Hong Kong-based food critic Chua Lam (蔡澜 Cài Lán) has stirred up a ruckus on the Chinese internet after criticizing Chinese hotpot, saying that it’s “a cooking method totally lacking cultural significance.”
Chua is a famed restaurant critic, a TV personality, and the author of several best-selling books; he is also sometimes called the “Food God” (食神 shíshén) in Chinese culinary circles. He made the controversial remarks during an appearance on the talk show Day Day Up (天天向上 tiāntiān xiàngshàng), which was broadcast on Hunan Television over the New Year holiday. When asked by one of the hosts what dishes he would love to see disappear from the world, Chua said, “Hotpot.”
As you can tell from this clip (in Chinese), the answer raised some eyebrows in the studio, with one female guest uttering, “Chinese hotpot is so tasty!” Qián Fēng 钱枫, a longtime host of the show, also came to the defense of the dish, saying, “Many people love hotpot!”
Chua then proceeded to explain his answer. “Because hotpot is a cooking method totally lacking cultural significance. You just throw some ingredients into a pot. I don’t get what’s delicious about it,” he said. “If hotpot fandom continues to grow, you’ll see fewer and fewer chefs in the years to come.”
Chua’s comments provoked a storm of outrage (in Chinese) on Chinese social media, with a legion of die-hard hotpot lovers slamming him for being indefensibly wrong about the dish.
“I think you should disappear.”
“Do you know anything about a soup base?”
“Chinese hotpot has an abundance of cultural significance, from its broth to the order that you put ingredients into various sauces. Trashing hotpot exposed your ignorance and your inability to discover cultural details in things.”
“You don’t have to eat it if you don’t like it. But you have no right to stop others from having it.”
“Chinese hotpot is all about atmosphere.”
“Apparently, Cai never had a good hotpot. I feel sorry for him.”
“Steaks should disappear. You just place them on a pan and fry them on two sides.”
On a related note, Chinese hotpot became the center of a Twitter spat over the holiday after Jona Weinhofen, a self-described “straight-edge vegan,” took to the platform to talk negatively about the dish.
The tweet quickly drew the ire of some Twitter users, who found the caption culturally offensive and bordering on being racist. Jenn Fang, an Asian-American writer, voiced her anger in a long-winded thread in which she said, “Hotpot is the framework through which I learned about love, respect, and generosity. It is the holiday meal my family raised me on.” Meanwhile, Jeff Yang, a journalist who has written for many publications, such as CNN and Quartz, lambasted Weinhofen for advancing his “neocolonial beliefs” by crapping on “Asian cultural expressions.”