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世界那么大 口味各不同

Why some cultures love the tastes you hate
世界那么大 口味各不同

When I was visiting Shanghai, I learned to avoid a certain alley on my walk to the underground system. It always smelled incredibly, almost unbelievably bad – like there was an open sewer on the sidewalk. But I could never see any evidence of the smell's source. And then one day, I realised where it was coming from. It was the scent of the bustling snack shop at the alley's entrance. Their specialty: chou doufu, tofu fermented for months in a slurry of meat, vegetables, and sour milk.

在上海游览的那段日子里,每当我步行去坐地铁时,都会刻意避开一条巷子。那里总是臭气熏天,令人难以忍受——就好像人行道旁有一段敞开的污水管道一样。但我从来没有见到过这股恶臭的真正来源。后来有一天,我终于发现了它的来历。这股臭味来自巷子入口处的一家熙熙攘攘的店面,他们的特色美食是臭豆腐——将豆腐放在肉、菜和酸奶混合的液体中发酵数月后,便制成了这种食物。

For many Westerners like me, it's hard to believe you could get the stuff anywhere near your mouth without gagging. But the shop had a long, long line. And I've since learned that many Chinese people have the same feeling of disgust when they consider the habit of eating cheese.

对很多像我一样的西方人来说,完全无法想象竟然有人能将这种东西放在嘴边但却不觉得恶心。可是那家店的门口却排起了长长的队伍。我后来发现,很多中国人想到吃奶酪这件事的时候,也会产生同样恶心的感觉。
 

Though eating dairy is becoming more widespread in China these days, letting milk go bad and then adding salt and extra bacteria into the mix still sounds pathological. Even very mild cheeses like cheddar or jack cheese are considered basically inedible, it seems – melting them on bread can help, but they rank very low on the taste totem pole, my Chinese friends tell me.

尽管在如今的中国,食用乳制品已经变得越来越普遍,但让牛奶变坏,然后加上盐和额外的菌类,仍然是一件令人难以接受的事情。即便是切达干酪或杰克干酪这种比较温和的奶酪,在很多中国人看来也是无法食用的。我的中国朋友对我说,将这些奶酪融化到面包上可以起到一定的帮助,但人们对这种味道的接受度仍然很低。

Such strong differences of opinion about what's delicious and what's disgusting crop up whenever you begin to compare the way different cultures eat. Is Vegemite something you look forward to slathering on your toast in the morning? Or is it a salty, bitter mess that “tastes like someone tried to make food and failed horribly”, as one American child reported? Is beef tripe a savoury street food best eaten over noodles, or inedible rubber, tainted with a whiff of the latrine?

每当你要对比不同饮食文化时都会发现,人们对哪些东西美味难挡、哪些东西令人作呕的态度存在着巨大差异。你想在早餐的吐司上抹点维吉麦(Vegemite)吗?有一个美国小孩曾经这样描述这种又咸又苦的酱:“尝起来就像有人想做饭,但却做砸了一样。”牛肚是与面条最搭配的街边美味,还是略带些许腥臭,甚至不宜食用的“皮筋”?

In a sense, these contrasts shouldn't be that surprising: we learn from those around us what's worth eating and what should be avoided, and those categories vary between regions. But somehow, the reminder that taste is so very relative, and so very learned, never fails to shock.

从某种意义上讲,这样的差异并不令人感觉太过意外:我们都是从周围的人那里了解到哪些东西好吃,哪些不宜食用的,而不同地区的分类肯定存在很大的差异。然而,这仍然可以提醒我们,所谓的口味都是相对概念,其中蕴含着许多后天养成的因素。所以,这样的差异无论在什么时候都会令人震惊。

In trying to characterise the broad differences between cultures' palates, nutritionists refer to sets of tastes that they rely on – the spices and flavourings that feel like home. The combination of tomato, garlic, oregano, and olive oil feels distinctively Italian, and a dish with dried shrimp, chilli peppers, ginger, and palm oil feels Brazilian. For Germans, it’s dill, sour cream, mustard, vinegar and black pepper. Chinese: soy sauce, rice wine, and ginger. Those tastes seem to describe a safe zone for eating.

为了对不同文化在口味上的广泛差异定性,营养学家汇总了不同文化所依赖的特定口味——也就是让人产生思乡之情的调料。西红柿、蒜、牛至(oregano)和橄榄油是意大利的味道,一碟海米配上红辣椒、姜、棕榈油最具巴西风情,德国人最偏爱莳萝、酸奶油、芥末、醋和黑胡椒,而酱油、料酒和大姜则最具中国味。这些味道似乎都描述了一片饮食上的安全区。

Chinese tourists in Australia, surveyed on their meal preferences, remarked that eating non-Chinese food was often unsatisfying. “I hope I can have soy sauce,” remarked one study participant. “Then, even if I can’t stand the food, I can add some soy sauce to go with the rice.” When foreign ingredients were cooked in a Chinese style, they felt better.

一项针对澳大利亚的中国游客进行的饮食偏好调查显示,他们吃中餐以外的食物时往往感到不舒服。“我希望能来点酱油。”一位受访者说,“那样的话,即使不喜欢这些食物,我还是可以往米饭里面放点酱油。”而当使用中餐烹饪方式制作外国食材时,他们的感受便会好转。

But these are general categories, describing what's most comfortable, not what's edible. At the more extreme end, cultural variations do sometimes describe a wholly different mode of understanding what makes food good. Fuchsia Dunlop, who writes about Chinese food and cooking, points out in her memoir Sharks' Fin and Sichuan Pepper that quite large realms of Chinese gastronomy have little intrinsic appeal to even an adventurous Western palate. Goose intestine and sea cucumbers, for instance, when cooked just right, have no flavour and a texture like rubber tubing.

然而,这只是笼统的分类,描述的是令各种文化最舒心的味道,而不是他们所能下咽的食物。从更加极端的角度来看,文化差异有时候描述的是一整套对美食的理解模式。曾经撰写中国饮食和烹饪方法的伏霞·邓禄普(Fuchsia Dunlop)在她的回忆录《鱼翅和四川辣椒》(Sharks' Fin and Sichuan Pepper)中指出,中餐里面有很多食材的做法令人望而却步,就算是某些颇具冒险精神的西方文化,也难以认同这些口味。例如,鹅肠和海参就是典型的例子,这两种食材完全没有任何味道,口感更是像皮筋一样劲道。

Yet sea cucumber is a delicacy that can cost more than $100 (£70) each and at least some of that has to do with the fact that people genuinely enjoy it. Dunlop puts her finger on one particular factor in all this: “The sea cucumber itself only makes sense,” she writes, “in textural terms.” She goes on to describe the importance of ‘mouthfeel’ in Chinese cuisine and the kaleidoscope of words for what English speakers can only call “rubbery” or “gelatinous”.

然而,海参在中国却是一种上好的美味,每一根的售价超过100美元(70英镑)。之所以价格这么高,一定程度上源自人们真心喜欢这种美食。伏霞·邓禄普特意提到了一个因素:“海参本身的意义只体现在口感上。”她表示,在中餐里,“口感”是一项十分重要的因素,中国人有数不清的词汇来描述不同的口感。但在英文词汇中,人们却只懂得使用“橡胶状”和“凝胶状”这两个词。

“A Chinese gourmet will distinguish between the bouncy gelatinous quality of sea cucumbers, the more sticky, slimy gelatinousness of reconstituted dried squid, and the chewy gelatinousness of reconstituted pig's foot tendons,” she writes. You can certainly learn to enjoy such foods primarily for their texture, as Dunlop herself has. But there is no denying that it's not the first thing on a Western gourmet's lips.

“中国的美食家可以区分出不同的弹牙口感,例如,海参比较有弹性,泡发的干鱿鱼较为黏滑,泡发的猪蹄则更有嚼劲。”她写道。你肯定可以学着主要从口感上享受这些食物,邓禄普本人就是这么做的。但不可否认的是,这显然不是西方食客最看重的因素。

A matter of taste

口味问题


As lighthearted as comparing tastes across cultures can be, there is more at stake than entertainment. Finding that what someone else consumes with abandon you cannot even bring to pass your lips can open a kind of void between you. “The difference between the realms of edible and palatable is perhaps most clearly seen in how we use them to evaluate other eaters,” writes food folklorist Lucy Long in her book Culinary Tourism. “The eater of not-edible is perceived as strange, perhaps dangerous, definitely not one of us, whereas the eater of the unpalatable is seen as having different tastes.”

虽然对比不同的文化的确颇具娱乐性,但实际上,除了娱乐之外,还有一些更加重要的问题有待探索。如果你发现自己难以入口的东西却是他人眼中的美食,那就有可能在你们之间形成某种隔阂。“在我们评判其他食客时,‘可以食用’与‘美味可口’之间的差异便会显露无疑。”饮食民俗学者露西·朗(Lucy Long)在她的《烹饪之旅》(Culinary Tourism)一书中写道,“如果我们认为某种事物不可食用,那么当其他人敢于吃这样的东西时,我们就会认为此人很奇怪,甚至有点危险,至少与我们不是同类。然而,如果我们认为某种东西不够美味,那么当其他人吃这些东西时,我们只会认为此人与自己口味不同。”

Perhaps that void can be bridged if we confront the fact that a lot of what we hold dear is not particularly natural. For instance, the current thinking is that bitter taste receptors evolved to warn us off bitter things, which can be poisonous. New babies have an immediate negative response to bitter tastes, a far cry from their response to sweet things. And yet, many people have learned to drink coffee every day, and dark chocolate's a favourite for gourmets.

如果我们意识到自己看重的很多习惯其实并不是那么自然,这种隔阂或许可以弥合。例如,目前的理论认为,苦味受体是为了让我们避开味苦的东西,因为这样的东西可能有毒。新生儿立刻就会对苦味产生负面反应,这与他们对甜味的反应差异极大。然而,很多人却学会了每天喝咖啡,而黑巧克力也是许多美食家的最爱。

Charles Zuker, a biologist who researches taste receptors at Columbia University, has said that he thinks that our current taste for bitter foods comes from a search for excitement and novelty – perhaps even danger. Paul Rozin, a psychologist who studies what he calls “benign masochism,” lumps bitterness in with hot peppers and watching movies that make you cry. All of these things fool your body into thinking it's in peril, but you get a special kick out of knowing consciously that no harm can come of it.

专门研究味觉受体的哥伦比亚大学教授查尔斯·扎克(Charles Zucker)曾经表示,我们现在之所以喜欢吃苦味食物,是为了寻找刺激感和新鲜感,甚至危机感。心理学家保罗·罗津(Paul Rozin)称之为“良性受虐”。他认为,有的人喜欢吃苦味食物,还有的人喜欢吃辣椒,更有一些人专门去看让人落泪的电影,这其实都源自相同的心态。这些事情都会让你的身体误认为它们是危险的,但你却知道这不会构成任何伤害,因而可以从中获得独特的感受。

Many tourists already sample foreign cuisines while they travel. But could more extreme taste tourism become possible in the future? Would you go on a tour where you intentionally ate things that seemed absurd at the get-go?

很多游客已经在出国旅行时品尝过国外的饮食,但今后能否开发出更加极端的口味之旅?你是否会在旅行时故意吃一些起初看起来不可思议的东西?

Maybe a Thrill-of-the-Month club model would have more success; if you ate one odd new thing for a few days every month, you might surprise yourself at what can become normal, and perhaps even tasty.

或许“月月激动”(Thrill-of-the-Month)的模式更有效果:如果你每个月都有几天能吃到古怪的新食物,便有可能达到令人意想不到的效果。很多原本难以接受的食物都有可能成为家常便饭,甚至是美味佳肴。

It might give you cause to reflect, as you watch someone else enjoying a meal you'd turn away, on the enormous plasticity of human taste and that the same species can gleefully eat stinky tofu and Vegemite and sea cucumber and even – horror for our Chinese friends – cheese.

当你看到别人津津有味地享受着你避之不及的食物时,或许可以借此机会思考一下人类口味的巨大弹性:虽然同属于一个物种,但身处不同文化的人在口味上却千差万别,有人喜欢臭豆腐,有人钟爱维吉麦和海参,还有人把中国人难以下咽的奶酪视作天赐美味。
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