shortages in agronomy, the rising prices for food and fuel and the increasingly ignored calls for demonstrations against imports.

Rice heritage in the discourse of a global identity Themes of food, nutrition and healthy sustenance are addressed only seldom in a wider context of the debate over rice trade liberalization. Media and scholarly reports about rice often problematize the staple as an object of trade, commodity, statistics, investment, GM food, research focus, real estate and even as a topic of peace and unification in relation with famine, underdevelopment and the ‘nukes’ in North Korea. While the North is in dire need of more rice fields, the South’s ‘rice problem’ can only disappear, according to the tenor among lawmakers, by decreasing the total area of rice paddies. Earlier land reforms are reversed by dissociation from small in favour of larger farms and in favour of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) plotted for various parts of the country. To be sure, Korean rice tastes great when eaten but has a negative by-taste when discussed in political contexts. When politicians are talking about rice – nicely in public – it mostly means a headache for them when discussed behind closed doors. When investors speak about rice they have money on their mind – lost money, hypothetical money and risk-free investment. When biologists engage in rice talk they discuss proteins, cold resistance and functional genetics along with strategies to warm the public

Estimating rice in South Korea 105 to genetically modified rice. When farmers talk about it they weigh it against their labour and the loss–profit ratio. The farm lobby repeatedly tried to capitalize on the qualities of rice as healthy food, as a provider of work, as a farm family’s food supply, as an asset for savings, a back-up real estate value for families, a unifier of community, as an agent of tradition, and as a national cultural and culinary symbol. During the 1970s and 1980s, as part of the already mentioned ‘Buy Korean!’ anti-import drive (the cited Guinness record must be positioned in this context), there was a protectionist campaign known under the designator of Shintoburi – ‘one’s body and soil are inseparable’. This regimeinduced propaganda beseeched citizens that only domestic farm products are the best, making serious claims that Korean bodies could thrive only on agricultural produce grown in Korean soil. Only when consumers are talking about rice – if they talk about it directly – do they have good things to say. Usually they speak in delight of its smell, taste, stickiness, whiteness, texture and good feel under the palate and in the stomach. But indirectly they speak often about rice. About a good meal they had with friends or colleagues. About a family reunion where the food was great because the companionship was good and vice versa. Offering rice to the ancestors during the Chusok – a thanksgiving ceremony – still caters widely to family emotions. Or about experiences when times were calamitous and thus rice was not good or available in the first place. If asked, elders will speak about what it was like to lead the lifestyle of the old rice cycle, with all the hard work and little income. But also about the joy and leisure that came right out of the rice cycle. Then, there are the memories of the Korean War (1950–53) and the hardships endured with good food largely absent. Almost every Korean knows a personal story when she or he did not feel well, without really knowing the reason, though it turned out it may have been a rice portion or two they were missing due to ‘imbalanced’ eating or surrender to Western food (Choi and Yoon 2003: 1–9). To overcome its agronomic stigma, rice in Korea is currently seeing several major efforts of reinvention campaigns. New culinary combinations are formed between traditional rice dishes and imported foodstuffs and the mingling of both. For example, new linguistic constructs include the hangulization of English terms such as, for example, rice snacks, fried rice and curry rice and even odd formulations such as chicken rice, rice burger and rice omelet (the latter two introduced from Japan and adapted to Korean tastes). The blending of foods and languages, in defiance of 1980s and 1990s protectionism, reflects Korea’s readiness toward culinary ‘hybridity’ – interestingly, a term used by those in opposition to globalization. Instant rice and other new rice commodities offered in variety packs for snacks and drinks help in the development of new ‘multivocal meanings’ (Turner 1967) as commoditized replacements of the old icons of the agricultural village and rice paddy complex. Several famous artists and sports stars were recruited in 2003 for a ‘Love Mi Campaign’ (Mi being the Chinese character for rice, still in use in Korea) to promote ‘modern’ Korean rice – homegrown, of course – as a ‘nutricultural’ rather than a national value.


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Consuming rice as a national obligation Heritage food conscious Koreans – I call them ‘conscious rice consumers’– are typically those who grew up in a village, who as students may have participated in a voluntary farm work commando (nonghwal), or others who somehow have retained a close relationship with the old rice cycle. They may be making a living as chefs, cooks, homemakers or restaurant or rice store owners. They have internalized the values of the rice cycle in one way or another from personal experiences through work and life in and around the paddy or a nonghwal-type agro-experience. They often refer to the obligations Koreans should accept with respect to their food providers and pay the price for homegrown rice that local farmers deserve. Some see this as paying a ‘tradition tax’, something one simply has to do out of filial piety owed to country and ancestors. For these individuals rice represents not only the notion of a food staple but also a concept of indigenous eco-system, a sign of rural status, familial and communal work ethics and complex work knowledge, skill and discipline. Koreans with a rural experience usually have a deep understanding of a longevity relationship between origins and succession, i.e. ancestors and persons are ‘linked by rice’ which has been their sustenance as well as ours. This thought powerfully connects farm and food with the living and the dead, thus making obvious the interdependence between rice and the soil from where we all come and to which we all owe. This is a rich Confucian concept converging even on today’s mortals as an inheritance that, once recognized, cannot be shaken off easily. This idea belongs to a complex of reasons that may help us understand why Koreans have been so protective of their rice. But to develop such conscious – albeit sometimes nostalgic – selfhood based on rice and the eco-space of the paddy soil is less and less possible for the masses living in urban spaces. Linkages between past and present and between ancestors and persons are believed to grow porous with increasing foreign cultural exposure and international trade. For most Koreans, eating rice is a common daily routine. While practised by those I call ‘habitual rice consumers’, this embodied part of their culture largely remains at the ‘subconscious’ level. With ‘embodied culture’ I refer to something that humans – or more precisely – our bodies just ‘know’ but do not think about. According to Bourdieu (1977) humans acquire habitus or habitual behaviour, i.e. the embodiment of culture, not only mentally but also physically by way of our bodies ‘learning’ what they do in diurnal repetitions. The embodiment of rice culture turns from habitual to conscious for many young Koreans, as soon as the ‘known culture’ can no longer be practiced. In interviews with students and business people who had to live abroad for even as little as a couple of weeks, these informants stated their changed relationship with rice in its Korean context from before to after their stay in mostly Western countries. Moreover, formal responses from 150 questionnaires were almost unanimous as were hundreds of informal inquiries. Interviewees were more conscious not only about rice as a Korean food, but often also about rice as a staple grown in homeland soil embedded in a distinct heritage. This realization resulted

Estimating rice in South Korea 107 for respondents in more awareness of rice traditions and in sympathy for Korean rice farmers and their plight in the global trade arena. Rice has been claimed as a material of sustenance for three millennia and Koreans are proud of this record. Another set of behaviours reveals how the embodiment of culture through rice is important for the individual Self in context with the social or national Self. Eating rice daily is considered ‘the normal thing’ to do. Any deviation of the habitual eating of rice leads others to suspect that something is ‘wrong’. Therefore, the eating or not eating of clean, steamed rice becomes a symbol for individual comfort which does not go unnoticed in the social context. The question ‘Have you eaten [food/rice] yet?’ is a famous and frequent one in Korea and highly revealing for the foreign observer as the Korean language uses the term ‘bab’ synonymously for ‘food’ and ‘rice’. The question implies an inquiry beyond a full stomach stating concern about a person’s well-being and endurance capabilities. The eating of rice takes place mostly in important social settings in which groups or individuals who speak the same language share food – often from one and the same bowl. A group of proponents of rice as a significant nutrient include a dwindling number of mothers who still believe in the psychological and physical values of homemade lunch boxes not only for their school-aged children but often also their university-attending teens and office-working husbands. The staple of such meals – namely rice – is often portrayed as something that ‘never changes’, thus, serving as an agent of stability that is important for child development and family cohesion and beyond that for health and the integrity of the nation.

Creating new customs, customers, commerce and country clubs Politicians had to play the role of mediators between the high-finance and hightech industries who want to export their goods and assets and rice farmers who do not want export but merely production for the domestic market. Meanwhile the consumption of rice in Korea has been dropping while the use of wheat, meat, sugar, and corn are on the rise. Along with new foods and their fusion food ambiances – often tailgating coolness effects that spill everywhere from pop culture and the fashion world – an entirely new culinary culture is emerging in urban centres including an ever increasing number of European cuisine restaurants, global ethnic food diversity, new snack habits, dining customs, preparation technology, processed foods, streamlined cookbooks and advertisement-influenced home cooking. A considerable part of the current rice debate is the decline of rice consumption among Koreans. A 2004-government study yielded the following results. Among 1,639 households the annual per-capita intake of rice was at 83.2 kg, down from 99.2 kg in 1998 and from 132.5 kg in 1980. Dwindling average annual usage also occurring in other parts of East Asia recorded at 63.6 kg in Japan (2001) and 50 kg in Taiwan (2002). Rural–urban contrasts stated impressive 134.5 kg annual


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per-head use in Korean countryside homes versus a mere 79 kg in city households. Peaks of daily rice consumption climaxed at 219.9 g in January while plummeting to 135.4 g in July of 2003. Noodles and bread were stated as the major staple replacements for rice ‘with the nation’s taste becoming more Western’ (KNN 2004a). According to rice growers, programmes need to be established to habitualize children’s palates to high quality rice early. Many schools have lunch programmes with inadequate rice, so children avoid rice lunches and rely on vending machines instead. Member farmers of the Nonghyob farming association demand their headquarters do more to accustom the next generation of rice consumers at a young age with good rice supplies to schools. Schools and local governments, according to one farmer, should be willing to pay the price. The same goes for the life ways accompanying the old rice cycle. This farmer holds that ‘city kids won’t catch on easily to the old rice customs because of the many urban distractions’. In rural children, however, he sees a strong potential as lifelong rice advocates because they can be incited to carry traditions into the future rather than their urban counterparts. On rice farms located close to a large city, parts of the government’s reform policies can be seen carried into reality. Surveying the outcomes, which are mixed, one must not forget that these are operations under protected agronomical circumstances. How would they compete internationally without the shelter? Besides the subsidized fallow paddies, primary alternatives to rice production are now organic fruits and vegetables, flowers and nursery plants. By favourably strategizing government incentives earmarked for agricultural diversification, several owners of the new agro-production lines have, as a matter of fact, become considerably wealthy. One farm I visited in 2002 transformed itself from a rice farm into a large-scale rose producer within the last couple of years. For the year of the 2002 World Cup, the government predicted a strong flower market which then became diluted because of the inevitable production rush towards flowers, thus creating a massive rose surplus during that summer. In the example of this farm, rice and roses have taken on an interesting new symbiosis in that large quantities of rice straw can be used as organic fertilizer for the roses. But measures such as flowers, orchards, or vegetables indicate one major step away from domestic, yet another stride closer to foreign rice products. Despite the prosperous new rose business the owner-family was not willing to give up the original existence of the farm and the vocation of the family’s ancestors, namely rice cultivation. In spite of continued government subsidies, there is much local pride, prestige and satisfaction in rice cultivation now as then, confided the owner, who still directs the farm’s rice production while his wife oversees the rose business. He likes to see his own family and related families well-supplied with rice for the winters in case ‘something goes wrong’. It’s a substantial material culture security functioning as an added safety device guarding an extended family against uncertain subsidies and fluctuations of the rice and rose markets. This is a powerful role that rice has played in Korea for a long time. In part, out of a stated gratefulness towards rice the farmer does not

Estimating rice in South Korea 109 mind the physical labour of rice farming which today has become light compared to the excruciating pains that earlier peasant generations had to endure in the non-mechanized fields. His family’s case shows that agro-reform is possible, leading a small-scale production to a new agronomic experience, to new sources of income, and new sets of meanings in modern farm life. Not so promising as for city farmers appears the future of rural rice growers. A down-turn spiral for many rural families includes a loss of economic basis for rice farming followed by irresistible temptations to sell the land to golf resort and country club developers. With the monetary gain in areas with many (former) small land holders a new set of social problems has entered the scene, which includes alcoholism, home gambling, homelessness and suicide. For many, there is hardly an escape from this new nihilism of the countryside which betrays the strong integrity of the old rice cycle, as traditionalists point out vehemently.

Conclusions The symbolism of rice and its agency to help define various meanings in the lives of individuals and groups is still prevalent in South Korea. Along with the theoretical implications for a food such as rice, with regard to national psychological, bodily and market values, food and the creations of foods provide significant cross-cultural understanding that must be seen as indispensable for effective global trade. Koreans are living in a market world with new generations growing more distant from the ‘original’ heritage of rice. They are unmistakably engaging in market-economic behaviour and function as consumers who shop around like most people in any other market-driven society. Many of them would continue to buy Korean rice, but others will buy foreign rice as long as the price is right and the taste comes close to what they are used to. As consumer groups will further emerge polarized, cultural experiences of Korean food with rice will also diversify. With regard to national heritage, however, as a nation South Korea has to grapple with a silent, although salient, national contradiction. Despite their strong emotions and love for their history and cultural heritage, Koreans today are proud of the fact that they rank as the twelfth largest economy in the world and that they have arrived there faster than other nations with the same goal. In that respect, an entire nation has turned a blind eye towards the fact that parts of the profits from high-tech exports were flowing back to farmers in forms of direct subsidies or taxpayer-supported welfare. Most likely, even the poorest farmer shares in the national ambition to raise the annual per capita GNP, as recently requested by government entities, from US$15,000 to US$20,000 as soon as possible. Despite the problems discussed in this chapter, there is confidence in this East Asian nation about the future of a rice culture, although it will be different from many of the original ways with rice and more similar to those currently emerging in other Asian countries. There will be dissolution of the old ways with rice as there will be the waning of overall agricultural visibility to begin with. This waning has already been accompanied by the waning in number of culture-carrying elders and


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a waning of the ‘traditional’ looks of the Korean countryside. A simple but crucial fact commanding change today is that the immediate ‘rice reality’ for most South Koreans consists of the rice bowl on the table (often not thrice a day anymore) and the steamer that cooks it well enough. Does it still matter to people where their rice comes from? Although my informants often speak about ‘rice’ per se, it must be understood that what is still meant is domestic rice proper.

References Anderson, K. (1989) ‘Korea: a case of agricultural protection’, in T. Sicular (ed.) Food Price Policy in Asia: A Comparative Study, Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, pp. 109–133. Ban, S.H. (1987) ‘Republic of Korea’, Productivity Measurement and Analysis: Asian Agriculture, Tokyo: Asian Productivity Organization, pp. 339–380. Bourdieu, P. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. R. Nice, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. Bray, F. (1986) The Rice Economies – Technology and Development in Asian Societies, Oxford: Blackwell Press. Burawoy, M. (2000) ‘Introduction: reaching for the global’, in M. Burawoy, J. Blum, S. George, Z. Gille, T. Gowan, L. Haney, M. Klawiter, S. Lopez, S. O’Riain and M. Thayer (eds) Global Ethnography: Forces, Connections, and Imaginations in a Postmodern World, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, pp. 1–40. Choi, S.K. (2004) ‘Potential impact of FTAs on Korea’s agricultural sector’, Korea Focus, 12 (1): 93–98. Choi, S.M. and Yoon, M.Y. (2003) Race to More Liberalization, Race to the Bottom: A Look into the Liberalization Process and Its Effects in Korea, Seoul: Policy and Information Center for International Solidarity. Cook, I. and Crang, P. (1996) ‘The world on a plate: culinary culture, displacement and geographical knowledge’, Journal of Material Culture, 1 (2): 131–153. Diao, X.S., Dyck, J., Skully, D., Somwaru, A. and Lee, C. (2002) ‘Structural change and agricultural protection: costs of Korean agricultural policy, 1975 and 1990’, Agricultural Economic Report No. 809, Washington, DC: USDA. Durkheim, E. (1993 [1897]) ‘Suicide and modernity’, in C. Lemert (ed.) Social Theory – Multicultural and Classic Readings, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 82–90. Gulati, A. and Narayanan, S. (2002) ‘Rice trade liberalization and poverty’, Markets and Structural Studies Division, Paper No. 51, Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute, pp. 1–27. Hamilton, R. (ed.) (2003) The Art of Rice: Spirit and Sustenance in Asia, Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. Hanks, L.M. (1972) Rice and Man: Agricultural Ecology in Southeast Asia, Chicago, IL: Aldine-Atherton. Kim, N.D. (1996) Measuring the Costs of Visible Protection in Korea, Washington, DC: Institute for International Economics. Koo, H. (2001) Korean Workers: The Culture and Politics of Class Formation. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Korea Herald (KH) (2004) ‘Special report on agriculture’, Korea Herald, 6 June 2004. Korea Net News (KNN) (2003) ‘Korean farmer’s league rally of 5000 against lowering rice price’, Korea Net News, 14 February 2003.

Estimating rice in South Korea 111 —— (2004a) ‘Koreans consuming less rice’, Korea Net News, 15 January 2004. —— (2004b) ‘New trade minister backs open markets’, Korea Net News, 31 July 2004. —— (2004c) ‘Korea to import more rice’, Korea Net News, 31 December 2004. Krugman, P. (1994) ‘The myth of East Asia’s miracle’, Foreign Affairs, 73 (6): 62–78. Maeil Business News (MBN) (2005) ‘Korea–Chile FTA yields notable benefits for the Korean economy’, Maeil Business News, Editorial Section, 16 February 2005. Moon, P.Y. and Kang, B.S. (1991) ‘The Republic of Korea’, in A.O. Krueger, M. Schiff, and A. Valdes (eds) The Political Economy of Agricultural Pricing Policy, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 15–66. National Agricultural Cooperative Federation (NACF) (1998) Agricultural Cooperatives in Korea, Seoul: NACF. Reinschmidt, M. (2003) ‘Rice in Korean life: the transformation of agricultural icons’, in R. Hamilton (ed.) The Art of Rice: Spirit and Sustenance in Asia, Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, pp. 508–525. Turner, V. (1967) The Forrest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual, Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press. Wailes, E.J. (2002) ‘Trade liberalization in rice’, in L. Kennedy and W.W. Koo (eds) Agricultural Trade Policies in the New Millennium, New York: Food Products Press, pp. 141–154.

Part III

Restaurants and food production


A taste of the past Historically themed restaurants and social memory in Singapore Wong Hong Suen

The less memory is experienced spontaneously as lived history, the greater is the need for external props and tangible reminders. Since we no longer dwell among memories in an environment where tradition is woven into the fabric of everyday life, we rely on representational modes created to evoke the remnants of memory in contemporary consciousness (Nora 1996: 6–7). The historically themed restaurant that evokes the past is one such representational mode. It evokes memories by historicising the dining experience — evoking the past in its décor, its architecture, its memorabilia, its overall ambience and particularly its dishes. Halbwachs’s work on collective memory is critical because he displaces memory from the individual or subjective realm, the domain of psychologists, to the social or collective realm, paving the way for historians like Pierre Nora to adopt memory as a framework for the writing of cultural history (Halbwachs 1992). Nora’s innovative interpretation of French history through collective memory, which he argues is rooted in concrete lieux de mémoire, or ‘sites of memory’, such as monuments and buildings but also institutions, historical figures and books, is critical for my cultural approach to understanding how society knows and imagines its past (Nora 1996: 6–7). This chapter is built on Nora’s idea of ‘sites of memory’, to conceptualise the historically themed restaurants as settings that trigger collective acts of remembrance. In contemporary Singapore memory cannot be spontaneously re-enacted as lived history through vestiges of the past that had been systematically destroyed in the massive urban renewal of the 1970s. In fact, as Peleggi (2002: 4) points out, nostalgia has become the main mechanism for experiencing history through the twin acts of commodification and consumption. And consumption, Appadurai (1996: 82) asserts, is ‘the daily practice through which nostalgia and fantasy are drawn together in a world of commodified objects’. At the same time, food and eating is central to Singapore life and identity. It is in this context that the phenomenon of the historically themed restaurant arises.

Methodological approach The past is known and imagined through memories evoked in the context of the historically themed restaurant. In deconstructing the restaurant, it is found that it


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creates a historically themed environment through its dishes, architectural and stylistic features, its décor and memorabilia and its overall ambience. Social memory – the internal structure and mode of transmission of collective consciousness – is employed as a framework to examine the ways in which the restaurant evokes memories, in particular the relationship between food, memory and identity is analysed (Fentress and Wickham 1992: xi).1 The past evoked in the restaurants as a form of ‘commodified historical narrative’ is analysed against official historical narratives as well as promotional narratives of the Singapore Tourism Board.2 An analysis of the restaurant’s menu, advertisements and press release articles reveals how it markets its food as historical dishes. The preparation methods of specific dishes and literature about the social history of the relevant cuisine reveal how the dishes are historicised.3 This reflects the changing social life of the cuisine they belong to, as well as the continuity of elements that had shaped Singapore’s culinary heritage in present-day Singapore. A combination of methods was used to analyse the experience of the patron, including personal interviews, restaurant reviews and commentaries in which locals ruminate about the dishes. The interviews with patrons were intended to allow them to emote their experience and they were utilised for an analysis of whether and how the restaurant’s representations of the past resonate at the individual or personal level for the patrons in the form of memories, and how memory relates to patrons’ perception of authenticity of the themed environment as well as their self-perception of social identity. A brief questionnaire was also administered to a random group of patrons. The objective was to get patrons of diverse backgrounds to respond to specific questions on their dining experience, for example, whether they could get a sense of the past evoked and specifically which aspects of the themed environment enabled them to imagine the past. More specifically, the survey was used as a form of oral history; it is no way an empirical study and no generalisations were made from its findings. In addition, the experiences of patrons in the form of particular memories evoked in the dining experience were juxtaposed against documented oral histories of the communities they belonged to. For example, the oral accounts by members of the Peranakan community (documented and published by the National Heritage Board) who spoke about what the Peranakan identity means to them and their memories of preparing and eating Peranakan food, allowed me to assess how the Peranakan restaurant of my case study tries to historicise the dining experience by encapsulating the Peranakan identity within it (National Heritage Board 1998: 51–74). There has been no scholarship that focussed on eating as a way of representing and experiencing history. Existing studies on food tie eating to class, identity, race and ethnicity. Food has been discussed in relation to mainstream ethnic identity (Appadurai 1998; Hage 1998), to diasporic identity (Sun 2002) to class (Bourdieu 1984), or treated as a symbolic system calling for semiotic and structural analysis (Douglas 1974; Baudrillard 1983). This chapter approaches food as having not just a cultural and symbolic dimension but also and more importantly, a material dimension, asking how this materiality can evoke memories

A taste of the past 117 and arouse historical consciousness. There is extensive literature on the subject of the commodification and representation of the past in material form for mass consumption (Horne 1984; Lowenthal 1985, 1997; Hewison 1987; Chase and Shaw 1989; Bann 1990; Bagnall 1996; Arnold et al. 1998). The debates range from the causes of contemporary fascination with the past to whether heritage sites and museums represent ‘authentic’ history. In the context of Singapore, apart from the volume entitled: ‘Our Place In Time’, works that explore the representation of the past through non-academic endeavours (popular culture or material culture) have taken the forms of analyses of conservation sites and their implications for a shared heritage, social memory and reinvention of tradition as seen in the National Day Parades (Yeoh and Kong 1995; Rajah 1999) or the examination of the representation of the past through national museum exhibitions (Koh 2003). However, no attempts have been made to place the topic of the production and consumption of the past in the context of the dining experience and in particular to examine this topic through social memory as a conceptual framework. My chapter on the commodification and consumption of history through the experience of dining in a historically themed environment aims to contribute a new perspective to existing literature on this topic.

The commodification of the Peranakan past: the House of Peranakan Cuisine The image of a Nonya dressed in her traditional sarong kebaya (the kebaya is a richly embroidered long-sleeved blouse) tells us from the restaurant’s advertisement that ‘authentic Peranakan cuisine comes to town’ and beckons us to make a beeline for the restaurant so that we can ‘relive a rich heritage of a bygone era’. The terms ‘Baba’ and ‘Peranakan’ are used generally to refer to the descendants of inter-marriages between Hokkien or Teochew pioneers and local women of the Malay Archipelago (Lee 1998: 20; Rudolph 1998: 1). The Peranakans saw themselves as the ‘King’s Chinese’ pledging allegiance to the British, and playing a major economic and social role in the upper echelons of colonial society from the mid-nineteenth century (Lee 1998: 20). However, the decline of British power after the Second World War led to a corresponding decline of the Peranakan community, that lost much of its material culture during the 1940s and 1950s. In 1990, the Peranakan Association published an article entitled ‘Will the Baba culture and traditions become as extinct as the dodo bird in the year 2000?’ It is in this context of decline that the restaurant’s attempt to revive the hitherto exclusive and flourishing Peranakan culture needs to be appreciated. Rosy Seah, manager of the House of Peranakan Cuisine, said that their decision to open a Peranakan restaurant was motivated largely by the desire to perpetuate the Peranakan tradition through its cuisine.4 In fact, the simplification of the cuisine is seen by the Peranakans as one of the most tangible signs of the decline of their culture. The House of Peranakan Cuisine attempts to root the dining experience of its patrons in the shared memories of the Peranakan community. It pursues this


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objective by displaying what it considers representative of the Peranakan heritage and identity; for example, it displays a mannequin at the entrance dressed in the traditional sarong and batik kebaya (which the Peranakans consider an important marker of their identity) as well as traditional beadwork and kitchenware. In addition, the ornate wood-carved dining table, old wedding photographs of the manager’s parents and ‘evergreen tunes from the piano bar’ also evoke the conspicuous Peranakan lifestyle. Predictably and above all, the restaurant attempts to evoke the Peranakan past in its dishes. The advertisement invites us to eat ‘a lavish spread of the finest Peranakan cuisine’ prepared in ‘true Straits Chinese tradition’ to ‘relive a rich heritage of a bygone era’. At the entrance, patrons are greeted by a mural of a smiling Peranakan matriarch clad in the traditional kebaya and surrounded by an array of traditional kitchen tools and ingredients of Peranakan food. The matriarch, like the Nonya lady in the restaurant’s advertisement, is representative of a past when women spent most of their time in the kitchen trying to master the intricate art of cooking Peranakan food, on which their perceived desirability as potential brides was dependent (Lee 1998). The restaurant invokes the women’s authority on Peranakan food to lend authentication to the dishes they serve. The dishes are presented to evoke memories of a time when food was central to Peranakan ceremonial and everyday life and when the kitchen was the perut rumah (stomach of the house), the centre of gravity of a household’s life and activity (Lee 1998: 195). As such, the dishes placed in a historically staged environment tend to evoke a nostalgic response among Peranakans, especially since Peranakan cuisine has, since the 1970s, emerged from household kitchens to enter cookbooks and restaurants (Chua and Rajah 2001: 164).

The commodification of the Chinese (Cantonese) past: The Soup Restaurant The tag line of The Soup Restaurant is the ‘House of Chinatown Heritage Cuisine’. The restaurant evokes several intertwined groups of memories that coalesce to form this larger ‘Chinatown heritage’. These are the memories of traditional teahouses, street life in Chinatown, Cantonese Samsui women immigrants as well as of pre-war Cantonese domestic life. The restaurant’s use of the term ‘heritage cuisine’ openly indicates that it presents food as an important avenue by which the Cantonese community can establish a connection to a shared past. The restaurant models itself on the traditional Cantonese teahouse located in Chinatown. The restaurant’s Cantonese name, ‘Three Bowls, Two Dishes (Samzhong Leungkhin)’, originates from the term ‘One bowl, Two dishes (Yatzhong Leungkhin)’, a popular expression in the Cantonese dialect that signifies the bowls of tea and dishes of dim sum consumed at these teahouses. This expression signifies a relaxed lifestyle whereby people would enjoy their breakfast in the teahouses very early in the morning. ‘Three Bowls, Two Dishes’ is a reference to this traditional lifestyle, but with a twist. The manager of the restau-

A taste of the past 119 rant, Mok Yip Peng, said that he decided upon ‘three bowls [of soup, rice and dessert]’ instead of ‘one bowl [of tea]’ in order to ‘upgrade with the times’.5 Mok felt that it would be appropriate to reflect a modern lifestyle that does not permit such leisurely meals early in the morning, and to reflect that his restaurant serves lunch and dinner (soup, rice, and dessert being the essentials in a Cantonese meal) instead of breakfast. The fact that The Soup Restaurant’s name is a modified version of a common expression in the Cantonese dialect shows that the restaurant taps into the collective memory of the Cantonese community; that which gives its members a common cultural idiom built around food which through language reflects the centrality of food in their quotidian experience of life. The restaurant commodifies what it calls ‘the traditional cuisine of Chinatown’, guided by Mok’s passion to preserve what he, a Cantonese and Chinatown resident since birth, sees as his roots. The restaurant locates this traditional cuisine in a past when the streets of Chinatown were thriving with activities and entertainment fuelled not just by the traders, shopkeepers and rickshaws, but also by the makeshift food stalls that lined the streets. The menu asks the patrons to imagine this past: ‘Do you miss the ambience of eating at the roadside stalls of old Chinatown? . . . Do you remember all the steamy aromatic delicacies served in the Chinatown night bazaar?’ The restaurant thus evokes memories of street life and eating at roadside stalls, memories that were erased along with the clearance of old quarters in the 1960s and the disappearance of such stalls.6 The ‘Chinatown heritage’ theme includes the representation of the Cantonese immigrant past. Many of the immigrants who came to Singapore in the nineteenth century were from South China’s Guangdong province and the Cantonese dialect group became predominant in Chinatown. The restaurant roots the dining experience in this past by appropriating the Samsui woman figure coming from the Samsui district of Canton to work on construction sites at the turn of the nineteenth century. Patrons consume this past through an image of Samsui women, with their trademark red headgear, having their meal near a construction site, and are asked if they are ‘aware of the history of the Samsui women in Chinatown . . .?’ This past is also commodified in the restaurant’s signature dish, the ‘Samsui Ginger Chicken’, presented as what the Samsui women could only afford to eat during Chinese New Year. Mok claims that the dish is cooked in the ‘same traditional way’ as it was passed down from his grandmother and aunties who were Samsui women themselves. In addition, the restaurant also evokes the 1940s Cantonese home in Chinatown. The interior of the traditional home is recreated with wooden floorboards, redwood stools and tables, old-fashioned tulip shades and sepia family photos. Memories of family and home life are also evoked in the ‘home-cooked’ dishes it serves. For example, the soups in the menu that come with a short write-up on old folks’ beliefs in their healing and nutritional properties, the vegetable dish named ‘Ah Por’s (grandmother’s) leaves’, as well as the style in which the dishes are served all at once and placed in the centre – as opposed to the restaurant style of serving dishes one at a time – all tie the dining experience to


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domestic family life. The restaurant specialises in soups, essential in every Cantonese meal, and steamed dishes, which distinguishes Cantonese home-cooked food from those served in other restaurants, many of them deep-fried (Tan 2004: 53). The irony of serving home-cooked food in a restaurant setting is not lost on Mok, who remarked that he had a deep desire to perpetuate the tradition of cooking Cantonese home-cooked food. This food is to him ‘so natural to Chinatown’, but is also on the decline because people increasingly find steaming soups time-consuming and tedious. They prefer to eat at restaurants that serve a more homogenised Chinese food that is the result of the export of Hong-Kong style Cantonese cuisine.

The paradox of commodifying the past through food Although food can be imbued with historical significance, it cannot be divested of its materiality and its basic function as a life-sustaining consumable. In the case of the Peranakan restaurant, even though the dishes are purportedly ‘historically authentic’, they also typify the social evolution of the cuisine from the private household to the restaurant, a commercial enterprise. Although the managers themselves try to perpetuate the Peranakan heritage by serving the cuisine in its authentic form – for example, by employing family members or Peranakan cooks – they can ‘authenticate’ the dishes only to the extent that they remain viable for commercial production and palatable for commercial consumption. For example, in the past, Peranakan dishes were cooked by the ‘trial and error’ method whereby observation, hands-on experience, and an acute sense of smell and taste were the requisites (Yeow 1999: 16). It is simply not possible to prepare the dishes using a ‘trial and error’ method in the context of a commercial enterprise. Similarly, traditional cooking utensils are necessarily abandoned in favour of modern kitchen aids. Seah explains that even though using the batu lesong (mortar and pestle) is ideal for extracting the juices of spices, it is too tedious and time-consuming, so the restaurant uses industrial grinders instead. In addition, she lamented how Peranakan culture has to ‘live with the times’: to serve Peranakan food in a restaurant means that they have to cater to the general, apart from solely the Peranakan taste bud which is something acquired. For example, the ayam buah keluak (chicken curry cooked with keluak nuts) is a classic Peranakan dish eaten with the nuts intact. However, to cater to the public, Seah found it necessary to extract the bitternut filling and refill it with prawn and minced pork. It is thus evident that the restaurant attempts to historicise the dining experience along the lines of Peranakan ethnic identity. Yet, ironically, the attempt to ensure the survival of traditional Peranakan cuisine by selling it in restaurants necessarily entails a departure from its ‘historical authenticity’. As for The Soup Restaurant, although its signature dish the Samsui ginger chicken was purportedly eaten by the Samsui women who lived in extreme poverty in Chinatown, the fact that it is being sold as a commodity in the present requires it to be prepared to cater to contemporary taste buds, a product of a

A taste of the past 121 much more comfortable and affluent lifestyle. The form that the dish takes in the themed restaurant is thus the product of several transformations it undergoes in the way it is prepared, eaten and valued. From its original symbolic function as a luxury dish eaten only to celebrate special occasions, the ginger chicken dish has now taken on a purely material function as an everyday source of bodily sustenance. In addition, from being eaten in tough, bony chunks with salt added to its ginger dip to mask its bland taste, it is now served in tender, boneless slices with raw lettuce to make it palatable to the more indulgent and health-conscious consumer. Therefore, food can be given a historic aura but is also inevitably and inherently, tied to the present because of its corporeality. While the dishes are presented as ‘historically authentic’ – relics of a bygone age – they inevitably reflect the changed social life of the cuisine which they are classified under, and, correspondingly, the changed historical context in which they are consumed. Ironically, it is also these transformations that lead to the survival of these dishes as ‘relics’ in the historically-themed restaurants: many of them have indeed disappeared from contemporary households due to their tedious and timeconsuming preparation.

Food, identity and the evocation of memory On the other hand, because of its corporeal essence, the consumption of food, a bodily process, can link one to the past, evoked in a more concrete and immediate way than the consumption of an image or an atmosphere in a themed environment can. The ability of food to evoke memories lies in its smell and taste, in the sensation food, as a material object, can give us, the sensation which eludes the ‘voluntary memory, conscious memory of the intellect’ (Proust 1981: 97). For Proust, it was the taste and smell of the celebrated petites madeleines (squat, plump butter cakes) dipped in tea that ‘bore the vast structure of recollection’ (Proust 1981: 51). It is the sensorial experience of food that endures in one’s memory bank, long after the context in which it is consumed disappears or changes. In addition, food can be particularly evocative of memories if a cuisine and the social practice of eating are integral to the identity of an individual or group. As such, patrons of the Peranakan restaurant find the ‘traditional cuisine’ evocative of the past, to the extent that they consider the food ‘authentic’ – akin to what they consumed or was consumed in the past. This desire for authenticity in the dishes is expressed by Lee Kip Lee, who said that he could relive the past only through the restaurant’s dishes which he considers the only ‘authentic’ aspect of the historically themed environment.7 Similarly, Peter Wee expressed indignation at what he calls the ‘dilution of real Peranakan food’ in many of the so-called Peranakan restaurants.8 Importantly, both men ‘judge’ the authenticity of the food on the basis of their identity as Peranakans. Says Lee: ‘only a true blue Peranakan can tell if the food is authentic . . . whether the dish is alien to the taste bud . . . the general public cannot’; while Wee laments that non-Peranakans or Peranakans


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not in touch with their past would not be able to tell if the classic sambal belacan (shrimp paste chilli) is ‘way off the real thing’ in its smell and texture. This shows that both men measure the authenticity of their dining experience against the shared memories of food that are exclusive to the Peranakan community – or at least the ‘true blue’ ones.9 In fact, as Halbwachs (1992: 37–40) argues, memory is essentially collective as it is structured by group identities; groups provide individuals with the frameworks within which their individual memories are localised.10 Memory and identity are thus mutually dependent and as Gills (1994: 3) suggests, ‘the core meaning of an individual or group identity, namely a sense of sameness over time and space, is sustained by remembering, and what is remembered is defined by the assumed identity’. At an individual level, the ‘traditional’ dishes evoked in Wee’s memories against which he measures the ‘authenticity’ of the restaurant’s historicallystaged environment. He described his dining experience thus: ‘the smell of good belachan . . . eating dishes like the ayam buah keluak, bring me back to the scene of Chinese New Year and fire crackers . . . it revives that feeling . . . memories of family ancestral worship, weddings . . .’. Wee’s reminiscence as a response to his sensorial experience of food is induced by a desire not so much to recapture the ‘authentic’ taste of Peranakan food, but to return to an irrecoverable time and place (Sun 2002: 145–146). The remembrance of food and eating in the past is intensified by a sense of loss and, ironically, is made more acute if the patrons find that the historically themed environment cannot re-present the ‘real experience’. This common desire to experience ‘authenticity’ is prompted by nostalgia. Many Peranakans echo the sentiments of Wee, who thinks the Peranakan community is facing an ‘identity crisis’ because Peranakan culture is ‘at its tail end’.11 The so-called revival of Peranakan culture that started in the 1980s, manifested in mock Peranakan traditional weddings, or the display of Peranakan cultural artefacts in state museums, is instead, as Rudolph suggests, the surest signs of the culture’s demise (Rudolph 1998: 414). It is in this context that patrons of the Peranakan restaurant long for the ‘rich heritage of the bygone era’ (as advertised), an era in which the cuisine, as well as everyday objects of material culture, did not have to be ‘museumified’ in a restaurant’s staged environment as sources of significance or as cultural symbols. Not only can food ‘bear the vast structure of recollection’ (Proust 1981: 47), for a group whose identity centres around it, it can also hold the key to memory in a situation where patrons juxtapose aspects of the past, recollected from food and eating, to aspects of their present lives felt to be deficient. More specifically, food commodified in a historically themed setting can be especially evocative of memories in contemporary Singapore because Singaporeans are particularly nostalgic about home-cooked food. This was revealed in a survey, wherein the majority of people lamented that mothers today have lost the art of preparing home-cooked meals that their own mothers easily mastered (The Straits Times, 14 November 2000).12 The nostalgia for home-cooked food underlies a longing

A taste of the past 123 for roots, close-knit family ties and a more relaxed and simple lifestyle, which Singaporeans today feel increasingly alienated from. It is this nostalgic longing that the historically themed restaurants capitalise on. For example, the Peranakan restaurant attempts to evoke memories of a time when the kitchen was the centre of gravity of the household through the picture of a family matriarch surrounded by traditional kitchenware and Peranakan dishes at its entrance (Lee 1998: 105). The Soup Restaurant clearly appropriates the language of domestic idyll to evoke nostalgia. The sang yu (snakehead fish) is described as a ‘Chinatown family dish’, the beggar’s bowl tofu as ‘a taste of the simple life (italics my own) of Chinatown’, and the ah por (grandmother) vegetables as ‘grandmother’s favourite’. Wong Ah Yoke was able to access the past through the ‘home-cooked’ food of the restaurant precisely, because such foods evoke, in him, many cherished memories of his home and family, memories he feels are increasingly out of grasp.13 He said, ‘the food does taste like my mother’s cooking . . . home-cooked food appeals to me more . . . a kind of comfort . . . especially since I now live on my own, and I don’t know how to cook these dishes . . .’. Wong feels a sense of ‘comfort’ in the act of reliving memories of eating home-cooked food, although, as he remarks, ‘chicken was a luxury . . . we were not a rich family, we didn’t have many things . . .’ Although life in the past offered little material comfort or culinary delights, it becomes memorable in imagination because he associated it with kinship. In other words, nostalgia for the familial connotations of home-cooked food enabled Wong to transform the aspects of the past, yearned for, into fond recollections by sifting these aspects from the actual historical circumstances from which they emerge (Chua 1995: 222–241). Likewise, The Blue Ginger Restaurant and My Mum’s Cuisine also appropriate the imagery of the mother/family to sell what is ostensibly traditional home-cooked food. Therefore, the historically-themed restaurant constitutes a setting in which memory and identity interact, enabling the patron to consume the evoked past. Each patron creates his/her own trajectory through which he/she consumes the past, a trajectory which is determined by his/her social identity. As shown, memories evoked in the dining experience are essentially collective, for it is the social groups which determine what is memorable and how it will be remembered (Halbwachs 1992: 37–40). Food evokes the past in ways unique to its material essence, especially when a cuisine and eating are integral to a particular group’s ability to articulate memories. It is the desire to enact and sustain individual and social memory in both symbolic and bodily forms that enables the patron to experience the past through the mechanism of nostalgia in the historically themed restaurant.

Concluding considerations The quest for the past pursued in staged environments such as historically themed restaurants is symptomatic of the disappearance of what French historian Nora (1996: 1) calls milieux de mémoire, or ‘environments of memory’: settings

124 Wong Hong Suen in which memory manifests itself spontaneously as lived history and the past is accessed directly as part of everyday experience through the performance of traditions and rituals. The historically themed restaurant whereby the past is evoked in the dining experience, can be conceptualised as one such site of memory. The creation of such sites of memory, which re-presents and commodifies history as a reaction to the loss of real environments of memory, needs to be understood in a socio-historical context. After nationhood was thrust upon Singapore in the 1965, political and economic survival became the national sentiment in the late 1960s and 1970s. The imperatives of nation-building and national survival relegated the construction of a national history to the lower levels of priority and compelled Singaporeans to ‘examine the present, think of the future, and forget the past’ (Ong Pang Boon, quoted in Lau 1992: 50). The distinct memories of ethnic groups were also purposefully erased as the state considered them to be a potential battleground for inter-ethnic conflicts. Vestiges of the ethnic and colonial past were systematically destroyed during the dramatic urban renewal of the post-independence years. Massive demolition of much of the colonial city centre, laid out by the colonial government, led to the loss of environments of memory, and correspondingly, a kind of social amnesia. The demolition of the physical environment wipes out a significant chapter of the history of a place; even if it does not entirely erase it from local memory, it reduces its possibility to be remembered because memory can no longer be spontaneously re-enacted in the place itself. However, from the mid-1980s, the reclamation of Singapore’s past became more pressing as the state recognised that a sense of shared memories was essential for a sense of nationhood. S. Rajaratnam, then Second Deputy Prime Minister, expressed this recognition clearly in 1984 when he said ‘a nation must have a memory, to give it a sense of cohesion, continuity and identity’ (The Straits Times, 10 August 1996). In the context of the policy of multiculturalism, distinct ethnic histories were no longer seen as a source of potential tension, and official memories began to be constructed along ethnic lines.14 In the absence of a long history, the state found that it could create deeper roots by linking the history of Singapore to that of its diverse ethnic groups.15 It is in this context that the yearning to express memories previously marginalised, or excluded in the official historical discourse, such as those of sub-ethnic groups like the Cantonese and Peranakan becomes stronger. Food, essential to the identity of these ethnic groups, has become one of the strongest ways in which they articulate their memories. The case studies of historically themed restaurants presented in this chapter are a clear manifestation of the gradual creation of these memories. Accordingly, official tourism promotion reinforces the state’s construction of ethnic memories. As globalisation increasingly homogenises cultures and landscapes all over the world, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) commodifies this conflation between ethnic food and memory as exotica for tourist consumption (Peleggi 1996: 445). The motifs that are used to evoke the past in the historically-themed restaurants are reminiscent of those articulated in the STB’s promotional narratives, motifs that can also be located in the official historical

A taste of the past 125 discourse of Singapore. For example, the ‘Chinatown Heritage Cuisine’ that The Soup Restaurant markets through its nostalgic harking back to street food, coincides with the STB’s reintroduction of road-side food stalls in what is known as a ‘Food Street’ in Chinatown in 2001, about two decades after the Urban Redevelopment Authority ordered the stalls to be relocated to food centres because of public health concerns. Likewise, the House of Peranakan Cuisine’s advertisement of its ‘authentic and traditional Straits Chinese cuisine’ ties in with the STB’s promotion of Peranakan food as ‘the closest Singapore has to an indigenous cuisine’. (STB 2001: 84) This is clearly seen in an STB advertisement, in which Singapore is advertised as a place where ‘the past comes to life over a cup of thousand fragrance (of Peranakan) tea’. Singapore promises its foreign guests the ‘indigenous experience’ of having tea in a traditional Peranakan shophouse, complete with traditional Peranakan porcelain tableware and a Nonya lady clad in the traditional sarong kebaya. In fact, the STB’s theme for the 2004 Singapore Food Festival was heritage food and featured ‘the four exotic races Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian which makes up Singapore. . . a magnificent multi-racial showcase of Singapore’s diverse local food’.16 A booklet for tourists, featuring ten iconic dishes of Singapore, was published, complete with write-ups of the historical origins of each dish. The historically themed restaurant as a form of articulation of memory is especially resonant in Singapore where food is an icon. For a sense of a shared past to resonate in a community, both shared memories of events and things which bear significance for the entire population are needed, as well as access to the forms that enable these memories to be continually represented and articulated. In no other place are these two elements more clearly embodied in Singapore than in food and the overall experience of dining. The historically-themed restaurant as a site of memory that triggers collective acts of remembrance thus allows the past to be recalled in a more emotional and spontaneous fashion compared to the avowedly objective, detached stance of historical writing (Peleggi 2002: 4). In fact, history represented in this manner is made more imaginable, knowable and, ultimately, more accessible. As the struggle to articulate memories that have been marginalised or left out in official historical discourse persists, it remains to be seen how food will continue to be woven into these memories.

Notes 1 The definition of social memory is taken from this source. 2 Official historical narratives include school textbooks, museum exhibitions, publications of the National Heritage Board and promotional narratives of the STB such as its advertisements and the Singapore Official Guide. 3 The restaurants’ methods of preparation were compared to historical and contemporary methods as documented in various publications on Singapore cuisine including recipe books and journal articles (see also Handy 1974; Leong 1991; Hutton 1994; Tan 1996; Lee 1999; Tan 2004). 4 Interview with Rosy Seah, 5 February 2001. 5 Interview with Mok Yip Peng, 10 February 2001. 6 In 1982, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) ordered all vendors of makeshift


7 8 9



12 13 14

15 16

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food stalls in Chinatown to shift their operations to hawker centres. This decision caused a great deal of unhappiness among many who saw the food stalls as part of their lifestyle, including Mok, who feels that this was ‘a big mistake’. Interview with Lee Kip Lee, 5 February 2001. He is the president of the Peranakan Association of Singapore. Interview with Peter Wee, 15 February 2001. He is the vice-president of the Peranakan Association and owns a Peranakan antique shophouse. The first question in the questionnaire to the patrons of the House of Peranakan Cuisine asks them to identify if they are Peranakan. All the Peranakan patrons could get a sense of the past evoked (Qn 4), and all were helped by memories they had of the past (Qn 6). In contrast, among the non-Peranakans who could recognise that the restaurant tries to create a past setting (Qn 3), none felt that their dining experience enabled them to get a sense of this past (Qn 4). Halbwachs’s work on collective memory is critical because he displaces memory from the individual or subjective realm, the domain of psychologists, to the social or collective realm, paving the way for historians like Nora to adopt memory as a framework for the writing of cultural history. I examined the oral interviews of the Peranakan community in the Communities of Singapore. The common sentiments are that the Peranakan identity is on the road to extinction. The most common explanations offered for this were that traditional ancestral marriage or funeral practices are no longer practised or known and that the Peranakan cuisine has become greatly simplified. The most common reasons offered for this phenomenon are the lack of time because of work, fewer occasions for family meals and the convenience of dining out or buying packaged ingredients instead of preparing them. Interview with Wong Ah Yoke, 22 January 2001. In the ‘clean-up’ of Chinatown during the 1970s, entire streets of shophouses and slums were bulldozed to make way for public housing. Yet, in the 1980s, in recognition that buildings can function as historic signposts that link the present to past, Chinatown was gazetted as a conservation area in 1989 and represented as one of the distinct ethnic enclaves of Singapore. More recently, the history of Singapore was linked to that of the ancient civilizations of China, India and Southeast Asia. The concrete manifestation of this is the Asian Civilisations Museum opened in April 1997. From the 2004 Singapore Food Festival official website: (accessed on 17 August 2004).

References Arnold, J., Kate, D. and Ditchfield, S. (eds) (1998) History and Heritage: Consuming the Past in Contemporary Culture, Shaftesbury, UK: Donhead Publishing Ltd. Appadurai, A. (1996) Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalisation, Minneapolis, MN and London: University of Minnesota Press. —— (1998) ‘How to make a national cuisine: cookbooks in contemporary India’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 30 (1): 3–24. Bagnall, G. (1996) ‘Consuming the past’, in K. Hetherington and A. Warde (eds) Consumption Matters: The Production and Experience of Consumption, Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, pp. 227–247. Bann, S. (1990) The Inventions of History: Essays on the Representation of the Past, New York: Manchester University Press. Baudrillard, J. (1983) Simulations, trans. P. Foss, P. Patton and P. Beitchman, New York: Semiotext(e), Inc.

A taste of the past 127 Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. R. Nice, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Chase, M. and Shaw, C. (1989) ‘The dimensions of nostalgia’, in M. Chase and C. Shaw (eds) Imagined Past: History and Nostalgia, New York: Manchester University Press, pp. 1–17. Chua, B.H. (1995) ‘That imagined space: nostalgia for the Kampung in Singapore’, in B. Yeoh, and L. Kong (eds) Portraits of Places: History, Community and Identity in Singapore, Singapore: Times Editions, pp. 222–241. Chua, B.H. and Rajah, A. (2001) ‘Hybridity, ethnicity and food in Singapore’, in D.Y.H. Wu and C.B. Tan (eds) Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia, Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press. Douglas, M. (1974) ‘Deciphering a Meal’, in C. Geertz (ed.) Myth, Symbol and Culture, New York: W.W. Norton and Co., pp. 36–54. Fentress, J. and Wickham, C. (1992) Social Memory (New Perspective on the Past), Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers. Gills, J.R. (ed.) (1994) Commemorations: The Politics of a National Identity, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Hage, G. (1998) White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multiracial Society, Sydney: Plute Press. Halbwachs, M. (1992) On Collective Memory, trans. L.A. Coser, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. Handy, E. (1974) My Favourite Recipes, Singapore: MPH Publications. Hewison, R. (1987) The Heritage Industry: Britain in a Climate of Decline (A Methuen paperback), London: Methuen. Horne, D. (1984) The Great Museum: The Re-presentation of History, London: Pluto Press. Hutton, W. (ed.) (1994) The Food of Singapore, Hong Kong: Periplus Editions. Koh, F. (2003) ‘Exhibiting history: a study on the Singapore History Museum’, unpublished thesis, Singapore: Department of History, National University of Singapore. Lau, A. (1992) ‘The national past and the writing of the history of Singapore’, in K.C. Ban, A. Pakir and C.K. Tong (eds) Imagining Singapore, Singapore: Times Academic Press, pp. 46–65. Lee, C.K. (1999) Mrs Lee’s Cookbook (Reprint), S.Y.P. Lee (ed.), Singapore: Eurasia Press. Lee, P. (1998) Rumah Baba – Life in a Peranakan House, Singapore: National Heritage Board, Singapore History Museum. Leong, Y.S (1991) The Best of Singapore Cooking (Reprint), Singapore: Times Books International. Lowenthal, D. (1985) The Past is a Foreign Country, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. —— (1997) The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History, London: Viking. National Heritage Board (1998), Communities of Singapore Part I: A Catalogue of Oral History Interviews, Singapore: Oral History Department, National Heritage Board. Nora, P. (1996) Realms of Memory, vol. 1. A. Goldhammer trans. Kritzman, L. (ed.) New York: Columbia University Press. Peleggi, M. (1996) ‘National heritage and global tourism in Thailand’, Annals of Tourism Research, 23 (2): 432–448. —— (2002) The Politics of Ruins and the Business of Nostalgia, Bangkok: White Lotus Press.


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Proust, M. (1981) A Remembrance of Things Past, vol. 1, trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff and T. Kilmartin, London: Chatto and Windus. Rajah, A. (1999) ‘Making and managing tradition in Singapore: the National Day parade’, in K.W. Kwok, C.G. Kwa, L. Kong and B. Yeoh (eds) Our Place in Time: Exploring Heritage and Memory in Singapore, Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society Rudolph, J. (1998) Reconstructing Identities: A Social History of the Babas in Singapore, Singapore: Ashgate. Singapore Tourism Board (2001) Singapore Official Guide, Singapore: Singapore Tourism Board. Sun, W. (2002) Leaving China: Media, Migration, and Transnational Imagination, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. Tan, S. (2004) Singapore Heritage Food: Yesterday’s Recipes for Today’s Cooks, Singapore: Landmark Books. Tan, T. (1996) Nonya Cooking: The Easy Way, Singapore: Times Book International. The Straits Times (various articles). Yeoh, B.S.A. and Kong, L. (eds) (1995) Portraits of Places: History, Community and Identity in Singapore, Singapore: Times Editions. Yeow, J. (1999) ‘Peranakan cuisine as a projection of the Peranakan identity’, unpublished thesis, Singapore: History Department, National University of Singapore.


Indigenous food and foodways Mapping the production of Ainu food in Tokyo Mark K. Watson

James Clifford remarks that tribal groups ‘have never been simply “local”: they have always been rooted and routed in particular landscapes, regional and interregional networks’ (Clifford 1994: 309–310). In this chapter, I take up the tension between fixity and movement raised by Clifford to explore the spatial politics of indigenous identity as realized through approaches to indigenous food. I do so, in order to focus on the production of Ainu food in Tokyo and how indigenous Ainu resident in the capital region are engaged in a new politics of place energized by and through lived relationships that extend and ‘stretch’ beyond the traditional northern homeland of Hokkaido. My concern with Ainu food aims to provide a preliminary understanding of local Ainu identity in the city within the context of broader spatial (geography) and temporal (memory) scales. Such an approach, I wish to point out, represents a new departure for Ainu research in two ways. First of all, it addresses Tokyo as a legitimate site of Ainu sociality. The notion of a mainland city as a ‘home’ for Ainu – the indigenous people ‘in but not of Japan’ as Refsing (2003) puts it – unsettles normalized assumptions of Ainu society as an anachronism located at the periphery of both national Japanese territory and consciousness.1 The dominant image of modern day Ainu as vestiges of a ‘dying race’ (Siddle 1996) resident solely on the northern island of Hokkaido (if, indeed, at all) fails to take into consideration the actual human geographies that intersect modern Ainu society. Historians have largely overlooked the fact that with the onset of the era of high economic growth during the 1950s, an increasing number of Ainu started to migrate to urban centres both in Hokkaido and on the mainland. They did so in search of work, education and a new life away from the difficult social and economic conditions that beleaguered many rural Ainu households during the post-war era. By 1988, a Tokyo metropolitan government sponsored survey calculated an Ainu population of 2,699 living in the capital region; a figure estimated today to be around 5,000 or approximately 17 per cent of the official Ainu population. In consideration of this urban demographic, it is of critical importance that academic and public interest in Ainu issues extends beyond the traditional geography of rural Hokkaido to address the situation of Ainu life in metropolitan areas on the mainland (Watson, forthcoming). A second way in which the production of Ainu food in Tokyo represents a


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new departure for Ainu research is the supposition that migration to the capital region does not necessarily entail assimilation into majority society. In line with other studies of migration detailing the extension not disappearance of indigenous society in the world’s cities (Wilson and Peters 2005), a significant number of Ainu migrants have maintained their identities and values of cultural reproduction in Tokyo. Indeed, in some respects, the city has enhanced their sense of ethnic belonging although associated expressions (both cultural and personal) may well have changed. What has emerged as a result of this translocal geography is a structure of interdependency; in other words, for urban dwellers, Hokkaido has become increasingly important as an ancestral and familial ‘home’ in the symbolic negotiation of an urban Ainu identity, whereas for the rural homeland the material flow of goods and services derived from social relations in Tokyo has become of significance. As I demonstrate in this chapter, one way of mapping the contours of this kind of diasporic logic is through the articulation of cultural resources, an example being traditional food. I divide this chapter into two parts. First, I concentrate on the relationship between food and indigenous identity. I highlight how the employment of localizing strategies – system, village, place – typified by the current campaign called ‘Right to Food for Indigenous Peoples’ ties ‘native/aboriginal’ identity into a modernist geography of their lifeways. This ‘introverted’ approach to place, I contend, regionalizes indigenous life and fails to adequately address the relational complexity of indigenous localities being opened up by urban networks. In the second part of the chapter, I suggest that a stronger focus on ‘foodways’ as opposed to ‘food systems’ can respect the unique relationship indigenous people have with their communities while recognizing the historical conditions of social change that have altered the indigenous experience. In applying this perspective to the situation of Ainu in Tokyo and in particular the production of food at an Ainu restaurant called the Rera Cise (meaning ‘House of Wind’ in the Ainu language, established by Ainu in the capital in 1994), I highlight the critical role food plays in structuring Ainu interrelationships across Japan and how such analysis can refigure our understanding of place as socially not geographically constituted.

Traditional food systems: a modernist geography of indigenous identity Objects of singular economic, cultural or symbolic significance often come to stand for particular places or communities, in part because they are thought to convey or embody some kind of intrinsic value. Food frequently assumes such a responsibility because of its social and cultural capacity to provide ‘insight into the human condition’ (Counihan 1999: 24). Numerous studies have examined the employment of food in the construction of cultural identities, especially within indigenous contexts. For indigenous peoples, food often represents historical relations with the local environment and the range of cultural practices that sustain communal lifeworlds. It therefore adopts a key social function in

Indigenous food and foodways 131 differentiating ‘self’ from ‘other’, ‘us’ from ‘them’. As such, it also reaffirms an understanding of indigenous life as belonging to a particular place, thereby highlighting the central role of food in the representation of indigenous identity as a localized dynamic. In following Hobart’s (1995: 51) position that all representations of space and place are imagined constructions of knowledge, the question to ask is: What are the effects of these ‘introverted’ imaginings and who produces them? (cf. Castree 2004: 143). The answer to this will generate two imaginative geographies of indigenous life – one local (place-bound), the other relational (place-based). I attend first to the local or place-bound formulation that constitutes the most conventional representation of indigenous identity, but does not, I argue, preclude alternative ways of mapping its production. Indigenous food: place-bound geography ‘Indigenous food’ has emerged in the last seven years as the focus of an indigenous ‘Right to Food’ movement established during the late 1990s and coordinated today by the International Indian Treaty Council (hereafter IITC) in San Francisco.2 The radical feature of this campaign has been its conviction to rethink human relations with food from the standpoint of indigenous existence.3 The conception of food as proposed by the campaign is directly linked to the traditional environments of indigenous peoples – lands, lakes, rivers, mountains. In these localities, we are told, profound relationships exist between indigenous peoples and the animals and plants that are ‘at the heart of traditional social and economic/trade structures and systems’ (IITC 2004b). Contrary to the division between culture and nature as mutually exclusive categories in western thought, in indigenous contexts identity is constituted in the ‘overlapping and interacting dimensions’ between life and the immediate environment (Memmott and Long 2002: 43). What this points to is the conception of indigenous food as fulfilling a range of interrelated cultural functions within an enclosed ‘system’. In other words, beyond a material means of sustenance, what indigenous food actually signifies is the complex range of social and cultural relations that sustain ‘traditional’ identity as lived and realized through localized relationships with the land. This inward, self-referential frame of indigenous sociality informs the use by the movement of the term ‘traditional food systems’ to classify indigenous relationships with food (re: IITC 2004b). According to Kuhnlein and Receveur (1996: 418), the concept refers to ‘all food within [indigenous cultures] available from local natural resources and culturally accepted. It also includes the sociocultural meanings, acquisition/processing techniques, use, composition, and nutritional consequences for the people using the food’. What presupposes this systems-based approach is a discrete view of place (what Massey (1999: 36) describes as ‘Newtonian’), bounded by territorial and social limits that establish the parameters of collective identity. Due to the exclusivist representation of place that this model is predicated on, it follows that any breakage to the ‘system’ is more often than not ‘non-directed’, i.e. the consequence of events


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beyond communal control that directly effects upon the identity and embodied experience of life within the community. In effect, this states any external attack on an indigenous cultural resource is tantamount to an attack on (and formal rejection of) indigenous identity (Memmott and Long 2002: 52).4 Historically, the representation of indigenous places as essentially bounded, territorial domains provided the justification for Western colonialists to dominate and exploit those places. For the indigenous food movement, however, this portrayal of place underpins their strategy to ‘command’ place and enhance their rights to reclamation of lands from (colonial) outsiders (cf. Castree 2004: 143, 160). Although this essentialist representation of life ‘rooted in place’ has become widely recognized as the principal point of departure in discussion of indigenous life, one consequence of its reasoning means that displacement away from place is necessarily an experience of loss and irrevocable change. For an ever-increasing number of urban resident indigenous peoples faced with the pressures of city life, the relations of power implicit in place-bound representations of identity promote exclusion and segregation. Without denying the centrality of land for indigenous societies, I contend that we need to move towards a more open and inclusive sense of community that can emanate from an alternative conceptualization of place. Towards a ‘Progressive Politics of Place’ The idea of place, as an unchanging, eternal form, belies the fact that in the contemporary world ‘place’ is defined by processes that breach fixed, static divisions between inside/outside. This assertion, primarily derived from the relational theorization of Massey (1994; 2004), has two facets. First, it suggests that places are ‘extroverted’ in the sense that the identity of place is constituted in and by a range of connections between different places. This means that place should not be counterposed against space as is commonly assumed. Following Searles’ (2002) work on food and Inuit identity, ‘a place’ and identities generated from it are ‘best thought of as a particular part of, a particular moment in, the global network of . . . social relations’ (Massey 1994: 115). However, this is not to dismiss the specificity and uniqueness of places. Rather, it is to suggest that those special characteristics are ‘the particularity of the social relations that intersect at that location’ (Massey 1994: 117); hence, place-based, identity ‘mutually arising’ as Jackson intimates (Jackson 1998: 7).5 Second, from this perspective that place is not intrinsic to human life but the product of social interrelations between people and between people and objects that energize and give meaning to a particular geographical location, it is a reality of the contemporary world that a certain portion of those relations will ‘stretch’ beyond the limits of that place (Massey 1994: 115). The inherent link that these relations have to place, promises to open up ‘a politics of place which does not deprive of meaning those lines of connections, relations and practices, that construct place [and] also go beyond it’ (Massey 2004: 9). From this standpoint, I seek to draw attention to the progressive character of

Indigenous food and foodways 133 urban indigenous social relations centred in the city and how they serve to establish negotiated sites of indigenous culture, society and politics there. In doing this, one necessarily touches on the lived connectivity between the ‘city’ and ‘home’ – through social networks of support or material channels of financial assistance for example – that affect the constitution of both ‘places’ at multiple levels.6 This interconnectedness does not denaturalize native entitlement to land at ‘home’. Instead, it suggests that where the demographics of indigenous societies are changing, so are forms of indigenous sociality and along with them the indigenous geographies of place. In order to involve urban indigenous peoples in any discussion it is necessary to rework the enduring view of place as an ontological category that confines and incarcerates ‘natives’ to distinct geographical areas (Appadurai 1988) and adopt a relational mode of address in our analyses.

Indigenous foodways: alternative geographies of indigenous identity It is widely assumed that a decline in traditional food practices provides an accurate index of indigenous assimilation into majority society in metropolitan areas. Due to the geographic and social distance from territories, it is generally thought that people have ‘little opportunity to maintain traditional knowledge of available resources and technologies for processing and use’, supposing the conclusion that indigenes ‘will quickly adapt to new food patterns and will likely not transfer traditional food knowledge to the next generation’ (Kuhnlein and Receveur 1996: 434). For urban resident indigenous peoples, the image of traditional food as embedded within a closed, functionalist system denotes a conceptual representation of identity and place based upon primordial ideas of authenticity and tradition that are ever-increasingly distanced from lived realities (cf. Jackson 1998: 131). To introduce into our way of thinking about food an awareness of ‘routes’ in the existential narratives of urban indigenous peoples, we can draw attention to the intersubjective web of relations in which people are enmeshed. This move will allow us to see how food, as a symbol of cultural life, informs a progressive experience of place by ‘stretching’ beyond the boundaries of traditional food systems continuing to actuate meaning, tradition and social change in translocal settings. This, I suggest, reconceptualizes ‘food systems’ as ‘foodways’. Counihan refers to ‘foodways’ as the ‘behaviors and beliefs surrounding the production, distribution, and consumption of food’ (Counihan 1999: 6). On developing this definition, ‘foodways’, as I use it here, addresses food as embedded in the dynamic and mutable processes of indigenous (re: Ainu) identity that are constituted in and through engagement with the world. Wherever and whenever traditional food may be produced, distributed or consumed it continues to fortify identity construction. This is indicative of its power to inform ‘the organization of society on both the broadest and most intimate levels’ (Counihan 1999: 6). When addressing the social organization of indigenous peoples in urban areas, food is one of a number of primary cultural resources that can


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illuminate both the extension of interrelationships between ‘home’ and ‘city’ and the focused construction of place in urban environments. In doing this, food underlines how the ‘behaviours and beliefs’ surrounding food practices are processes of identity and thus fluid and subject to patterns of historical and social change. In the following case study of Ainu in Tokyo, attention to foodways demonstrates how place is made in an on-going process of production by revealing the means through which people gather, interact and remember together, creating a place for themselves in metropolitan areas.

The Rera Cise and the articulation of Ainu foodways in Japan’s capital An ethnographic frame S-san was one of the last to take his seat beside the rectangular hearth that had been adorned with the appropriate ceremonial articles for the occasion. Dressed in a traditional kaparimap (Ainu kimono) he sat flanked by two other Ainu to the north side of the hearth with four others seated opposite. As the principal participant in a kamuy-nomi (‘prayer to the deities’) that he had chosen that afternoon to dedicate to salmon (referred to as kamuy cep in the Ainu language meaning ‘divine fish’ or sipe ‘true food’), he would be leading the prayers. Just hours before, the space – approximately eight tatami mats in size – on the second floor of the Rera Cise restaurant had accommodated six tables at which customers had been seated for the lunch menu. Now, as early evening approached, about twenty paying customers sat six to seven deep at one end of the hearth in eager anticipation of the ukoitak (‘talk together’) event – one of several that the restaurant put on – the first part of which was to be the kamuycep-nomi. The noise of rush-hour traffic registered only a feint hum in this part of Nakano ward. An air of mutual reverence fell about the room as the audience eagerly anticipated the end to last minute preparations around the ceremonial hearth. Such preoccupation with the hearth held particular cultural relevance. Traditionally, it had been the symbolic centre not only of the Ainu cise (a traditional abode or house) but of Ainu life itself. For this reason it was respectfully regarded as ape-fuchi-kamuy (‘deity of fire’). It was the most revered of all Ainu deities as Ainu believed it served as the mediator between them and the world of kamuy (‘deities’). As such, ape-fuchi-kamuy was always offered the first prayer at every ritual and the first to be given offerings of rice wine and food. When the Rera Cise restaurant had first opened in a rented basement suite opposite Waseda University in May 1994, the existence of strict tenant codes prohibited the installation of a permanent fireplace. This had stirred within Ainu a deepseated ambition to design and build their own fully functional cise as a place and home for ape-fuchi-kamuy. In December 2000, this goal was finally realized when the restaurant moved to its present narrow, three-storey location in Nakano – a fifteen minute ride west on the JR Chuo express line from Tokyo train

Indigenous food and foodways 135 station. A traditional ceremony for the building of a new cise (Cise Konnomi) had been conducted on the site prior to construction earlier that year and, once built, Ainu ensured that cosmological design featured throughout. Along with the installation of a ceremonial hearth and rorunpuyar or ‘sacred window’ on the second floor, shaved fetishes were placed in all corners to befriend resident deities; to the left of the hearth – behind S-san as he sat in preparation for the ceremony – a shelf for displaying handmade cultural objects was installed resembling the platform in a traditional cise called iyoykir where valuable family items had been kept (Ainu Minzoku Hakubutsukan 1994: 18). S-san paused to address the expectant silence then began the ceremony. He opened with an initial address in Ainu to the hearth and to ape-fuchi-kamuy. Amidst his words, a gasp of autumn air stirred the hearth’s smoky haze from the direction of the east-looking sacred window that faced the viewing public and which still framed the hearth with dusk light; a portent for the imminent arrival and departure of participating deities. From around the hearth, Ainu started to make the first of several rounds of offerings to ape-fuchi-kamuy with a traditional starch-based alcohol made for ceremonial purposes on the premises, as well as a piece of flesh from a fresh salmon from Hokkaido that had been respectfully placed at the eastern end of the hearth. As an integral part of the event for the fee-paying customers, the salmon was to be later grilled by an Ainu chef in the kitchen downstairs and served to all assembled along with ohau (a traditional broth combining vegetables, meat and fish), a pumpkin-based dumpling and a Hokkaido beer or hascappu jyusu (woodbine juice). In between the prayers, hand-carved bowls containing the ceremonial beverage were passed among the audience and returned to the Ainu participants. The ceremony continued; all eyes focused on the crackling fire and all ears trained to the words and offerings imparted from those seated around it. S-san used the ceremony that day as an opportunity to thank the salmon for giving itself up to be eaten. After the ceremony had finished, he remained seated talking for over an hour on how salmon served as a motif of his own childhood that he further developed into a discussion of other memories of local Ainu life at the time.7 While everyone was served the prearranged menu (including the ceremonial salmon), S-san spoke of his upbringing in a small Ainu village in Hokkaido and how he had grown up like many other Ainu unaware of his ethnicity. He moved on from talking about his childhood to his late teenage years. He described how he had moved back and forth between Hokkaido and Tokyo as a seasonal labourer many times during the 1950s and 1960s before he finally joined an Ainu worker’s collective and moved permanently to the capital region. A new Ainu place Historically, the Rera Cise is one of only a few Ainu restaurants to have existed at all and can probably be regarded as the most successful Ainu culinary enterprise anywhere in Japan. The ukoitak or ‘talk together’ event described above is but one of several kinds of gatherings including cultural workshops, performances and


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seminars put on by the Rera Cise on a regular basis. While acting as a showcase for the restaurant’s cuisine and traditional culture, it encapsulates two of the main principles underlying the restaurant’s establishment: first of all, to be an Ainu home (a cise) from which Ainu culture can travel as freely as the wind (rera) to broaden understanding and consciousness about Ainu. Second, for it to be a ‘place’ of gathering, safety and familiarity for Ainu, and to a certain degree for all people, for whom the wind is a metaphor of liberation from hardship and discrimination (Rera no Kai 1997). That it is ‘traditional food’ which serves as the foundational support and inspiration for the restaurant’s activities is no surprise bearing in mind one Ainu elder’s description of Ainu life as once having been ‘equivalent to eating’ (Keira 1995: 16). This is reference to the fact that prior to the colonization of northern Ainu lands by mainland Japanese, food and the activities surrounding its procurement, preparation and consumption had defined the seasonality of Ainu life and played an integral role in Ainu social organization. Traditional gender roles, for example, were largely determined by hunter-gathering practices. During winter, men would hunt bear, deer, seals and other game such as rabbit and fox dependent upon the location of their village’s hunting territory. As the winter snows melted, women would move up into the mountains to pick wild plants. In the summer, men would fish trout and then salmon in the autumn. Food would also inform the traditional cosmology of Ainu society. Indicative of S-san’s sentiment above, Ainu believed that humans lived in this world in balanced reciprocity with kamuy – deities resident in all non-human objects – which presented Ainu with a profound responsibility to express gratitude to them and ensure their own survival by periodically sending kamuy back to the heavenly realm. Two of the most important ‘sending-back’ rituals were performed for kamuy upon whom Ainu relied both spiritually and physically: the bear and salmon. In terms of the restaurant and its modern urban context, however, the Ainu elder’s dictum equating Ainu life with eating is reworked. While it retains some of its ‘traditional’ significance its relevance now is as a metaphor of social, cultural and political sustenance for an urban Ainu movement. For the Cise, cultural continuity refers to its production of ‘traditional foods’. By ‘traditional’ it is meant that the choice of ingredients used by the restaurant represents the basic range of meats, plants and vegetables historically available to Ainu in northern Japan. These predictably include hunted game and fish such as deer and salmon, vegetables like potato and pumpkin and wild plants like kitopiro – a kind of wild garlic grass, fuki (lagwort), yomogi (wormwood), hascappu (woodbine), kuri (chestnuts) and ubayuri or turep – a lily root from which Ainu derive starch and make a dumpling called onturep (see Keira 1995: 16; Ainu Minzoku Hakubutsukan 1994: 8). Whereas some of these ingredients are combined to produce typical earthy Ainu dishes such as ohau (the traditional broth mentioned previously), muninimo (fried potato starch), shito (starch-based dumpling) and mefun (ground up salmon including the bones), more modern stylized versions along an Ainu theme – ‘traditional Ainu food from recipes arranged in a modern way’ as the restaurant menu puts it – are also served such as kitopiro-don (a hybrid

Indigenous food and foodways 137 Ainu–Japanese dish incorporating kitopiro with rice), deer sashimi, baked salmon and in-house creations like chipoimo (mashed potato with salmon eggs). The qualification of the food as ‘traditional’, however, i.e. from ingredients and recipes native to Hokkaido and Ainu culture, may well satisfy the basic proviso for most customers who visit the restaurant but, in reality, the separation of food from a functionalist social system that collapsed mostly under the weight of Japanese colonial development rids such ‘traditional’ designation of much of its meaning. This is not to deny the claims of Ainu at the restaurant to their own culture or traditions of course, but to highlight the restaurant’s articulation of food as a symbolic marker in the modern construction of an urban Ainu identity. This point is clarified by discussion of the restaurant’s identity as a ‘home’. ‘Home’ is an influential metaphor that the restaurant constructs in two ways. First, as a ‘domestic’, ‘familial’ space marketing ‘traditional food’ as an ethnic commodity – an economic prerogative that underwrites the business; and second, as a modern Ainu cise and traditional ‘home’(-place) of food, family and culture that acts as a focused site of Ainu social relations. As characterized by S-san’s ceremony – itself a marketing endeavour of the restaurant – the production of traditional food enables Ainu in the city to engage with their stories, culture and lived experiences. In both ways, the concept of the restaurant as a ‘home’ draws attention to itself as a modern, urban, progressive place. In doing so, it accentuates the role of Ainu foodways; a matter to which I shall now turn. Ainu foodways and the place-based geographies of the Cise If, as I contend following a relational perspective, that food is the catalyst for human relations at the restaurant which identify and transform it into a modern functional place, a cise, a ‘home’, then the question remains as to how food is articulated in the identities of people there. A spatial scale is perhaps the most obvious to begin with. Typified by the biography of the food, culinary production at the restaurant draws particular attention to the restaurant’s material and symbolic routes of exchange with Hokkaido and the entanglement of Ainu and Japanese actors in them. A duality is at play here. While ingredients brought down from Hokkaido represent economic commodities obtained by Ainu through commercial transactions with wholesale suppliers, the fact that many of those suppliers are themselves Ainu signifies how the ingredients also constitute objects of cultural capital tied into personal and extended networks of diasporic Ainu social relations. This highlights a second route of symbolic exchange. The mobility of the ingredients and the ‘stretching’ of associated social relations beyond the traditional homeland emphasize the extension of traditional practices into Tokyo. As many of the ingredients (especially plants like kitopiro and salmon) are strictly seasonal, Ainu techniques of preservation such as freezing and drying are used to keep enough stocks available for the calendar year. Other traditional aspects of food production such as the usage of most (if not all) of each ingredient in the preparation process (while following food safety codes of course) and the integral role of food and alcohol in ceremonial practice should


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also be noted. A spatial scale, therefore, underlines how food reconnects Ainu outside of their homeland to their culture and, at the same time, enables the construction of diasporic relations across geographic space. My characterization of this spatial dynamic here may seem more detached from the (inter-)personal dynamics associated with foodways than it actually is due to its brevity, but even foregoing ethnographic analysis of the actors caught up in the food’s biography – from ‘origin to plate’ as it were – it nevertheless demonstrates how relations with Hokkaido constitute part of the Cise’s identity. A second level of analysis at which food is articulated in the identities of Ainu at the restaurant however can neither be so brief nor uninvolved. The significance of memory and lived experience for foodways at the Cise is more of a personalized dynamic and one focused less on geography than on the local construction of place. To illustrate, let me return to S-san and the ethnographic frame above. S-san’s decision to structure his life narrative at the ukoitak event around childhood memories of salmon is a case in point of the intimate relationship between food and personal identity. His talk drew on two interrelated themes: (1) the role of memory (time) in the construction of Ainu culture and identity and (2) the broader significance of traditional foods in the lived experience of Ainu identity. The first theme of memory strikes at the heart of the restaurant’s rationale as a ‘home’. As I have already touched on, for older Ainu, who may remember traditional cise in Hokkaido from their childhood, the naming of the restaurant (‘House of Wind’) draws on their memories of the past and of family. At the same time, it also provides a new ‘home’ and welcoming notion of acceptance for newcomers. For younger Ainu, who may not share the memories of their elders, the restaurant provides an environment in which new attachments to food and thus new memories of their culture, identity and community can be made. Now, while the theme of personal and collective memory is essentially temporal it is important not to discount its spatial dimensions. S-san’s recollections of salmon during the event, for example, were drawn out in and through a social dialogue with others. The spatialized social context of memory at the Cise represents a critical dynamic of foodways in demonstrating how food enables people to engage with each other and the wider world. In fact, this dynamic was central to the restaurant’s founding. During the mid-1980s, female members of the Rera no Kai (‘Ainu Association of Wind’ – as the group came to be called in 1991) started to cook and bring Ainu food with them to share while discussing Ainu culture at their monthly meetings. As they gathered, ate and discussed, the women became increasingly drawn to the significance of the food that they had brought and its social importance for Ainu culture and their own lives. They discovered that their memories of food shared a wide range of commonalities based on experiences of growing up in Hokkaido between the 1930s and 1950s. At those group meetings, the social relations energized by and through the food created a meaningful space in which they could communicate. By talking about and sharing their memories of food and present-day experiences of it, they started to interpret the conditions of a similar antagonism between the past and present faced by current day Ainu on the mainland, an antagonism that the group

Indigenous food and foodways 139 concluded could be bridged through creating a place – a restaurant – for the increasing number of Ainu in the capital region. The second theme highlighted by S-san’s event was the role of traditional foods in lived experience. Although this maintains certain parallels with the topic of memory, it extends beyond recollections of the past to involve issues of identity. The innovative showcasing of oral history draws particular attention to the modern character of Ainu life in showing, on the one hand, how culture may continue to play an important role in an individual’s life but then, on the other, how (for the majority of) Ainu who may know nothing of their culture or ancestral way of life, stories about their own lives and experiences is all that many possess of their identity. In many respects, S-san’s ceremonial performance can be considered representative of both of these perspectives. For most of his own life, his search for employment as a manual labourer took priority over a cultural connection with his Ainu identity, however, that did not prevent him from identifying as Ainu. With salmon as his motif for the event, he articulated his identity in terms of his own lived experience and through stories that highlighted the importance of social categories of class, occupation, age and so on for understanding it. In drawing together both of these themes into indigenous foodways, the Cise is an intriguing site of articulation. It represents a compelling symbol of urban Ainu life as, like many Ainu, it is located in Tokyo yet it maintains an array of lived relationships with Hokkaido (and other places) that situates its identity in that tension between fixity and mobility. Especially in terms of the movement of ‘traditional foods’ like salmon, deer and wild plants down from Hokkaido, such routes not only mirror the physical relocation of Ainu migrants but also highlights the range of relationships that situate the Cise within a diasporic network. For many, it is exactly this tension which demarcates the Cise as a new site of indigenous belonging and social activism: at once embedded within emergent roots of Ainu identity in the city and yet also spread across a range of translocal attachments. Rera Cise: a dualistic model The restaurant’s transformation of traditional Ainu food and recipes into a publicly relevant and dynamic cuisine enables the production of new relations of power for Ainu. Yet, at the same time as creating a place for Ainu in the city, it is important to remember that the food also represents an economic prerogative that underlines the fundamental survival of the restaurant as a viable business. Indeed, during my field research I came to an early understanding that for the majority of ordinary (non-Ainu) customers ambivalent to (if not uninterested in) the wider historical context in which the restaurant exists, the experience of Ainu food was evocative of a touristic space of Hokkaido in Tokyo; food of another place and perhaps, even time (cf. Turgeon and Pastinelli 2002: 251). In order to make sense of what may seem like two divergent processes, one ‘extensive’ across space and another ‘introspective’ concerned with place, the


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work of Wendy Harcourt and Arturo Escobar (2002: 12–13) provides a useful conceptual framework with which to think. They use the term ‘meshworks’ to define the non-hierarchical structure of ‘resistance networks’ that form the basis to new social movements. ‘Meshworks’, they assert, exhibit two parallel dynamics: ‘localization’ and ‘interweaving’. The former defines the strategies that contribute to the local character of nodal points in a social network; the latter is what links those local sites together. To apply these terms here, ‘localization’ can refer to the internal dynamics of place-making constituted by the power of Ainu food to actuate memory, cultural practice as well as social and political action. ‘Interweaving’ on the other hand is what I see as linking the restaurant to Hokkaido, linkages that can be characterized by flows of social and cultural exchange but also by the economic movement of traditional foods as commodified products that are bought, prepared and eventually sold to the consumer. The duality of Ainu food at the restaurant is not without precedence in the indigenous world. Studies have shown a remarkable degree of adaptation in indigenous communities when faced with the pressures of production and trade stimulated by the globalized economy. What Kuhnlein and Receveur (1996: 426) term the ‘dual economic model’ refers to findings among indigenous populations in West Africa as well as Central and North America that, in spite of the pressures of capitalist relations of power and modernization theory, the traditional sphere of food production and consumption continues to operate alongside forms of wage and cash crop based agriculture. In a similar but uniquely localized and urban fashion, the Rera Cise is indicative of such a model of traditional food production: capable of producing traditional food for sale as part of a trade economy while maintaining, reviving and, in some cases, inventing the intimate connection to food and thus the necessary conditions through which Ainu are able to gather, share and communicate and create for themselves, on their own terms, an Ainu place.

Conclusion The conventional image of indigenous peoples as inherently tied to a rural, territorial domain assumes that dislocation from the homeland initiates the process of assimilation into wider society. However, to assume the demise of indigenous social groupings outside of traditional homelands chooses to ignore the histories of social, political and cultural organization among indigenous peoples in urban areas. The historical and social context of the Rera Cise demonstrates how Ainu food is an important conduit through which lived relationships intersect the ‘new social space’, opened up by the residence of Ainu outside of Hokkaido. This new prerogative for food is also tied into the conceptual reworking of the traditional cise into a wholly modern ‘home’ at several different levels. Socially, it serves as an emic marker of urban Ainu ethnicity and, in its role as a ‘homeplace’ for Ainu, draws attention to the contemporary complexity and range of urban Ainu situations – migrant labour, homelessness, urban mobility and so on. At the same time, the production of traditional Ainu food underlines the creation

Indigenous food and foodways 141 of new forms of cultural expression that reflect the knowledge and experience of Ainu engaged in an entirely new politics of place. In this way, the subject of traditional food allows us to address how the restaurant reworks normalized assumptions of Ainu collectivity, culture and life from an urban perspective.

Notes 1 For an excellent overview of Ainu history see Siddle (1996). 2 One of the main contributions of the movement has been the adoption of the Declaration of Atitlán, the first international assessment of the particular obstacles indigenous peoples face with regard to food security (IITC 2004a: 2–3). 3 Activists have argued that food in all cultures needs to mirror the dynamics of indigenous society in being recognized as an interdependent human right. This position disregards the policies of a number of Western governments that reduce food to a matter of economic planning or production (see IITC 2002). 4 The preamble of the Declaration of Atitlán develops this point in a political context when it states: ‘the denial of the Right to Food for Indigenous Peoples not only denies us our physical survival, but also denies us our social organization, our cultures, traditions, languages, spirituality, sovereignty, and total identity; it is a denial of our collective indigenous existence’. 5 The conflict over indigenous lands at the centre of the indigenous Right to Food movement, for example, points to the fact that ‘place’ is neither cut off nor isolated from the world but constitutes a site of negotiation, one that Massey notes will often entail ‘conflictual negotiation’ (Massey 2004: 7). 6 Such dynamics may seem unimportant at first, limited to matters of inter-family/ personal relations, but as urban populations increase so the potential for more institutionalized platforms probing the issues of urban rights and identity also increases. 7 The modern history of Ainu food reveals the ideological role food adopted during the full colonization of Ainu lands by the Japanese from 1869-on. Access to salmon, for example, was forbidden by legislation in 1873 and subsequently turned into a factorybased cash crop. By 1899, all Ainu hunting activities, traditions, culture and language were banned by Japanese authorities. Under the direction of American developers, agricultural land reforms were implemented that strongly encouraged the assimilation of Ainu into mainstream society.

References Ainu Minzoku Hakubutsukan (1994) Ainu no rekishi to bunka (Ainu History and Culture), Shiraoi: Ainu Museum. Appadurai, A. (1988) ‘Putting hierarchy in its place’, Cultural Anthropology, 3 (1): 36–49. Castree, N. (2004) ‘Differential geographies: place, indigenous rights and “local” resources’, Political Geography, 23: 133–167. Clifford, J. (1994) ‘Diasporas’, Cultural Anthropology, 9 (3): 302–338. Counihan, C.M. (1999) The Anthropology of Food and Body: Gender, Meaning and Power, New York and London: Routledge. Harcourt, W. and Escobar, A. (2002) ‘Women and the politics of place’, Development, 42 (1): 7–14. Hobart, M. (1995) ‘As I lay laughing: encountering global knowledge in Bali’, in R. Fardon (ed.) Counterworks: Managing the Diversity of Knowledge, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 49–72.


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International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) (2002) An Analysis of United States International Policy on Indigenous Peoples, the Human Right to Food and Food Security. Online, available at: Indigenous%20Food% 20Policy%20Issues.pdf (accessed August 2004). —— (2004a) Right to Food Bulletin. Online, available at: IITC%20Right%20to%20Food%20Bulletin.pdf (accessed August 2004). —— (2004b) Written statement submitted to the Sixtieth Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Geneva, Switzerland, 15 March–23 April 2004, E/CN.4/2004/NGO/103. Jackson, M. (1998) Minima Ethnographica: Intersubjectivity and the Anthropological Project, Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press. Keira, T. (1995) ‘The foods of our elders’, AMPO: Japan Asia Quarterly Review, 24 (3): 15–17. Kuhnlein, H.V. and Receveur, O. (1996) ‘Dietary change and traditional food systems of indigenous peoples’, Annual Review of Nutrition, 16: 417–442. Massey, D. (1994) ‘Double articulation: a place in the world’, in A. Bammer (ed.), Displacements: Cultural Identities in Question, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, pp. 110–122. —— (1999) Power-Geometries and the Politics of Space-Time, Heidelberg: University of Heidelberg. —— (2004) ‘Geographies of responsibility’, Geografiska Annaler, 86 B (1): 5–18. Memmott, P. and Long, S. (2002) ‘Place theory and place maintenance in indigenous Australia’, Urban Policy and Research, 20 (1): 39–56. Refsing, K. (2003) ‘In Japan, but not of Japan’, in C. Mackerras (ed.) Ethnicity in Asia, New York: RoutledgeCurzon, pp. 48–63. Rera no Kai, (ed.) (1997) Rera Cise e no michi: koushite Tokyo ni Ainu riyouri ten ga dekita (The road towards the Rera Cise: the making of an Ainu restaurant in Tokyo), Tokyo: Gendaikikakushitsu. Searles, E. (2002) ‘Food and the making of modern Inuit identities’, Food and Foodways, 10: 55–78. Siddle, R. (1996) Race, Resistance and the Ainu of Japan, London and New York: Routledge. Turgeon, L. and Pastinelli, M. (2002) ‘ “Eat the world”: postcolonial encounters in Quebec City’s ethnic restaurants’, Journal of American Folklore, 115 (456): 247–268. Watson, M.K. (forthcoming) ‘Kanto resident Ainu and the urban indigenous experience’, in M. Hudson and T. Bogdanowicz (eds) Visions of the Ainu: Changing Academic and Public Perspectives, Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press. Wilson, K. and Peters, E.J. (2005) ‘ “You can make a place for it”: remapping urban First Nations spaces of identity’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 23 (3): 395–413.

10 Authenticity and professionalism in restaurant kitchens Luke Y.C. Fung

Personal experience often triggers academic pursuits. Likewise, this study gathered its initial momentum from personal experience, that of working as a chef in two different French cuisine restaurants in the United States and Hong Kong. Based on ethnographic research and in-depth interviews, this chapter presents the importance of chefs, as food producers, in the definition of the authenticity of cuisines. This role is also employed to establish a foundation for the development of the status of professional chefs. With their ‘esoteric’ knowledge of food, chefs are empowered to offer ‘legendized’ narratives on food production to their customers. Through this process of narration, the ‘professional–client’ relationship is strengthened, social closure fortified and the professional identity of chefs reinforced.

Being a chef The first restaurant is the ‘teaching restaurant’ of my alma mater, California Culinary Academy (CCA), where I spent two years, from late 1996 to late 1998, learning and practising the core skill of being a professional chef. The restaurant is located in downtown San Francisco and is housed in a 90-year-old Victorian building which used to be a community hall. It is run by student chefs of the Academy under the supervision of their instructors. Although it is primarily a teaching restaurant, where students put into practice the management and culinary skills they have acquired in class, the restaurant has earned a reputation for the outstanding dining services it provides for the Academy community and the general public. It is also a renowned high-end choice for both tourists and city residents. Instructors and students are proud of being recognized as members of the ‘culinary profession’ and are most willing to take the initiative in sharing their knowledge of food with patrons. One lovely weekend evening in November 1997, I was assigned to the Caesar salad station at a buffet in the middle of the dining hall. The salad dressings used were made in-house with the basic ingredients of egg yolk, canola oil, vinegar, anchovy, lemon juice and parmesan cheese. A gentleman who looked exactly like any ordinary San Franciscan approached me and, with a friendly smile and gentle voice, he started the following conversation:

144 L.Y.C. Fung ‘Those are the loveliest Romaine lettuces I’ve ever seen, but I’m always hesitant to try the Caesar dressing because it’s not cooked.’ ‘I don’t mean to be rude, sir, but what makes you think that it’s not cooked?’ ‘Well, the dressing was made of raw egg yolk and canola oil. The dressing is not prepared over fire. It’s very likely that salmonella bacteria inside the yolk are not killed.’ ‘You are absolutely correct as far as killing bacteria with heat is concerned, but I have to remark that high temperature is not the only tool. Our adding lemon juice and vinegar to the dressing would increase the acidity to a level intolerable to salmonella.’ ‘Really? ... So, you are a professional chef?’ ‘Not yet. But I’m learning to be one.’ ‘Well, you chefs always have explanations behind everything happening in the kitchen. You always invent difficult concepts to disguise simple cooking procedures.’ ‘What exactly do you mean?’ ‘Say, roasting a whole leg of lamb, for instance. Some chefs insist that rubbing the leg with marinades would make a difference to the flavour. I personally don’t find it necessary. After all, the marinade is not something that will go into the middle of the meat during the massage. Chefs are trained to make themselves look like professionals and not laymen.’ I have to admit that I was speechless at that point. On the one hand, this gentleman expressed an attitude so arrogant that any chef would be insulted. On the other hand, his comments had some truth in them: chefs are, or at least are perceived to be, deliberately making an effort to present themselves as professionals through their uniforms, their ‘knowledge’ of cooking and so much more. As far as the effect of this effort is concerned, the gentleman clearly represented that part of the clientele that is far from convinced. My experience in a Hong Kong commercial kitchen was a little different. It was one of the many dining outlets in a five-star hotel in Tsimshatsui East, Kowloon. Staffed by eight chefs and a team of well-trained waitpersons, it serves high quality French cuisine and a worldwide selection of premiere wines. Located on the shore of Kowloon Peninsula and surrounded by the beautiful scenery of Victoria Harbour, it is often identified by food critics as a dining choice of distinction. Nonetheless, chefs working here did not feel that they shared this prestigious status. The chefs’ low self-esteem was reflected in a common view shared among them that they ‘ended up’ in the job because they were ‘not educated enough’ to work in any other field. It is an established belief in Hong Kong that one needs only minimal training, if any, to enter the culinary circle. Thus, not only did the Executive Chef (EC) urge head chefs of all outlets to uphold service standards, he also asked juniors to improve their service by acquiring more knowledge about professional cooking. The entire kitchen crew was required to follow the Health Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP)

Authenticity in restaurant kitchens 145 system, a set of criteria laid down by the United States Food and Drugs Agency on hygienic practice in the food industry. The HACCP system involves a variety of documentation and records on kitchen behaviour ranging from how vegetables should be washed to how a chef should be dressed. Among other things, it dictates that all chefs serving on the buffet must learn to adopt an appropriate set of vocabulary to communicate with customers and that head chefs must examine in detail the uniform of the kitchen staff before the commencement of each buffet session. Obviously, the ultimate goal was to present a professional image to patrons. The outcome of these policies was certainly encouraging as far as customers were concerned. On a Friday evening just one week before Christmas 1998, I was assigned to help out at the roast trolley in the buffet. Business was good, with over 90 per cent of the tables reserved. The roasted beef, being one of the most popular items, had attracted a long queue since the beginning of the session. An elegant lady in a chiffon dress collected her piece of beef and then looked around the station with a sigh. Our subsequent conversation went as follows: ‘Can I help you, madam?’ ‘Um ... well, I need some advice from you.’ ‘My pleasure.’ ‘Frankly, it’s my first time eating in a five-star hotel, so I don’t want to make a fool of myself in front of my friends. Um ... can you tell me which is the correct sauce for roast beef?’ ‘I see. In fact, you are free to take any sauce you want to. There isn’t any correct sauce as such. After all, that’s the beauty of a buffet. But, for your reference, your choice could be from mustard, to tartar sauce, to nothing at all. Whatever you feel like will do. Most customers would, however, choose this gravy made with the roasted beef’s own juice.’ ‘Thank you so much. With your professional advice, I think I can even teach my friends something they don’t know.’ Although flattered by the lady’s comment, I mused that my advice could not really be considered substantially ‘professional’. As a matter of fact, all I did was to recommend a few possible choices of sauce. Her comment on my opinion as being ‘professional’ seemed, therefore, not a function of the content of the opinion. Rather, it was more ‘relational’ in nature. If I were not dressed in my chef’s attire, serving her from behind the trolley with shiny, chef’s knives in my gloved hands, if I were but a fellow customer queuing up behind her, she might very much hesitate to consider my opinion ‘professional’. The question is, then: how do professional chefs construct their ‘professional’ identity? This is the central theme of the chapter. In particular, I argue, first, that chefs often utilize their advantageous position as food producers to construct their professional identity. This is often done through the authoritative ‘validation’ of ‘delicious and authentic’ dishes. Second, I suggest that by means of social closure, chefs strive to keep lay people away from their circle, thus


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maintaining the ‘professional – client’ boundary. A common means of achieving this goal is the mystification and monopolization of a body of ‘professional’ knowledge which is kept far beyond the reach of consumers. Finally, this chapter also reflects on the problematic role of ‘researcher–participant’ which is often faced during ethnographic studies.

Doing research in a hotel kitchen Any sociological discussion concerning professionals must inevitably begin within the context of the sociology of work. In fact, the notion of ‘what one does to make a living’ does bear eminent significance in modern societies. Sociologists have worked extensively on this issue. Giddens (1991), for instance, holds that the issue of becoming a ‘modern’ man could, by and large, be summarized as the course of knowing both what one is doing and why one is doing it. In other words, individuals’ choice of occupation is a direct reflection of their choice of identity. On top of that, there are mechanisms in modern societies through which selected occupations monopolizing specific areas of knowledge are granted a relatively prestigious status and individuals from these occupations are entitled to the label of ‘expert’. Certainly, there were experts in pre-modern societies, but established technical systems that cultivate and develop experts in mass volume are very rare, particularly in smaller societies. Hence, it is not impossible for individuals in these societies to carry on with their lives, if they so wish, almost solely in terms of their local knowledge or that of their immediate kinship group. In these societies, the significance of an individual’s successful construction of his self-identity might not be an issue at all. However, this highly alienated relationship is hardly possible in modern societies, especially for those living in what Giddens refers to as ‘core geographical areas of modernity’. Thus, acquiring professional status is a handy and controllable channel in securing one’s identity in the modern world. Phal (1995) holds an alternative view and maintains that in modern societies, we are offered opportunities to play others’ roles. The number of available options depends basically on an individual’s position in his/her life course and on the nature of his/her employment. Risking an understatement of the complexity of their nature, I will refer to them as ‘domestic’ and ‘occupational’ bases, respectively. As far as the domestic basis is concerned, men and women are able to change their familial composition, their marriages, even their gender identities and so much else. In other words, this frame of reference upon which people used to construct their identities has become insecure. The certainty of ‘who we are’ faces challenges like never before. At the same time, the occupational basis is also shaken. In the past, the skilled labour of a particular occupation remained monopolized within that particular occupation. Training is like a designated lifelong script defining one’s role as a goldsmith, engineer, factory worker or musician throughout the course of one’s life. Yet flourishing training institutions in modern societies open up gateways for individuals to receive training and retraining for changes in their career. Thus, the certainty of an occupational basis

Authenticity in restaurant kitchens 147 as a means of identity construction is also in question. Unlike the domestic basis, which depends entirely on the social relations established within the domestic circle, the occupational basis could at least be strengthened through one’s own effort. Not only is the label ‘professional’ associated with one’s expertise in a particular area of activity, it also implies the scarcity of such expertise. This scarcity is, more often than not, safeguarded through the process of ‘social closure’, which limits the number of individuals entering the professional community. At the same time, for those who are already inside the community, the label also grants them the status of elites in the socio-economic hierarchy. Individuals who successfully enter a profession will endeavour to demonstrate their best effort in the establishment of a ‘professional–clientele’ relationship. To a certain extent, this relationship also helps to strengthen the power differential therein, which in turn enhances the vast interest of professionals. Giddens’ discourse on modernity has actually paved the way for Phal’s observation mentioned above. Giddens (1991) suggested the notion of ‘disembedding’ as the core element of modernity, and referred to this process as the ‘lifting out’ of social relations from the local context and their re-articulation across indefinite tracts of time and space. There are two complementary mechanisms for disembedding, namely, ‘symbolic token’ and ‘expert system’. The former is closely related to the essence of modern business transactions. As the medium of exchange with a standard value, money has comfortably filled this position and become the exclusive, globally interchangeable currency. It brackets time and space because it acts as a means of credit across time, enabling individuals to carry out transactions even though they have never met each other physically. Meanwhile, the expert system performs similar ‘bracketing’ functions through deploying modes of technical knowledge which have credibility and validity independent of the practitioners and individuals who make use of them. Not only does the expert system offer a useful knowledge basis for solving problems arising in various aspects of modern life, it also creates a tool for members of the expert community to use in the construction of their self-identity. Giddens’ prescriptive account of the nature of professionals is not totally seamless. I would advocate at least one challenge. Since disembedding is a process liberating individuals from the bondage of time and space, the expert system, being one of its prominent tools, should also be free of the constrictions of time and space. Yet, ironically, the recognition of experts is itself remarkably confined to qualification by time and space. First, the status of professions could be disturbed by various societal changes along the course of history. Say, as a result of technological advancement, activities which required participants to receive years of pre-vocational training and could be carried out only by a particular group of experts were now within the capabilities of non-professionals. A typical example would be the agricultural profession. Occupations formerly regarded as professions may gradually be losing their privileges today. Thus, the validity of viewing all professions and the expert system as timeless is arguable. At the same time, whether or not an occupation is regarded as a profession is

148 L.Y.C. Fung also related to the social context concerned. An experienced crocodile farmer is certainly a professional in tropical countries. Nonetheless, he could hardly find his expertise valued in Scandinavian countries simply because it is of limited value in places where there are no crocodiles. Certainly, these countries could create artificial environments for the fostering of crocodile farming. In this case, professional crocodile farmers would be of value again. Nonetheless, let us not forget that such an arrangement is equivalent to transferring the ‘space’ factor in fostering the survival of the profession. In a true sense, this transfer is a de facto rebuttal of the proposed notion of freedom from the confinement of ‘space’. Despite this flaw, the acquisition of professional membership, or the occupational basis, is still a relatively secure means of anchoring one’s identity in modern societal life. At least, the anchoring depends more on the effort of the individual concerned than the cooperation of others in the related social connections. Certainly, as in the domestic strategy, it too sets its basis on a successful construction of networks with other individuals pursuing the same goal. As individuals joining the same profession are more likely to share the same set of norms and values, there is a relatively better chance that they will set the same targets at work. Thus, the establishment of a network with strong cohesion is more likely within the professional context. The investigation of the relationship between identity and work also calls for a review of literature on the sociology of professions. The sociology of professions has its focus set mainly on two questions (Jackson 1970). The first concerns the extent to which professions can be regarded as a product of the social division of labour. The Marxist approach to this question analyses the surplus value that professionals possess and has led to many studies of the definitional search of traits of professions. The second question concerns the investigation of the special role, be it social, economic or political, that professionals play in society. This triggers off a functionalist approach which pursues the special ‘role’ rather than the professions themselves. Studies interested in the second question pay more attention to the widening gap between the growth of the professions and the implications of this growth for the changing distribution pattern of societal power. On this particular point of discussion, I find Schutz’s perspectives on the sociology of knowledge extremely useful. Schutz (1964) maintained that no individual in any society could possess complete knowledge of all aspects of his life, be they social, economic or political. It is inevitable that at some point in our social endeavours, as a result of this deficiency, we have to accept some parts of the concept of the world which are handed down to us and subject other parts to questioning. This applies to experts too. There is no expert who could firmly hold a complete set of knowledge providing solutions to all problems. We each fall on one point on a continuum of knowledge, from ‘full expert’ at one end to ‘full commoner’ at the other. Schutz (1964) suggested three ‘types’ possessing different quantities and qualities of knowledge on this continuum, and named them ‘expert’ at one end, ‘man on the street’ at the other end and ‘well-informed citizen’ somewhere in between. It is

Authenticity in restaurant kitchens 149 crucial to bear in mind that an individual can be wearing all three hats at the same time but in different fields of concern. We believe in experts because it is not possible for us to have enough knowledge, let alone perfect knowledge, to deal with all issues at hand. Our exposure and experience can cover only a limited part of the social world around us and even within this limited amount of knowledge, a significant portion is derived from others’ experience. Schutz, therefore, suggests that knowledge is ‘socially derived’. This socially derived knowledge earns its prestigious status from the non-experts’ belief that they ‘would have reached similar conclusions and offered similar opinions’ if they were experts. Should the socially derived knowledge be granted extra weight because of the acceptance of the other members of the non-experts ‘in-group’, it would be promoted to the next level of ‘socially approved’ knowledge. Borrowing Schutz’s view, it is the escalation of socially derived knowledge to socially approved knowledge that gives rise to all professions. The process generates momentum for all professionalization efforts. A four-month participation observation was conducted from July to October 2002 in a hotel kitchen in Hong Kong. Within that period, I spent a total of 560 working hours on 54 working days, which is equivalent to 10.37 hours per day, participating in the daily production process and ‘after-work’ activities of fellow chefs. I was able to build up close connections with the chefs and carry out indepth interviews within the six months following the observation period. Thus, I have at hand two sets of data – field notes from participant observation and records of in-depth interviews. The field notes constitute observations and reflections made during the participation period. I did not limit myself to events apparently relevant to my research questions. Instead, data in the notes appear in a variety of forms, including dialogues, reflections, cooking ideas, menus, recipes, plating instructions, catering orders and food-styling photos. The themes of these data range from personal encounters with customers and fellow chefs, to cooking tips, to grievances against the management. This unrestricted approach enables collected data to be used to paint a three dimensional picture of the life of chefs. Chefs are sometimes portrayed as working in a romantic career creating fancy gourmet food to be served in dining halls with luxurious décor. At other times, chefs are pictured as semi-skilled manual labourers working next to piles of disgusting debris and filthy dishwashing machines. This data could hopefully help to demystify the distorted descriptions and extract some hidden truths. The second set of data comprises in-depth interviews with my fellow chefs. They occupy various positions in the kitchen brigade. The number of years they have spent in the industry ranges from seven to forty. Again, I adopted a semistructured approach in allowing them to tell their own stories with minimal intervention. Themes of the conversation include how they entered the field, how they themselves, their families and friends see them as professional chefs, what they regard as essential qualities of a professional chef, how they would demonstrate these to their customers, why they choose to remain in the profession and what they are pursuing in their career.

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Professional identity through the authoritative ‘validation’ of ‘delicious and authentic’ dishes Chefs occupy an advantageous position in a virtual ‘food hierarchy’ whereby the definitions of ‘delicious and authentic dishes’ are validated. An encounter in a local French restaurant where I worked as junior chef for a year in 1999 serves as an effective example. The restaurant was one of the dining outlets of a fivestar hotel in Kowloon, Hong Kong. The hotel also housed a Chinese restaurant, an Italian restaurant, an American café and a banquet hall, each with its own kitchen and kitchen crew. To ensure the authenticity of the cuisines served, it was the hotel’s policy that restaurants must be led by head chefs and front-ofthe-house managers of the corresponding nationality. Thus, the head of the French kitchen was a French chef, and that of the Italian restaurant was an Italian. Authenticity was also enhanced by the purchasing system. Unless otherwise specified by the head chef, the ingredients required by a specific kitchen were all imported from the corresponding country. Thus, all meat, poultry, butter, cheese, wine, olive oil, sea salt and so on, in the French kitchen was imported directly from France. At first glance, it would appear that patrons of the restaurant were assured of being served with authentic French flavours. The reality, however, was rather different. This French restaurant kept the traditional practice of serving hors d’oeuvres (bite-size appetizers) to patrons before they made their orders. Supposedly, these tiny snacks should stimulate the appetite, but they must be light so that patrons are not distracted from their meals. Therefore, although hors d’oeuvres are usually prepared with whatever ingredients are available in small quantities in the kitchen, the use of heavy protein such as beef and pork should be avoided. Nonetheless, to minimize the cost of making hors d’oeuvres, leftovers from buffets prepared by other kitchens within the hotel were frequently used. Thus, it was not uncommon to find miniature Chinese barbecued spare ribs with Italian risotto, Australian broiled sirloin on mashed potatoes, and American poached red snapper with Chinese black bean sauce served to patrons as hors d’oeuvres. When I questioned the authenticity and appropriateness of these ‘creative’ appetizers, my French head chef argued that any food would be appropriate, delicious and authentic if he deemed it so. Thus, as long as the French chefs guaranteed the authenticity of the food, patrons would not quibble about the source of the ingredients concerned. By the same token, the definition of a ‘delicious and authentic’ dish is also held in the hands of the chef. Two deductions may be drawn from the above stories. First, chefs as food producers are in a good position to define what is (and what is not) ‘gourmet’ cuisine. The formation and de-formation of a cuisine is more likely to be moulded by food producers than by food consumers. Thus, I would argue that viewing food behaviour solely as a form of consumption at large can be erroneous. Rather, the dominance of food producers in the whole transaction strengthens the necessity to investigate the role of the production side in the entire deal. Second, chefs, as food producers, serve as part of the patrons’ culinary experience. Very often, this part is so crucial that it defines directly the

Authenticity in restaurant kitchens 151 meaning of other parts. Without much exaggeration, rather than describing patrons as consuming ‘delicious’ dishes, it would be more accurate to say that patrons consume what chefs define as delicious dishes. Through such ‘effort’, the expert system in the culinary world is once again strengthened and the professional identity of chefs reinforced. To a large extent, this situation coincides with Schutz’s analysis of ‘socially derived knowledge’ being ‘escalated’ to ‘socially approved knowledge’ (Schutz 1964).

Construction of professional identity through the process of ‘social closure’ In connection with the ‘authority’ mentioned above, chefs consciously construct an ever-growing volume of culinary knowledge. This knowledge base represents a deliberate effort by chefs to put specific emphasis on the importance of a set of ‘technical and scientific’ know-how claimed necessary for the application of their expertise. This emphasis on knowledge is not the result of a sudden thirst for education. Rather, it is a strategy to achieve ‘social closure’ whereby social collectivities seek to maximize rewards by restricting access to resources and opportunities to a limited circle of eligible members (Weber 1947). Abbott (1988) shares similar views and maintains that professionalization is the pursuit of occupational control over the extraction of practical technique and skill from a system of esoteric knowledge within a certain jurisdiction. In the case of chefs, this knowledge system is presented in the form of ‘legendized’ cooking skills. With the help of the mass media, chefs often promote the belief that many cooking skills are obtainable and performable only in commercial kitchens. This promotion strengthens the social closure mentioned above, and reinforces the ‘professional–client’ relationship in which the former keeps the key to the set of knowledge inaccessible to the latter. The making of ‘herbed tomatoes’ serves as a good example of this ‘legendization’ professional knowledge. Herbed tomatoes are very versatile ‘materials’ in the kitchen. They can be used as fillings for sandwiches, garnishes for hors d’oeuvres and entrees, ingredients for salads and as a salad on their own. First, fresh tomatoes are quartered, seeded and peeled with special knife skills. They are then placed on large baking trays and covered with olive oil, pepper, salt and fine herbs. These marinated tomatoes are then baked at a low heat for four to five hours until they are semidried outside but moist inside. As the consumption of these tomatoes is fairly high, such procedures are carried out almost every other day. The task is often carried out by junior chefs like me. As my colleagues say, the procedures involved are more tedious than difficult. They comment that very often the description of the cooking process is distorted by the media which makes it seem impossible for ‘ordinary’ people. Yet, the procedures are, as they often mention, ‘not as complicated as people think’ (field notes 17 August 2002). Ironically, though, they agree that such ‘distortion’ is highly desirable as this helps make them look ‘more professional’.


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Construction of professional identity through upholding a set of esoteric knowledge Monopolizing certain areas of knowledge is the ultimate strategy all occupational groups adopt to anchor themselves in an advantageous position compared to ‘laymen’ outside the groups. Echoing the opinions of Schutz (1964), this is how chefs, as experts, stand apart from kitchen helpers (well-informed citizens) and their customers (men on the street). By this strategy, chefs utilize the apparently esoteric knowledge to demarcate their territories and define their jurisdictions. In the kitchen, this is made possible through the production of food in the style of the chef concerned. The presentation of cooked and chilled Alaskan crab claws during the weekend buffet serves as a good illustration. With an average length of two feet, these cooked crab claws would first be sliced into halves at the butchery before being sent to the Garde Manger (GM, equivalent to the cold kitchen) for further processing. They would then be chopped, at an angle, into shorter portions. The crabmeat would be taken out of the shell, which would be turned upside down and the meat placed back into the shell. This presentation was chosen by the ex-Chef de Cuisine, Ian. Although these procedures are very time-consuming, they are meaningful because they allow customers to enjoy this delicious dish without getting their fingers messy. Nevertheless, after Ian’s resignation, the method was changed. Ah Guang, the junior chef, decided that it was not necessary. Guang showed me a new way, or more precisely, his way, of processing and arranging the claws. Obviously, Guang sees food as a means to earmark a chef’s territory and jurisdiction. The style in which a dish is presented clearly makes a statement about the chef concerned. A similar example was noted when Lung prepared a new salad for the buffet. He believed that the GM had been using too many shredded bell peppers in buffet items, so he suggested something with less vegetable, more fruit and exotic dressings. By doing this, the entire buffet table could be freshened up. To start with, Lung made a ‘papaya and shrimp salad in a light curry dressing’. The salad tasted appetizing and harmonious and had an interesting and eye-catching presentation. Lung seemed to be so proud of himself. He said the salad was good enough to bear his signature (field notes 10 August 2002). Certainly, kitchen work involves a lot of standard procedures which are almost identical in all kitchens from low-end sidewalk cafés to high-end steakhouses. Nevertheless, there are even more non-standard procedures, the operations of which depend mainly on the discretion of the chefs concerned. The discretion often results in what chefs frequently refer to as their ‘signature dishes’. It is true that these signature dishes do bear the chefs’ names and represent, in front of clients, how good these chefs are. Signature dishes could involve original recipes and combinations of unique ingredients. In addition, chefs may apply special modifications to traditional recipes, involving unique cooking procedures and presentation skills. Chefs have a strong desire, an almost unquenchable thirst, to produce their

Authenticity in restaurant kitchens 153 signature dishes. Should such dishes be widely accepted by customers, and recognized by fellow chefs, the procedures involved will become the standard for producing dishes within the same category. At the same time, the owner of the signature is very likely to be requested by customers, and commissioned by supervisors, to oversee the production of that item. Through this, the territory of the chef concerned is demarcated and his jurisdiction defined. Thus, the chefs’ knowledge base finds its anchor in these signature dishes. With this thirst for the pursuit of signature dishes as a revelation of his knowledge in cooking, it is only natural that any individual chef tends to believe that he knows, better than others, the most authentic means of dealing with food. For example, the EC once commented on Wai’s method of preparing tiny chicken liver pâté cups. This is a regular item on the buffet table. Chicken liver pâté, prepared in-house by the butchery, is melted and stuffed into tiny porcelain cups. A layer of melted butter or port-wine jelly is placed on top of the pâté to prevent it from drying up. The cup will then be served cold. We usually cut the pâté into small dice and stuff it into the cup, but the EC did not agree with this method. He instructed Wai to stir the pâté, soften it and pipe it into the cup. Wai stated that comments of this kind often create dissatisfaction among members of the kitchen crew. He believed that as a chef, he knew the best method of dealing with food (field notes 21 August 2002). Wai and I believed that stuffing the pâté into the porcelain cups was the most effective way to prepare this delicacy for the buffet. The EC held the view that our body heat would increase the temperature of the pâté to a level vulnerable to bacterial infection. He urged Wai to soften the pâté by stirring it and then piping it into the cups so that human touch could be kept out of the entire process. Wai disagreed with the EC for two reasons. First, the stirring motion also created heat that could bring the pâté to a temperature comparable to that created by human touch. Second, piping the pâté was less likely to create a presentable shape. It is apparent that they both hold the same body of knowledge in cooking, which they believe to be objective, scientific and sensible, but it is also obvious that their interpretations of this body of knowledge are subjective, to a certain degree. Thus, while the core of knowledge is almost identical for everyone, the interpretation of this core could be very different. This flexibility in interpretation, together with the discretional alteration of conventional procedures during the quest for signature dishes, has turned the body of cooking knowledge away from the role of a genuine and objective tool for the construction of chef identity. In short, knowing the core is no longer reliable and sufficient. Chefs need an alternative tool to secure their identity. Fortunately, they found it within the chef community. Chefs build up another set of what might be called ‘working knowledge’ in the kitchen as recognized by the chef community. Very often, this alternative set of working knowledge supersedes the ‘conventional’ set. The guiding principle behind this alternative set is to get the problem solved by any means. Whatever means is regarded as handy, sensible and inexpensive will be employed to deal with the problem at hand. Using equipment outside its conventional designation


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is an outstanding illustration for this almost golden principle in the kitchen. Thus, boning knives are not only dedicated for boning. Rather, their sharp and flexible blades are excellent for the artful carving of vegetables. When lids of new bottles of pickled cucumbers are stuck due to vacuum packing, the blunt side of the chopping knife’s blade can be used as a hammer to open the lids. Twisted plastic food wrap makes reliable ‘string’ for tying up pineapples during transportation. Salt, apart from serving as a versatile seasoning agent, is also the most commonly used fire extinguisher and anti-slip safeguard for oily floors. The possession of this alternative set of knowledge is sometimes a more precise and more widely recognized indicator among the work community that a chef is knowledgeable. The logic involved in solving problems in the kitchen witnesses to the existence of such ‘working knowledge’. For example, while I often look for a knife to open a pack of spaghetti, ah Fei holds the pack in his hands and hits the end hard on a table. More often than not, the package opens and I always feel embarrassed and enlightened at the same time (field notes 27 July 2002). Being a characteristic of this ‘alternative set’ of knowledge, the emphasis on problem-solving also reflects the direction of intellectual flow within the work community. From the point of view of an educated researcher, I expect the chef’s intellect to follow a top-down direction. I expect solutions corresponding to problems to be deduced from preset principles. Thus, the mindset of ‘using a knife to open a pack’ drove me to look for a knife before opening the pack. Yet, in reality, intellect in the kitchen follows the opposite, bottom-up direction. Principles are very much internalized and seldom professed. Instead, more effort is put into dealing with problems at the technical level. ‘Opening the pack’ is given first priority. Whether or not a knife is used, nonetheless, is not of primary concern. This path of intellectual flow, and in fact the application of the entire set of working knowledge therein, does not reveal any discrepancy among chefs. To a large extent, during the construction of a chef’s identity, this working knowledge successfully supplements, and sometimes supersedes, the presupposed set of ‘conventional’ culinary knowledge.

Construction of professional identity through the mis en place There appears to be an element which unites the two sets of knowledge in the chefs’ intellectual composite as mentioned above. This element is embodied in the French term mis en place, meaning literally ‘everything in place’. It refers to the desirable status of a workstation where necessary ingredients, equipment, utensils and accessories are all cleaned, checked and located in the appropriate position for use. Mis en place also includes all the preparatory procedures deemed necessary before a station is ready for production. Since kitchen work is always competing against time, keeping the workstation organized and clean is important to all chefs. This is of particular importance to selected sections such as the GM, which bears the dual role of a servicing and a supporting kitchen. A

Authenticity in restaurant kitchens 155 poorly organized GM will definitely hinder both its own functioning and that of other kitchens. Whether a chef deserves a solid work identity is often judged by the work community on how he sets up a proper mis en place. There are times when chefs of the GM have received warning letters because the EC has found a dead lobster in the refrigerator, or some sliced salami starting to turn grey, or fresh herbs not properly soaked in basins of water. Only when a station’s mis en place is secured can it promise smooth and quality production. While mis en place appears to be part of technical skill, it reflects more on the work attitude of a professional chef as recognized by his peers and his customers. To sum up, what and how much ‘cooking knowledge’ a chef possesses does affect, to a certain extent, the solidity of his professional identity. Chefs are expected to uphold not only the esoteric set of conventional ‘from-raw-to-cooked’ knowhow, but also the alternative set of problem-solving skills necessary for survival in the kitchen. Mis en place reflects the proper employment and maintenance of these sets of knowledge. In a true sense, mis en place also serves as a platform whereby chefs display their capacity in validating the authenticity and standard of cuisines. This validation, in turn, reinforces the professional status of chefs.

Conclusion To conclude, while food consumption and culinary practices are important clues to the in-depth understanding of societal life, research from the production point of view must not be neglected. Chefs, as food producers, serve as a prime starting point for academic investigation into the production of food and its cultural significance. More often than not, chefs are armed with ‘authority’ in defining cuisines and this authority empowers them to hold the key to a set of ‘legendized’, ‘esoteric’ knowledge inaccessible to their clients. Through such processes, the ‘professional–client’ relationship is strengthened and social closure fortified.

References Abbott, A. (1988) The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and Self-identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Jackson, J.A. (1970) Professions and Professionalization, London: Cambridge University Press. Pahl, R.E. (1995) After Success: Anxiety and Identity, Cambridge: Polity Press. Schutz, A. (1964) Collected Papers II: Studies in Social Theory, A. Brodersen (ed.) The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff. Weber, M. (1947) The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, trans. T. Parsons and A. Henderson, Glencoe, IL: The Free Press.

Part IV

Asian cooking and world cuisine

11 In search of a Macanese cookbook Alexander Mamak

When the Portuguese landed in Macau some 450 years ago, their nonPortuguese consorts and wives brought with them a blending of dishes containing ingredients from former Portuguese colonies like Brazil, Mozambique, Malacca and East Timor. In circling the globe, the Portuguese were also influenced by the culinary traditions of such countries as Spain, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan (Braga 1998: 59; Jorge 2000: 13).1 With intermarriage with the Chinese following a generation or more of Portuguese settlement in Macau,2 and with the increasing use of local and more readily available ingredients, Macanese food – one of the world’s oldest fusion cuisines – began in earnest. The Macanese are primarily persons of mixed Portuguese and Asian, especially Chinese, ancestry who have made significant contribution to the cuisine brought to Macau by the Portuguese. But despite a long history and over 1,000 recorded recipes (Lamas 1997), it was difficult, until recently, to find a Macanese cookbook, let alone an authentic one. In our search for an ‘authentic’ cookbook we uncovered some explanations for the scarcity of these cookbooks as well as some interesting facts about the Macanese and their foodways. In this chapter, we begin by reviewing two of the earliest cookbooks we could find, and include some recent ones. Next, we attempt to explain why such cookbooks are so scarce. We suggest that the reluctance to share recipes, the variety of ways in which dishes can be prepared and the richness and hearty portions of Macanese cooking are some of the reasons why there is a scarcity of Macanese cookbooks. We suggest that another reason has to do with the problem of identifying who the Macanese are. We find it useful to distinguish between ‘original Macanese’ (the descendants of the first Portuguese and the product of Portuguese and Macanese or Chinese marriages) and ‘new Macanese’ (the product of more recent Macanese and Chinese marriages) in order to better understand the influences of the Portuguese and the Chinese in the evolution of Macanese food towards a distinctly Asian flavour. We also suggest that until about the 1950s, when social ties between the Macanese and the Chinese began to increase, there was a tendency on the part of the original Macanese to deny the existence of a separate type of cuisine that would later be called Macanese. This may be because the early Macanese were influenced by the values and behaviour of the dominant group. They considered


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themselves to be ethnically Portuguese and their cuisine to be basically Portuguese. A subsequent section of this chapter compares Portuguese cooking with Macanese cooking to highlight the hybrid nature of the latter. Some of the lesser known factors contributing to the hybrid nature of Macanese cooking are discussed here. They include the influence of Macanese housewives of Chinese ancestry, domestic cooks, the Chinese men who sold Portuguese snacks, and the Cristang or Portuguese Eurasian community of Malacca. Let’s begin by taking a look at some of the cookbooks we did find before examining some of the reasons behind their scarcity.

The cookbooks The earliest Macanese cookbooks we could find are no longer in print. Both the Cozinhados de Macau and Bon Petiscos were written in Portuguese by Maria Celestina de Mello e Senna and published by the Macau Tourism Board some thirty years ago. Although printed for tourist consumption, many of our informants recall their mothers using them and some had them in their possession. The booklets contain recipes of local dishes that one could find on any Macanese dinner table in the 1950s and perhaps earlier. They were often accompanied by steamed white rice and a Chinese vegetable. The cookbooks suggest the strength of the Chinese contribution to Macanese cuisine. The Cozinhados de Macau, for instance, contains an amusing ‘vocabulario’ in the back that translates Chinese ingredients into their Portuguese or English equivalent, e.g. lat chiu (chilli) or mai fun (massa de farinha para a sopa de lacassa). The recipes found in Bon Petiscos are interspersed with Chinese, English and Portuguese terms, often in the same sentence, e.g. Canja de Porco or chi-yock chock (sic), Pica-se a carne de porco e or chong choi (sic), 4 lbs de caranguejo or yok-hai (sic). Recipes for many of Macau’s sweetmeats and petiscos such as chilicote (deep fried pastry containing turmeric-flavoured ground beef and potato filling) and bagi (sweet glutinous rice cake with coconut) were plied by Chinese men who sold snacks to Macanese families and are found in this booklet. The Macau Tourism Board and the Institute for Tourism Studies continue to publish cookbooks that focus on contemporary Macanese cooking. Some are produced in Portuguese, but the latest, The Art of Macanese Cuisine and Other IFT (Instituto de Formacao Turistica) Delights (Do Rego 2001) is published in English. It is full of contemporary Macanese recipes and makes no pretence of being authentic. Two other recent cookbooks produced by non-Macanese authors are worthy of mention. Cherie Hamilton’s (2001) Cuisines of Portuguese Encounters shows how food migrated from one part of the world to another. It contains recipes from Portugal’s former colonies, including Macau. Annabel Jackson’s (2003) Taste of Macau: Portuguese Cuisine on the China Coast contains over 60 recipes collected from Macanese families and influential chefs from Macau. It is

In search of a Macanese cookbook 161 a fairly authentic text and includes traditional Portuguese dishes devoid of local influence and dishes that show strong Chinese and Asian influences. Yet many of the Macanese families we showed this book to provided other versions of some of the same recipes and argued that theirs were more ‘authentic’!

Why Macanese cookbooks are so scarce Just as the Macanese dialect today is not the same as the one spoken a hundred years ago, the cuisine has also evolved into something quite different. Macanese cooking is truly a hybrid that progressed from traditional Portuguese cooking to something in-between Portuguese and Asian/Chinese (traditional or original Macanese); to a cuisine that is today almost entirely Chinese-influenced (contemporary or new Macanese). As a result, there are many versions of a recipe and no single way of cooking many of the dishes. This diversity makes it difficult to create a cookbook that would please a majority of readers. What is eaten today would not be easily recognizable to our grandparents. As one elderly informant remarked: ‘With respect to food, our people are dining on memories.’ Jackson (2003) recognizes some of the diversity and takes it into account in her cookbook. Another reason why Macanese cookbooks are so rare is that recipes and cooking techniques are jealously guarded family secrets. Our informants admit that there is a general reluctance, especially in the past, to share family recipes, even between close family members (see also Braga 1998: 39). On occasion, hand-written recipes were passed on to close family members and friends, but they were never very detailed in the first place and measurements were often incomplete. Many recipes, especially desserts and sweets, cannot be replicated today because they were never written down and have been lost. Jorge (1994: 243) has pointed out that ‘Each house of Macao preserved its old recipes, using them as symbols or emblems, even giving some of them the name of the family’. Although many dishes have a common name and are very similar they also have a different and distinct touch in each Macanese home. As a result, it is not uncommon to find in existence several versions of the same dish produced in the same period. In today’s health conscious environment, it is not easy to include some traditional Macanese recipes in a contemporary cookbook because they tend to be very rich. The portions are ideally suited to large family gatherings, that in the past may have included uncles, aunts, cousins, god children, visitors and the family priest. Finally, the problem of identifying authentic Macanese dishes to produce a cookbook is also related to the problem of identifying who the Macanese are. The next section takes a look at Macanese identity.

Who are the Macanese? There are an estimated 60,000 Macanese scattered throughout the world and about 10,000 out of a total population of 450,000 living in Macau today

162 A. Mamak (Augustin-Jean 2002: 124). But who are the Macanese? The term customarily refers to Macau residents of mixed Portuguese and Chinese or other Asian ancestry, including those who have emigrated to other parts of the world. For some, the term ‘Macanese’ also includes Portuguese expatriates who have adopted Macau as their home, and those who are ethnically Chinese and have adopted Portuguese culture and citizenship and reside in Macau. Sometimes other terms are used, such as ‘Macaenses’, ‘Filho de Macau’ or ‘Filhos Macau’ (son(s) of Macau), ‘Filhos de Terra’ (sons of the earth or children of the land) and ‘Filhomac’. Although no one knows for sure, Antonio M. Jorge da Silva (2003: x) believes ‘the first Macaense was probably the child of a Portuguese father and a Malaccan, Japanese, Malay or Goanese mother’. He argues that intermarriage with the Chinese probably did not occur until the turn of the seventeenth century following the conversion of some Chinese to the Christian faith. Teixeira (1994: 93) demonstrates that intermarriage between the Portuguese and Chinese may have occurred much earlier than previously assumed by some researchers (see Amaro 1994), probably by the second generation following Portuguese settlement in Macau around 1554. Marreiros’ (1994) distinction between ‘original Macanese’ (the descendants of the first Portuguese and the product of Portuguese and Macanese or Chinese marriages) and ‘new Macanese’ (the product of more recent Macanese and Chinese marriages) is an important one as it helps us understand the different influences of the Portuguese and the Chinese in the evolution of Macanese food towards a distinctly Asian flavour. The rate of intermarriage, especially between Macanese men and Chinese women, has increased since the 1950s, while social, political and economic ties between the Macanese and Chinese have increased since the 1970s due to the increasing isolation and decreasing numbers of Portuguese in Macau (Marreiros 1994). Marriage between Macanese women and Chinese men has increased in recent years as well. As a result of these changes, the cultural preferences have become more Chinese than Portuguese and has affected the Macanese language and cuisine. The majority of ‘original Macanese’, particularly those of high social standing, have retained their Portuguese identity. They have always been proud of their European heritage and many claimed to be Portuguese even if they are of mixed ancestry and have lost their ability to speak Portuguese. In addition, many prefer to use the term ‘Macaense’ rather than ‘Macanese’ in referring to themselves.3 Neves (2003: 11) has pointed out that ‘race never meant a great deal in the community. More important were the culture, customs, traditions and cuisine handed down over the generations’. The glue that holds the original Macanese together is a common religion and a deep affinity with Portugal, a country that many have never seen. Their symbolic world with respect to food and other aspects of culture is Portuguese.4 The link between the older, original Macanese and Portugal was strengthened in part because of the latter’s policy of cultural pluralism and encouragement of intermarriage with the Portuguese, and in part

In search of a Macanese cookbook 163 because the Macanese were treated more fairly than Eurasians in Hong Kong and other British colonies. The older Macanese seem to share this perception with residents of other former Portuguese colonies, defining themselves and being defined by others as Portuguese. For example, despite being cut-off from Portugal for almost 500 years and despite its assimilation of various local cultures, the public still refers to members of the Cristang community of Malacca as ‘Portuguese’ (Luk 2003: 9). In the following sections, we would like to examine the gradual transformation of Portuguese cooking into Macanese cooking and some of the previously unacknowledged influences responsible for these changes.

Portuguese cooking Portugal’s classic recipes mainly consist of olive oil, garlic, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, bay leaves, chourico or Portuguese sausage, a variety of other meats and seafood, wine, legumes and leafy greens, beans and rice. Grilling, steaming, baking and stewing are the main cooking methods. Salted codfish (bacalhau) is a staple Portuguese dish and though there are many different recipes where the codfish is served baked, grilled, stewed or boiled, it is mainly cooked casserole-style with potatoes and onions, and hardboiled eggs and olives as garnishes. Cumin, coriander and paprika are the most commonly used spices in the Portuguese household. It is relatively easy to describe traditional Portuguese cooking since the recipes have remained virtually unchanged. In the homes of the colonial administrators and wealthy Portuguese in Macau, the majority of whom brought along their Portuguese wives or married Portuguese women in Macau, the food consisted of classic Portuguese dishes without any local influences. In more middle class homes, basic Portuguese ingredients were combined with many food traditions, and eventually led to a variety of dishes produced by the Macanese people who were strongly influenced by Chinese and other Asian traditions. It is possible to distinguish between the types of food eaten by the Portuguese in Macau from those eaten by the Macanese. Generally, the Portuguese ate less rice and more bread and potatoes. There was greater use of Portuguese olive oil and a heavy use of rock salt for flavouring. Well-to-do Portuguese families could afford a greater variety of meats than the average Macanese family – quail, ham, chicken, beef tongue, roast turkey, roast leg of lamb, roast pork and roast beef, veal and duck. The use of relatively fewer kinds of meat in an average Macanese home changed the character of many traditional Portuguese dishes, especially diabo (see below) which is based on a variety of meats left over from the Christmas dinner. A Portuguese grand meal in Macau consisted of salted codfish and various appetizers, caldo verde (cabbage and potato soup), roast leg of lamb or a leg of veal, beef with black pepper, grilled meats, roast and/or mashed potatoes, baked potatoes with paprika and garlic butter, a mixed salad, various kinds of chouricos or Portuguese sausages and cabbage. If rice was served it would be cooked


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the Brazilian way.5 The meal would be accompanied by red, white and green (vinho verde) table wines. Biscuits, an assortment of fruit, rich and sweet cakes and custards would be served for dessert.

Macanese cooking – a truly hybrid cuisine As previously mentioned, some of the dishes brought to Macau by the Portuguese combined the ingredients and flavours from many former Portuguese colonies, as well as from such countries as Spain, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan. The Macanese gradually modified these ‘Portuguese’ recipes by replacing the original ingredients with local ingredients if they found the original ingredients to be too spicy or salty, or if local ingredients were cheaper and easier to find.6 They also, on occasion, incorporated the cooking styles and traditions from Canton, Shanghai, Fujian and Chaozhu.7 Thus, Macanese cooking can be viewed as a multicultural interpretation of Portuguese cooking. Sometimes only one ingredient was replaced. For example, in the dish known as feijoada (pork and kidney bean stew), the Macanese used red beans in place of white beans. The use of turmeric (often misidentified by the Macanese as saffron or assafrao) is typically Macanese, while the Portuguese prefer cumin (cominho) or coriander (coentro). There were a variety of influences on Macanese cooking that contributed to its hybrid nature. Some of the more important and lesser known ones are described below.

Influences on Macanese cooking There were a number of influences on Macanese cooking which partly explains why it is so difficult to identify traditional Macanese recipes. We will limit our discussion to those influences that are not commonly known or are not properly acknowledged – the influence of Macanese housewives of Chinese ancestry, including domestic cooks, the Merenda men and the Cristang or Portuguese Eurasian community of Malacca. The influence of Macanese housewives of Chinese ancestry and of domestic cooks That the greatest influence on Macanese cuisine came from the Chinese is due partly to the fact that the number of Portuguese in Macau was never very substantial. It is our contention that the contribution of the Chinese, the Malay and other Asian influences to Macanese cuisine is largely unacknowledged.8 In traditional Portuguese homes, housewives supervised or did the cooking. The influence of Chinese housewives on Portuguese cuisine probably increased with intermarriage with the Chinese beginning in the early seventeenth century. While the lady of the house did some of the cooking most of her time in the kitchen would be spent supervising and making pastries, fruit cakes and other sweets. Most Macanese families were able to afford Chinese domestic helpers

In search of a Macanese cookbook 165 including a cook, a cleaning maid who sometimes doubled as a washing and ironing maid, and sometimes a nurse maid. The cook was by far the most important. The influence of the cook on Macanese cuisine has seldom been acknowledged. Cooks were well paid in comparison to other domestics, as Macanese families were often afraid of loosing their cook to another family. ‘A good cook was worth her weight in gold’, one informant told us. A good cook did not require any supervision. Although illiterate, she was able to create her own accounting system, front the money to buy meat and vegetables from the market, plan the week’s menu in consultation with the lady of the house, and settle her accounts once a month. When Portuguese food ingredients were difficult to obtain, or if they wanted to improvise, cooks would seek approval from Macanese housewives to substitute with, or add, local ingredients. They added Chinese food ingredients to many traditional Macanese dishes such as minchi (minced meat and fried potatoes), diabo or ‘devil dish’, tacho (winter casserole) and galena chau-chau parida (tossed chicken with turmeric). Minchi is the most typical and well-liked of Macanese dishes and is said by some to have originated with the Macanese of Hong Kong. A basic minchi consisted of sautéed minced meat (beef or a mixture of beef and pork), fried potato cubes, and chopped white onion, garlic, soy sauce and sugar. It might include Worcestershire sauce or molasses. It was typically served with steamed white rice accompanied by stir-fried Chinese cabbage. Portuguese families generally did not eat minchi but if they did they would substitute the steamed white rice and cabbage with a ring of mashed potatoes, peas and/or carrots. Over the years, varieties of minchi developed largely as a result of the influence of the domestic cook. Growing up in Macanese households with Chinese cooks we have eaten minchi that included shrimp, fan si or Chinese vermicelli, cubes of raw turnips and Chinese fungus wun yee or ‘cloud ears’ in place of the deep-fried potato cubes. The addition of a sunny-side-up fried egg (por tan) to minchi is also a Chinese derivation of this typical Macanese dish. Our informants tell us that no two households ever made minchi the same way and even in a single household with two or more people cooking, no two minchi were ever alike! The typical diabo or devil dish consisted of some of the following: ham, chicken, veal, roast leg of lamb, pheasant, venison, quail and duck leftover from the Christmas dinner and other festive banquets. What made the dish was the use of Coleman’s dry English mustard, Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce and Port wine. Chopped-up hard boiled eggs were used as a garnish. We have eaten versions that substituted many of these ingredients with Chinese roast pork (siu yok), pickled shallots (kew tau), Chinese mustard, pickles, preserved ginger and chilli sauce (lat chiu cheong). Another example of the housewife’s or cook’s influence through substitution of local ingredients is the Portuguese dish cozido which evolved into the Macanese hot pot dish known as tacho or chau chau pele.


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Cozido is a one-dish Portuguese stew of meat and vegetables. It can include chicken, ribs, beef roast, pork roast, ham, turnips, potatoes, carrots, collard greens, Portuguese sausage or chourico, pork sausage, blood sausage and green cabbage. In the average Macanese home, Chinese sausage or lap cheong replaced the chourico, pork sausage and blood sausages, and Chinese vegetables substituted for kale to become a Macanese dish known as tacho. Food critic and author Annabel Jackson (2003: 87) writes that tacho (or Macanese winter casserole) is ‘probably the most Cantonese-style dish within the Macanese repertoire. It is very difficult to make this dish using nonCantonese meats’. Perhaps for this reason there are many versions of this important Macanese dish. The version found in Jackson’s book shows a strong Cantonese influence with the inclusion of Cantonese roast duck, Chinese bacon (lap yuk), Chinese sausage (lap cheong) and pork chops. These ingredients are not found in more traditional versions of the dish. The modern Macanese version of galinha chau-chau parida (tossed chicken with turmeric) contains ginger to help remove ‘wind’. It was traditionally prepared by the Chinese domestic cooks and served to Macanese mothers following childbirth. Macanese food was not always the daily fare in a typical Macanese household. In addition to modifying Macanese meals, cooks would often dish up their own regional specialties for the household. Many of our informants came from large middle-class Macanese families. They recalled eating Chinese and nonMacanese food at least 60–70 per cent of the time.9 The Merenda Men In the 1950s and perhaps later, several Chinese men went door-to-door selling snacks (merenda) several times a month to Macanese families living in Hong Kong. Known affectionately as ‘the Merenda Man’, they also had an influence on changing the direction of Macanese cuisine more towards its Asian roots. The Merenda Man could speak Macanese and knew how to cook some Macanese dishes although no one knows where he learned those skills. He offered traditional Macanese sweets, desserts and snacks such as chilicote (deep fried pastry containing turmeric-flavoured ground-beef and potato filling) and Chinese versions of the same (chilicote de folha) that included Chinese turnip (lo pak) which was steamed rather than deep fried. The deep-fried Chinese version, filled with lo pak in place of potatoes, was called chilicote de rebano. On festive days the Merenda Man was able to offer more substantial dishes. One such man opened a Macanese restaurant on Granville Road in Tsim Sha Tsui where many Macanese families used to live (see Remedios 2001: 9–10). The Cristang or Portuguese Eurasian community of Malacca The Portuguese settled in Malacca for a relatively short time beginning in the early 1500s. The Cristang are the descendants of the Portuguese who married

In search of a Macanese cookbook 167 local women. When the Portuguese lost Malacca to the Dutch in 1641 some Cristang left Malacca and settled in Macau. Some of the early Portuguese administrators in Macau included officials and their families from Malacca (Lee 1999). Several popular Macanese recipes such as arroz gordo (assorted meats and rice) and chilicote show the strong influence of the Cristang who themselves were influenced by Portuguese, Malay, Fujoamese or Hokkien, South Asian and Dutch foodways (Luk 2003: 9). Other Macanese dishes with strong Malaccan influence include porco tamarinho or as it is known in Malacca babi asam (pork cooked in tamarind and shrimp paste), pato cabidela or itek sioh (duck stewed in its own blood and flavoured with coriander), lacassa or laksa (spicy noodle soup) laced with copious amounts of balichao (shrimp paste of Malay origin)10 and c’aril de camarao e carne de caranguejo (shrimp with crabmeat curry) (Lee 1999).

Conclusion Our search for an authentic Macanese cookbook has led us to a detailed discovery of the hybrid nature of Macanese cooking. Given the complex mix of cooking styles, ingredients and flavours; variations from household to household; and the influence of wealth, ethnic background and other influences on Macanese cuisine, it is not difficult to see why there are so many versions of Macanese recipes and why one can look in vain for a ‘one and only’ traditional recipe. Different versions of the same dish co-existed during the same period while evolving into new variants in another period. The ethnic character (e.g. Portuguese, original Macanese and new Macanese) of a particular dish can give us some understanding of how it progressed. More importantly, it tells us that food, like other cultural products, never stands still – it changes and highlights the strength of the people responsible for the change. Like the Baba of Malaysia who have retained many symbolic aspects of their Chinese heritage and who both ‘inherit and reshape traditions’ (Tan 1998: 21), the Macanese are both the inheritors and creators of their own customs, including a very rich repertoire of recipes. There is only one reason why such dishes are called Macanese rather than Portuguese or Chinese, and that is because the Macanese people, and not anyone else, created them. Portuguese cooking at first dominated but was later integrated into Macanese cuisine. The many innovations introduced by the Chinese domestic cook had to be approved by the Macanese family she was cooking for. And though many Macanese dishes contain Chinese ingredients, many Chinese outside the Macanese household do not know how or why these ingredients are used (see also Augustin-Jean 2002: 121). We would like to end this chapter with a quote from Julia Senna Fernandes, a long time resident of Macau: First you have to understand who we are – we are of the east and the west, we are Chinese and we are Portuguese – and we are many others as well.


A. Mamak Our food combines it all – it’s the heritage of the Macanese people – drawn from many different origins. Strangers look at our recipes and are appalled by the odd mix of ingredients – but once they taste they are hooked!

We hope that more and more Macanese cookbooks will begin to appear on bookshelves as the members of this unique population begin to realize that the younger generation is beginning to forget the cuisine.

Acknowledgements Gerry McDougall and Julio Sequeira provided valuable insights, helped gather material for this article and criticized the initial draft. We are grateful to the twenty-five Macanese families living in San Francisco and Los Angeles who graciously shared their stories with us. In Macau, we would like to thank the following individuals who gave generously of their time – Chef Chan Yuk Kong of the Flamenco Restaurant, Hyatt Regency, Taipa; Manuela Ferreira, Managing Director of Restaurante Litoral; and Aida Jesus, Managing Director of Riquexo. Thanks to Lacey Mamak for her editorial help. Any omissions and errors are entirely my own.

Notes 1 Braga (1998) provides an excellent history of the Portuguese in Hong Kong and Macau. Many other excellent articles can be found in The Macanese – AnthropologyHistory-Ethnology. Review of Culture, No. 20 (2nd series, English edition), published by Instituto Cultural de Macau in 1994. However, a comprehensive history of Macanese cuisine, including the origin of many of the dishes, remains unwritten. 2 Unlike the British, the Portuguese had a greater tendency to intermarry with the local inhabitants, in part, because many of the Portuguese men who went to these places did not have wives. In general, if the local inhabitant converted to Christianity, adopted a Portuguese name and learned Portuguese culture and language, he or she became one of the assimilados (assimilated) and could be eligible for Portuguese status. The policy of assimilation may have helped Portugal, a small country to begin with, extend more effective control over their colonies. In this chapter, the term ‘Portuguese’ refers to the metropolitan Portuguese and not to people of mixed Portuguese ancestry. 3 Growing up in a Macanese community in Hong Kong in the 1950s, we seldom heard the term Macanese used, especially in regards to cooking. My mother’s hand-written Macanese recipes passed on to friends in those days would often display the marginal notation: ‘the Portuguese way’. 4 Like the Baba or Malay-speaking Chinese who despite years of residence in Malaysia continue to retain many symbolic aspects of their Chinese heritage (a process, Tan (1998: 20) calls ‘continuity in transformation’), the original Macanese continue to associate with Portuguese culture. 5 Rice cooked the Brazilian way involves sautéing the rice with diced onions in olive oil until lightly browned, adding a finely chopped tomato, pouring boiling water over the rice mixture and simmering it until all the water is absorbed (see Hamilton 2001: 164). 6 While traditional Portuguese families had many ways of preparing salted codfish, the average Macanese family would often incorporate a simpler, less salty version of the

In search of a Macanese cookbook 169





dish. For example, in our family I can only recall one recipe using salted codfish. Our cook used to knead together salted codfish with mashed potatoes, forming the mixture into small balls, dipping each ball in beaten eggs then breadcrumbs, flattening them to form small patties, then frying them in butter in a shallow pan until golden brown. The Fujian and Chaozhou roots in some Macanese dishes are particularly strong. Chaozhou influences can be seen in such dishes as canja de frango (chicken congee or rice porridge) and peixe Mandarin (Mandarin fish). Fujianese influence on Portuguese cooking can be traced back to Malacca under Portuguese occupation in the early sixteenth century (Luk 2000: 11). While Chinese and other Asian ingredients are found in many Macanese recipes some Macanese of an earlier generation like to give the impression that the Portuguese were the innovators who created this cuisine. We feel this to be partially incorrect. It may be due to an overemphasis on our European heritage and a reluctance to admit to our Chinese heritage, at least during an earlier period in our history. For those ‘original Macanese’ who feel a closer affinity with Portugal, Portuguese cuisine will always be regarded as playing a dominant role in Macanese foodways while Indo-Malaysian and Chinese influences will be seen as playing a supporting role. In my mother’s hand-written recipe book she had instructions on how to make ‘scones, Filipino-style chicken, meat loaf, winter melon soup, Ta Kong Ko (Chinese pudding), chow fun and chow mein, pak chuet kai (boiled chicken), sweet and sour pork, Russian-style bell peppers stuffed with meat and rice, and spaghetti with meat balls’. Balichao plays an important role in flavouring many Macanese dishes, in particular tacho.

References Amaro, A.M. (1994) ‘Sons and daughters of the soil – the first decade of Luso Chinese diplomacy’, in The Macanese – Anthropology-History-Ethnology, Review of Culture No. 20 (2nd series, English edition), Macau: Instituto Cultural of Macau. Augustin-Jean, L. (2002) ‘Food consumption, food perception and the search for a Macanese identity’, in D.Y.H. Wu and S.C.H. Cheung (eds) The Globalization of Chinese Food, Richmond, Surrey: RoutlegdeCurzon, pp. 113–127. Braga, J.P. (1998) The Portuguese in Hong Kong and China, Macau: Fundacao. Da Silva, A.M.J. (2003) ‘Foreword’, in A. Jackson (ed.) Taste of Macau: Portuguese Cuisine on the China Coast, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, pp. x–xii. Do Rego, A.F. (2001) The Art of Macanese Cuisine and other IFT Delights, Macao: Hoi Kwong Printing. Hamilton, C.Y. (2001) Cuisines of Portuguese Encounters, New York: Hippocrene Books. Jackson, A. (2003) Taste of Macau: Portuguese Cuisine on the China Coast, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Jorge, C. (2000) ‘Where all the flavors blend’, UMA News Bulletin, 23 (1): 13–14. Jorge, G.P. (1994) ‘The Creole cuisine of Macao’, in The Macanese – AnthropologyHistory-Ethnology, Review of Culture No. 20 (2nd series, English edition), Macau: Instituto Cultural of Macau. Lamas, J.A.F. (1997) A Culinaria Dos Macaenses, 2nd edn, Macau: Lello Editores. Lee, P. (1999) ‘Macau, Malacca, and Makan’, The Peranakan Association (Oct–Dec): 1–2.


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Luk, A. (2000) ‘The Fukien and Chiu Chow roots in Macanese culture’, UMA News Bulletin, 26 (6): 8–9. —— (2003) ‘Cristang cookery and its influence in Macanese cuisine’, UMA News Bulletin, 29 (1): 4–5. Marreiros, C. (1994) ‘Alliances for the future’, in The Macanese – Anthropology-HistoryEthnology, Review of Culture No. 20 (2nd series, English edition), Macau: Instituto Cultural of Macau. Neves, C. (2003) ‘The Portuguese in Hong Kong’, UMA News Bulletin, 26 (1): 1–4. Remedios, G. (2001) ‘The Merenda Man’, UMA News Bulletin, 24 (6): 7–8. Tan, C.B. (1998) ‘Chinese Peranakan food and symbolism in Malaysia’, The Proceedings of the 5th Symposium on the Chinese Dietary Culture, Taipei: Foundation of Chinese Dietary Culture, pp. 185–210. Teixeira, M. (1994) ‘The Macanese’, in The Macanese – Anthropology-History-Ethnology, Review of Culture No. 20 (2nd series, English edition), Macau: Instituto Cultural of Macau.

12 Nyonya cuisine Chinese, non-Chinese and the making of a famous cuisine in Southeast Asia Tan Chee-Beng

The Baba in Malaysia and Singapore are Chinese who have acquired a creolized form of Malay as their mother tongue, although today many Babas in Singapore speak English rather than Malay. Historically the women, called nyonya, wore sarongs, and most of the older women still do, as do many indigenous people. While not many people in Malaysia and Singapore really know about the Baba cultural life and their self-perception, Baba cuisine is well known and there are restaurants in Malaysia and Singapore serving nyonya food (that is, Baba food). The Malay-speaking Chinese in Melaka and Singapore also identify themselves as Peranakan Cina or ‘Chinese Peranakan’, or ‘Peranakan’ for short, and so their food may also be called Peranakan food. The term ‘Peranakan’ is also used in Indonesia, where the Chinese Peranakans have their own local distinctiveness. In the past, the local-born Chinese in Penang (in contrast to Chinese immigrants) were also called ‘Baba’, and like the Baba in Melaka and Singapore, they exhibit localized cultural features, such as the women wearing the sarong and cooking nyonya food. However, the ‘Penang Baba’ spoke a localized version of Hokkien (southern Fujian as known in Malaysia), rather than Malay, among themselves – this localized Hokkien is popularly referred to as Penang Hokkien. The Penang nyonya food, having northern regional influences including Thai, differs in a number of ways from the nyonya food of Melaka and Singapore.1 We can refer to the Penang nyonya food as the Northern Nyonya tradition and that of Melaka and Singapore as the Southern Nyonya tradition. Nevertheless the two cuisines share more similarities than differences, in their innovative use and re-invention of both Chinese and Malay cuisines as well as the creation of new cuisines. In this chapter, I shall describe the Southern Nyonya tradition from Melaka. Theoretically it is tempting and convenient to use the concept of hybridization to explain the Baba and other highly localized communities of local origin including the Macanese in Macau. Chua and Rajah (2001) have used this concept to describe ethnicity and food in Singapore, including that of the Baba. Despite my long-term research among the Baba, and indeed because of it, I have avoided using this concept (cf. Tan 2001). The concept imposes hybridity, however it is understood, and generates sweeping assumptions that may not be backed up by ethnographic evidence. In the case of the nyonya

172 Tan Chee-Beng cuisine, it is more helpful to study it as a product of cultural localization, arising from Chinese and non-Chinese cultural interaction in the context of the Malayan environment. I shall illustrate the nature of Baba food by describing six recipes from the field. Instead of viewing or describing the Baba cuisine as Malay-like, as many Malaysians and Singaporeans do, or assuming it as hybrid, as some scholars do, we shall examine the ingredients and methods used in preparing some Baba foods. Such an approach of studying the Baba foodways in detail, including examining the cuisine and the methods of cooking, enables us to understand the nature of Baba food culture and the creativity involved. This is similar to the ‘thick description’ mentioned by Geertz (1973) in the study of culture. I began my research on the Baba in Melaka in 1977, and I have returned now and then for short-term field trips. My interest has been on cultural change and identity; and Peranakan food is, of course, both of ethnographic and gastronomical interest. While I have enjoyed nyonya food and had observed its cooking in the field, I had not taken the trouble to record recipes and processes of preparation. In 1996 I resigned from the University of Malaya where I had been teaching since 1980, to join the Department of Anthropology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. This Department has a strong interest in the anthropology of food, in particular Chinese food. Thus in July 1997, I decided to return to the village, Bukit Rambai, where I began my research on the Baba twenty years ago, to study Peranakan food and to observe its preparation. This time my wife, Swee Hiang, assisted me in the research. We stayed with a Bong (Chinese family name, same as Huang in Mandarin) family whom I have known since 1977. As the man (since deceased) was older than me, I called him Ko Ding (Brother Ding) and his wife Enso Kelly (Enso being the Baba address for an older brother’s wife). Kelly is a good cook, so is her mother Mrs Cheong, who is from another part of Melaka called Kandang. I know both the Bong and Cheong families very well, and so our 1997 visit was most welcome. Our stay coincided with the second death anniversary for Mr Bong’s mother on 28 July 1997, and so we were able to observe the preparation of ceremonial foods too. Nyonya food is the product of the Babas, especially the women, who as active agents in the course of history, produce food out of their knowledge of Chinese and local indigenous styles of cooking with the use of many local ingredients. It reflects the dynamic process of interculturation with Babas as active agents of cultural continuity and cultural innovation. While the Babas have the knowledge of Chinese cooking, they use many local ingredients not usually used by the mainstream Chinese (the non-Baba Chinese), and this makes the food very distinct from the usual Chinese food. The nyonya created this food, hence the preference by the Baba themselves for the term ‘nyonya food’. In the past, the Baba, following strict Chinese patriarchal custom, confined young women to the home to prepare them to be good wives. One of the main criteria of a good woman was to be able to cook well, and my old nyonya informants often told me that in the past women looking for good daughters-

Nyonya cuisine 173 in-law could determine if a particular woman was a capable cook by listening to how she pounded chillies! Nyonya food is popular, and there are a number of nyonya food cookbooks in Malaysia and Singapore.2 Here, I chose six recipes from my field study. The first four recipes are based on what I learnt from Mr and Mrs Bong. I have included two recipes (V and VI, pages 178 and 179, respectively) based on my general observation in my 1977 long-term research in Melaka. We should note that traditionally the nyonya do not follow exact measurements when cooking, to the frustration of the younger ones who are used to the cookbook format. Kelly always said, ‘We Baba follow the agak-agak principle’. Agak is a Malay word which means something like ‘guessing’. What Kelly meant was that: Don’t ask how many teaspoons or how many grams of this or that ingredient. One learns by agak-agak. Thus one learns by experience how much salt to use, or how many shallots to use. The thrill of good cooking is in its non-standardization. In the recipes below, where possible, I have included some measurements, but they should be treated as agak-agak, to be adjusted to one’s own taste. Before we discuss the recipes, we need to be familiar with the terms sambal and belacan which are much used in nyonya cuisine. Most nyonya cooking involves the preparation of rempah, the mixture of raw ingredients used for making sambal, the thick chilli gravy used in making many kinds of dishes (see Recipe V, page 178). A common ingredient used in making sambal is belacan. Belacan is a Malay word and is an essential ingredient in Malay cooking. It is a paste made from dried geragau (called gerago in Baba Malay), tiny shrimp-like crustaceans, and so in Malaysia and Singapore the paste is loosely translated as ‘shrimp paste’, since most people assume that it is made from shrimps and do not know about geragau. It is also rather difficult to translate geragau into English. Other than using it in small quantities as a food ingredient in many kinds of dishes, the Babas and the Malays also use it to make a chilli paste called sambal belacan, i.e. belacan chilli paste or ‘dried shrimp paste sambal’. This is mixed with plain rice for tastier eating. It is made by pounding a few fresh red chillies and a little toasted belacan (for example, four or five chillies for about one tablespoon of belacan). The paste, made this way, is sambal belacan, different to the thick gravy sambal described in Recipe V (page 178). Depending on individual taste, some salt and sugar may be added, while many like to add lime juice just before serving. The belacan used for making this dish is always heated, not only to bring out the aroma (smelly to those not used to the smell), but also to kill the germs if present.

174 Tan Chee-Beng

Recipes from the field (i) Ayam Goreng Lada (Peppered Chicken) Ingredients 1 chicken (cut into bite size pieces) 4 cloves garlic 18 shallots 5 candlenuts (buah keras)  handful of whole white peppercorns 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce 2 teaspoons salt 3 teaspoons sugar Method Grind garlic, shallots, candlenuts and peppercorns together with a stone grinder. This is called giling. This is the traditional way. Alternatively one can pound the ingredients or use an electric blender. Sauté the ground ingredients at medium heat. When brown and flavour rises, add in the chicken, dark soy sauce and enough water (about a cup) to cover the chicken. Cover and stew until cooked. Add salt and sugar. The dish has thick gravy which is delicious when eaten with rice, that is, for those who like it pepper hot. Comments This is a simple dish which is not normally mentioned in cookbooks. What distinguishes this from mainstream (non-Baba) Chinese cooking is the use of candlenuts (Aleurites molucanna)3 which are often used in Baba and Malay cooking, but more so among the Baba. The ground candlenuts thicken gravy and add a special flavour to the dish. Another distinctive feature is the extra use of shallots, giving the food extra fragrance. Shallots are used in Hokkien cooking, but the Baba use more as shown here. In this recipe, much pepper is used, giving the simple dish a kick to it. (ii) Chap Chai (Mixed Vegetable) Ingredients Vegetables: cabbage (kobis, Brassica oleracea L var. capitata, 3–4 leaves cut into pieces), dried lily buds (kim cham, 25 g, cut away the hard ends and soak in water), black edible fungus (boji hitam,15 g, soak in water first and drain to discard impurities, also remove the hard part), mung bean vermicelli (sok-un, also colloquially called transparent vermicelli, which of course is dongfen in

Nyonya cuisine 175 Mandarin; 25–50 g, soak briefly in water), dried beancurd sheets (perut tahu, 2 sheets, soak in water briefly to soften, then tear into smaller pieces). The measurements here are my suggestion. It is really up to the cook to decide how much of each to use. 1 tablespoon minced garlic 1 tablespoon preserved bean paste (taucheo) light soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste about 5 cups water Method Sauté minced garlic with soybean paste. Add water. When boiled, add the vegetables. Boil until cooked. Add light soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Remember that the preserved soybean paste is salty and so the amount of salt should be adjusted accordingly. Comments Most of the Chinese loanwords in Baba Malay are of Hokkien (Southern Fujian) origin. Chap Chai is Hokkien for ‘mixed vegetables’, but for the Baba this mixed vegetable dish is cooked in soup. The five types of vegetables/ vegetarian products are the ones usually used by the Baba. In fact when making an offering to a Buddhist deity like the Goddess of Mercy, uncooked dried lily buds, edible fungus, mung bean vermicelli and dried bean curd sheets are used. The dried lily buds are always tied in pairs before cooking, and this is especially important if they are to be cooked for ritual purposes, for the tying together symbolizes ‘togetherness’, that is family unity. Chap Chai can be used for offering to ancestors. However, for worshipping ancestors on special occasions, a few raw cabbage leaves are arranged in a big bowl to form a receptacle into which is poured the cooked Chap Chai without any cooked cabbage. After worshipping, the raw cabbage in the bowl is cut into pieces and cooked with the previously cooked Chap Chai before serving. The use of cabbage is important as it symbolizes ‘unity’, for cabbage is called pau chai in Malaysian and Singaporean Hokkien, and pau in Hokkien is homonymous with the word for ‘surround’ or ‘encircle’ and the word for ‘guarantee’, which indicates something is sure to occur. This explains why it is always cabbage that is used in this dish. In fact, the Chap Chai prepared for important occasions of worship, in which whole raw cabbage leaves are used, is called Chap Chai Chin, also Chap Chai Chhin. The term chin or chhin is from the Hokkien word chhin (double ‘h’ is used to indicate aspirated pronunciation which is common in the Hokkien language), which means ‘close’ in a relationship, especially between family members. The use of cabbage thus symbolizes ‘guaranteed to be close in a relationship’ or pau chhin in Hokkien. Thus Chap Chai Chin is ritually significant, but for normal eating, it is merely Chap Chai as shown above.


Tan Chee-Beng

(iii) Ponteh Ayam (Chicken Ponteh) Ingredients 1 chicken (cut into bite size pieces) 2 handfuls (about 30) shallots (grind separately) 2 bulbs (about 23 cloves) garlic (grind separately) 3–4 potatoes (cut into pieces) 5–6 tablespoons preserved soybean paste 1–2 tablespoons dark soy sauce 6 tablespoons of sugar cooking oil, enough to sauté shallots and garlic water Method Sauté shallots first, then add in garlic. Fry a while before adding in bean paste. Fry to mix well. Add some water (about  cup) and keep stirring to avoid mixture being burnt. Add more water (about  cup) and leave to boil (about 5–8 minutes) until the flavour of the ingredients rises. Add in potatoes and chicken and stir evenly. Add in dark soy sauce and sugar as well as enough water (about 2 cups) to cover chicken and potatoes, and leave to stew until chicken and potatoes are cooked. Comments This dish which uses much soybean paste and sugar is quite Chinese in identity. However, the name is uniquely Baba, and the Babas see this as an important Baba dish. No one seems to know the origin of the term, although, I think pong may be the mispronunciation of the Hokkien word hong for stewing in soy sauce, and teh is derived from the Hokkien word de for pig’s trotters, as the Hokkien in Malaysia still stew pork or pig’s trotters in soy sauce, although with less preserved soybean paste, sugar and shallot. The Babas also cook pork pongteh, but often it is pork mixed with chicken. Pongteh is ritually significant for the Baba for it is associated with worshipping ancestors. It is an important item of offering on death anniversary and on Hungry Ghost festival domestic worship during the seventh Chinese month. While the dish can be cooked for ordinary eating, it is not suitable for an auspicious occasion such as a wedding.

Nyonya cuisine 177 (iv) Ikan Parang Masak Asam (Wolf Herring Fish Cooked in Tamarind Juice) Ingredients A. To prepare Ikan parang (Chirocentrus dorab), 250–300 g (cut into 3 or 4 pieces) 3 or 4 turmeric leaves (daun kunyit) (remove central vein and shred) 1 handful tamarind pulp (asam jawa) (add water and strain to get juice) 2 tablespoons sugar 2 teaspoons salt B. To grind together 5 or 6 red long chillies (break into pieces, remove seeds to reduce hotness) 2 lemon grass (serai) (use the lower part of the stem, slice) fresh turmeric root (kunyit) (about 1-inch piece, slice) fresh galangal (lengkuas) (about 1-inch piece, slice) 10 shallots 10 g shrimp paste (belacan) Ingredients (B) can be blended in an electric blender. If pounding method is used, pound the harder ingredients (lemon grass followed by others) first. Method Add 1 big bowl of water to wok, then add the blended mixture and tamarind juice. Leave to boil for 5–8 minutes. Add in fish, sugar and salt. When fish is about cooked, add in turmeric leaves. Comments Unlike the earlier dishes, this dish make use of many local ingredients which are not used by non-Baba Chinese, such as belacan, asam jawa, serai, kunyit (both roots and leaves) and lengkuas. These ingredients are commonly used in Peranakan cooking. Belacan, Asam jawa (Tamarindus indica) or tamarind and serai (Cymbopogon citratus) or lemon grass, are commonly used in Malay and Thai cooking, as well as in Peranakan cooking. Both kunyit (Curcuma domestica, turmeric) and lengkuas (Alpinia galanga) are local gingers, and in the case of kunyit, the fragrant leaves are used for cooking, too. For this dish, Kelly (informant) prefers to use ikan parang fish which is easily available in Malaysia, and its meat is tender and ‘sweet’. If ikan parang is not available, one can try with other kinds of fish which has tender meat. The substitutes recommended by Kelly are ikan kembung (Scomber spp.), ikan selar (Caranx spp.) and ikan terubuk (Clupea macrura), all of which are easily available in Malaysia and


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Singapore. Thus the dish can simply be called ikan masak asam or ‘fish cooked in tamarind juice’ without specifying the type of fish used. This dish shows the kind of nyonya cooking that uses many local ingredients. (v) Sambal Dishes (Dishes in Thick Chilli Gravy) Ingredients chillies candlenuts some belacan shallots tamarind juice seafood or pork salt and sugar The ingredients listed here are based on my general field observations in 1977. For a dish for four persons, the following amount of ingredients may be used: 30 dried chillies, 5 candlenuts, 1 tablespoon belacan, 30 shallots. I have also tried the following combination of ingredients: 15 fresh long red chillies, 5 candlenuts, 20 shallots, 1 tablespoon belacan. As to tamarind, use about 1 to 2 tablespoons to make the tamarind water, depending on how much sour taste one prefers. Common dishes cooked in this style include prawn sambal, squid sambal (sambal sotong), and pork sambal, but seafood sambal dishes are most common. Prawn sambal is my favourite, and in the method section below we shall use 500 g of prawns. Method Pound chillies, candlenuts, belacan and shallots to make rempah. Nowadays it is easier to use a grinder. If fresh chillies are used, the water needs to be drained so that the rempah can be fried. This chilli juice may be poured into the sambal at the same time as the tamarind water. To avoid using too much water, use the chilli juice to make the tamarind water from the tamarind pulp, using a filter. To cook, put some cooking oil into a heated wok, when the oil is heated, add the rempah. Stir fry for a while, and then lower the fire; in all this process takes 2 or 3 minutes. Add the prawns and stir fry for a while before adding the tamarind water. Cook over high flame until the prawns are cooked. Just before this add some salt (e.g. 2 teaspoons) and sugar (e.g. 1 tablespoon). Some people prefer more sugar to make the sambal sweeter and to disguise the hot taste. Comments Sambal dishes characterize Baba foodways, as these are prepared for most meals eaten with rice. While many non-Baba Chinese Malaysians have acquired the

Nyonya cuisine 179 taste for sambal dishes, they usually eat such dishes in restaurants rather than cook them at home. In other words, sambal dishes are part and parcel of nyonya cuisine. The chilli-red colour of the thick chilli gravy gives an impression to non-Baba Chinese that Babas are great chilli eaters, like the Malays. In actual fact, due to the innovative combination of ingredients, the sambal prepared by the nyonyas may not be very hot, and the sambal is so tasty that few Babas eat rice without a sambal dish; much sambal gravy is put over the rice in their plates. (vi) Kuih Cang Nyonya (Nyonya Dumpling) Ingredients pork fat mushrooms lean pork (cut into small pieces and boiled) preserved sweetened winter melon strips coriander seeds (ketumbar) garlic soybean paste The ingredients are based on my observation in 1977 but I did not record the amount of each ingredient. The purpose here is to show the type of ingredients used. Of course one can use vegetarian cooking oil instead of pork lard, which my informants claimed made the dumpling taste better. Method Fry the pork fat to get the oil, take out. Then pour some of the oil into the wok. After heating, put in the crushed garlic and soybean paste. Fry to get the aroma, put in grounded coriander seeds, continue to fry for a while. Put in the preserved winter melon strips, turn a few times, then put in the soaked mushrooms, again turn the dish a few times. Put in the blanched pork, turn a few times. Add soy sauce and sugar until the dish is cooked. Comments The ‘dish’ prepared is used as the ingredient for making the nyonya dumpling. Unlike the dumplings with meat filling, made by the other Chinese Malaysians, the nyonya dumpling is very sweet in taste, and so, it is also called kuih cang manis, sweet dumpling. Because it has finely chopped pork filling, the dumpling is also called kuih cang bah, pork dumpling, equivalent in name to the bah chang of the non-Baba Hokkien. The term cang is derived from the Hokkien term chang for the kind of dumpling made during the fifth-moon festival, called duanwu jie in Mandarin. Bah means ‘meat’ in Hokkien but when unspecified it


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usually means pork; and the Baba use bah for ‘pork’. The dumpling with meat filling made by the non-Baba Chinese in Malaysia is not sweet and so the nyonya dumpling is quite distinct, being associated with the Babas in Malaysia and Singapore. As we can see from the ingredients of the filling used, the sweet taste comes from the sweetened preserved winter melon strips and the soybean paste. The ingredients, except coriander seeds, are commonly used in Chinese cooking, and the Baba combine them in such a way to create a totally new taste of dumpling. While the mainstream Chinese, whether in Malaysia or elsewhere in the world, use coriander leaves, they do not normally use coriander seeds in their cooking. The use of ketumbar (coriander seeds) for making dumpling is thus quite distinctively Baba. Ketumbar is an important ingredient in curry powder, and it is an important ingredient in South Asian and Malay cooking. The Babas also make kuih cang abu, plain dumpling mixed with lye solution. The non-Baba Chinese in Malaysia make this kind of dumpling, too.4 However, instead of buying the lye, some Babas derive the same effect by using the ash solution from burning dried durian (Durio spp.) skins, hence the term abu which means ‘ash’ in Malay.

Conclusion The Babas cook both Malay-style and Chinese-style dishes but they prefer their uniquely Peranakan style dishes. While I have chosen only six recipes, they do show the range of the Baba style of cooking. In the first recipe, there is only one kind of local ingredient, the candlenuts, which is not used by the non-Baba Chinese, but the dish is still distinct from mainstream Chinese cooking. In the second recipe, no special local ingredient is used and it appears very Chinese, even the name of the dish is a Hokkien loanword. However, the Babas prepare the vegetarian dish in soup form, and on ritual occasions, it has symbolic meaning. The third recipe is also Chinese in style and in the use of ingredients, but the final product is a new creation, characterized by its sweet and salty taste. The fourth recipe is very local, that is, quite ‘un-Chinese’, and represents a common style of delicious hot nyonya dishes. The fifth recipe shows a common Baba style of daily cooking, the preparation of sambal dishes. Like the Malays, the Babas eat sambal regularly, but they prepare the dishes in their own ways, including using pork, which is a taboo to the Malays, who are Muslims. The last recipe shows a re-invention of a traditional Chinese food. Just like most foods, we do not know how it started. Perhaps someone like the sweetened preserved winter melon and used it as an ingredient in making the dumpling, and others followed. The origin of a particular food like this can only be conjectured. However, such re-invention of food within a tradition is common of Chinese who had migrated to different parts of the world, and in Malaysia we have many examples, including Hokkien Mee (a kind of fresh Chinese noodles cooked with prawn and slices of lean pork in prawn soup) and Fried Kwayteow (rice noodles fried with eggs, prawns and bean sprouts). Many of these were created in the context of market competition, so that one can sell better, for instance, a tasty

Nyonya cuisine 181 reinvented noodle soup. However, the Babas have created many new foods for family meals out of the interaction of Chinese and local Malayan cultures (including those of Malay, Portuguese Eurasian, Chitty and others) as well as Babas’ creative use of local ingredients. They have created a new taste and a new cuisine that we call nyonya food. The production of this new cuisine is similar to the creation of Creole as a distinct language in inter-linguistic contact. In this sense, the nyonya food may be described as a creolized cuisine. We see that the Baba like to use such ingredients as soy sauce, preserved soybean, sugar and shallots which are popular in Hokkien cooking (but the Baba use more of them), but they also use many local ones not used by the non-Baba Chinese. Thus, nyonya food cannot be described as Chinese or Malay in the ‘traditional’ sense nor stereotyped as hybridized, whether there is a contrast with pure types or not. Only through ethnographic study can we know the nature of Baba culture, and in the present case, the nature of nyonya food, which is uniquely Baba. While the food is much localized, its symbolism remains traditionally Chinese. We have seen from the cases presented that the Baba food symbolism is based on the Hokkien system of symbolism. Indeed the food of the Baba reflects their cultural identity that is both Chinese and localized. It is, thus, not surprising that nyonya food occupies a unique place in the symbolism of being Chinese and local, and it is promoted as a unique local cuisine in the tourism of Malaysia and Singapore. Unlike the Macanese cuisine, which is not widely acknowledged as a distinct cuisine in Macau (AugustineJean 2002: 121), nyonya food is not only widely acknowledged but is considered by Babas and non-Babas to be delicious or at least special. While some nyonya style of cooking is Malay-like, the Baba consumption of pork makes the boundary between Baba and Malay cuisines very distinct. At the same time the use of local non-Chinese ingredients makes the Baba cuisine quite distinct from traditional Chinese cuisine. Baba restaurants allow locals and tourists to consume something Chinese and local, as well as experiencing something Baba through food consumption. Most Babas in Melaka, however, do not frequent nyonya restaurants, for they claim to have better and more ‘authentic’ nyonya food at home. They are proud of their food heritage and it is not surprising that nyonya food plays a significant role in the rhetoric on Baba identity. It is associated with their sentiment as ‘Baba’ or ‘Peranakan’. It expresses their subjectivity. As Lupton (1996: 1) aptly points out: ‘Food and eating are central to our subjectivity, or sense of self’. This is so with the Baba. In other words, nyonya food is not only delicious, it expresses Baba sentiment associated with Baba subjectivity, and Baba identity associated with group identification.

Acknowledgements I thank Mr and Mrs Bong Chee Ding (Ding and Kelly) for their hospitality and their patience in showing my wife and I how to cook Peranakan dishes. Unfortunately Mr Bong passed away on 28 June 2003.


Tan Chee-Beng

Notes 1 For a recent cookbook on Penang nyonya cuisine, see Wong (2003). 2 For a well known cookbook on the southern nyonya tradition, see Lee (1974). 3 While candlenuts are not used by Hong Kong Chinese in their food consumption, candlenut trees are commonly seen in different parts of urban and rural Hong Kong, especially as street trees. For example, at the train station entry to The Chinese University Hong Kong, one is greeted by three beautiful candlenut trees. Indeed most Malaysians, who use candlenuts, have not seen candlenut trees, while most Hong Kong people have seen them without realizing that their fruits are associated with food in Southeast Asia. As there are many Indonesian domestic assistants in Hong Kong, dry candlenuts, as a food ingredient, are available in stores selling Indonesian and Southeast Asian products. 4 In Hong Kong, this kind of dumpling is called kaan-shui jung, and it is mostly prepared with mung-bean filling.

References Augustine-Jean, L. (2002) ‘Food consumption, food perception and the search for a Macanese identity’, in D.Y.H. Wu and S.C.H. Cheung (eds) The Globalization of Chinese Food, Richmond, Surrey: RoutlegdeCurzon, pp. 113–127. Chua, B.H. and Rajah, A. (2001) ‘Hybridity, ethnicity and food in Singapore’, in D.Y.H. Wu and C.B. Tan (eds) Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia, Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong, pp. 161–197. Geertz, C. (1973) ‘Thick description: towards an interpretative theory of culture’, in The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays by Clifford Geertz, New York: Basic Books, pp. 3–33. Lee, C.K. (1974) Mrs. Lee’s Cookbook: Nyonya recipes and other favorite recipes, Lee, P.S.Y. (ed.), Singapore: Mrs Lee’s Cookbook. Lupton, D. (1996) Food, the Body and the Self, London: Sage Publications. Tan, C.B. (2001) ‘Food and ethnicity with reference to the Chinese in Malaysia’, in D.Y.H. Wu and C.B. Tan (eds) Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, pp. 125–160. Wong, J. (2003) Nyonya Flavours: A Complete Guide to Penang Straits Chinese Cuisine, Penang: The State Chinese (Penang) Association and Star Publications (M.) Berhad.

13 From Malacca to Adelaide . . . Fragments towards a biography of cooking, yearning and laksa Jean Duruz

In 1976, Don Dunstan, Premier of the State of South Australia, produced his own cookbook. In it, he declared: ‘Australia is not merely a European outpost in Asia. We are already a multi-racial society and we will have a greater racial admixture in the future’ (1976: 28). Stressing the rich cultural resources of the region, Dunstan then urged Australians to ‘get out your chopping board, your cleaver, and your wok’ (1976: 88). Two years before, in Singapore, Mrs Lee’s Cookbook had appeared. Compiled by Mrs Lee Chin Koon (‘Mama Lee’, the mother of Lee Kuan Yew), the book’s project was to record the ‘art’ of Nonya cooking for generations who were no longer taught its ‘secrets’ within domestic kitchens.1 Indeed, Mrs Lee feared that Nonya cooking would die due to recent social and cultural changes – changes in the amount of time women were prepared to spend on domestic cooking, together with the Singapore Government’s political project of ‘making’ Singaporean identity (Lee 1974: Introduction; Solomon 1976: 240). Nearly thirty years after Mrs Lee’s book was published, Australia’s Northern Territory Government, in promotional material, declares its capital city, Darwin, as ‘Australia’s Asian Gateway’ and the official ‘home’ of ‘the best curry laksa in Australia’ (Northern Territory Government 2003: 43). A much-celebrated politician who cooks . . . a professional cook from a distinguished political family . . . government spin doctors who ‘raid’ an iconic dish from someone else’s cuisine – these are unlikely figures to inhabit an everyday story of how food travels through time and space, and its significance in cultural interaction. Adopting these culinary fragments as a map, however, this chapter sets out on a journey from Malaysia – from the seaport of Malacca, and from Bandar Bahru, a town on the border of the State of Kedah and the coastal strip that faces the island of Penang2 – to the ‘mediterranean’ city of Adelaide, Australia during the late 1970s and early 1980s (Symons 1993: 209). The ‘entangled object’ (Crang cited in Law 2001: 276) in this particular journey is the Nyonya dish, laksa – a soup of complex flavours that echoes, in its preparation (the blending of Chinese rice-flour noodles with Malay spices), the history of Peranakan households in Malacca Straits Settlements and, within their kitchens, the production of a distinctive cuisine (Brissenden 1996: 185–186; Hutton 2000: 22–24).3

184 J. Duruz Specifically, the chapter will examine the travels of laksa to South Australia – to a small café in Adelaide’s Central Market and to a casual restaurant serving hawker food near this city’s oldest university. In these travels, two stories are central. These are narratives that emerged from extended interviews I conducted in Adelaide, first, with Mr and Mrs Kut – former owners of the café, Malacca Corner, in the Central Market, and, second, with John Tan, the owner of the now-closed but legendary hawker restaurant, Twains. To ‘read’ these stories and to draw out their resonances, I have engaged with approaches associated with textual analysis and ethnography, developed within such disciplines as anthropology and cultural studies (Marcus 1999; Gray 2003; Johnson R. et al. 2004). Analytically speaking, I want to tease out those (unfulfilled) prophecies of the ‘death’ of Nyonya cooking and the poignancy of its remembrance. I want to reflect, too, on Nyonya’s re-invention as hawker food; on its performance as ‘cuisine’ in restaurants and cookbooks. However, at the same time, my analytic story has a different twist from others. This chapter is concerned, not merely, with the survival of Nyonya cooking but also with its re-invention and re-configuration in unlikely settings – a re-mapping of ‘Asian’ and ‘Australian’ belongings. Furthermore, in following this narrative of food production, I suspect we need a critical shift in focus. This is from the production of food to the production of memory itself. The theoretical baggage needed for this journey will be unpacked at various stages along the way. At this point, it is suffice to say that the chapter draws on a rich vein of writing in cultural research – in cultural geography, anthropology and cultural studies (also see Hage 1997; Law 2001; Sutton 2001; Cheung 2005; Korsmeyer 2005). Such work emphasizes memory as a form of meaning-making in relation to identity, with gastronomic memories and their narrative structures constituting works-in-progress. This ‘making’ becomes not only one of food but also of ‘self’ and ‘place’ in everyday life. As background to interview stories and to analytic frameworks for ‘reading’ these, however, we need to return to the history of Nyonya cooking itself, particularly in relation to its ‘home’ in the Malacca Straits and its movement beyond its remembered origins.

Food, love and the ghost of Bibik Recently, Florence Tan, a Malaccan-born professional chef,4 described the Peranakan kitchen as ‘the domain of womenfolk’ with Bibik [the traditional title given to an older Peranakan woman] ‘a commanding presence’ as she ‘sniffs and tastes like a five-star chef’. At the same time, Tan expressed concern about the lack of documentation of Nyonya cuisine (Tan, F. 2001: 9). Tan’s cookbook, with its specific focus on the cooking of Peranakan or Straits Chinese households, was not the first attempt to preserve this gastronomic heritage. As Mrs Lee’s wistful statement: ‘In my lifetime I have seen . . . so many changes’ implies, the fragility of Nyonya – and of its processes of transmission from grandmothers to mothers to daughters – has been a persistent shadow in the discourse of cookbook writers and other culinary professionals (Lee 1974: Author’s Foreword; Solomon 1976: 240; Hutton 2000: 22).

From Malacca to Adelaide . . . 185 Nearly twenty years after Mrs Lee’s Cookbook first appeared, Cherry Ripe, a Sydney based food journalist, posed the problem of a ‘disappearing’ cuisine somewhat differently. Setting out to describe an example of ‘culinary conservation’, Ripe says: Perth [Australian]-educated lawyer Lorna Chin and her husband James run an interesting restaurant called Sri Nyonya, in Petaling Jaya . . . outside Kuala Lumpur . . . They run it out of love rather than economic necessity. The restaurant’s express purpose . . . is to keep alive the Nyonya recipes of Lorna’s grandmother and great-grandmother . . . otak otak . . . chicken curry ‘Kapitain’ . . . bok nee [salad of mushrooms and chicken]. (1993: 35) According to James Chin, says Ripe, the shadow of Nyonya’s extinction is not only cast by ‘no new generation of chefs being trained how to cook it’ but also by the fashionableness of ‘chops, steak, pizza, hamburgers . . . even the Colonel’s chicken’ (1993: 35). In this analysis then, it is not only lack of time, skills and education but also the spectral presence of ‘the west’ that shapes Nyonya as a culture under threat. On the other hand, Hutton’s more recent account of Malaysian food – one that subtitles Nyonya cooking as ‘Food of Love’ and declares it ‘a happy marriage of Chinese and Malay cuisines’ – gives cause for optimism: ‘Fortunately for lovers of fine food . . . [a]n increasing number of restaurants now feature Nonya cuisine, and the printing of Nonya recipes in books and magazines now means that enthusiastic cooks of any ethnic background can reproduce this cuisine at home’ (2000: 22). So, it seems that ‘disappearing’ skills and tastes can be retrieved, after all. However, is Tan’s Bibik still a ‘commanding presence’ in the kitchen, choreographing its production, or have ‘lovers of fine food’ and ‘enthusiastic cooks of any ethnic background’ streamed across the threshold to take her place? Interestingly, whether such accounts are lamenting losses or are passionate about retrievals, these resonate with ‘secret geographies’ (Jacobs 1997) of ‘doing-cooking’ – the culinary skills and shared exchanges of femininity (Giard 1998: 153). They also contain, in their narrative textures, traces of ways that food travels – from one generation to the next; from home kitchen to restaurant; from published cookbooks to home kitchens; from ‘Asia’ to the ‘west’ and back; in memory and on the tongue. And as a form of imaginative travel, memory and taste are particularly significant. Florence Tan, for example, stresses the sensory pleasures of remembering Nyonya cooking (‘Mention Nyonya food and the eyes light up, the tongue caresses the lips’) (2001: 9). In New Zealand, Connie Clarkson recalls, as a schoolgirl there in the 1960s, the pleasure of being sent ‘vacuum-packed laksa spice paste ground to perfection’ by her mother in Singapore, and declares: ‘My mother’s mother, Maude Tan taught me to love cooking, about Nonya cuisine and about looking after those you love. . . . I grew up in Maude Tan’s Peranakan


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kitchen [in Singapore], wreathed in the aroma of pandan leaves, fresh baked bread and steaming vanilla custard’ (Clarkson 2002: 8–9). Meanwhile, Cheong Liew, one of Australia’s most celebrated chefs (Downes 2002: 71), describes some of the tastes and colours of his Cantonese childhood in 1950s’ Kuala Lumpur: ‘I remember the old lady who comes to my father’s shop . . . [with] . . . a nonya curry . . . yellow-red-orange . . . with . . . a rich presence of coconut milk . . . They tell me that this lady makes only this dish’ (Liew 1995: 82). Nostalgia for the food of one’s childhood and, in the case of migrants, for the food of one’s original ‘home’ is not unusual. The complex refractions of food, memory, longing and place-making are well established in recent cultural writing (also see Hage 1997; Sutton 2001; Law 2001; Duruz 2002; Cheung 2005). Likewise, there is substantial critique of the appetites of ‘enthusiastic cooks [and eaters] of any ethnic background’ in contexts of consumer cannibalism, ‘cosmo-multicultural’ appropriation and homogenization of difference (Hooks 1992: 21; Mintz 1996: 115–117; Hage 1997: 118–134; Probyn 2000: 81–83; Heldke 2003), and some interesting twists to the consumption of the ‘culturally desired Other’.5 It is tempting then, to continue these debates by following the trail of laksa into the spaces of ‘elsewhere’ – to deconstruct a comforting migration story, perhaps, or a reassuring one of cosmopolitan taste, or, again, to ponder the ‘tactical’ inflections of accounts that destabilize the figure of the (powerful, Western) ‘Other’. Instead, I want to follow a slightly different, and possibly more ambivalent, route. Its destination includes AngloCeltic yearning as a form of ‘borrowed’ foodway, as, in Appadurai’s terms, ‘locality as a lived experience’ (1996: 52). This foodway becomes an emotional landscape for producing and re-producing a particular time, place and politics of intercultural interaction and of ‘Asian’ belonging. Malacca: sharing secrets Madhur Jaffrey, Delhi-born and New York based, presents laksa in her cookbook for the English-speaking world as a Malaysian counterpart of the Provençal soupe de poisson (1997: 126). Meanwhile, Australian foodwriter, Maeve O’Meara, commenting on the availability of commercial spice pastes, recently dubs laksa as ‘the new French onion soup’ (O’Meara cited in Lunn 2003: 12). Nevertheless, I want to give our journey different origins. Instead of these somewhat nervous attempts to invoke Anglo-European culinary sensibilities to approach the ‘exotic’, we’ll have our first taste of laksa in the homely spaces of two family kitchens: one in Malacca Town, chiefly during the 1960s and 1970s, the other kitchen – or rather, series of kitchens – in the State of Kedah, in the 1950s and 1960s.6 The cook in the first kitchen is Mrs Khut Chee Lan.7 The year is 1959. Twenty-two years old, she has recently married Mr Khut Kok Chin, a bank clerk and Number One Son in his family. According to tradition (Goody 1998: 63), Mrs Khut has moved into her mother-in-law’s house and kitchen where she assumes responsibility for the household’s cooking. This responsibility is a con-

From Malacca to Adelaide . . . 187 siderable one, involving shopping and preparing meals, daily, for an extended family of thirteen or fourteen people. Despite not having learnt to cook prior to marriage, Mrs Khut, nevertheless, embraces her new role with passion. In an extended interview with me, she remembers: ‘I enjoy my cooking since I got married. Ooh . . . my fish ball – first class!’ Even now, reflecting on nearly fortyfive years in the kitchen, while managing a ‘retirement’ that involves supplying poh pia [fresh spring rolls], four days a week, to a market stall and working casual shifts as kitchen-hand in a large Adelaide restaurant, Mrs Khut declares, ‘I’m crazy [about cooking].’ Laksa appears in the kitchen, and in this narrative, early in the Khuts’ marriage. Although the Khuts’ parents were all from Guangdong Province, China, and the households ate home-cooked Hakka food (Wu and Cheung 2002: 8–9; Cheung 2002: 104–105), Mrs Khut describes her introduction to, and mastery of, Nyonya cuisine: I learn to make the poh pia first from the Nyonya . . . My neighbour opposite . . . told me how to do it . . . After poh pia, I learn curry, laksa, everything . . . [Then it’s] practice . . . more practice . . . try and try . . . I cook my Chinese food for them and we exchange, we learn. Meanwhile, Mr Khut expresses similar sentiments: ‘In Malaysia we . . . mix Malay and Nyonya cooking all together so we learn from each other’. ‘We exchange, we learn’ seems a particularly appropriate mantra for discussing examples of Nyonya cuisine, themselves an exercise in cultural and geographic hybridity. Brissenden, introducing a selection of Nyonya dishes, provides a thumbnail sketch of their history: Malacca’s status as a great trading entrepôt drew . . . many Chinese merchants who settled there and married Malay wives. When the British established settlements in Penang and Singapore in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, some of the descended families moved to these two places as well, attracted by the new commercial opportunities there. A new wave of Chinese immigrants moved into mining and agriculture in the eighteenth century, some of these in turn marrying into the older families in the settlements. These were the people known over time as ‘Baba’, ‘Straits Chinese’ or Peranakan (children of mixed blood). Though they lived in the world and decorated their houses in conformance with the paternal culture, much of their domestic life was deeply influenced by the Malay side of their heritage. (1996: 185) The ‘mixed’ cuisine to emerge was Nyonya, with laksa as one of its signature dishes. Furthermore, laksa itself is a moveable feast, according to its specific cultural ‘entanglements’. As Chang (1977: 7) remarks his now-classic anthology of Chinese food, ‘Chinese food begins to assume a local character simply by


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virtue of the ingredients it uses.’ In the case of laksa, however, local ingredients appear to have transformed the dish’s very ‘Chineseness’ to produce ‘something else’. Writing chiefly about cooking in Peranakan households established in Malacca and Singapore, Mrs Lee (1974) says in the Foreword: Malay influence . . . has produced a unique Paranakan culture . . . distinct from those of the Chinese community. . . . Our food, which is basically Malay or Indonesian in method and ingredients . . . is totally different from Chinese food, though we do use some Chinese ingredients, like pork, which the Malays, who are Muslims, are forbidden to eat (Lee: 1974). Typically, says Hutton, the ‘Malacca Nonya version’ of laksa (Laksa Lemak), while using Chinese noodles, is ‘rich in coconut milk, its basic spice paste made from dried prawns, fresh turmeric, chillies, dried shrimp paste, lemongrass and galangul (lenghaus)’ (2000: 24; see also Lee 1974: 54). In contrast, as Tan C.B. points out, ‘ “Penang Laksa” (also called Penang Asam Laksa)’ is ‘uniquely “Penang Chinese”, . . . Chinese, yet reflecting Malay, and especially, Thai influences’. The result is a laksa that combines ‘its own type of noodle in a soup prepared from minced mackerel fish flesh and a variety of local ingredients such as serai (lemon-grass), mint leaves, asam (tamarind) pieces, kesum leaves. . . kantan flower buds . . . belacan (shrimp paste)’ (Tan C.B. 2001: 133). With its distinctive fish-and-tamarind-sour taste and fragrance (that is also marked by the absence of coconut milk), ‘Penang Chinese living elsewhere often say they miss the Penang Laksa. It has come to symbolize Penang Chinese identity’ (Tan C.B. 2001: 133).8 The laksa that is the subject of Mrs Khut’s ‘try and try’ is Laksa Lemak, the recipe she still uses and recites to me is characteristic of its ‘Malacca version’. Here, an interesting circuit has been traced – not only from China to the Malacca Straits – to produce a distinctively ‘different’ dish from its contributing cuisines but also a movement from remembered practices of Nyonya (in Mrs Kut’s narrative, ‘poh pia, curry, laksa’) to those of Hakka food (her own ‘fish ball – first class!’) and back. Such movement occurs through the everyday, neighbourly exchanges of women.9 This I would argue, is a very different border crossing from forms of cosmopolitan ‘grazing’ that involve culinary adventuring and ‘multi-ethnic’ eating (Gabaccia 1998: 225–232; Heldke 2003: 17–21), with these meanings routinely raided in the interests of place promotion and gastrotourism (also see Kitchen 2002; Sly 2003). Instead, ‘we exchange, we learn’ suggests a continuation of the sprit of Nyonya – of Bibik – not only in the generational transmission of kitchen ‘secrets’, in the passion for perfection and pleasure in the art of cooking, but also in the mundane, intimate exchanges between women across cuisines and cultures, based on moments of interactivity and reciprocity (Giard 1998: 154; Theophano 2002: 41; Heldke 2003: 139–140).

Kedah: tastes lingering on the tongue Our second remembered kitchen is in Kedah, a mainland state of Malaysia. This kitchen is a critical space in John Tan’s culinary biography – a many-stranded

From Malacca to Adelaide . . . 189 narrative John traces during the course of several interviews. Son of a Senior Civil Servant, John was one of seven children growing up in a Nyonya household during the 1950s and 1960s. With his locally-born, paternal grandmother having a Hokkien-speaking Chinese father and Malay mother, and with his paternal great-uncle marrying a woman of Malay-Chinese-Thai-Burmese background, John describes being raised in a household that absorbed diverse influences. These influences included not only John’s Peranakan heritage but also those associated with John’s father’s position in the Civil Service. For example, the household had a series of maids – ‘some were Chinese, some were Malay . . . , some were . . . Indian’ – to assist with cooking and housework, while for holidays, the family would retreat to British rest houses in the hills, where Hakka cooks ‘would add a bit of their own twist to their sauces’ to accompany the roast chicken ordered by John’s mother. Furthermore, John’s father had an English boss from whom, says John, ‘[my father] learnt to have the bacon and eggs . . . Spam . . . [and] ice-cream. . . . So I grew up with that too’.10 In his mother’s kitchen, John learnt to cook, not in the formal sense that Mrs Lee dictates, but through a process of ‘hanging out’ in the kitchen: We [children] were encouraged . . . just to help out . . . well, I did anyway. . . . [Y]ou head for . . . [the kitchen] and you say ‘What’s cooking?’ and . . . I was skinny, scrawny but I had a big appetite [and] . . . when you smell things from the kitchen, obviously, you . . . rush in, full on, you know. This early, almost unnoticed, training in ‘doing-cooking’ – in tasting and smelling and pounding chilli – was to stand John in good stead in developing a gustatory memory. Talking about laksa specifically, he refers to its complex nuances and in a very material, physical way: ‘You can still taste it . . . even half-an-hour later . . . It stays in your system . . . It lingers.’ Laksa, John recalls, was not confined to the kitchens of the Nyonyas, however, but was also freely available in his community as hawker food. Of course, he points out, while not all hawkers are descended from Nyonyas, ‘the Nonyas themselves . . . trade secrets . . . and obviously people [also] make up their own [recipes]’. Nevertheless (as Cheong Liew has already implied for hawkers in Kuala Lumpur – ‘They tell me that this lady makes only this dish’), John stresses the significance of expertise and reputation for this: ‘[E]ach individual hawker would specialise in one dish . . . So, when it’s time to eat laksa you probably have to head in that direction.’ Perhaps this is laksa’s escape from the Nyonyas, after all, to become the Malaysian equivalent of Western fast food – of ‘the Colonel’s chicken’? However, while Tan Chee-Beng comments on the presence of ‘McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) A & W and pizza restaurants in major towns throughout Malaysia’, he also reminds us ‘there is still no Chinese world-wide fast food chain comparable [to these]’ (Tan C.B. 2001: 149, 150). Furthermore, established traditions of Chinese street food in Straits Settlements and the Malay States predate the recent global expansion of Western-style foods. Describing


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the surplus of Chinese single men in these areas in the late nineteenth century, and the problems for families living in conditions that made home cooking difficult, Brissenden says: ‘Chinese street food developed to cater for them. . . . Whatever its beginnings, its evolution over time has produced many dishes that are unique to Malaysia and Singapore’ (1996: 221). This suggests a much more organic approach to food production than the relentless tread of Western ‘raiders’ in search of new markets. Through the creative re-location of ‘home cooking’, through borrowing from local cuisines and re-inventing their tastes, through developing a high degree of expertise, and perhaps through sharing ‘secret’ recipes in the manner of Mrs Khut and her neighbours, ‘hawker food facilitates and allows innovation and diversity’ (Tan C.B. 2001: 134, 154–155). Writing about Peranakan culture in Singapore, Chua and Rajah sum up these processes of circulation, as well as the ‘public talking into being’ of Nyonya cooking: Peranakan cuisine has since the mid-1970s emerged from household kitchens and entered into cook books . . . and restaurants. The inscribing of Peranakan domestic cooking as recipes in cook books and as a feature in restaurant and coffee-house menus, as well as hawker fare, has resulted in the formalization of a cuisine. (2001: 172) In keeping with its origins then, laksa travels. So, packing the recipe for laksa in their memories, the Khuts arrive in Adelaide in 1978, John Tan in 1981, to start new lives.

At Malacca corner It is now 1982. Emigrating to Australia, the Khuts had followed in the footsteps of Mr Khut’s brother, who originally had come as a student to Adelaide – the capital city of the State of South Australia – and then established his own business here. Apart from the benefit of this family connection, Mr and Mrs Khut, as Malaysian citizens, appear to have made a felicitous decision in choosing Adelaide as their new home. To set the scene: with Colonel William Light appointed as South Australia’s first surveyor-general in 1836, and now celebrated as one of Adelaide’s founding fathers, the city has long links with Kedah, the home of Light’s mother (‘spoken of as Princess of Kedah, but almost certainly . . . a Portuguese Eurasian’ (Whitelock 1985: 6; see also Gross nd).11 Through Light too, Adelaide has ties with the island of Penang (where Light’s father established the Georgetown Settlement of the East India Company) (Whitelock 1985: 6). Turning to the city’s more recent history, we find that Don Dunstan had been State Premier, first, from 1967–1968, and again from 1970–1979. Dunstan, described as a ‘Renaissance man’ (Barry Jones quoted in Downes 2002: 52) and liberal reformer, had first been elected as a member of the South Australian parliament

From Malacca to Adelaide . . . 191 in 1953 and, within his own political party, had battled for almost twenty years to effect the withdrawal of the discriminatory ‘White Australia’ immigration policy (Downes 2002: 51–52.) Dunstan too, is the politician who urged South Australians to look to ‘our Asian neighbours’ for culinary inspiration (1976: 28), and, not surprisingly, included a chapter on Malaysian cooking in his cookbook. In 1976, the year his cookbook was published, Dunstan married for a second time, to Adele Koh, a Chinese-Malaysian journalist from Penang. Another strand in this narrative of Malaysia–Australia connections involves the movement of students to Adelaide. With the establishment of the Colombo Plan in 1950 (to encourage students to move between British Commonwealth countries), and particularly since the relaxation of immigration laws in the mid1960s, there had been a substantial increase in overseas students in Australia which continues to the present, with Malaysian students constituting the largest national group. In this respect, South Australia has had its share (Andressen 1993: 1, 110–115, 125). We return to 1982 and to Mr and Mrs Khut and their two children. Having worked, first of all, in a take-away food shop, and then to supply curry puffs and other finger food to a small Asian grocery shop, Mrs Khut is anxious to establish a shop of her own. A suitable one has become vacant in Adelaide’s Central Market and, after protracted negotiations, Malacca Corner has just been established, with Mrs Khut as the cook and Mr Khut, handling the money, waiting on tables and washing dishes. Murphy records this period at the Central Market as a significant one in the city’s culinary history: Another generation of migrants . . . began arriving in Adelaide in the late 1970s and 1980s. . . . The Asian community’s contribution to contemporary food culture at Adelaide Central Market has had a profound influence on Adelaide food tastes. Two small cafes, Asian Gourmet and Malacca Corner, selling home-style Asian cooking, opened in the Market . . . and word quickly spread about large, cheap, tasty bowls of laksa, fresh, steamed po pia rolls, and noodle and rice dishes. On Friday nights customers still queue for tables at these cafes where they first tasted authentic Asian food. (2003: 129–130) Although the Khuts no longer own Malacca Corner, after selling it to retire in 2002, they have vivid memories of the business’s early years. While the current owners of the nearby Asian Gourmet recall that in the mid-1980s, ‘Most of our customers were Asian university students, hungry for home cooking’ and added ‘But we slowly educated Australians about Asian food’ (quoted in Murphy 2003: 130), Mr and Mrs Khut remember their own customers somewhat differently: MR. KHUT:

[They were] mostly office clerks . . . from round the corner. You don’t remember the students in the early days? Because some friends of mine who were students remember eating [their first laksa] there.



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[thoughtfully] Maybe.

JEAN: So, were they mostly Asian people? MRS. KHUT: No, mostly Australian . . . [who]

have been to Malaysia . . . That’s why . . . [the name] Malacca Corner because people [who have been] overseas, they know Malacca and they will come . . . They know what laksa [is].

It is interesting that earlier in the interview Mrs Khut had declared that ‘at that time, laksa, not many people know laksa’, which seems in direct contradiction to her account of seasoned travellers who appreciate the nuances of ‘Malacca’ as a place for lunch. My assumption is that on this earlier occasion Mrs Khut is referring to Australian food habits more generally, and positioning herself as directly intervening into these. (This identity positioning was made explicit when I first phoned Mrs Khut’s brother-in-law for the Khuts’ contact details, and he announced ‘She’s the person who introduced laksa to Adelaide!’) So, the Khuts not only cooked for and served ‘knowing’ travellers in their shop, but, like the staff of the nearby café, Asian Gourmet, they also saw themselves as introducing customers who ‘do not know laksa’ to its tastes and textures: MR. KHUT:

[We] give a little bit for them to try. Once you try it, you will like it, you know.


Initially we might assume that Khuts’ memories appear to support Michael Symons’ arguments regarding the ‘migrant myth’ as the basis of Australia’s seeming progress from its legendary ‘stodgy’ British origins, culinarily speaking, towards maturity – a cornucopia of foods from diverse places across the globe (see, for example, O’Meara and Savill 2002: vii). Symons, probably the first food historian to chart a history of Australian cooking, nevertheless downplays the role of immigration in shaping the Australian palate, especially in relation to recent trends towards ‘Asianization’. Citing Cherry Ripe’s 1993 analysis of increasing interest in Asian food, Symons claims ‘the adoption of ethnic restaurants in no way follows immigration patterns’. Instead, fashions in travel – specifically, to destinations in Asia – causes travellers to want to re-live this travel – through the mouth and stomach – on returning home (Symons 1993: 52–53). Meanwhile, Ripe herself observes that ‘Travel by the baby-boomers [in the 1970s] was then further compounded by the fact that cheap restaurants where young people – students, young marrieds – could afford to eat, were ethnic’ (1993: 13). Certainly Mrs Khut’s recognition of many of her early customers as Anglotravellers who ‘know laksa’ appears to confirm Ripe and Symons’ analyses. However, I suspect that eating at Malacca Corner, Asian Gourmet and other ‘ethnic’ restaurants in 1980s’ Adelaide has more subtle possibilities for reflection than suggested by analyses shaped by assumptions of the binary of embedded migrants and their enclaves, on the one hand, and the knowing cosmopolitan in search of a cheap meal, on the other (using ‘cosmopolitan’ here in that Bour-

From Malacca to Adelaide . . . 193 dieuian sense of ‘originality at the lowest economic cost’ – that is, while consumers might be low on economic capital, they are high on cultural capital) (Bourdieu 1984: 185). Instead, I suggest a complex intersection of meanings, figures, chains of events that demonstrate how migration and travel ‘elsewhere’, as well as ‘travel to new places’ while at ‘home’, actually work together and feed off each other. To elaborate: the presence of Malacca Corner and its owners allows the taste of laksa to migrate across cultures to intervene in culinary imaginaries of ‘notknowing laksa’; this presence and others like it in street stalls, markets and food courts together serve as nostalgic reminders of ‘home’ for migrants and for others, such as homesick students, temporarily ‘displaced’ (as, indeed, Asian Gourmet staff observe within the walls of their own café). As well, Malacca Corner presents nostalgic moments for the Anglo-traveller returned – memories of the pleasures of ‘elsewhere’/the ‘other’ home. At the same time, it is possible that such travellers seek the most ‘authentic’ example of their travelling experiences. This, the ‘ethnic’ café appears to offer, especially in the company of its owners who, reassuringly, ‘know’ about ‘home cooking’ – how laksa is meant to taste. Meanwhile, those customers new to laksa are gently instructed in how to eat it; unusual tastes are transformed to become familiar ones, naturalized. Word spreads and the travellers or the new converts, in turn, instruct their friends. Twenty years later, I ask my friends about a defining moment: ‘Where and when did you taste your first laksa?’ They become thoughtful, inwardlooking, remembering. A nostalgic mood, produced through a return to a particular place, time and moment in cultural consciousness and gastronomic/political history, is heavy in the air. At the same time, a comment from Mrs Khut creeps past, like a ghost: ‘[Having the shop was] so much effort. . . . [For about six years] I make my own noodle. . . . [We] never stopped . . . so much effort.’

Never the twain? It is 1984. After the race riots in Kuala Lumpur in 1969, John Tan decided to leave Malaysia. Like his father, John had been working in the Civil Service, but at the age of almost twenty-one took a boat to India and then travelled to Katmandu, with London his final destination. ‘I took the hippy trail backwards’ he observes wryly. After several years in England, during which, he completed hotel management training, John, his wife and child are emigrating to Australia, to join John’s sister who has been a student in Adelaide and now has settled there. After a brief flirtation with the possibility of re-locating to Brisbane, the capital city of the State of Queensland, the family returns to Adelaide, shocked by the State (and state) of Queensland’s conservative politics (Lunn 1978). John Tan says, ‘I knew that I just couldn’t live up there, and being Asian too . . . very, very tricky. . . . [An acquaintance in Brisbane] said, “Go back to Adelaide . . . John Bannon, you know, Labor Party . . . Don Dunstan” ’.12 Later, John is joined from Malaysia by another of his sisters and together they form a partnership,


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taking over the lease of a small inner-city snack bar selling sweets, ice-creams, fish and chips and cappuccinos, and close to Adelaide University. At first Adelaide does not appear to be so ‘progressive’, after all: When we . . . [started], half the customers left. . . . Obviously, we didn’t realise that people think . . . ‘Chinese or some foreign-looking people – they can’t possibly run a snack bar’. . . . It’s just . . . a race . . . thing. . . . We were appalled! . . . We had just spent all this money buying a business and all the customers walked out. Despite racist remarks from some customers, John and his sister persisted. However, the turning point for the business came from an unexpected direction: ‘There was a few [Anglo-Australian] students – one in particular . . . [who] said . . . “Where are you from?” . . . Some of the students [then] said, “Do you know much about laksa?” ’. From this point, the snack bar is transformed to a café selling Malaysian hawker food to students, academics, travellers and other members of Bourdieu’s ‘cultured’ middle classes. As well, it is now one of Cherry Ripe’s ‘cheap [“ethnic”] restaurants where young people . . . could afford to eat’. With its menu retaining the hamburger as quintessential fast food of Anglo-Celtic culture alongside the lingering tastes of John Tan’s Kedah childhood, Twains is born. ‘Knowing laksa’ has clearly been an advantage in shaping the events of this story. The intriguing moment for reflection that this account provides depends on the students’ query: ‘Do you know much about laksa?’ Apart from the irony (for the knowing reader) of this somewhat ingenuous question, there is an interesting analytic trace this question leaves behind. ‘Do you know much about laksa?’ assumes, in fact, that we [as Anglo-Australian students] do ‘know laksa’ ourselves in order to ask this question. And we know it sufficiently to know that that is what you [as a person who looks ‘Chinese’, ‘Malaysian’] should know about it too, and act upon this heritage. This irony of being counselled by Anglo-Australians to feature laksa on the snack bar’s menu in order to transform his café (and his customer-base) is not lost on John Tan. However, a question persists: How did these students ‘know laksa’ to this extent? If we recall those arguments I developed in relation to Malacca Corner, our obvious response here is that, for young Australians, travel through Asia was certainly a transformative experience, shaping the travellers’ expectations of restaurant cooking at ‘home’. There is, however, a more interesting speculation we could add to Ripe’s arguments of ‘baby-boomer’ travel: in the five years since the establishment of Asian Gourmet in 1979 and Malacca Corner in 1982, networks of people (whether Malaysian students, Australian students, office workers, young married couples) had tasted laksa, and appropriated it as ‘their’ food, while recognizing its origins in ‘other’ places and in migration. So, as I argued earlier, a complicated exchange of meanings takes place in which cultural interaction – though an interaction not necessarily vested in equality – is crucial. If, as I speculate, the pleasure of ‘knowing laksa’ spread

From Malacca to Adelaide . . . 195 from mouth to mouth – its taste on the tongue, its reputation by word of mouth – so quickly among specific communities in 1980s’ Adelaide, Catherine Murphy’s observation (‘customers still queue for tables at these cafés where they first tasted authentic Asian food’) is hardly surprising. Furthermore, I want to argue against assumptions of this queuing as simple appropriation of ‘authentic food’ for cosmopolitan palates; instead, a particular place, time, particular food and particular people intervene in one’s own history and memories to produce a different state of ‘knowing’. Laksa becomes appropriated as Australian food, perhaps, but a different kind of ‘Australian’, at that.

Laksa belonging I do not want to forget that a rose has thorns – that even the best of fairy tales has its prickly moments. Mrs Khut’s ‘so much effort’ and John Tan’s ‘race . . . thing’ still haunt the telling – a sharp reminder that their struggles, difficulties, negotiations with discrimination might be lost in a narrative of progress in ‘home-making’, or that their perspectives as food producers might be overshadowed by celebrations of consumer pleasures. John Tan sums up his experiences at Twains in a salutary warning to consumer romantics: ‘It’s just like a nightmare . . . I wish to forget. Looking back, it was very hard.’ Elsewhere, I have described such ‘hauntings’ (and ‘nightmares’) as belonging to the cook’s eye view of the kitchen versus that of the hungry and hovering child (Duruz 2004: 65). For the cooks, I suspect, there is a certain amount of yearning stemming from one’s position as producer (rather than that of consumer) that is not unproblematic – yearning that involves constant balancing of memories of the past and dreams for the future with the exigencies of the job at hand. For Mrs Khut, for example, is not sorry to have relinquished Malacca Corner and the unrelenting work of running a small business (‘I don’t miss Malacca Corner [after retirement]’, she says on the phone to me, ‘but [if I left here] I would miss [my friends in] the Market’). John Tan, in his turn, describes the rigours of small business ownership, particularly in the face of continuing customer conservatism. Several years ago, as an expression of hope, perhaps, as well as yearning, Tan had opened Nonya, a restaurant serving his Nonya food but with a ‘modern touch’. Here the tastes of childhood were infused with the restaurateur’s creative expertise and knowledge of global trends. Recently, however, Nonya, has closed, with John returning to his less specialized (and more profitable) business of selling ‘Asian’ stir-fried food. This brief biography of laksa closes with a comment about different kinds of production – different kinds of yearning and different meanings for the ‘Asia’ that this book addresses. While British-based chefs and foodwriters like Sri Owen (2002: 138) or Keith Floyd (1993: 36) have commented on the ubiquity of laksa in Australia, particularly in the urban spaces of office blocks and food courts, more recently, and perhaps surprisingly, laksa has been implicated in meanings of Australia’s ‘outback’. And here we recall that government advertisement that heralds the Northern Territory as ‘Australia’s new frontier’

196 J. Duruz (Northern Territory Government 2004: 43). While this is frontier territory of natural ‘wonders’ such as Uluru [Ayers’ Rock] and Kakadu [wetlands], it is also Australia’s ‘melting pot’, with its capital city, Darwin as ‘Asian Gateway’. Amid this expansive talk of borders, gateways, melting pots and ‘amazing . . . opportunities’, however, laksa makes an unobtrusive appearance (‘the best curry laksa . . .). Laksa as emblematic of ‘Australianness’ (as well as of cosmopolitan ‘Asianness’) underwrites imagined connections of food, identity, ethnicity and place. Such bold claims are typical of promotional discourse. Here, they are obviously designed to lure those who ‘know laksa’, as part of their cultural capital to travel north. Nevertheless, as enthusiastic travellers grasp this opportunity, they leave behind some curious questions: How does the taste of chilli, coconut milk and noodles become the taste of ‘home’, of familiarity, for an Anglo-Australian? How do meanings of ‘home’ migrate with food, and feed different cultural imaginaries differently? Perhaps, if ‘Penang Laksa’ does serve to represent Chinese Penang identity, the same could be said for ‘curry laksa’ in regard to Australian identity (at least in its ‘Gateway’/‘frontier’/‘melting pot’ representations)? While I do not know how to respond exactly to any of these questions, they provide some fascinating traces of foodways for ethnographers to travel. In terms of the specific paths along which I’ve ventured, however, I want to examine briefly another form of yearning. In Australia, for those on the left, for those with feminist and postcolonial leanings, it seems we live in very grim times. With current government policies that emphasize border protection and prolonged detention of asylum seekers, coupled with a re-assertion of the (white, middle class Anglo-Celtic) mainstream and a downplaying of ‘special interests’ (women, indigenous people, migrants and so on) (Burke 2001: 322–331; Johnson 2002: 177–178, 181–182) it is not surprising that particular communities might not feel nostalgic for Dunstan’s ‘multi-racial society’ marked by its gastronomic exchanges through chopping block, cleaver and wok. Certainly, it is not unusual to feel nostalgic for one’s youth as an imagined – if not, remembered – time of possibility. However, I want to argue that specific groups within a particular generation, having lived in post-Dunstan Adelaide with its emphasis on food cultures and ‘multicultural’ interactions, now face diminished expectations in the ‘public’ representations of ‘Australianness’ and a certain loss of hope (Hage 2003: 41–43). These losses, in turn, make such memories of Malacca Corner or Twains seem even more poignant. So, the taste of laksa lingers. Laksa is re-produced in specific Australian cultural imaginaries, not only as a symbol of coming-of-age – a sign of ‘knowing’, of culinary maturity – but also as a talisman of ‘better times’ . . . in the past, and, perhaps, for the future. In this way, laksa becomes not only part of specific processes of food production and migration in Asia (or in ‘Asia’) but also part of the production of memory itself.

From Malacca to Adelaide . . . 197

Conclusion To conclude this journey: laksa is produced and re-produced, not simply as migrant communities’ longed-for comforts of ‘home’, or as the exotic ‘other’ for mainstream Australia’s ingestion, but as negotiations with sometimes fragile, always shifting meanings of ‘Asianness’ and ‘Australianness’. In its production, both ‘in’ and ‘out’ of ‘Asia’, laksa becomes travel of hope and constraint. Drawing on its precious baggage of remembered tastes, laksa’s meanings ‘settle’ in ‘new Asian’ spaces and intersect with stories of a particular generation’s history of longings and loss. While ‘Penang Laksa’ might be seen as the taste of Penang Chinese identity, it is possible that memories of one’s first laksa at Malacca Corner or Twains, or contemporary claims of Darwin’s ‘best curry laksa in Australia’ provide further outlines of possibility – of different, sometimes contradictory, forms of ‘Australian’ identity-making and cultural exchange. In the process, a curious form of nostalgia emerges. Based on borrowed practices of ethnicity and appropriations of culinary heritage, this nostalgic remembering, at the same time, defines an affective landscape for utopian imaginings. It seems the Nonya cooking (and with it, Nonya identity) that Mrs Lee feared might die, has been re-invented, after all. Re-configured for a different place and time, its ‘tangled’ nuances are mobilized for the project of collective yearning and dreaming.

Notes 1 Brissenden (1996: 184–185) explains that Nyonya cooking is that of ‘ “Baba Chinese”, Straits Chinese or “Peranakan” ’ and that ‘Malay was the language of Baba households; loosely translated “nonya” is the word for Chinese married woman” ’. Note that in this chapter, ‘nyonya’ occasionally appears in its other form, ‘nonya’. For consistency, I have used the more formal ‘nyonya’ throughout, and only included ‘nonya’ when referring to sources (literary, interview transcripts) that adopt this simplified form. 2 In 1800, the ruler of Kedah leased this coastal district [now Prai] to the East India Company. Under British control, it became known as Province Wellesley (Andaya and Andaya 2001: 112). 3 Chua and Rajah (2001: 171–172) discuss some of the complexities of defining a ‘true’ Paranakan purely in descent terms, especially if negotiating with current expectations in regard to ‘Muslim-ness’/conversion to Islam in ‘mixed’ marriages. These writers conclude: ‘Being a Paranakan is thus much more than just a matter of descent; it is to be part of a particular cultural milieu and its practices’ (172). This is a helpful argument for this chapter, where I am less concerned with the intricacies of ethnic heritage and more with this heritage of identification, shared knowledge and practices. 4 Malacca/Melaka [Town] is a seaport of Malacca/Melaka, a state in the Federation of Malaysia, established in 1963 [formerly the Federation of Malaya, established 1957] (Andaya and Andaya 2001: 277, 282–287). For consistency, I refer to ‘Malacca’ throughout the chapter, except when quoting writers who refer to ‘Melaka’. 5 Chua (2000: 198–199), in relation to the popularity of McDonald’s in Singapore, criticizes assumptions that this signifies increasing Americanization, and the hegemonic operations of global corporations; instead, Chua argues that the insertion of McDonald’s into Singaporeans’ everyday eating is a matter of strategic ‘raiding’, with cultures of McDonald’s intersecting with those of the local.


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6 The geography of Peranakan (Baba/Nyonya/Straits Chinese) communities centres on the former Straits Settlements of Malacca, Penang and Singapore. Tan C.B. (2001: 157 n12) notes that there are Peranakan in Indonesia as well. 7 Informally structured interviews were carried out – jointly with Mr and Mrs Khut, in the Adelaide Central Market, and with John Tan, at his restaurant, Nonya – during November 2003. All quotations attributed to Mrs or Mr Khut or to John Tan in this chapter are from the respective interview transcripts. Transcripts are in the author’s possession. 8 Tan C.B. (2001: 133) distinguishes three main kinds of laksa – first, Thai (Siamese) laksa, second, ‘the curry laksa of Melaka and Johor’, with both Thai and curry laksa using coconut milk, and third, the ‘Penang Laksa’ that does not include coconut milk. 9 Tan C.B. (2001: 144) records similar neighbourly exchanges between Nyonya and Malay women. 10 Peranakan communities were based chiefly in British Straits Settlements, established by the British East India Company for trading and strategic purposes. Interaction with the British through trade, employment and education, therefore, was not unusual. Clarkson (2002: 9), describing her Nyonya family origins in Singapore, says: ‘The Paranakan women or Nonya had privileged upbringings. . . . Servants looked after the mundane household tasks and the ladies spent their days being taught by British tutors, embroidering fine linen and, best of all, planning and preparing exquisite meals for the men’. While this may seem a romantic portrait of nineteenth-century Peranakan life, John Tan’s account of his parents’ household, as well as his own schooling at ‘English medium-speaking schools’ in Kedah in the 1950s and early 1960s, supports a portrait of post-Independence British-based middle classness intersecting with Peranakan (Hokkien) origins. 11 Both Whitelock and Gross comment on assumptions that Light’s mother, Matrinha Rozells was a princess of Kedah. Gross adds that there is speculation that Martinha Rozells (Martinha Thong Di) was actually the ‘Nonya’ sent by the Sultan of Kedah in 1772 to negotiate with Light in regard to establishing the British East India Company in Kedah. Gross states that there is no evidence that the ‘Nonya’ and Light’s mother were one and the same; however, there is evidence that Rozells was Siamese by birth, and, as a Maid of Honor to the Sultan of Kedah’s wife, was probably ‘of high birth’ (Gross nd). 12 John Bannon, a Member of Parliament and in Dunstan’s Cabinet, later became Premier of South Australia for a decade from 1982. Bannon was seen, in some respects, to have followed in the Dunstan liberal tradition.

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From Malacca to Adelaide . . . 199 Cheung, S.C.H. (2002) ‘Food and cuisine in a changing society: Hong Kong’, in D.Y.H. Wu and S.C.H. Cheung (eds) The Globalization of Chinese Food, Richmond, Surrey: RoutlegdeCurzon, pp. 100–112. —— (2005) ‘Consuming “low” cuisine after Hong Kong’s handover: village banquets and private kitchens’, Asian Studies Review, 29: 259–273. Chua, B.H. (2000) ‘Singaporeans ingesting McDonald’s’, in B.H. Chua (ed.) Consumption in Asia: Lifestyles and Identities, London: Routledge, pp. 183–201. Chua, B.H. and Rajah, A. (2001) ‘Hybridity, ethnicity and food in Singapore’, in D.Y.H. Wu and C.B. Tan (eds) Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia, Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, pp. 161–197. Clarkson, C. (2002) Asian Flavours: An Album of Memories and Recipes, Auckland: New Holland. Downes, S. (2002) Advanced Australian Fare: How Australian Cooking Became the World’s Best, Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. Dunstan, D. (1976) Don Dunstan’s Cookbook, Adelaide, South Australia: Rigby. Duruz, J. (2002) ‘Rewriting the village: geographies of food and belonging in Clovelly, Australia’, Cultural Geographies, 9: 373–388. —— (2004) ‘Haunted kitchens: cooking and remembering’, Gastronomica, 4: 57–68. Floyd, K. (1993) Far Flung Floyd: Keith Floyd’s Guide to South-East Asian Food, London: Michael Joseph. Gabaccia, D.R. (1998) Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Giard, L. (1998) ‘Doing-cooking’, in M. de Certeau, L. Giard and P. Mayol The Practice of Everyday Life Volume 2: Living and Cooking, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, pp. 149–247. Goody, J. (1998) Food and Love: A Cultural History of East and West, London: Verso. Gray, A. (2003) Research Practice for Cultural Studies: Ethnographic Methods and Lived Cultures, London: Sage. Gross, S. (nd) ‘Martina Rozells or Martinha Thong Di (Tonthi or Tong Dee)’, manuscript in collection of Goh Mai Lan, Penang: tourism, culture, the arts and women’s development, Government of Penang State. Hage, G. (1997) ‘At home in the entrails of the west’, in H. Grace, G. Hage, L. Johnson, J. Langsworth, and M. Symonds Home/World: space, community and marginality in Sydney’s West. Annandale, NSW: Pluto, pp. 99–153. —— (2003) Against Paranoid Nationalism: Searching for Hope in a Shrinking Society, Annandale, NSW: Pluto. Heldke, L.M. (2003) Exotic Appetites: Ruminations of a Food Adventurer, New York: Routledge. hooks, b. (1992) ‘Eating the other’, in b. hooks (ed.) Black Looks: Race and Representation, Boston, MA: South End, pp. 21–39. Hutton, W. (2000) The Food of Malaysia: Authentic Recipes from the Crossroads of Asia, Singapore: Periplus. Jacobs, J.M. (1997) ‘Resisting reconciliation: the secret geographies of (post) colonial Australia’, in S. Pile and M. Keith (eds) Geographies of Resistance, London: Routledge, pp. 203–218. Jaffrey, M. (1997) A Taste of the Far East, London: Arrow. Johnson, C. (2002) ‘The dilemmas of ethnic privilege: a comparison of constructions of “British”, “English” and “Anglo-Celtic” identity in contemporary British and Australian political discourse’, Ethnicities, 2: 163–188.


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Johnson, R., Chambers, D., Raghuram, P. and Tinknell, E (eds) (2004) The Practice of Cultural Studies, London: Sage. Kitchen, L. (2002) ‘Singapore’, Gourmet Traveller, March: 122–127. Korsmeyer, C. (ed.) (2005) The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink, Oxford: Berg. Law, L. (2001) ‘Home cooking: Filipino women and geographies of the senses in Hong Kong’, Ecumene, 8: 264–283. Lee, C.K. (1974) Mrs Lee’s Cookbook: Nonya Recipes and Other Favourite Recipes, Singapore: Eurasia. Liew, C., with Ho, E. (1995) My Food, St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. Lunn, H. (1978) Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland. Lunn, J. (2003) ‘Talking shop’, The Sydney Morning Herald: Good Living, August 5: 12–13. Marcus, G. (1999) Ethnography Through Thick and Thin, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Mintz, S.W. (1996) Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions into Eating, Culture, and the Past, Boston, MA: Beacon. Murphy, C. (2003) The Market: Stories, History and Recipes from the Adelaide Central Market, Kent Town, SA: Wakefield. Northern Territory Government (2004) ‘Australia’s new frontier’, Advertisement in The Weekend Australian, 16–17 August 2004. O’Meara, M. and Savill, J. (2002) The SBS Eating Guide to Sydney 2002: A Guide to Sydney’s World of Restaurants, Cafes and Food Shops, Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. Owen, S. (2002) New Wave Asian: A Guide to the Southeast Asian Food Revolution, London: Quadrille. Probyn, E. (2000) Carnal Appetites: FoodSexIdentities, London: Routledge. Ripe, C. (1993) Goodbye Culinary Cringe, St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. Sly, D. (2003) ‘Tasting the difference’, The Adelaide Review, 16–17 October 2003. Solomon, C. (1976) The Complete Asian Cookbook, Sydney, NSW: Lansdowne. Sutton, D. (2001) Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory, Oxford: Berg. Symons, M. (1993) The Shared Table: Ideas for an Australian Cuisine, Canberra, ACT: Australian Government Publishing Service. Tan, C.B. (2001) ‘Food and ethnicity with reference to the Chinese in Malaysia’, in D.Y.H. Wu and C.B. Tan (eds) Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia, Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, pp. 125–160. Tan, F. (2001) Secrets of Nonya Cooking, Singapore: Times. Theophano, J. (2002) Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks they Wrote, New York: Palgrave. Whitelock, D. (1985) Adelaide from Colony to Jubilee: A Sense of Difference, Adelaide, South Australia: Savvas. Wu, D.Y.H. and Cheung, S.C.H. (2002) ‘Introduction – the globalization of Chinese food and cuisine: markers and breakers of cultural barriers’, in D.Y.H. Wu and S.C.H. Cheung (eds) The Globalization of Chinese Food, Richmond, Surrey: RoutlegdeCurzon, pp. 1–18.

14 Asia’s contributions to world cuisine A beginning inquiry Sidney W. Mintz

If any of us were asked – in the classroom, or during a radio interview, for instance – whether Asia had made any significant contributions to a global cuisine, I am certain that all of us would answer spontaneously, and in approximately the same manner: ‘Absolutely. Asia has contributed enormously to a global cuisine.’ Despite what would probably be our unanimous agreement, this exploratory chapter demands that the reader accept provisional definitions of two relevant terms, because the question itself is in truth quite vague. One term concerns the boundaries of Asia; the other, the meaning of ‘global cuisine’. How we delimit and define Asia is open to arguments, both broad and narrow; and precisely what is meant by ‘global cuisine’ is similarly unclear. Hence I am obliged to begin with my own quite tentative answers. For the purposes of this chapter only, I mean by ‘Asia’ that vast region stretching westward from the islands of Japan to include all of Southeast Asia; the northern border states of the Indian subcontinent; and Myanmar, Mongolia, Tibet, Korea and China. The outer limits of this region are not self-evident. Exclusion of Oceania, the Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan, Iran, large areas within Russia and other spaces is entirely arbitrary on my part. Any more serious effort would have to be detailed and specific, with particular attention to physiography, climate and other natural, cultural and political features, in ways that this chapter cannot be. Nonetheless, hardly any of the chapters in this volume deal with food systems outside the region as I have arbitrarily defined it here. In drawing what are meant as provisional boundaries I have in mind not so much political systems, as the role of ecological and cultural factors, which have shaped cuisines over time. Foods and cooking methods can become deeply rooted locally, even without political or religious pressures. But they can also diffuse widely, and sometimes quickly, without regard to political boundaries. Group food behaviour, like group linguistic behaviour, seems to follow rules of its own. By ‘world cuisine’ or ‘global cuisine’, I really have in mind a process, rather than a stable system. That process is now nearly continuous and ongoing, but it is also surprisingly ancient: the gradual but uneven spread of plants and animals, foods and food ingredients, cooking methods and traditions, over larger and larger areas, often penetrating and sometimes blending with other food systems – and the effects of that spread. This process has gone on intermittently for


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millennia. Interpenetration of food systems, which now takes place on a world scale, at times with great speed, has its roots in the past, and the current vogue for global analysis ought not to blind us to the ancient history of this phenomenon. (Probably of equal importance is the common disappearance – of species, of other resources, sometimes of whole religions or peoples – and the consequences, often known only poorly, if at all, for localized food systems.) In any event, my rough approximations here, both of Asia and of the global system, are tentative and certainly arguable. It is only by being arbitrary that I am able to proceed at all. Students of Asian food may find instructive a wonderful passage in Anderson’s The Food of China (1988: 117–118), where he describes the production of wheat in ancient China in relation to wheaten products (bread, dumplings, noodles), both there and in neighbouring lands. In a few brief paragraphs, Anderson exposes the wheat-related methods and substances, and the words to describe them, embedded in complex relationships of exchange and invention, distributed over a vast area that stretches from northern China to southern Europe. Much of this complex of wheat-related culinary culture was probably developed several millennia ago. Though Anderson is writing primarily of China, in this description ‘Asia’ and ‘Europe’ are not separate entities, but an enormous patchwork of neighbouring peoples, some of them migratory, some invasive, who took and gave, both what they grew and what they cooked, over the course of long centuries. There is no doubt that some regions – because of their native richness in food resources; because the cultures in them had developed particularly effective means of aggregating and tapping those resources; or because food itself proved to be a central interest to people culturally, beyond matters of nutrition – have contributed more to the global culinary repertory than others. But at least as important as autochthonous or local developments have been the important flows of cultural materials, of the kind labelled ‘diffusion’ by anthropology, often including foods, food ingredients or methods of food preparation, as for cooking and preservation. The following is the most famous illustration of such flows. The Columbian exchange – as the Old and New World interchange of plants, animals and foods, after the European discovery of the Americas, has been described – completely remade world diet (Crosby 1972). Specific plants, animals and foods travelled enormous distances. The sweet potato, for example, a vital supplementary food or ‘side dish’ in Asia despite its lowly reputation, crossed the Pacific westward from the New World in the sixteenth century, probably entering China via the Philippines. Maize and peanuts also reached Asia in that century. All are from the New World, and represent an old and important change in the global system. Once such introductions are accepted, of course, their origins no longer matter to their users in the everyday course of life. But it is important to understand that the great interchanges of the present are built upon those of the remote past. I wish to begin here, though, not with some of the most dramatic global borrowings from the East, but with some of the least noticed. It may be of interest that an American from the colony of Georgia, Mr Samuel Bowen, who had pro-

Asia’s contributions to world cuisine 203 duced noodles, sago flour and soy sauce from plants growing in America, carried them to Britain, was received by King George III and awarded a gold medal for his work – and this happened in 1766 – just ten years before the start of the American Revolution. Though little of economic importance resulted from Mr Bowen’s experiments, his success suggests that these Asian foods had already greatly interested European colonists in the New World, as well as the Europeans themselves (Hymowitz and Harlan 1983). A letter from Benjamin Franklin to his friend John Bartram in Philadelphia, written in 1770, explains how one could make ‘cheese’ (by which he meant bean curd) from beans – indicating that this remarkable Asian achievement, and the legume from which it was processed, were known to the American colonists and held their interest. I note these matters to remind those readers who are excited by today’s global trends in food that modern globalization lies on the surface of a truly lengthy history, one that we ignore at our peril, lest we be ridiculed for our lack of knowledge about plant history and the history of trade. Though Western acceptance of soybeans, and of bean curd as food, would be delayed for centuries, we know Europe developed an early craving for Eastern spices, and the Columbian voyages and those which followed had been inspired by a desire for a sea route to Asia to obtain such things. Discussions of Columbus’s achievements dwell on his courage and his search for that sea route. They do not often mention that marine trade was needed by Europe in the fifteenth century because superior Islamic military and political might had made land trade with Asia both costly and dangerous. Spices figured importantly among the desired items. Most, such as cardamom, cloves, turmeric and black pepper, were drawn first from India and Indonesia, and particularly from the Moluccas of the Malaysian archipelago, the so-called ‘spice islands’. But not all of those tastes which Europe desired came from the islands. Though not often remarked, an important flavouring of Chinese origin seems to have reached Europe in the seventeenth century. Dutch traders carried soy sauce to Europe, where it enjoyed an early popularity. One of the commercial uses of soy sauce, too little remarked, was in Worcestershire Sauce, which was patented and sold in the United Kingdom for the first time in 1837, by the Lea and Perrins Co. Another component of that sauce (commonly used to flavour grilled or broiled steak) is the juice of the tamarind, a fruit-like legume domesticated in Africa but common in India and Southeast Asia. The same ingredients reappear in the first New World rival to Lea and Perrins, French’s Worcestershire Sauce, first retailed in the US nearly a century later (1930). Soy sauce turns up thereafter in unexpected places. In the 1960s, we should not be surprised when we find soy sauce reappearing in the first edition of the late Julia Child’s famous The Art of French Cooking, in which she instructs readers how to make a ‘classic’ French roast lamb with mustard dressing. Classic it may be; but the main ingredients of the dressing, in addition to the mustard, are powdered ginger and soy sauce. I have not done the historical research that might help me explain how ginger and soy sauce came to be part of a ‘classic’ French recipe; I leave the task to someone more energetic than I.

204 S.W. Mintz I will not say more about soy sauce here; but ginger deserves at least another word. Ginger is, of course, also Asian in origin. Galanga or galangal, known as ‘galingale’ in medieval England (Alpinia galanga, A. officinarum or Kaempferia galanga), often split into lesser and greater galingale, flavourings found in Southeast Asia and in China, differ from true ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe), but are of the same botanical family. They turn up in England, together with true ginger, at an early time. Indeed, The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives as its first written reference to both ginger and the galingales a work in the Saxon language, dated to about the year AD 1000. But like many other eastern spices, ginger almost drops out of sight in British cuisine after 1650. It has been suggested that during the Commonwealth, under Oliver Cromwell, spice use in Britain may have declined sharply. I know of no genuine evidence for this. But, except for such special holiday treats, as fruit cake, cured gammon or ham and cookies, in which the traditional cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger still commonly appear, British spice use did seem to change in the seventeenth century. A wholly different, non-traditional and curious Asian food-related import to the West is monosodium glutamate (MSG), first isolated from seaweed by the Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda. MSG was being sold in tiny quantities but widely in the US after 1908, turning up in showy green-and-gold tin boxes, decorated with dragons and other Asian art, and labelled ‘epicurean powder’. Before the Second World War, however, its principal users in the US were probably Chinese cooks. The first MSG factory in the US opened in 1934; the appearance of aji-no-moto, and its rebirth after the Second World War as the trade product Accent, are relatively late events. These are merely odd bits and pieces of Asian food exportation to the West; but I mention them for two reasons. First, the diffusion of a plant or spice may predate, by centuries, its active use in a local food system or in some other (for example, ornamental or medicinal) fashion. That is, food use may not be its primary employment in a different setting. Second, we need to be reminded that restaurants are not the only, or necessarily even the main, channels for the transmission of new foods. Gentleman farmers such as Thomas Jefferson envisioned the cultivation, processing and use of new agricultural products as part of the farmer’s profession. People like him, by their energy and curiosity, ensured that many unfamiliar food ingredients would reach foreign shores and new enthusiasts. Only in the course of the last century have foreign cooks and ethnic restaurants become major sources of new dishes and ingredients in the West – while new foods are disseminated today not so much by imaginative farmers as by aggressive corporate organizations. I want to turn now to diffusions that dwarf these early borrowings. Rice is surely one of Asia’s greatest gifts to the West. It was probably first introduced to Europe after AD 711, when the Moors invaded Spain. Not until the mid-fifteenth century did Spanish farmers plant the variety called Arborio on the Po Plain in northern Italy. That short-grained rice then became the basis for the famous Italian risotto. European rice is Asian in origin, the species Oryza sativa.

Asia’s contributions to world cuisine 205 Arborio, and numerous other European varieties used in local cuisine, are all of this species. Rice reached the United States in the seventeenth century, but was not planted commercially until nearly 1700, in South Carolina. This rice, too, is Oryza sativa, just like the rice that reached Europe. Rice became well known in the Americas by the nineteenth century, though it had early become a commodity in international trade, thanks to the labour and skills of enslaved Africans in South Carolina (Carney 2001), centuries earlier. During its more recent spread from its centre of cultivation in the US South during the last century, it has been transformed from a somewhat localized food or dessert ingredient into a daily near-necessity for countless millions, Asian and non-Asian alike, across the Americas. One of the most important general trends in world food choices concerns rice, I believe. There has been a widespread, long-term increase in cereal consumption, worldwide, which has involved a shift from coarser cereals such as sorghum and millet to rice. In Latin America, Africa and Asia, traditional food patterns based upon such tuber foods as sweet potatoes, yams and taro have been maintained, but particularly by the poorer sectors; and sweet potatoes are used more and more as animal feed in Asia. The aggregate world production of tubers has kept pace with increases in population in most of the world. But I think that in the last half century, tubers have been losing ground to maize, wheat products and especially to rice. There are multiple factors involved in this secular change, and I cannot go into them here. But among the cereal grains, rice has repeatedly supplanted other complex carbohydrates, particularly in the diets of members of the rising middle classes in developing countries. In past centuries, rice had become the complex carbohydrate of choice throughout the Caribbean region of the New World, where it remains the favourite, in countries such as Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad. I have already referred to it its importance in the antebellum (pre-Civil War) South of the United States, where it is still produced and much favoured. Another important Asian crop that earlier changed Western food habits is, of course, tea. Its story deserves a book, not a few lines. It was taken up in Great Britain in the middle of the seventeenth century, especially due to the Portuguese queen of Charles II, Catherine of Braganza, who introduced tea at the court. In a mere century, British consumption rose from a few thousand to many millions of pounds. As this writer suggested when writing about the history of sugar, sugar and tea were the first true commodities, and the first overseas food products in history to become items of mass consumption in Europe (Mintz 1985). Exploding British tea consumption in the nineteenth century, and the Chinese insistence on being paid for tea with specie, played a critical part in the British decision to impose the sale of opium forcibly upon China; but to document those events fully would sidetrack us here. As a third and final example of diffusion, one that happened in totally unexpected ways, I refer to the spread of the soybean and its by-products. Soybeans, as I noted, were known in the West at an early time. But not until the First


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World War did that interest become commercially relevant, as wartime demand for oil, particularly for industrial uses, shot up. In the US, soybean production rose, but principally for its oil, while the plants were ploughed under to enrich the soil. Between world wars, American soybean production remained minor. But with the Second World War, soybeans became economically important once more. Once again, though, soybeans were not important as a primary food. This is the most dramatic aspect of the diffusion of soybean cultivation and use to the West: a transformation of the uses to which soybeans were put. The stress upon exportation, the manufacture of cooking oil and the provision of animal feed became the fate of what had been Asia’s greatest contribution to global vegetable protein consumption. When we note that the annual soybean crop in the US, the world’s leading producer of soybeans, provides enough protein for the needs of the US population for three years, it is startling to realize that hardly any humans get direct benefit of that protein. In the US, much of the protein is fed in meal to chickens, which are then fried in soybean oil in fast-food restaurants. It is the birds – or pigs, or cows – not the human beings, who get the protein directly. And so soybeans have made an enormous contribution to Western diet, but mostly so far in the form of an oil cooking medium and a protein-rich animal food. The Western lust for animal protein, now rapidly spreading to other regions, has been fed by the conversion of the soybean into a primary food for food animals (Du Bois and Mintz 2003). That is by no means the whole story, of course. Soy milk consumption is flourishing in the US; so-called nutraceuticals made with soy enjoy a growing market; soy-based infant formula is doing well; and of course soy protein is being used for famine relief, by the military, and in many other ways. Something like 70 per cent of packaged food products in the US now contain some soyderived ingredient, such as lecithin, or soybean oil or soy protein. But this does not alter the fact that the principal use of soy in the US turns out to enable people to eat less healthily at the top of the food chain, rather than more healthily near the bottom. There is another important side to the diffusion of the soybean to the West. In the US, and now increasingly in Latin America, especially Brazil and Argentina. Soybean farming has become of prime economic importance there, as a source of foreign exchange. Brazil is a major exporter of soybeans to China, where soy meal has become a first-rank animal feed. On the one hand, this has meant big increases in animal protein consumption in Asia. On the other, the environmental impact upon Amazonia has been disastrous, and is still growing. This odd transformation by the West of what was Asia’s greatest legume cannot detain us here; but its implications are better documented in Du Bois, Tan and Mintz (forthcoming, 2007). Rice, tea, soybeans – though these Asian foods have become enormously important outside Asia, they merely scratch the surface of the transfers of Asian food substances and techniques to the rest of the globe. The spread of methods for cooking ingredients – old and new – in different ways, likewise deserves a word, for in this regard as well, Asia has been very influential. Two Asian cooking techniques in particular have spread rapidly, and with outstanding

Asia’s contributions to world cuisine 207 success in the West: stir-frying and steaming. Both have been publicized in Europe and in the US, as more healthful than many Western cooking techniques. In the case of stir-frying, there has been stress upon reduction in the amounts of fats used, and upon the nutritive benefits of less thorough cooking. Some attention has also been paid to the way in which a quality of ‘meatiness’ can be imparted to the food, using only minimum quantities of animal protein and fats. In the case of steaming, the stress has been on the virtual absence of cooking fat and, again, on the nutritive gains possible from neither baking nor boiling the food for a long period. Though it is not easy to judge just how deeply these two Asian techniques have penetrated into the daily eating customs of Europeans and Americans, the sales of rice cookers, woks and steamers have been of considerable importance for several decades; and demonstrations of both steaming and stir-frying have become very frequent, in supermarkets, gourmet food stores and on TV. The phrase ‘stir-fry’ – though I admit that it sometimes seems to describe barely recognizable cooking methods – has entered into culinary rhetoric in magazines, and on packages of prepared foods of all kinds. It is worth observing that the successful introduction of a different cooking method can sometimes play a part in further innovation. Americans, for example, have learned to stir-fry such items as maize kernels, chayote (Sechium edule), jícama or yam-bean (Pachyrrhizus spp.), sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus) and squash blossoms, which they either had not eaten before in any form, or had otherwise eaten only in very different ways. What is worth remarking on in such cases is that the plants I have listed are all Native American in origin – but the mode of preparation is Asian. To my knowledge, no one has seriously attempted to work up a history of the diffusion of these cooking methods, or of their transformation in the hands of western cooks. Such a study would serve to make clear how the appropriation of cultural materials ‘indigenizes’ them, rather the way that sushi has, to all intents and purposes, become as American as bagels, pizza, pasta and pita. That we now have in the US a score of such delicacies as the California roll, Rock-and-roll and similar inventions, attests to the appropriation of cultural traditions by alien societies and their subsequent hybridization – just as had happened with chop suey and chow mein, a century ago. When this happens, the borrowed element is no longer what it once was – even if it is identical. More commonly, modification, simplification and reintegration typify food history, as they do in so much cultural borrowing, and tell us about culture’s absorptive power. It is for this reason that I want to call attention to the distinction between an innovation sent, and an innovation received. Whether we have in mind an ingredient, a plant, an animal, a cooking method, or some other concrete culinary borrowing, when such things spread and they come into the hands of the receiving farmers, processors or cooks, they have been detached from some particular cultural system; and when they are taken up, they become reintegrated into another, usually quite different one. Of course the spread of Asian food ingredients, dishes and cooking methods has been matched, at the very least, by the diffusion of non-Asian foods and


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food materials within Asia itself. This began at least as early as the Columbian exchange – which is to say five centuries ago – even if we omit such items as sweet potatoes. But in recent centuries, Europeans in Asia and returning Asians have had at least a modest impact upon traditional indigenous cuisine. Cwiertka (1999: 44) points out that it was Europeans who introduced such vegetables as potatoes, cabbage and onions to Japan in the mid-nineteenth century, and some of these were rapidly assimilated to Japanese cuisine. The far earlier introductions of maize, the capsicums (peppers) and peanuts, all New World cultivars, to China are not credited to anyone in particular; but these, too, were soon ‘indigenized’ within Chinese cuisine. Anderson (1988) discusses the much more recent spread of refined Western wheat flour and wheaten products to China, and surmises that their nutritional effects have been mostly negative. But the interpenetration of cuisines in this manner has led to concern, on the part of some, about the standardization or ‘uniformization’ of food worldwide. Of this concern, two things may be said. First, I know of no effort so far to work up a thorough history of the diffusion of cooking methods, or of their transformation in the hands of ‘national’ cooks – that is, of the ways that Chinese or Korean cooks, for example, have creatively incorporated culinary elements from elsewhere into Chinese or Korean cuisines. But we know perfectly well that these processes occur – the place of peanuts or hot peppers or maize or tomatoes today in Asian cooking, for example, is eloquent evidence. That there is a continuous, creative culinary process by which the new or unusual is embedded effectively in the everyday, usually by the replacement or intensification of a customary or familiar item with a new and different one, seems absolutely true. I do not think that this kind of change has abetted standardization, at least not yet. But second, this qualification does not address what may be far more effective in modifying radically some local cuisine: large-scale economic changes that move masses of people around, shift the rural–urban balance, or create big migrant labor forces. These changes may have nothing to do with food itself, but with the conditions for its production, the circumstances under which people must eat and the place of domestic groups in reproducing the eating habits of the previous generation. It should be clear that what I am enumerating does describe much of what has been happening in China, for example, in the last two decades. If by ‘cuisine’ one means the haute cuisine (or grande cuisine) of the ruling stratum, that will probably survive nearly all of these large changes. But if one means the way that most people eat (or ‘most ordinary’ people eat, in the American paraphrase), then the possibility of radical change and eventual standardization of some food habits on a global basis certainly exists. I have suggested elsewhere (Mintz 1996: 25–26) that nothing changes food habits more effectively than war. This is not meant as a sarcastic assertion. Perhaps nothing comes closer to war in effecting such change than famine. But next in line as a change-making force, I believe, is radical economic change. Even without war or famine, basic economic changes are occurring in much of

Asia’s contributions to world cuisine 209 Asia, as people migrate to cities or overseas in search of work, state-sponsored engineering remakes transport systems and increases total societal energy by dam building, and state and private capital create factories, mines and new ports. Such development is considered the pathway to raising productivity and standards of living. But it can also take a heavy toll upon cultural locality and distinctiveness. The belief that such change (in analogy to the tide) ‘raises all boats’ is naive, I think. How much of their income people can assign to food – and indeed, how much time they can give to preparing and even eating it – is a vital factor in the persistence of tradition and the shaping of change. When such change has the effect of revolutionizing both food production and the circumstances of its preparation and consumption, that means its lived impact falls squarely upon existing patterns of eating. In China’s case, for example, recent sharp increases in the consumption of animal protein, sugars and fats, occurring as incomes rise and people become both physically and spatially more mobile, appears to have medical consequences parallel to those in the West at an earlier time, and the implications for individual health are extremely worrisome. But I cannot look at this issue seriously here. Let me conclude with an example, a tribute to Asian culinary genius, but one completely transfigured by borrowing. It is embodied within a recipe, distributed in a box that contains, what is probably the most famous trademarked American relish, Tabasco Sauce. This condiment contains the juice of pickled capsicum – ‘hot’ red peppers – vinegar and salt. The recipe I cite, recommended by the makers of Tabasco Sauce, is called ‘Cajun Fried Rice’. And since the word ‘Cajun’ (from the term ‘Acadian’, referring to the francophone Canadians, mostly driven elsewhere by the British, many settling in the Louisiana Territory) is associated with Louisiana, the inference is that this will be a Louisianan recipe of some kind. Hence it is entertaining to discover that its principal ingredients include soy sauce, sesame oil, bean sprouts, ginger, rice and peanut oil. To call it ‘Cajun’ is a convenient example, as I have said, of the way foods can be painlessly borrowed and assimilated. But imitation is supposed to be the sincerest sort of flattery. The spread of Asian foods, flavourings, cooks and restaurants to the West, however mangled they become in the process, may be the best measure of all of the greatness of the cuisines they claim to represent. But a more thorough discussion of Asian contributions would fill volumes, and this chapter is meant, at best, as a mere appetizer.

References Anderson, E.N. (1988) The Food of China, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Carney, J. (2001) Black Rice, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Crosby, A. (1972) The Columbian Exchange, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Cwiertka, K. (1999) ‘Culinary globalization and Japan’, Japan Echo, 26 (3): 52–58. Du Bois, C. and Mintz, S.W. (2003) ‘Soy’, in S. Katz (ed.) Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, Vol. III, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, pp. 322–325. Du Bois, C., Tan, C.B. and Mintz, S.W. (eds) (2007) The World of Soy, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.


S.W. Mintz

Hymowitz, T. and Harlan, J.R. (1983) ‘The introduction of the soybean to North America by Samuel Bowen in 1765’, Economic Botany, 37 (4): 371–379. Mintz, S.W. (1985) Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, New York: Viking Penguin. —— (1996) Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom, Boston, MA: Beacon.


abalone 32–3, 59–60, 63 Afghanistan 201 Africa 60, 140, 203 Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) 37–8, 46–9 Ainu 6, 26, 129–42 Amazonia 206 anchovies 14, 16, 19, 21 Annan 34 Argentina 99, 101, 206 Asianization 192 Australia 7, 34, 46, 60–1, 89, 97, 99, 101, 183–200; Adelaide 183–200; Brisbane 193; Darwin 183, 196 authenticity, authentication 6, 60, 116, 118, 120–2, 143–56 Baba 6–7, 167–8, 171–82, 187, 197; definition 117 bacon 189 balichao (shrimp paste of Malay origin) 167, 169 bamboo fungus 63, 65 bamboo shoot 65 bean 8, 57, 63, 70, 150, 163–4, 203, 209 bean curd (tofu) 55–6, 63, 65, 70, 123, 175, 203 bean-milk stick 59–60 bear 136 beef 56, 59, 70–1, 73, 82, 145, 160, 163, 165–6 belacan 173, 177–8, 188 Bibik 184 black bean 150 black fungus 70, 77, 174 black moss pinch 59–60, 63 bloodworm farming 43, 46 Brazil 159, 206 Britain 38, 193, 203–5; London 193

Broad-area Fishery Adjustment Commissions (BFAC) 29 broccoli 57, 63, 70 cabbage 163, 165–6, 169, 174–5, 208 Café de Coral 59–60, 72 Cajun 209 cake 91–2, 121, 164, 204 Canada 61, 99, 101 candlenuts (buah keras) 174, 178, 180, 182 Cantonese cuisine 78–9, 119–20 Caritas 86 carrot 68, 165–6 Catholic Relief Services 86 cauliflower 70 celery 60, 63 cereal 205 charity 5, 53, 83–95 chayote 207 cheese 203 chestnut 63, 136 chicken 56, 59–60, 63, 71, 77, 105, 120, 153, 163, 165–6, 169, 176, 185, 206 Chile 61, 97 chilli 7, 70, 160, 165, 173, 177–9, 188–9, 196 China 3–5, 13, 24–5, 27, 33–5, 37–9, 43–4, 46, 48, 53, 57, 60–1, 83, 87–9, 93, 97, 99, 101–2, 126, 201–2, 204–6, 208; Chaozhou 87–9, 164, 169; Foshan 82; Fujian 164, 169, 171, 175; Guangdong/Canton 38, 43, 47, 79, 83, 119, 164, 187; Guangzhou 5, 67–8, 79, 81; Hong Kong 3–5, 7, 24, 33, 37–50, 53–70, 72–3, 78–9, 81, 83–95, 143–4, 149–50, 163, 165–6, 168, 182; Macau 6, 159–71, 181; Shanghai 35, 164; Shenzhen 43, 48; South China 5, 43, 67–82, 87, 119



Chinatown 6, 35, 118–20, 123, 125–6 Chinese bacon (lap yuk) 166 Chinese cooking see Chinese food Chinese cuisine see Chinese food Chinese food 165, 172, 174, 181, 187, 208; dace, dace ball 56; kew tau 165; Chinese fungus 165; water snake 79 Chinese mustard greens 63 Chinese pickled mustard stem 55, 63 Chinese sausage (lap cheong) 166 Chinese vermicelli (fan si) 165 Chitty 181 chourico (Portuguese sausage) 163, 166 chusok (thanksgiving ceremony) 105 coconut 186, 188, 196, 198 collard green 166 Confucianism 106 congee (rice porridge) 70–1, 169 convenience food, definition of 70 convenient-involvement food, definition of 68 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) 24, 34 cookie 5, 90–4, 204 cooperative fishery 29, 31, 33, 103; agricultural 99 Co-operative for American Remittances to Everywhere (CARE) 86 corn 55, 68, 107 crab claw 152 Cristang 160, 163–4, 166–7 cucumber 2, 154 curry 63, 65, 71, 152, 167, 186, 190 custard 79, 164, 186 deer 136–7, 139 diffusion 207–8 dimsum 61, 70, 74, 118 domestic helper 74, 78 duck 43, 46, 56, 59–60, 63, 65, 79, 163, 165–7 dumpling 135–6, 179–80, 182, 202 durian 180 Dutch 34, 166–7 East Timor 159 eggplant 2 Egypt 65, 99, 101 Eurasian 125, 160, 166, 181, 190 Europe 8, 202–5, 207 fermentation 13–22, 34–5, 55, 82 fish: bighead carp 38, 46–7, 49; carp 42; Chinese carp 43; common carp 38;

clupeoid 14; codfish (bacalhau) 163, 168–9; eel 49, 55–6, 63; finfish 14; freshwater 4, 37–50; Gizzard shads 14; grass carp 38, 46–7, 49; grey mullet 38, 41, 44–7; ikan kembung 177; ikan parang 177; lizard 60; red snapper 150; round scad 14, 19; salmon 134–9; sardine 14; sea bass 38; seabream 38; silver carp 38; slipmouth 21; snakehead 38, 41, 123; spotted scat 38; squid 55–6, 60; stolephorid 19; tilapia 38, 43, 46–7; trout 136; tuna 23; whale 23; wolf herring 177 fish sauce 4, 13–14, 18–19 Fishery Adjustment Commissions (FAC) 28 fishery rights 28–30, 35 fishing clip and twist 31; dredge net 29–32, 35; hook 31; spear and dart 31 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 24 food production 1–8, 67, 83–4, 98, 137, 140, 143, 184, 190, 196, 209 fotiaoqiang (‘Buddha jumps the wall’) 77 France 150 Free Trade Agreements 99 fundraising 83–95 fung shui 39 fungus 60, 63, 175 galanga/galangal (lengkuas) 177, 204 gammon 204 garlic butter 163 gei wai (shrimp farm) 39, 41, 43 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 99, 102 genetically modified (GM) food 104–5 geragau (shrimp-like crustaceans) 173 ginkgo 63, 70 global cuisine see world cuisine globalization, globalizing, globalized 2, 4–5, 8, 24, 53, 96–8, 100, 103, 105, 124, 140, 203 glutinous rice ball 81 gourmet cuisine 6, 150, 207 Governor Permitted Fishery (GPF) 29–30 green onion 70 Green Revolution 100, 103 Hakka 57, 188–9 ham 163, 165–6, 204 Hamburger Helper 73 haute cuisine, grande cuisine 208 heritage 5–7, 37, 48, 96–9, 101, 103–4,

Index 213 106, 109, 116–19, 122, 125, 162, 167–9, 181, 184, 187, 194, 197 Hokkien 71, 117, 167, 174–6, 180–1, 198 holothuria, holothurian see sea cucumber Home for the Elderly 90–4 Hong Kong New Territories Fish-Culture Association, The (THKTFCA) 42–4, 46 hors d’oeuvres, definition of 150–1 Hungry Ghost Festival 87–9, 176 hybridization, hybridity, hybridized, hybrid 105, 136, 160–1, 164, 167, 171–2, 181, 187, 207 India 2, 65, 97, 99, 101, 126, 193, 203 indigenous food 4, 129–42, 208 Indonesia 61, 159, 164, 171, 198, 203 Inner Deep Bay 4, 37, 39–42, 44, 46–8 intermarriage 117, 162, 164 International Indian Treaty Council 131 International Whaling Commission (IWC) 23 Inuit 132 Iran 201 iriko see sea cucumber Italy 3, 204 Japan 4, 23–36, 53, 60–1, 87, 107, 130, 135–6, 159, 164, 201, 208; Aomori 32; Hokkaido 4, 25–7, 30–3, 35, 129–30, 135, 137–40; Nagasaki 26–7; Okinawa 30; Tokyo 6, 129–42; Yamaguchi 35 jícama (yam bean) 207 kale 166 kamuy (Ainu deities) 136 Katmandu 193 kelp/kombu 25, 31, 33–5 keluak nuts 120, 122 King George III 203 Korea 4–5, 34, 61, 71, 96–112, 201 laksa, definition of 7 lamb 163, 165, 203 legume 163, 203 lettuce 121, 144 liberalization 99–102, 104 lily bud 174–6 lime juice 173 lobster 61 Local Fish 4, 47 lotus 57, 69–70 Lutheran World Federation 86 lye 180

‘Macanese’ 162 Macanese 6–7, 159–71, 181 Macanese cuisine see Macanese mackerel 14, 31, 60, 188 Mai Po 4, 44, 46–8 maize 2, 202, 205, 207–8 Malay 7, 125, 162, 164, 167, 171, 173–5, 177, 180–1, 198 Malaysia 6–7, 21, 34, 45, 164, 167–8, 171, 173, 176–7, 180–1, 183, 187–90, 192–3, 197; Kedah 183, 187–8, 190, 197–8; Kuala Lumpur 34, 185–6, 189, 193; Malacca (Melaka) 6–7, 159–60, 163–4, 166–7, 169, 171–3, 181, 183–200; Penang 171, 183, 187, 190–1, 198 Maxim’s 59–60, 72 Meiji Restoration 27 Merenda 164, 166 Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief 86 Mexico 60–1; Cancun 96 millet 205 modernity, modernizing, modernization 1, 53, 104, 140, 146–7 molasses 165 Moluccas 203 Mongolia 201 monosodium glutamate (MSG) 8, 204 monsoon 13–16, 18, 20–1 Mozambique 159 mung bean vermicelli 174–5 mushroom 56, 59–61, 63, 70, 179, 185; enoki 63; shiitake 63 mustard 165, 203 Myanmar 201 namako see sea cucumber New World 2, 202–3, 205, 208 New Zealand 60, 185 night blooming cereus 63 Nonya see Nyonya nostalgia 57, 115, 122–3, 186, 197 nursery pond 41 Nyonya 117–18, 125, 182, 197–8; definition of 171 Nyonya cuisine see Nyonya food Nyonya food 7, 116–18, 120–2, 125–6, 171–85, 187, 190, 195, 197 oil 206; olive 150–1, 163, 168; peanut 8, 209; sesame 8, 209; soy bean 206 Old World 2, 202 onion 163, 165, 168, 208



oyster, oyster sauce 59–61 Pakistan 97, 99, 101 papaya 152 pastry 160, 164, 166 pea 165 peanut 202, 208 peapod 63, 65 Peranakan 6, 117–18, 120–6, 171, 181, 184, 187, 190, 197–8; definition of 171 Peranakan heritage 117, 120, 189 Philippines, the 26, 159, 164, 202 phytoplankton 14–15, 18 pineapple 154 Ping Shan Heritage Trail 58, 65 piscivore 15 pizza 207 planktivore 14, 16 plankton 16 poonchoi 4, 53–66 pork 50, 55–6, 59–60, 63, 70–1, 79–80, 120, 163, 164–7, 169, 176, 178, 180–1 pork lard 179 Portugal 162–3, 168–9 Portuguese cooking 160–1, 163–5, 167, 169 Portuguese cuisine: cozido 165–6; see also Portuguese cooking potato 2, 136–7, 150, 160, 163, 165–6, 169, 176, 208 professionalism 143–56 protectionism 98, 101, 105 pumpkin 136 quail 163, 165 Ramsar Site 46–7 remembrance 115, 122, 125, 184 Rera Cise (Ainu restaurant) 130 Rera no Kai (Ainu Association of Wind) 138 ribs 150, 166 rice 5, 8, 13, 20, 55–6, 70–1, 74, 85, 87–90, 96–112, 165, 168–9, 173, 178–9, 204–6, 209 rice field, paddy field, rice paddy 23, 41–3, 101, 104–6 rice wine 134 risotto 204 Russia 201 sago 203 salad 143, 151–2, 163, 185 salt 13, 70, 121, 150–1, 154, 163, 173, 177–8, 209

sambal 173, 178–80 sambal belacan (shrimp paste chilli) 122, 173 Samsui women 6, 118–21 sarong kebaya 117, 118, 125 sausage 163, 166 scallop 59–60 Sea-area Fishery Adjustment Commission (SFAC) 29–30, 33–4 sea cucumber 4, 23–36, 61 sea urchin 25, 31–3, 35 seaweed 29, 204 Semposhi Fisheries Cooperative Association 31–3, 35 shallot 82, 173, 176–8, 181 shark’s fin 59, 61 shellfish 29 shrimp, prawn 39, 41, 47, 59–60, 63, 120, 152, 165, 167, 173, 177–8 Siberia 46 silkworm 79 Singapore 6–7, 115–28, 171, 173, 178, 180–1, 185–6, 190, 197–8 Slow Food 3 snow pea 70 social memory 6, 115–28 sok-un see mung bean vermicelli sorghum 205 South America 2 Southeast Asia 1, 6–8, 13–15, 18, 20, 24, 53, 126, 171–82, 201, 203 soy bean 8, 13, 63, 82, 175–6, 179–81, 203, 205–6 soy sauce 3, 8, 13, 30, 34, 165, 203–4, 209 Soya SFAC (SSFAC) 31–2, 34 spaghetti 169 Spain 159, 164, 204 Spam 189 spices 203–4; bay leaves 163; cardamom 203, cinnamon 204; clove 2, 203–4; coriander 163–4, 167, 179–80; cumin 163–4; garlic 55, 70, 136–7, 163, 165; ginger 8, 55, 70, 82, 121, 165–6, 177, 203–4, 209; herbs 151, 155; lemon grass (serai) 177, 188; mint 188; nutmeg 2, 204; olive 163; paprika 163; pepper 2, 151–2, 163, 169, 203, 208–9; saffron 164; turmeric 164–6, 177, 188, 203 St James’ Settlement 85 Straits Chinese 118, 184, 187, 197, 125 Straits Settlements 183, 189, 198 string bean 70 sugar 2, 82, 107, 165, 176–8, 205, 209 sugar cane 68

Index 215 sunchoke (vegetable) 207 sushi 74, 207 Sweden 80 sweet potato 202, 205, 208

veal 163, 165 venison 165 Vietnam 4, 13–22, 61, 88, 97 vinegar 30, 34, 143–4, 209

Tabasco Sauce 8, 209 Taiwan 38, 44, 107 tamarind (asam gawa) 8, 167, 177–8, 188, 203 taro 60, 205 tea 8, 25, 65, 118–19, 121, 125, 205–6 Thailand, Thai 21, 45, 88, 97, 99, 101–2, 159, 164, 171, 177 Tibet 201 tofu see bean curd Tokugawa 26–8, 35 tomato 2, 60, 71, 151, 163, 168, 208 Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) 69, 79 trepang see sea cucumber Tung Wah 83, 86 turkey 163 turnip 55–6, 59, 63, 68, 165–6

walnut 63 war 208; First World 205; Second World 31, 35, 42, 45, 117, 204, 206 water chestnut 63, 68 watermelon 2 wax gourd 63, 65 wheat 107, 202, 205, 208 white truffles 63 wine 163–4 winter melon 79, 169, 179–80 wolfberry seed 69 Worcestershire Sauce 165, 203 World Agriculture 88–9 World Council of Churches Refugee Services 86 world cuisine 6, 8, 201 World Trade Organization (WTO) 5, 96, 99, 101–2 World Vision 86–7 World Wide Fund (WWF) 46–9

United Kingdom see Britain United States of America 8, 24, 61, 73, 78, 84, 86, 97, 99, 101–2, 143, 203–7; Georgia 202; Louisiana 209; Philadelphia 203; San Francisco 131, 143; South Carolina 205 urbanization 1, 4, 101

yam 205 Yuen Long 39–41, 43, 45, 48, 56–8, 60, 62 zooplankton 15