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Why Is Your Food Still Alive?

Why Is Your Food Still Alive?

(Chinese restaurants will have live seafood displayed)
By Demi Guo
 
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      如果说在中国吃海鲜和在外国吃海鲜有什么不同之处,那么不得不提的是:你可以看到活着的鱼虾蟹贝等在水箱中游来游去。中国人可能习以为常,但对于外国人而言,这可是一个稀罕的景象,毕竟国外的餐厅中可从来不曾有任何水族箱盛放着待宰的活海鲜,大部分食材都直接来源于冷冻仓库。在中国的饮食特色中,活杀活煮被视为美味的代表,食材越新鲜,味道越好,价格也就越高。如果你去往某些海鲜市场或是一些专供海鲜的饭店,你会看到各家店入口处都有大小不一的水族箱。为了保证海鲜品质,店员会为水中加入盐分并且对水箱通气加氧。有些店为了向顾客表示自己童叟无欺,通常都会在顾客面前亲自给海鲜称重,然后再端入后厨,进行烹制。既然这是一条完整的活鱼,那么去除鱼刺的工作就会非常繁琐,厨师又是怎么保证上菜时效的呢?其实,这和中国人的饮食习惯有关,厨师直接对整条鱼进行烹制,无需去刺,有些中国菜甚至专吃鱼头,比如著名的剁椒鱼头就是中国名菜之一。中国饮食文化博大精深,这只是其中一隅,更多不同之处,等你来发现。
 
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When you first step into a typical Chinese seafood restaurant, you may feel as if you have just walked into an aquarium. There are many transparent water tanks on display with air circulation/filtration machines attached to them, with all the different kinds of seafood inside, but what’s more surprising is that they are all still alive and living in there! 
 
After you order your food, the waiters go and pick the fish out of the tank within a few minutes, and then proceed to prepare them to be served to you on your table! In the western world, you are probably not accustomed to walking through a gallery of what is to appear on your plate in the next few minutes, and seafood displayed within the menu may not actually be alive at that moment. Most of the fish have already been iced and preserved in freezers or chilled waiting areas to retain freshness, and all you need to do is to check the menu, order and wait for your food to be cooked and served. 
 
The major reason for this difference is that Chinese people love eating fresh seafood, rather than frozen. They like the food’s natural taste, which you can only have when you cook the food fresh after the fish has been chosen or caught alive. In order to meet people’s needs, seafood restaurants’ owners started to display live seafood to attract and convince more customers of the freshness. What’s more, by doing so they are also able to sell their dishes for higher prices.
 
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In Chinese seafood markets, you will see the same fish tanks, and notice that all creatures are alive too. In the western world, people may be more used to looking for seafood in the supermarket freezers, or displayed on ice as fillets. However, in China, even in supermarkets you will find the seafood area very much alive and separated from the frozen fish displays. In Chinese seafood markets, there are hundreds of seafood stalls and the fresher the seafood is, the more expensive it is. So the owner will try to keep the seafood alive for as long as possible, using salty cold water and keep air circulating throughout the tanks to prevent the water from becoming stagnant. If a fish does die, they need to sort it out and remove it into another sales box with a lower price.
 
After reading all of the above, you may have questions about how the Chinese chefs are able to handle all the seafood so fast, due to time consuming scaling, and bone removal processes. Actually, Chinese people don’t really care about the bones or shells that much. Some of them even enjoy eating seafood with their hands and enjoy the process of pulling the shells off to get to the meat. 
 
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Westerners may be more used to eating only meat without any shells or bones, and when it comes to fish, they only eat certain kinds of fish with less fishbone, or only the boneless part of fish. However, Chinese people eat “everything”, including the fish heads and tails. For example, Chinese people have a famous dish called “fish head with chopped pepper”, which is amazingly delicious and of course extremely spicy.
 
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It is surprising, but also reasonable that the Chinese have very different eating habits as compared to westerners. Experiencing a different land’s food culture is always fascinating and fun, and in China there are many new adventures waiting for you to experience when you visit!
 
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