ReportageBehind the all-you-can-eat buffets in many Chinese restaurants hides a wide variety of culinary worlds. Regional specialties that are arriving more and more on Western tables in a 100% Chinese version, or almost.
Small quiz. Among the following dishes: nem, bo bun, shrimp fritter, samoussa, what are the authentic Chinese specialties? Answer: none. Nem and bo bun are of Vietnamese origin (like the spring roll, by the way). The shrimp fritter, linked to the tempura technique, comes from Japan. And samosa comes from the Indian continent.
The “Asian” specialties of the all-you-can-eat buffets framed by faded lanterns and light paintings of waterfalls conceal a culinary universe of great richness. From the 6the century, nearly 300 recipes were gathered in a treatise on agriculture as recalled by the sinologists Françoise Sabban and Jean-Paul Desroches (The seductions of the palate. Cooking and eating in China, Quai Branly Museum / Actes Sud, 2012). This art has become more complex and extended in a territory (more than 17 times the size of France…) currently grouping together eight regional schools, which come in an infinite number of local variations.
“There are Sichuan dishes so spicy that a Frenchman could not eat them” – André Yang, patron of Tsé Yang
“What is sold at caterers is very far from what we eat at home”, regrets Xiao Rong Duan-Coutin, the vibrant patron of the mini-chain Les Pâtes vivantes. In 2007, this Franco-Chinese woman opened with her husband Gérard Coutin a small restaurant with fifty-three seats on rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, in Paris. In a few weeks, crowded passers-by crowded the sidewalk, curious to see her knead, shape, stretch, and stretch again, by hand her long wheat flour pasta, before serving them in large bowls of broth or stir-fries.
“These are typical Lanzhou noodles [mégalopole du centre de la Chine], I was just doing as my grandmother had taught me. But for the French, it was new! “, laughs “Madame Coutin”, as her employees call her with a hint of reverence. The owner, now aged 65, has extended her “empire”: you can taste her pasta (for only ten euros) in Lyon, rue Mercière; in Montreal, Union avenue; and in another Parisian address, rue de Turbigo.
It is there, in the warm setting of her canteen with its vermilion facade, that you taste her specialties in the company of her husband, who looks like a gentle gentleman-farmer, Gérard Coutin. Interviewed for the purposes of the article, she insisted on giving us a taste in her establishment, theoretically closed: unlike the vast majority of the restaurants mentioned here, hers does not deliver and take away: the pasta is consume “alive”, immediately out of the kitchens. On the table accumulate a farandole of dishes, each more delicious than the next: sautéed eggplant with soy sauce, crispy duck, asparagus and shrimp noodles … A universe of new flavors and textures that the boss hopes to quickly offer to her. customers, on the terrace.
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