I made a point of trying to prepare my Chinese friends for our Sunday lunch at St John Bread and Wine. “It’s one of my favourite restaurants, and I think the food is wonderful, but you may find it a bit simple by Chinese standards. The kitchen is incredibly careful (非常讲究) about the quality of ingredients, and the founding chef was one of the catalysts for the renaissance of British cooking. I’m taking you there because I want to show you some of the best of our local cuisine, but it’s quite meaty. And even if you’re not crazy about the savoury courses, one thing in which they excel is puddings and other sweet things, so you must try them… Etc etc.” Continue reading…
Ask any Chinese chef in England what they think of British pork, and they will almost invariably reply that it has a xing wei (腥 味 ), or ‘nasty fishy taste’. Xing wei is one of those Chinese culinary terms that has no English equivalent, although there are similar concepts in many other food traditions, including the Indian and Persian. It refers to the unpleasant, rank aspects of the flavours of meat, fish and poultry, aspects which must be dispelled or minimised in the kitchen.
If you want to be really precise, you can use more specific terms: xing wei for the ‘fishy’ taste of fish, eels and other water creatures, and also of raw meat; shan wei (膻 味 ) for ‘muttony tastes’; sao wei (臊 味 ) for foul, offally tastes like that found lingering in kidneys. Yi wei (异 味‘ ) peculiar taste or smell’) like xing wei, can be used to describe off-tastes in general. Once you have identified the off-tastes in your raw ingredients, you will want to address them: by blanching and marinating, and by the judicious use of seasonings like Shaoxing wine, ginger, spring onions and coriander. These techniques are second nature to almost all Chinese cooks.