Our communication officer, Tu, knowing my passion for food, challenged me to sum up my 6 months experience as a Junior Project Leader and HEC Lausanne ambassador in China by talking about the food I tasted. I took it as a joke at the first place but then I realised that this idea was in fact really interesting. Looking at what and how the people are eating is actually an impressively good way to apprehend their culture.
First bite of China
Let’s start by the very beginning; my first meal in China. At that point I didn’t speak Chinese at all (actually, I still don’t), so I needed to find a restaurant where I would be able to point at a picture on the menu or where people would speak a tiny bit of English (well this second option was a bit optimistic). I walked up and down the street looking at the restaurant windows and trying to glimpse an illustrated menu. I finally passed by a Cantonese restaurant with the name written in English. I entered and had my first Chinese delicacies, some amazing but simple dumplings, nothing too unfamiliar for a first meal. Even if the food was not very exotic the really local guy next to me brought the exotic touch I was looking for. Yes, the table manners in China are really far from the one taught by the Baron de Rotschild. To be more explicit, let’s say that in China the more you enjoy the food the louder you get and this one probably enjoyed the food a lot.
The second big step of my stay was finding a flat. This task was surprisingly easy and after one day I had already found a place to live with two great Chinese guys (and a German dog) who happened to have studied in the same university in Scotland (the Chinese guys, not the dog). To celebrate the moving in, one of my flatmate brought me to a small restaurant. We chatted a little bit waiting for our beef and noodle soup to arrives and so far nothing seemed to distinct me from that really nice. I would really soon discover the only difference between us, his way of eating noodles. In order to eat quickly without burning themselves, Chinese people use to vacuum really quickly the noodles. Always willing to adapt to the local culture, I tried to copy the move. That was a big fail. I managed to burn myself, let half of the noodles falling again in my bowl and sprinkle soups all over the place. Trust me being polite sometimes is really tough.
A very multicultural spicy mix
Before going to China, I would never have imagined that I would discover so many different cultures in one single country and the variety of what I had in my plate during my stay is definitely a good testimony of China multiculturality. Thinking that Chinese cuisine is a single cuisine style only offering dumplings and sweet and sour pork, would be the same as thinking people from Great Britain, France and Syria all eat “Fish and Chips” with a pint of ale.
Chinese cuisines are the reflections of the minorities cultures but also the different climates and reliefs of China. Dai food to spicy Sichuan food. The former one is definitely my favourite and I had the chance to discover it during my wonderful stay in Xishuangbanna home of the Dai people. The Dai people are members of a Buddhist minority leaving in the tropical and flourishing jungle of the south of Yunnan who offer them a huge variety of wild ingredients and exotic fruits. Knowing what is actually in your plate is never an easy task when you don’t speak the local language and it gets even more complicated when you have never heard about those ingredients before.
Much more in the North, I visited Beijing during Christmas time and discovered a beautiful and traditional city very different from the really international Shanghai. For my Christmas dinner in Beijing, a succulent Peking duck nicely replaced the usual roasted turkey. To be honest, neither the freezing weather of Beijing or the succulent poultry and definitely not the Chinese remix of Jingle Bells managed to erase the homesickness one may experience on a Christmas eve far from home. The great wall is not the only landmark remaining from the Mongols attacks I had the chance to discover. They left behind them the Mongol HotPot, which you can recognise by the shape of the Pot and the Lamb and Mutton meat; a dish I strongly recommend to warm you up after a freezing day in Beijing, known for its harsh winters.
Shanghai being a very international city you can meet interesting people from all over the world and of course enjoy cuisine from all over the world.
swissnex China bringing the Swiss spirit… and food to China
Working for swissnex China was of course the highlight of my stay. I had the opportunity to work on so many interesting projects and meet so many interesting people. The friendly working environment is an innovative mix of Chinese and Swiss culture. You can actually see this wonderful and generous mix also on the table for lunch when Gruyères cheese brought by our new Swiss interns seems to match pretty well the dumplings just ordered by the local interns. Funny cheesy fact but true fact, I actually had more raclette in 6months here that I usually have during 6 months in Switzerland.
As I had the pleasure to discover Chinese culture and gastronomy I wanted to offer the chance to my Chinese colleagues and friend to discover my culture and some real swiss food. One memorable moment illustrating this mission I gave myself, was to see one of my young Chinese colleagues not only eating but helping to prepare the Cheese fondue that I directly imported from the village where I was born and her ability to pronounce the name “Gruyères”.
Food, Friends and Fun
Here is a “no comment” section when you can actually see my amazing friends whom I meet during my stay (big part of them are members of the amazing swissnex team) eating and enjoying every kind of local and international food.
Western people always think that Chinese people eat really strange stuff (I think it is really judgy coming from people who eat snails, frogs and liver of sick ducks). Of course they do eat strange animals sometimes, but the grilled starfishes, scorpions… are actually only for the tourists.
What is in your plate is not the only that might confusing thing in China. Not understanding everything in (actually most of the things) is something to which you have to get used to in China. China will always manage to surprise you in a way and sometimes you just don’t feel anymore the need to ask the question “Why”. But, let’s be clear, most of the time China and its inhabitants surprise you in the most wonderful way.
One last Bite
My amazing experience in China is unfortunately coming to an end. I have only one more week to enjoy Chinese multicultural food and culture that I will definitely miss but not as much as the people with whom I have been sharing this “experience of a life time”. Life in China has been sometime really challenging but as you can see, thanks to my amazing colleagues and friends that I really want to thank, I already forgot about all of this and kept only the good bite of it. To sum up my experience in one sentence, I would say that China never stops to surprise you and simply never will.
Contributed by Loris Savary, HEC Lausanne Ambassador and Junior Project Leader at swissnex China