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TOPICS: Hangzhou; Meat in China; People in China; Chinese in America

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Newman's News and Notes

Spring Volume: 2012 Issue: 19(1) page(s): 17 and 19


HANGZHOU in the 1200's had many restaurants, as Jacques Gernet in Daily Life in China reports. The names of their dishes were sometimes known, their recipes rarely. While Chinese culinary traditions are tenacious, some recipes still in use, Hangzhou recipes are not recorded in a way enabling anyone to cook from them today. Some think they can, but there is no guarantee any dish will resemble one eaten in the 1200's. Why not? Because ingredient amounts and how they were prepared are minimally reported, if at all. They are guesswork, at best.

Gernet indicates Sichuan restaurants, taverns, Shandong and Hopei eateries, even Muslim restaurants were probably known in Hangzhou. Exactly what they served is not. He says mentions eighteen kinds of green and soy beans, nine kinds of rice, eleven apricot varieties, eight types of pears, etc. What he does not say is which kinds any of them were, and if any of them are in a single recipe.

There were no religious taboos about food then, but there were fervent Buddhists and ascetic Taoists, the former abstaining from vegetables with strong smells and not eating meat or eggs; the latter refraining from cereal intake and many of other foods. Those who could afford meat and fish found them plentiful as is surmised from reports that several hundred pigs were slaughtered every day. In this book by Gernet, one also learns that salt fish are brought into the city by the boatload and offal common. What is mentioned minimally is that it is true only among the lower classes. So the question remains, what did the people of Hangzhou eat in the 1200s?

MEAT IN CHINA means pork. This is true unless another animal is specifically mentioned. Pork is so important to the Chinese that when the government was recently concerned about not having enough, they started to stockpile whole frozen pigs and cuts of them. One question is, how many pigs did they think are enough; and how many do they raise in a year? The answer astounds because China is raising one pig for every three people or so. The current pig census is four hundred forty-six million.

PEOPLE IN CHINA are more urbanized, older, and better educated than ever before. There are more Chinese mouths to feed these pigs to. The latest Chinese census says the population is more than one and one-third billion folk, some six hundred thousand are foreigners. This is an increase of almost seventy-four million or some six percent more than counted in the 2000 census. While the urban population is expanding, actually by forty-five percent, the number in single households are shrinking to a little more than three people in every one of them, thanks to the one-child per family policy. Some report the children are more spoiled, eating less nutritious food, consuming more meals prepared outside the home than ever before, and demanding and getting food from America's fast food restaurants and Chinese imitations of them.

CHINESE IN AMERICA relates to those in the United States (US). it is the country with the sixth largest Chinese population outside of China. They are older and better educated than ever before; and more Chinese live in every state in the United States than ever before, as well. The US census reports about Asians by group, not by ethnicity. So in 2010, it indicates five percent or nearly fifteen million Americans are Asian, one and a half million others mixed Asian and Caucasian.

Every five years, the US does an 'American Community Survey' providing more details and an estimate of each Asian population. The last one, done in 2009, reports the ten largest Asian populations by state. California has the largest Asian population followed by New York and Texas. Two of the top ten have more than a million Asians, California with four and a half million, New York almost one and one-third million. In that survey, the ten states with the largest Asian populations are:

CA...4,618,747
NY....1,373,918
TX.....883,429
NJ......677,022
IL.......565,429
HI......480,137
WA.....441,231
FL.....442,687
VA.....391,484
MA...328,664

Another item of interest in this same survey shows California with the largest change, a growth of thirteen percent, Hawaii's growth more than ten percent, and Texas, New York, Florida, and Washington each with more than six percent growth in their Asian populations; estimates are atleast a quarter of all Asian Americans are Chinese.

An earlier survey gave the Chinese credit for building the transcontinental railroad, the levees in the Sacramento Delta area, introducing Americans to Chinese food, to Chinese and East Asian cultures, and to Buddhism, Taoism, and Kung Fu. It wrote about Chinatown areas in the US indicating the New York Metropolitan Area of NY, NJ, and PA, and CA's San Francisco Bay Area having the most Chinese people. Other large areas, in declining order, were Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Houston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Dallas, Portland, San Diego, Sacramento, and Las Vegas.

In the 2011 June 24 issue, the New York Times headlined: Passing the One Million Mark. It said Asian population surges in New York meant nearly one in eight New Yorkers were Asian. That is more than the Asian populations in San Francisco and Los Angeles combined, and is a thirty-two percent increase in New York's Asian population. Asians in New York speak forty different languages, have difficulty finding common ground, and are under-represented in elected office.

This report has conflicting information as it says those of Chinese descent make up nearly half of all Asians. On page A22 in this newspaper, it maps the largest Asian enclaves in New York City. In Queens, the Chinese dominate in Flushing and their numbers are growing. They also continue to grow in Elmhurst. Manhattan's Chinatown has the largest concentration of Chinese, Brooklyn is established Chinese communities in Sunset Park, and the Chinese in this borough are spreading East to Bensonhurst. Graves End, and Homecrest.

                                                                                                                                                       
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