Peking duck and cheese on toast - it's fusion confusion

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 August, 2008, 12:00am

As the Olympics draws closer, preparations are under way for an equally intense competition among the capital's eateries.

Chefs and restaurateurs are burnishing their culinary weaponry in preparation for millions of customers, particularly foreigners, who will be seeking to appease their palates with offerings from the famed cuisines of China and elsewhere.

Fang Yonglong , an executive chef at an upmarket hotel restaurant, says he and his staff will have to cater to a spectrum of visitors - sightseers, athletes, International Olympic Committee officials and even overseas heads of state.

He said a thorough understanding of the favourite dishes of overseas guests was a prerequisite for winning the 'war of culinary art', as different people had different tastes.

For example, he said, US President George W. Bush liked Peking duck, shrimp meat with spiced salt, Beijing-flavoured lamb spareribs and stir-fried shredded beef. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown loved chicken braised with pineapple juice. French President Nicolas Sarkozy fancied fried dumplings.

Some creators of 'Olympic menus' are aiming to come up with completely new dishes combining western and Chinese flavours.

The Beijing Grand Hotel's new gastronomic lineup includes odd-flavoured shrimp meat balls, sauteed dried scallops and mountain mushrooms, and tender chicken braised with jade-coloured shrimp meat balls.

'As far as I am aware, the chefs working for the various luxury hotels in Beijing are racking their brains, just like me, to develop new dishes for foreign leaders and their entourages,' Beijing Grand Hotel chef Zhang Jingan said.

The 16 branches of Quanjude, a 144-year-old restaurant chain famed for its roast duck, have expanded their menu in the hope of attracting Olympic visitors. The new additions include toasted bread with mashed duck liver and shredded duck meat toasted with cheese.

Zeng Xin , a Quanjude executive, said the dishes were a blend of the cream of Chinese, French and Russian cuisines, and had been developed by the chain's chefs.

'It is not a simple hotchpotch,' Ms Zeng said. 'Instead, it is a harmonious and ingenious mix of local ingredients, overseas condiments and western cooking methods.'

But not everybody thinks playing with flavours is a winner.

'I do not believe the so-called Olympic menus will possess the magical power to make money, although the chefs have all these strange products in readiness for a big deal occasion,' Beijing Gourmets' Association member Li Yao said. 'Instead, I am afraid that the restaurants might get their fingers burned adding unreasonable twists to traditional Chinese foods.'

Hou Jia , president of the Beijing Traditional Snacks Association, agreed, saying a mix of Chinese and western flavours would be jarring.

Mr Hou, who is also general manager of the Jiumen Snack Restaurant in Xicheng district, admitted he was keeping a close eye on the heated Olympic-menu argument, but his eatery would stick with tradition.

'We will not make concessions by providing variations of traditional snacks. Instead, we will serve an array of 100 per cent Beijing-style snacks to foreign gourmets. Keeping the original flavours is our principle.'