A Food Community in China
When Zhou Jinzhang founded the nonprofit association Ainong (the farmers’ friend) in 2004, he didn’t know Slow Food or Terra Madre, however his ideas were strongly aligned with the movement’s philosophy of a food community. The organization, launched to safeguard seeds and local animal breeds, was the first of its kind in China. The goals of safeguarding food traditions seemed irrelevant or strange to most people living in regions such as Guangxi province, in South China, where paying attention to food, health and the environment is not considered a priority. Nevertheless, a strong network of supportive farmers, artisan producers and consumers grew quickly.
Jinzhang began by reaching out to the community to support projects with farmers who have chosen to work in harmony with the environment. At the same time shoppers in urban areas were invited to shop a market selling sustainable products at fair prices.
In 2007 Ainong opened its first restaurant in Liuzhou called Tuxiang Liangpin (土生良品), which means “hearty local food”. It was soon followed by another one in the same city, and then by a third in the capital of the Nanning province. The association currently manages a total of seven restaurants, in seven different Chinese provinces, and all use ingredients from local, organic producers. Ainong also manages a shop close to the first restaurant, which sells regional specialties used in the restaurant – also the first of its kind in China.
Because of the large quantities of chemicals used in farming, many raw ingredients have lost their original taste and, as a consequence, Chinese restaurant use many additives. But the Ainong association believes that good cooking comes from good ingredients: eating local and seasonal products is one of their inspiring principles.
The Guanxi Producers food community will be represented at Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre.
God’s Grace Garden
Zhang Zimin has not always been a farmer. Until 2002 she worked in Beijing for Cofco, the country’s largest state managed food-manufacturing company. But when she became allergic to food additives and chemically treated fruit and vegetables, the idea to start an organic farm was born.
Zhang decided to take her savings and rent some land on the outskirts of Beijing, where she established God’s Grace Garden, China’s first organic certified farm. She used the land to grow crops and raise animals and today the farm is almost completely self sufficient, with the exclusion of cooking oil that needs to be purchased. “With no experience or support, I have learnt all I know from nature itself,” she said. Guided by intuition and common sense, Zhang follows the principles of biodynamic farming, which sees her farm as a living organism, where humans are not isolated but connected to the soil, plants and animals. Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators and GMOs are avoided totally and even household detergents and personal products are natural and self-produced.
The ideas of organic farming and environmentally friendly agriculture are not yet well-known in China. Thus, the garden has become a model for sustainable food production, even more so because it has adopted organic and biodynamic principles as a life choice rather than as a pure business choice. When she can, Zhang Zimin employs a few workers to make sure that her knowledge spreads and more and more people are influenced to appreciate a more natural lifestyle.
Zhang Zhimin will be represented at Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre.
Zheng Yang, A Corner of China in Turin
Ethnic restaurants are extremely popular in Italy today, in particular Chinese food, however at the beginning of the 1980s there were barely a handful in all of Piedmont. When Ling King Chou opened his King Hua restaurant in Turin in 1981, he had quite a few challenges to face. Despite initial difficulties, the restaurant soon became very popular and after a few years the management was handed down to Ling’s children Silvia, Paola and Piero. In 2005, the three siblings sold King Hua and opened Zheng Yang (via Principi D’Acaja 61, Turin) scaling down from 180 to 50 seats. Not a profitable choice in economic terms, but a necessary one to focus on quality. The idea was to do less and do it better, with healthier and heartier food. Piero explains that he pays the utmost attention to products and ingredients, even if at times this means accepting compromises and adapting some recipes. One of the restaurant’s delicious dishes is steamed sea bream with ginger and spring onions. The original recipe uses mandarin fish, however this product is only available frozen in Italy and Piero prefers to buy fresh meat, fish and vegetables.
The cuisine is primarily Cantonese, but the menu also includes many examples of specialties from other regions. In addition to the most renowned Chinese dishes, other more unusual ones are offered, such as lamb with chilies and cumin or glass noodles with fermented black soybeans and baby squid. Zheng Yang also has a faithful clientele who dare to try Piero’s “off-the-menu” dishes to discover the greater depths of China’s cuisine.
The restaurant is the perfect place to overcome prejudices we may have about Chinese cooking as greasy and unimaginative food, full of glutamates. Piero explained that Chinese cuisine dates back thousands of years and has developed from traditional medicine, giving it a focus on health and wellbeing as well as the pleasure of taste. “We are what we eat” is not only the famous provocative statement by Feuerbach, but also an old Chinese saying.
Piero’s relationship with Slow Food began one night in 1997, when Carlo Petrini himself happened to have dinner at the restaurant. The family wasn’t familiar with Slow Food, but it didn’t take long to understand that they shared the same philosophy and principles. “Carlo made me believe in what I was doing and I am confident that Slow Food can do a lot in China. In my land, all the greatest revolutions started from farmers, and today they are 800 million!”
Piero will be at Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre at the China’s Jiaozi Dumplings Taste Workshop.
By Giorgia Cannarella [email protected]