The synergy of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce, key ingredients respectively of Italian and Chinese cuisine, represents more than a simple symbolic gesture. This is just one example of why Italy and China have such a long and intertwined history of common culinary tastes.
Organized by the China-Italy Chamber of Commerce (CICC), the event, titled “Food Synergies: Balsamic Vinegar and Soy Sauce” on June 18, featured a masterclass of two Italian executive chefs.
Tasting dishes included authentic Italian balsamic vinegar paired with Parma ham, bread, salad, and even ice cream (the last one opened our eyes.)
The event shed light on why the culinary ties between Italy and China are so strong.
One of the reasons is the long culinary history between the two nations (we’re not just talking about spaghetti and noodles). There are countless examples of how Italian chefs can incorporate Chinese ingredients into their cooking and vice versa.
Alberto Zago, one of the executive chefs of the event, said This is that even Sichuan peppers have long been a commonly used ingredient in Italy and other parts of Europe.
Samuele Rossi, the event’s other executive chef who has worked in mainland China and Macau for nearly 20 years, said incorporating locally sourced Chinese produce into his own Italian cuisine was only natural.
Rossi said some of his ingredients have to be imported from Italy and that is not always easy. While working for Grand Hyatt, Beijing in 2003, importing quality Italian ingredients was sometimes difficult. However, he notes that this has changed considerably since that time, in large part thanks to efforts to promote Italian chefs and products.
Another reason why culinary ties are so strong, and especially why Italian cuisine has such a special place in the Chinese market, is the attitude of the Chinese themselves. Cao Difei is a TV host, food columnist and a key voice in the F&B industry in China. He addressed the CICC event.
He said This is that the Chinese often make an arbitrary distinction between Chinese food and Western food. However, in the broad category of “Western food”, Italian cuisine comes closest to the Chinese palate. He points out that products like spaghetti, olive oil, tomatoes, rice used in risotto and more, all have great appeal in the Chinese market.
The event was part of a larger project called True Italian Taste, funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and carried out by Assocamerestero (the Association of Italian Chambers of Commerce in the World) in cooperation with the Italian chambers of commerce abroad. The main objective of the project is to promote authentic Italian products in the F&B sector, according to Giulia Gallarati, secretary general of CICC.
In addition to authenticity, the project also emphasizes healthy ways to use Italian ingredients. Gianpaolo Bruno, Italian trade commissioner to China and Mongolia, said this is a message they want to convey to Chinese consumers through the project. Healthy eating, he said, is part of the Italian way of life.
COVID-19 presented challenges for the Italian F&B industry in China. However, Simone Panfili, first secretary of the economic and trade office of the Italian Embassy in the People’s Republic of China, stressed that such challenges have also brought opportunities. He said that in China, the demand for Italian products has increased because Chinese consumers who would normally travel to Italy to buy products cannot do so.
Recent figures suggest this is the case. Despite difficulties in 2020, the export of food products made in Italy to China seems to have rebounded in early 2021, according to the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT).
Obviously, the culinary ties between Italy and China aren’t going away anytime soon – the “Food Synergies: Balsamic Vinegar and Soy Sauce” event is just one example. Whether through balsamic vinegar and ice cream, or through more familiar Italian dishes, these two gastro-giants always have a special bond.
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[All images via CICC]