Ballad of East and West: A gastronomic journey
- 6 min read
On Wednesday 31 May, Hotelschool The Hague hosted the Ballad of East and West at the Amsterdam Campus, where culinary critic Onno Kleyn and cultural author Lulu Wang introduced their work. They also engaged in a dialogue with each other and the audience, exploring the different culinary traditions of East and West. During this trip to the world of gastronomy, the meaning behind Rudyard Kipling’s poem the Ballad of East and West was discussed.
“Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet. (…) But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth” – a section of the Ballad of East and West.
Mark Koning, Mandarin Lecturer at Hotelschool The Hague and initiator of the event, gave a short introduction. Then Lulu Wang elaborated on how the Chinese kitchen is dominated by intuition and improvisation. Chinese dishes are also influenced by for instance how one feels or what one can afford. When you are in love you may create saltier dishes. When you are rich, you may use more special ingredients. Yet, it still all serves one common purpose: making delicious and tasty food.
But what is tasty food? According to Lulu Wang, it is the combination of yin and yang. Here, Europeans might think of a great red wine pairing perfectly with a robust main course. However, this is where East and West collide. Chinese people do not base dishes on what drink it pairs with. They rather create their own meals that are already in harmony. They do not prepare their meals at the table either, for example by cutting the food up or pouring the sauce on.
“We all long for harmony just like a man may long for a woman, and that is what you find in Chinese food.” – explained Lulu Wang.
But is the Chinese kitchen really that far from European cuisine? Not necessarily. As Onno Kleyn took the stage, he explained that wine pairing and serving different courses one after the other is a rather new tradition. It developed around the 19th century in Europe to take advantage of savouring the flavours and before that, Europeans had similar eating traditions to the Chinese. However, as this tradition is now becoming more and more common, even some Chinese restaurants have started serving separate courses. And this is where East meets West.
Onno Kleyn also elaborated on how harmony is incorporated not only in Chinese cooking, but also in the European kitchen. Especially in high-end cooking, we can always discover a combination of different flavours, textures and temperatures.
Afterwards, turning from where the two kitchens collide or unite, F&B Lecturer Joost de Vos took the audience on a historical journey. He explained how rice became a popular ingredient to both Eastern and Western kitchens. He also shared the story of Hangzhou’s Beggar Chicken, a delicious chicken dish that everybody in the auditorium got to taste.
In the meantime, the audience learnt about the soothing realm of Chinese tea from Hospitality Lecturer Lysbeth Vink. She gave everybody the opportunity to taste three types of Chinese tea, while enjoying the yin and yang taste of East and West that Joost de Vos and the Chinese chef Yansau Cheng prepared.
The event was rounded off with a discussion and a Q&A session about the differences between the two kitchens, the customer centeredness of those, and the future of gastronomy. It was an extremely interesting and educational event and we would like to thank all participants for joining us!
Author: Nikolett Nyúl