CNN reported on a recent experiment in a Hong Kong restaurant in which 77 per cent of 48 test subjects preferred a risotto made with “chicken powder” and water, to a version made with a rich home-made stock, after the chef spun a cock-andbull story about the history of the former “creation” and the origins of its ingredients.

The killjoy in me gets a thrill every time a pretentious balloon is pricked and the supercilious are left with pie on their faces. Nowadays, it isn’t enough to go to a fancy restaurant. For trendy lemmings, it has to be an “experience” where they eat blindfolded, or snort pulverised victuals up a straw, or chew on Himalayan lamb massaged by virgins … it is all quite ridiculous. But it has always been human nature to hanker after and find pleasure in new things.

When Tang-dynasty China was at its most powerful, the imperial capital of Changan (present-day Xian) was the hub of all things fashionable, including food and beverages. The fount of the Silk Road, cosmopolitan Changan was home to traders from all over the known world, who introduced many exotic foods to the Chinese. Among the modish set in the capital, it was fashionable to dine on “barbarian foods” such as grilled pancakes, sesame cakes and barbecued meats; season one’s food with pepper and cane sugar; and drink wine made with grapes from Central Asia. Most of these then-fashionable cuisines have long become everyday foods among the Chinese.