Lanzhou noodles and Italian pasta play culinary ambassadors in Belt and Road era
Separated by thousands of miles and hundreds of years of culinary evolution, Italian pasta and Lanzhou beef noodles have the tantalizing air of long-lost cousins.
Equally delicious, their outward similarities disguise subtle differences that make each dish utterly distinct, the unique expression of their respective cultural traditions.
On October 11, these two great dishes played cultural ambassadors for their home countries on either side of a stage in a ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton in Beijing.
Organized by the city of Lanzhou and the embassy of Italy in China , the event brought together master chefs from each cuisine to demonstrate their arts before a crowd of eager gourmands and VIPs.
“Even though our two countries are very far from the other, we have one thing in common: it’s a very deep history and very culture with a rich cuisine,” said first secretary of Italian Embassy Mr. Enrico Berti.
“I think noodles represent this proximity — even though they are cooked in different ways, they are both delicious.”
At a marble counter on stage, Lanzhou-based chef Ma Wen Bin, 59, deftly pulls thick loaves of dough into five different styles hand-pulled noodles, each a different shape, width and density. As he works he explains the virtues of each noodle, fingers and powerful forearms rapidly transforming the dough to coils and piles of fresh, springy strands. This handiwork is testimony to chef Ma’s training in a craft handed down over four generations, for which he has numerous awards over a 40 year career.
“The most important quality is heart,” says Ma smiling, as he weaves the strands through his fingers like a weaver at a loom.
Cameras and photographers crowd around Chef Ma, who hands off the noodles to a sous chef to be plunged in boiling water. Beef chunks and chili pepper sauce are added in the bowl, which the guests finish off almost as swiftly as they are prepared.
Meanwhile, across the stage Italian chef Amedeo Ferri, clad in white gloves, carefully carves golden sheets of dough into flat coils of tagliatelle. Native of Umbria, Ferri is the Chef de Cuisine of the Ritz-Carlton’s Italian restaurant Barolo. Trained in Italy, his 18-year career has carried him from Dubai to Japan and Thailand, and seen him collaborate with several Michelin-starred chefs.
While audience members snap photos and videos for reference, Chef Ferri fries the pasta in a stainless-steel pan with Coratina olive oil of southern Italy. “I began making pasta with my grandmother,” he says. “The ingredients should be very, very good, this is the most important.” He adds whole peeled garlic, removing it after infusing the flavors. After frying the tomatoes for a few minutes, he adds chopped basil leaves and finely grated cheese.
“Delicious,” raves one Chinese diner.
“This is the first time I have tried these noodles, and I regret I haven’t tried them before — they are absolutely fantastic,” says Berti.
The event’s culinary exchange parallels growing links between China and Europe under President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. In this plan, China will aid building railways, ports, and highways to stretch across Central Asia , deepening economic ties, and facilitating cultural understanding.
Li Yaguang, vice president of the China Cuisine Association, said such events are key to further promote “food culture communications between China ” and the rest of the world.
As an ancient Silk Road city, Lanzhou occupies a key geographic point linking East and West, and its signature beef noodle dish aims to play cultural ambassador on behalf of its region.
This dish will build “cultural and culinary exchanges and give Lanzhou bigger play in the B&R Initiative,” says Zhang Hui, deputy director of Lanzhou ’s publicity department.
“Long distance,” she added, “separates no bosom friends.” (AFP)