The renowned Hong Kong food critic and cookbook writer Chua Lam (蔡瀾, Cai Lan) has caused some controversy among Chinese netizens over comments he made during an appearance on the Hunan TV talk show Day Day Up (天天向上/Tiantian Shangtian), SupChina and The Guardian reported on January 3rd.
When asked by one of the hosts of the show what dishes he would love to see disappear from the world, Chua answered: hotpot.
“Hotpot is the cooking style that lacks culture the most,” the food critic added: “You just throw the ingredients in there, there’s nothing tasty about it.” Because the hotpot allegedly has no cultural significance and because the cooking style is so easy, the critic suggested it might as well disappear altogether.
Day Day Up is a popular and humorous talk show that is known for the public figures who appear as guests. It has been airing at primetime ever since the Olympics of 2008, and focuses on Chinese traditional culture and etiquette.
Chua Lam is a popular personality on social media. On his Weibo account, he has more than ten million fans following him.
This particular episode actually already aired on December 9th of 2018, but became a focus of attention again when the hotpot discussion was reposted on social media by several news outlets.
On Chinese social media site Weibo, people have been discussing Chua Lam’s controversial statement under the hashtag “hotpot is the most ‘uncultured’ [food]” (#火锅最没文化#), with many people disagreeing with the statement.
“He should come to Chongqing, and then tell us again that hotpot has no culture” some commenters suggest, with others also adding that the food critic has succeeded in angering the people from Chongqing.
Chongqing is one of China’s hotpot capitals. The cooking style is said to have a history of more than 1000 years, and China is generally regarded as the home of hotpot. It is assumed that the hotpot tradition came from Mongol warriors and horsemen who camped outside and had dinner together circled around a pot on the fire – it was a way to keep warm, while eating at the same time.
But there are also those who claim that hotpot was actually invented by boatmen in Chongqing who sought a simple and cheap way to cook. Sichuan hotpot was already recorded in the Rhapsody of the Three Capitals (三都赋) by Chinese poet Zuo Si (250-305).
But not everyone agrees on the history of hotpot and where it truly originated. In 2018, a county in China’s Anhui province claimed it was the ‘home of hotpot’, which also caused some controversy on social media. Besides Chongqing, Beijing or Chengdu are also regarded authentic ‘hotpot cities’ where the dish is usually seen as a part of the city’s culture.
“What kind of a sh*t food critic is this, hotpot goes back 2000 years!”, some Weibo commenters say. “Ordinary people don’t care about eating ‘cultured’ food, they just care about eating tasty food,” others wrote.
“I kind of understand what he wants to express,” another Weibo user said: “The process of eating hot pot is too simple: you just put things in the hotpot and it’s finished. This is different from other dishes that require things to be seasoned and marinated, etc. However, the simple way of eating hotpot is just the very last step [of the process]. Before that, it takes a long time for the ingredients to be prepared. I still think highly of Chua Lam, but I cannot agree with his stance regarding hot pot.”
Within China alone, there are some 30 different kinds of hotpot, and at least five different regional styles.
“I can’t disagree more with what he said about hotpot,” a Weibo blogger wrote: “Don’t tell me that the value of food lies in its cultural significance rather than in its taste? And if you do want to discuss culture; I actually think hotpot epitomizes Chinese food culture: it’s delicious, it’s lively, it brings people together – its ambience and life all come together in hotpot.”
“Hotpot won’t disappear, why don’t you disappear,” some people conclude.
— Manya Koetse (@manyapan) 3 januari 2019
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