故乡的味道 – The taste of home

有没有想过出外吃饭其实就跟听故事一样?因为很多不同的餐厅在提供食物之外,同时也给出了一段经验,而这种经验往往是说出来的,名副其实地说。

比如那些标榜自己五成食材皆由外国进口的食肆,要是她不说,你真吃得出来吗?我无意挑战大家的味觉灵敏程度,只不过要是连许多资深酒评人在盲试的时候都会闹笑话,硬把一瓶新世界说成是法国货,我们又怎能轻信自己的舌头分得出日本吞拿与大西洋吞拿的不同呢?

再澄清一点,我毫不怀疑那些食肆的诚实。当一个义大利餐馆的老板宣称自己的番茄蔬菜全由他的祖国空运而来,我是没有理由不相信的。我只是以为,在中 国也能培育出不错的富士苹果的今天,许多食材和产地的必然关系已经变得很淡薄了。除非是特别稀有的品种,否则一般人根本就不需要穷根究底地样样东西讲正 宗。反正你吃不出来,又何苦要求一道希腊菜只能使用希腊无花果呢?

更何况为了正宗,往往还得牺牲新鲜的品质。所以香港的外地菜可以据此分出两大流派,一派坚守正宗,巴不得所有东西都要从原产地入口;另一派标榜新 鲜,因地制宜,本地市场有甚么就做甚么。比较高级的日本菜馆多半走前面那条路线,儘量不用南中国海的鱼货。于是本来不时不食,各地自有特色的日本料理在香 港就别有一番奇特面目了。它们的时令鲜货与香港的天候地理全无关系,反倒遥遥呼应着北国的陌生环境,如此一来,时令和新鲜就彻底变成鱼与熊掌不可兼得的两 种品质。愈是时令的,就愈要搭上飞机的冷藏库,到得食客口中,所谓时令就只能是想像中的时令了。

然而,这并不无聊,如同食材全部进口的宣传伎俩,它是构成故事的要素。正宗本来就是一种故事,能够造成市场区别的标识。一间日本馆子要是光按纯正日 本手法做菜还不够,就得让人看见几个聚精会神的日本师傅。再不行,便干脆大量从日本空运材料,保证自己与众不同的正宗。当香港的高级市场已经可以让所有人 直接买到同样的货色,就流汗述说自己如何上山下海找回只此一家的雋品。当竞争对手都懂得使用最佳产区的日本米,就一不做二不休,连煮饭的水也要专门运来。 到得这个地步,正宗的故事成分便极大化了,不说大家不知道,说了让人吓一跳。

也许这是唬人的把戏,因为没有足够的参照,没有同时的比较,大概无人尝得出日本水煮的米与一般凡品的细微差异。但是,我却能体会这份顽固坚持背后的 用心。只要看看那些日本食客的脸就知道了,他们在乎的不单是现实的时令鲜活,更是远方家乡的联繫。他们也不一定品得出老家的味道,可是他们沉溺在这些故事 里浸染的乡愁中。然后再看看那位老板,他也不单单是个贩卖完整异国情调给本地客的机巧商人,他还在把握自己的尊严与身份,于这语言陌生的闹市。是的,我发 现很多坚定不移地信任老家食材,不计代价也要入口它们的那些大厨兼老板,其实都是一些味觉文化的爱国者。

2010/10/5

Is eating out actually the same thing as listening to a story? Many restaurants, in addition to providing food, also offer some kind of experience, and this experience is all about words, literally and figuratively.

For instance, these restaurants advertising that 50% of their ingredients are imported, if they didn’t tell you, would you actually taste it? I don’t intend to challenge onyone’s taste sensitivity, but if even expert wine critics can give absurd answers in blind tests, and say that a bottle of New World wine is from France, how can we trust our own tongue to know the difference between Japanese tuna and Atlantic tuna?

Also, to make things clear, I have no doubt that these restaurants are honest. When the owner of an Italian restaurant claims that all his tomatoes are flown in from his home country, I have no reason not to believe him. I just believe that China can grow good Fuji apples now, and so the relationship between ingredient and origin is not as important anymore. Unless it’s a particularly rare product, most people do not need things to be completely authentic. And anyway, if you can’t taste the difference, why should you only use Greek figs to prepare a Greek dish?

Moreover, in order to be authentic, you often need to sacrifice freshness and quality. For that reason, there’s two schools of thought regarding foreign dishes in Hong Kong: one school sticks to the authentic, ensuring that all ingredients are imported from the proper place of origin; the other school insists on freshness, local production, market product and what not. Most high-end Japanese restaurants take the first approach, and as much as possible avoid fish from the South China sea. Because originally you only eat what’s in season, Japanese cuisine has different charactretistics in each place, and should also have particular features in Hong Kong. The seasonility of Japanese products is completely unrelated to the climate and geography of Hong-Kong, nothing like the strange environment of the North, and as a result, seasonality and freshness are like a fish and bear’s paw, you can’t have both at the same time. All these “seasonal” products were in cold storage on a plane before reaching the consumer’s mouth – and therefore these so-called seasonal products are only seasonal by the powers of imagination.

However, this makes the experience interesting, and the trick of advertising all ingredients as imported becomes an element in the story. Authenticity has always been about story-telling, and is enough to influence the market. If a Japanese restaurant prepares its dishes following pure Japanese cooking tradition, that is not enough, it must still put on display a few authentically Japanese chefs. And if that’s still not enough, they can just fly in a lot of products from Japan to ensure their distinctive authenticity. And as the top-end food market in Hong-Kong makes the same goods available to everyone, it takes more and more effort to present a really unique product. As competitors begin using rice from the best areas in Japan, the next remaining step is probably to fly in the cooking water. And when you reach this point, the story becomes the main element of authenticity, because if you don’t mention it, no-one will notice, but if you say it, you will impress people.

Maybe this is just bluff, because there’s no point of comparison, and without simultaneous tasting, there’s probably no-one who can distinguish the nuances between rice cooked in authentic Japanese water and the average product. However, I can understand the intention behind this stubborn insistance. Just watching the face of the Japanese diners is enough to understand that they don’t care so much whether the products are really fresh and in season, but more that they give them a point of contact with their distant homeland. And they may not actually taste the taste of home, but they will enjoy the nostalgic feeling brought about by the story that it comes from there. Then look at the owner again: he’s not just a smart businessman selling exoticism to local clients, he’s also asserting his own dignity and identity in this noisy city full of unfamiliar languages. So yes, I believe that these chefs and restaurant owners who will trust authentic ingredients from their homeland, and import them at all cost, are all actually taste patriots.

2010/10/5

Share your thoughts