Selling cheese to the Chinese
Europeans are aggressively marketing their wine-and-cheese dining culture to China's expanding middle class.
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BBC World Service correspondent Mukul Devichand traveled to Shanghai to explore the profound impact of new European foods on Chinese society, and found that the culinary market there is already crowded:
At a Chinese radio station, on-air personalities tout the virtues of pairing the proper wines with the proper cheese, eating pasta and enjoying a good cigar.
British, French and Portuguese foodies are pushing gastronomy and fine dining to a remarkable new class of Chinese citizens.
The problem is, parmesan, cheddar and brie are pretty alien to the Chinese palate. Despite over 3000 years of Chinese fine dining, it's only from the 20th century that dairy products were really consumed in China -- many there remain lactose intolerant.
The solution for European marketers is to educate Chinese consumers.
At a wine seminar, a young French woman explained what drew her to China. "Even though we are in the middle of an economic crisis, we see an increase every single week of Europeans landing here with their suitcases and a dream, and they want to make it. Of course the hope of making money is also part of it, but I would say that creating jobs in my own country, in my own region and creating jobs for my family's neighbors, is a big part of it."
She adds that people come to her seminar to gain a certain kind of knowledge in order to position themselves in society.
At the seminar's end, the 20-something attendees start to discuss cheese and compare it to Chinese tofu. One woman commented that only very old people know about Chinese food culture.
Chairman Mao thought Chinese high-dining was bourgeois and suppressed it during the cultural revolution. More was then lost in years of poverty and rationing, so much of this rich culinary history is unknown to these 20-somethings.
High-end European food and drink hopes to fill the vacuum of a Chinese generation who know less about tofu, and started their adult culinary lives on Kentucky Fried Chicken. But it's a crowded market -- Chinese tea and tofu are now back, and European food also competes with Japanese, Korean, American, Mexican -- all now pouring into China.
Yet in this culinary universe, one product above all has managed to push status as its middle name, and it comes from Britain: Scotch.
At a bar in Shanghai, Jerry Hong, a well-known local food critic, explained why many Chinese will spend a month's worth of salary in one night, buying rounds of expensive whisky for their friends and associates: "In China, there's a very important term called 'face' -- to every Chinese it's rooted in their hearts ... even if they're poor, they don't want to show it."
People of modest means spending scarce money on whisky to maintain "face" -- it's what marketing people call potential for growth.
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