Changing China

Giant on the move

Whatever happened to culinary diplomacy?

August 22, 2008

sea horsesThere are 21,600 reporters covering the Olympic Games, the vast majority from outside China, and a lot of them will be going home with a nasty taste in their mouths.

Al Himmer and Erik Kirschbaum blogged about their experience of crash-dieting during the Olympics, with most of the venues offering only cookies and bananas for reporters putting in 10 or 12 or 14 hours covering a sport.

Inside the Main Press Centre, there is plenty of food to be had. It’s not going to win any gourmet awards but the turkey on whole wheat is just fine and it’s hard to go wrong with a salad bar.

Sadly, it’s the Chinese food that is the real letdown.

Beijing is a city in which any given alley offers everything from noodle soups to savoury pancakes to fresh hot soy milk, and it is difficult to forgive Olympic caterers for reducing a culinary culture so rich and varied to a mushy blandness.

For those of us who live in Beijing, this dietary disaster is only a temporary privation — in a couple of days the Games will be over and we can once again eat three meals a day from three different regions of China if we so chose.

But it’s my colleagues from out of town who I feel sorry for. After several weeks in Beijing, many have had no chance to experience the pleasant surprise of biting into a soup-filled dumpling. They have not slurped the cilantro-spiced broth of a bowl of beef noodles or felt their tongues go numb from Sichuan peppers.

What a pity if they return home thinking chow mein and fried rice are the real deal.


It is always the same at these big events.

I remember at the World Cup in France in 1998 eating the most awful frozen ‘Croque Monsieur’ sandwiches.

Mass catering isn’t easy to get right but it is a pity to miss out on the real local cuisine.

Posted by Simon Evans | Report as abusive

I like food

Posted by jim | Report as abusive

Can’t you guys simply go to local restaurants instead of eating the stadium food?

Posted by fsc | Report as abusive

Such things happen when one ventures beyond one’s ethnic and cultural borders.To expect otherwise is to be a fool.
They should stop their whining,they are only
covering sports.Imagine how pissed off they would be if
they were covering downtown Fallujah. Bananas & cookies
pass for haute cuisine there abouts.

Posted by Tash | Report as abusive

“Can’t you guys simply go to local restaurants instead of eating the stadium food?”

Hi fsc,

That’s a fair question and the answer is rather dull – at these big events most of us work such long hours on location (inside press centres or sports venues) that we really don’t have time to check out of security, get a taxi to a restaurant, sit down and get served and then travel back and go through security again.

For a lot of reporters out covering sports (say tennis which sometimes starts at 9am and finishes at midnight) going out to a local restaurant would only be possible if you skipped a game. Agency reporters, who need to report events in real time, can’t risk something happening while they are enjoying their steamed dumplings – so we stay on site.

It would have been nice if the steamed dumplings came to us – but you can’t have everything. We are fortunate in so many other ways to be paid to watch top class sport after all.

Posted by Simon Evans | Report as abusive

you should bring your home food wherever you go.

Posted by Alex W | Report as abusive

No comment to these Chinese-hater.shame on …

Posted by wfe | Report as abusive

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