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Check, Please


  Awide variety of internationalfood is now popular in China.Is the Chinese public reallywarming up to Western cuisine,or is it seen as an exotic oddity? Howdo the two styles of dining differ?

  The most glaring difference betweenChinese and Western restaurants might bethe service. In average Chinese restaurants,waitresses never check back at tables unlessthe customer shouts across the room forthem. Chinese waitresses don’t work for tips,and often work the entire day, and perhapsthe allure of a tip inspires Western servers toat least maintain the facade of cleanliness.

  It should come as no surprise that theenvironments of different dining styles alsocontrast. Western restaurants are generallymore willing to invest in atmosphere, butChinese eateries adorned with elaborate décor are increasing. Frequent dim lights inWestern restaurants can hide surroundingugliness, while candlelight enhances themystique of the diner on the other side ofthe table.

  To me, the biggest difference betweenthe Chinese and Western restaurants isthe menu. Today, many Western restaurantspursue a minimalist approach andcompress the menu down to a single page,while Chinese restaurants still compile athick “book”.

  To me, a minimalist approach wouldeliminate auxiliary spending in the kitchenand wasting preparation time on unnecessaryprocedures. Such a philosophy shouldplace focus on providing the optimal materialsto maximize the chef’s creative skills.

  It’s not about quantity, but quality. For thisreason, most new Western restaurants, includingthose in five-star hotels, choose theirfood suppliers very carefully. This trend alsoinfluences the rise of private home cuisine,in which the chef maintains absolute controlover the menu at any given time.

  Contemporary Chinese restaurants, onthe other hand, aim for inclusiveness – tocater to every single potential diner. Thismodel has even grown over the last fewyears as many mainland businessmen haveopened restaurants in the southern regions,including Hong Kong. Their menus are soheavy that diners must hold them with twohands. Every regional style can be foundunder one roof: Shanghai, Hangzhou, andSichuan. Even their sections for salads anddesserts stretch several pages, while highendWestern restaurants opt for only sevenor eight choices on the entire menu.

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