Fancy "a feast of cheesy love?" Head to Chinaby Helen Gao / July 17, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
Among my numerous conversations with Chinese friends during my first months in America in 2005, one has lingered with me. “I realised today,” said a high school friend who was just starting his freshman year at Duke University, “that the word ‘cheese’ is essentially useless. Here, people call each kind of cheese by its name, and I don’t know any of them.”
At the time, the complaint felt like an apt encapsulation of my own struggles as a Chinese newcomer in a New England private school, where everything from the fast-paced seminar discussions to the ritualistic Sunday dinners seemed to entail an unfamiliar set of languages and manners. Back in China, my friend and I had learned to solve tricky algebra questions and memorised esoteric English vocabulary. But here, we couldn’t call cheese by its name.
Neither did the taste of cheese, with its tangy flavour and muttony punch, agree with my palate. Cheese is not part of the Chinese culinary tradition, except among ethnic minorities like the Mongols and Tibetans, who live near the country’s borders. (A high proportion of Chinese are lactose intolerant, but this does not prevent them from eating cheese, as the fermentation process removes most of the lactose.)