ISN’T IT STRANGE how the moniker ‘fast food’ almost gives every element of the business model a mandatory association with McDonald’s? We were recommended to a local joint for a quick bite while we were in the southwestern fringe of the city and were told to expect some local cuisine served from China’s western regions.
And that creates another foreign traveller perception: that when you think ‘local cuisine’, it will either be some sit-down fine dining or a complete grassroots hole in the wall. So I was shocked to discover that the place of which our colleague was speaking looked like a Westernised fast-food joint on the outside … and on the inside too. Even one of the signs had the ‘Open 24 Hours’ icon that you see outside McDonald’s outlets. (I thought there was a McDonald’s next to it; surely that ‘Open 24 Hours’ sign would be trademarked?) The inside setup had tray tables, benches and booths with a minimalistic look and some pop culture references (such as TVs) to give it an urban vibe. But apart from that, when it comes down to the cuisine itself, everything is quintessentially Chinese – Xinjiang or Gansu cuisine to be more specific.
Which led me to think about something I’ve been particularly passionate about. Have our assumptions of local cuisine being based in some exotic setting been the result of a romanticised Western stereotype? Am I guilty of ‘Orientalism’, the very thing that I critique, in this case? Perhaps. Or is it a case of globalisation encroaching upon the traditional way that the Chinese eat?