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Friday, 31 January 2014

China's new passion for food museums

The Chinese have always loved food, and have lately begun to display a keen interest in their culinary heritage. This has spawned a crop of new museums all about food, and the many ways it has been cooked across the centuries.
Man-Han banquet rotating table

The round table is set with a banquet of more than 40 dishes, including legendary delicacies such as a whole bear's paw, surrounded by the tongues of little fish, steamed civet cat with pears, and bird's nest soup. It looks so appetising - but unfortunately none of it is edible. This entire, gorgeous spread, rotating slowly before my eyes, is made from painted plastic. It's a museum reconstruction of dishes from the most famous meal in Chinese history, the Man-Han banquet of the Qing Dynasty court which is said to have represented the pinnacle of the culinary skills of the Han Chinese and their Manchu conquerors.
The cuisine museum in the eastern city of Hangzhou is one of a growing number of food museums in China, but it's probably the most magnificent. It occupies a large site in the scenic hills on the outskirts of town, and was built at a cost of nearly $30m (£18m). Unlike the more modest food museums in cities such as Chengdu and Kaifeng, which are run by private collectors, the Hangzhou museum has been funded by the city government, and entry is free of charge.
The Hangzhou museum has literally hundreds of life-sized models of mouth-watering food. Visitors can feast their eyes on replicas of Buddhist vegetarian dishes, snacks eaten by canal-dwellers in the Middle Ages, and the delicate sweet pastries made in Hangzhou during the Song Dynasty, 800 years ago. There's a whole cabinet filled with different kinds of zongzi - the leaf-wrapped rice parcels eaten at the Dragon Boat Festival each spring, illustrating their historical evolution.
Dishes on display in Hangzhou museum
Yuan Mei's dishes
Part of the gallery is devoted to the Qing Dynasty poet and gourmet Yuan Mei. Various editions of his famous cookbook are on display, along with a bust of the man himself, and, of course, replicas of many of his finest dishes. And if you ever wanted to know what a diplomat visiting Hangzhou in the 12th Century might have had for dinner, it's all there in front of you, a table of some 30 dishes including wine-pickled crab, smoked rabbit and some steamed buns known as "dimpled cheeks".

From BBC News

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