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Chinese Plates in Spain: Nostalgia at the Table

por: 4Asia
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After many years away from home, the concept of hometown has become a distant and abstract for the Spanish Chinese diaspora. Confronting both their ever-changing hometown and their own evolving selves, the singular identity of being Chinese or an overseas Chinese no longer suffices to outline the experiences and narratives of those who have lived abroad for several years. In this sense, the Spanish Chinese diaspora has more or less abandoned the pursuit of the pure flavor of their home country’s cuisine. Instead, fusion cuisine, once frowned upon by the traditional Chinese palates, has found its way into their culinary repertoire. Through the imaginations of the Chinese diaspora, a variety of «East-meets-West» dishes have emerged.

A typical situation is that in local supermarkets in Spain, cheap local ingredients (compared with those in Chinese supermarkets) are complemented by seasonings purchased from Chinese markets. The fusion of these elements results in multifaceted and delicious dishes that are the highlights of the tables of the Chinese diaspora. Under the collision of different cultures, the appetite of the Chinese diaspora has become more vibrant and colorful. These seemingly familiar yet somewhat different flavors from those of their hometowns seem to testify to the not-so-distant distance between the Chinese diaspora and their roots. Invariably, all of these somehow evoke the nostalgia of the Chinese diaspora for their hometowns and make them cherish every encounter with Chinese cuisine even more.

The dynamics shifted with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alicia is a girl from southern China who has lived in Spain for nearly a decade. Throughout the epidemic, even though she was reluctant to admit to others or even to herself that she missed her family and her hometown, she deliberately avoided almost all Western dishes, except for a few Japanese dishes; she only cooked Chinese food. Moreover, she became more obsessed with finding ingredients closer to her hometown, such as asparagus and wild rice.

Especially during Chinese festivals, Alicia would reach out to her parents back home to ask them about the specific recipe for the dish she was preparing, including the ingredients and seasonings needed. Going to great lengths, she even went so far as to apply the oldest family recipe to replicate the most authentic dishes. In doing so, she not only underscored her deep-seated attachment to the flavors of her hometown during the unprecedented health crisis but also exhibited a form of resistance against the rising anti-Chinese sentiments in the host society.

In addition, the repetitive act of cooking for themselves day in and day out has frosted a newfound appreciation among more young Chinese members of the Chinese diaspora for the considerable amount of time and skill that needs to be invested in preparing Chinese food. Consequently, this has cultivated a deeper sense of gratitude towards their parents and friends, who previously prepared Chinese meals for them. As a result, the bond between Alicia and her hometown has been significantly strengthened, resonating now more than ever.

With their shared emotions and memories associated with Chinese food, the Chinese diaspora continuously contemplates and reaffirms their identities. Perhaps it is through this exchange of flavors across borders that gives them more opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of the culture of their hometown and the unique charm of Chinese cuisine. For every member of the Chinese diaspora residing in Spain, nostalgia transcends mere physical distance; it can be evoked by any familiar flavor, serving as a source of comfort and solace for the soul.

Bio: Yaqi Zhao is a PhD student at the institute of East Asian Studies at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, studying the Chinese diaspora and long-distance nationalism.

Instagram account is: villaneazhao.

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