In the effort to save sharks from extinction, Chinese people around the world have united to implement shark fin bans wherever they live. However, Chinese restaurant owners continue to insist that shark fin soup is an essential part of Chinese culture. Do you think restaurant owners really care about culture?
The traditional Chinese diet consisted of 80% vegetables or more, and a maximum of 20% meat. As more Chinese became affluent, that ratio changed to roughly 80% meat and 20% vegetables – reflected in the typical restaurant banquet menu. This ratio was based upon money – meat cost more! Have restaurant owners been promoting the traditional Chinese diet, composed of a much higher vegetable ratio? No! If restaurant owners are not in the culture preservation business, what kind of business are they really in? The money making business, of course!
Vancouver chef Clarence Ma says shark fin is all about texture, not taste. The reason this soup is so expensive is that shark fins must be braised in clean chicken broth a minimum of 5 times, and then disposed of, to get rid of its fishy after-taste.
There is a sweet potato noodle which the Japanese call Harusame = 春雨 (Spring rain). Harusame noodles have the same texture as shark fin. Combined with all the same ingredients, a sweet potato noodle soup tastes just like a shark fin soup with the same texture. Moreover, noodles don’t have mercury, which sharks ingest by eating contaminated prey.
If Japanese can successfully promote Surimi (red colored Pollock fish) as artificial crab, why don’t Chinese restaurants simply embrace Harusame noodle soup as a healthier and superior alternative to “shark fin” soup? It’s all in the presentation!
Despite the fact that Chinese banquet restaurants at night are in fact noodle houses during the day, they want to differentiate themselves from the typical noodle house or street vendor, which serves noodle soup for only $5.00 per bowl. Shark fin is used only to “justify” raising the price of a banquet menu up to 10x.
So the real issue has nothing to do with shark fin – the issue is how restaurants can justify raising the menu price into the stratosphere. Chinese clients are willing to spend this amount of money for prestige. How can this destructive practice be stopped, while meeting the financial needs of restauranteurs and the psychological needs of the client?
Chef Ma suggest using tea instead – rare Chinese estate tea! Like French wines, tea has vintages too. So Chinese restaurant owners can advocate tea sommeliers to help banquet clients pair the meal to the tea, so as to maximize their total enjoyment.
For Chinese consumers who are rediscovering their traditional culture, the price of quality Chinese tea is not being increased as part of a marketing ploy – quality estate tea has always been relatively expensive because of its rarity and many unique health benefits! Instead of offering guests two choices – coffee or tea, the time is ripe to bring traditional Chinese tea culture to restaurants where guests can enjoy a wide selection of China’s finest estate teas in a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere. While rediscovering traditional Chinese tea culture, banquet guests can enjoy Harusame noodle soup, and the satisfaction of knowing they are saving the global shark population at the same time. It is a win-win proposition!
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