Cultural Heritage

After Kimchi, could Sichuan pickles be next to get Unesco cultural heritage listing?

The associate director of the Museum of Sichuan Cuisine is calling for Sichuan pickles to be awarded a world cultural heritage listing

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 December, 2013, 6:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 December, 2013, 7:09pm

Reading the news that traditional Korean food kimchi was to be added to the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, associate director of the Museum of Sichuan Cuisine, Zhang Huiqiang, 42, was discomfited.

“Technically, kimchi originated from Sichuan pickles,” said Zhang. “It’s like the offspring has stolen the glory belonging to its ancestor.”

On behalf of the Museum of Sichuan Cuisine, Zhang is now calling for Sichuan pickles to be awarded a world cultural heritage listing.

Sichuan pickles can be made from a variety of vegetables, such as cucumber, ginger, radish and chillies, which are essential to Sichuan cuisine. Usually, every family has a unique pickle recipe. Some put vegetables in salty vinegar water for hours and some for months. The taste is generally spicy, sour and salty.

Watch: How to make Sichuan pickles

Zhang argues that the main reason why this delicacy has not achieved global recognition is because of a lack of awareness among Sichuan people about protecting cultural and intellectual property rights.

His team has started collecting documents and antiques relating to Sichuan pickles, and has found that 5,000 years ago in the Qin dynasty, people living in today’s Sichuan were already making pickles. Initially the method involved nothing more than putting vegetables in water to keep them fresh for longer. But they gradually discovered that those left in water for longer still tasted good – if a little sour. Since then, Sichuan pickle recipes have multiplied.

“I’m not interested in the history. The problem is that, unlike kimchi, there is currently no way to produce Sichuan pickles systematically or on a large scale,” said Feng Tianyun, a state-recognised chef specialising in Sichuan cuisine. “The price for Sichuan pickles is always very low, a couple of yuan a bag. The profit can be as low as 20 to 30 cents. We have to learn how to combine individual workshops to form large manufacturers and brand this delicacy.”

Despite the obstacles to mass production, getting support from the government also worries Zhang.

“Now, I haven’t heard anything from the government yet. I don’t know their opinion, but they must see that Sichuan pickles deserve this honour,” Zhang said.

On social media, Chinese netizens were supportive of a prospective Unesco cultural heritage listing.

“Our Sichuan pickles taste much better than Korean kimchi. They have a longer history and are more diverse!” Claire Li wrote on Sina’s microblog, Weibo.

Since the listing bid was announced, a hash tag “help Sichuan pickles get listed” has been created.

Yet, some internet users pointed out that it was not kimchi itself that was added to the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, it was the Korean tradition of making kimchi to get through winter. Therefore, Sichuan pickles alone might not be enough.

“I don’t worry that Unesco won’t list two similar items,” Zhang said. “Ours is better, keep that in mind; if they can recognise a good one, why not a better one.”