A somewhat humorous article from Hong Kong cites a recent restaurant review from Michelin Guide and a complaint against it by a prominent Macau chef. The chef challenges the fairness of the review because the reviewers were mostly foreigners and, by nature, foreigners can’t be accurate in their review of Chinese restaurants. The chef argued: “如外國人愛吃臭芝士，香港人未必喜歡；我們的腐乳，外國人不會喜歡！四川 的麻辣，他們更受不了” which roughly translates as “while foreigners love stinky cheeses, Hong Kong people do not particularly care for them; as for our fermented tofu, foreigners could not possibly like it! And as for Sichuan’s spices, they can’t handle it!” Their arguments also continued with claims that foreigners care more about environment and service, and that foreigners could not understand the Hong Kong concept of 搵食, which values small side street restaurants that may not necessarily have a famous name attached.
I was reading this with another Hong Kong friend, and we both agreed there they do have a point. If Chinese people attempted to review restaurants in France, I believe the French culinary community would make a similar argument. And when I read the part about preserved tofu, I made a face that gave away my disgust, and my friend argued “see! There isn’t a Hong Kong person who doesn’t love that stuff!” Similarly, part of a restaurant review, at least in America, has to consider service, and those of us who have spent a lot of time in China know that service means quick, impersonal, and as 热闹as possible.
In some ways this argument reminds me of the former Japanese argument that they can’t eat American beef because their bodies are fundamentally different from everyone else. Language points to this. While foreigners could not possibly like preserved tofu (不會喜歡) Hong Kong people just plain don’t particularly care for stinky cheeses (未必喜歡). Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but I believe that the latter represents a measured dislike that still maintains the ability to be objective while the former sounds like a child being forced to eat broccoli. This stems from a larger sense of laowai (or in this case gweilo) inability to fully understand and appreciate Chinese culture (just like American beef can’t possibly work well with Japanese bodies). Apparently this stereotype has now made a pass at our tastebuds as well.