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Monday, February 11, 2008

Is Fertilized Duck Egg a Chinese Delicacy?

I am engaged in an ongoing feud with a New York Times reporter over whether he stated that fertilized duck egg is a Chinese delicacy. Basically the article is about how US Olympians plan to bring their own food to Beijing due to food safety concerns in China. Here is the passage in contention -- "Once athletes are finished competing, they are free — encouraged, even — to sample the local fare. That could mean munching on live sea horses or hard-boiled fertilized duck eggs — though steering clear of adulterated chicken breasts." I am really tired of the western media making Chinese cuisine sound like a freak fest -- so I wrote to the reporter. Below is a transcript of our correspondence:

Fertilized duck egg is not a Chinese delicacy. It is mostly consumed in southeastern Asian countries such as Vietnam. Live sea horse? I've lived in China, have traveled pretty much all over the country and I've never seen anyone eating that! The average Chinese have very simple home cooked foods -- mostly vegetables and some poultry or pork.

NYT Reporter:
Thanks very much for your e-mail. I never said that fertilized duck egg was a Chinese delicacy. I wrote that it was available in Beijing. Some of the people I spoke with said that item stuck out from their tour.

Hmmm, you characterized fertilized duck eggs as "local fare" which implies that they are Chinese. Anyway, I mostly enjoyed the article but I am tired of the western media/and some of my fellow Americans' tendency to always focus on the "bizarre" aspects of food in China -- creating the impression that somehow that's the norm. Instead of munching on seahorses and duck eggs, I'd encourage American Olympians to visit my grandmother's village. When I go there, I am told to pick out whatever that's ripen in the vegetable garden. We'd have two or three fresh vegetable dishes, some noodles and a little bit of meat on the side. Simple and healthy and that's the typical diet of the average Chinese.

Who is right?

Here is the link to the full article (not sure if it still works since NYT archives their articles after like a week).
  • Wary U.S. Olympians Will Bring Food to China

    Anonymous said...

    He's ducking (har har, pun intended) his mistake. Characterizing the fertilized duck egg as "local fare" implies that it's Chinese J

    Cat said...

    Thank you. That's exactly my point. His article clearly implied that it was Chinese. Fertilized duck eggs are sold in LA as well but we wouldn't call them "local fare."

    Anonymous said...

    I'm not sure if he even made a mistake. Is it his duty (as a white guy writing for a mostly white audience) to research what's truly local? Or did he cover his ass simply by saying "Hey, these are some of the things you COULD get in China that the coaches don't want their athletes getting sick off of before they compete." Yes, his implication is that Chinese people all eat odd things, but we are just as guilty of exoticising everyone else: French people eat a lot of cheese, Italians just eat pasta, all Mexicans eat beans and tacos, Russians all drink vodka day and night. I'm not saying it's right, but it's not just the Chiinese who are stereotyped.

    If the Olympics were held in LA, I wouldn't think it odd for coaches to prohibit eating at taco trucks before competition. Anything that might make you sick is not a good idea.

    Your description of the "average" Chinese diet is actually average for most of the world. But people aren't interested in that; only in what makes each country stand out. And for better or for worse, the Chinese do eat some things that most Westerners have never dreamt of consuming.

    Cat said...

    I don't think cheeses, pasta, beans and taco are considered "exotic." I don't like how the Chinese are freakishized via food, that they are so strange that they don't eat real foods such as cheese, pasta, beans and tacos. I was with an American friend once and we passed a Chinese restaurant with a pet store next to it. Of course my friend didn't mean any harm, but she jokingly said -- well, we now know where they get the meats from...

    Anonymous said...

    I think there is no such thing as average chinese food. The food differ region from region, that's what makes it difficult to describe a typical Chinese cuisine.

    I think Ben Shpigel's article is a response by someone who has never traveled to China or has not done research on chinese cuisine in order to be informative and accurate. It only reflects how ignorant the writer sometimes could be.

    Cat said...

    I agree there is huge variance between regional Chinese cuisine. But the point I was trying to make was that Chinese ppl don't eat "bizarre" stuff all the time... they eat pretty much just like all the other people around the world, some veggies, some meats and some starch.

    Yeah, Ben needs some education on Chinese culture...