The chef at Yu’s Family Kitchen in Chengdu was planning my menu. “Can you eat shark’s fin?” he asked, wondering if I had any diet restrictions. I scoffed at the idea, declaring that nothing was out of bounds.
I’m no conservationist and I love my shark’s fin, abalone and bird’s nest. You don’t have to tell me about the campaigns against shark’s fin as food. The issue is controversial (our cover story this month discusses how the practice is ethical and misrepresented) and, besides, the rearing and killing of any animal is under attack these days, so should we also stop eating pork, beef, lamb, chicken and duck?
Anyway, I don’t go out of my way to eat shark’s fin, but with a shrinking pool of restaurants offering shark’s fin in Singapore, I ironically find shark’s fin dishes all the more satisfying when they are available. Last month, I had dinner at two closed-door restaurants in Chengdu (see my travel story on the Chinese city in this issue) and both restaurants served Sichuan-flavoured shark’s fin. The dish had a unique numbing and spicy taste which offered such a kick. Even as I write this, I can still taste its chewy texture and tingling flavours in my mouth.
I’m especially Asian when it comes to eating. I don’t dislike Western cuisines, but I find Chinese food more appealing. Traditional Chinese festivals make me especially happy, because that is when the dishes served are rich with delicacies like shark’s fin, abalone and bird’s nest.
What enhances their flavours is when I learn of positive stories of where these ingredients come from. To know that our home-grown businesses are major suppliers and time-honoured brands in the region — that rest in the hands of their third generation of owners, no less — deepens my appreciation for these delicacies.
Back to Chengdu. The food I have eaten there has left me wanting for more. From mala hotpot to dragon beard candy, from mapo tofu to steamed Chinese cabbage in supreme stock, these are all authentic Chengdu dishes with an original flavour, with a deliciousness can almost rival the cuteness of the city’s giant pandas.
Yes, it’s true; my life has been completely overtaken by the pursuit of good food. Life still goes on if there isn’t good food to be had, but how tasteless it would be. And isn’t this what living tastefully is all about?