Expo of­fers a chance to eat along the Mar­itime Silk Road

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE | DINING - By MIKE PETERS in Dong­guan, Guang­dong prov­ince

There was an ex­hi­bi­tion hall de­voted to tea, an­other to silk and an ex­ten­sive in­ter­na­tional photo show.

But like me, much of the crowd at last week­end’s 21 Cen­tury In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Silk Road expo in Dong­guan city was fo­cused on the food pav­il­ion, where pack­aged foods, cook­ing sta­tions and the roots and herbs of tra­di­tional medicine all com­peted for the at­ten­tion of vis­i­tors.

Last year’s expo, held just out­side Guang­dong’s pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, Guangzhou, at­tracted more than 100,000 vis­i­tors, and the crowd this year seemed likely to sur­pass that. Ea­ger hawk­ers in­vited passers-by to sam­ple wares from all over: co­conut crisps from Thai­land, cof­fee from Viet­nam, spicy noo­dles from Malaysia— and pasta, olive oil, wine and much more from Italy. With Venice as the rec­og­nized end point of the old Mar­itime Silk Road, it was only fit­ting that Italy stood out with a huge pres­ence, with mer­chants as ea­ger as those 12th cen­tury Vene­tian traders who dom­i­nated their sur­round­ing seas.

Whether pre­cisely from a tra­di­tional Silk Road port or not, coun­tries ea­ger to em­brace the spirit of China’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive were rep­re­sented. Now as in me­dieval times, any­one ea­ger to come and trade could be amem­berof the club.

Among them was John Dray­ton of Aus­tralia’s Dray­ton Fam­ily Wines, who was at the expo with a group of com­pa­nies from Hunter Val­ley. That re­gion is fa­mous for its wines, but there were realestate and golf-re­sort com­pa­nies in the group as well as winer­ies.

Dray­ton has been in the China mar­ket for a decade with his premium-mar­ket wines.

“At its peak, China rep­re­sented about 40 per­cent of our sales,” he says, “but that has slipped some, to about 25 per­cent to­day.” The change came when the na­tion’s cam­paign against ex­trav­a­gance be­gan in 2012, and the gift-giv­ing mar­ket dried up.

But China con­tin­ues to be the world’s largest con­sumer of red wine, and since taxes on wine sold in Aus­tralia are high, China con­tin­ues to be a lu­cra­tive mar­ket for small pro­duc­ers like Dray­ton.

The on­line mar­ket that drives sales in China is also a plus, says Colin Peter­son of Peter­son’s Wines, an­other Hunter Val­ley pro­ducer at the show.

“We are al­ready sell­ing wine that way in Aus­tralia,” he says, although that’s still a grow­ing seg­ment there. “So it didn’t take a change of mind­set to do busi­ness that way here.” Peter­son says his on­line plat­forms here sell a lot of wine to well­trav­eled Chi­nese — some that know his wines from visit­ing Aus­tralia, and some who were just ex­posed to the qual­ity of Aus­tralia’s wines on a visit, who are seek­ing sim­i­lar vin­tages now that they are back in China.

While there were grape wines from many West­ern coun­tries, Chi­nese wine on dis­play was of­ten the prod­uct of other fruits. There was blue­berry wine from Shan­dong prov­ince, mul­berry wine from Guangzhou, and litchi wine — which is made from the par­tic­u­lar litchi va­ri­ety xi­an­poguo from Huizhou of Guang­dong prov­ince. The fruit has a 1,000-year his­tory of use in fer­ment­ing vine­gars and brew­ing litchi wine.

“The wine keeps the fruit fra­grance of litchi,” says the com­pany brochure, “with dense scent, per­fect taste, and rich nu­tri­tion, and con­tains di­ver­si­fied nour­ish­ments and mi­croele­ments such as amino acid, vi­ta­mins and min­er­als, and can stimulate ap­petite, ben­e­fit the spleen, re­in­force vigor and main­tain health and beau­ti­ful skin”.

Sto­ries like that could be found all over the Silk Road expo, which ended on Satur­day.

MIKE PETERS / CHINA DAILY

A show of aged white spirit at the 21 Cen­tury In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Silk Road expo in Dong­guan.

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