During a telephone interview with beef industry folks while they were on a trade mission in China last month, I could easily picture Rob Meijer, John Masswohl and Dave Solverson sitting around a table in Shanghai, eating bits of food from dishes on a central lazy susan.
That was my experience in China during a trip two years ago. The food — some of which may have been beef and some of which may have been pork and some of which was definitely fish, as evidenced by the head, scales and fins still attached — was most often presented in small bits swimming in mysterious sauces.
I wondered then how Canada’s determination to sell high-end beef and pork to China could possibly pan out. Steaks, roasts, chops and tenderloins were nowhere to be found in Shanghai, Yi-Chang, Chongqing, Chengdu, Xi’an and Beijing.
There is no shortage of consumers in each of those cities, most of which had populations larger than Toronto. Though the air is thick and the streets teeming with people, the food in China is plentiful, if frequently unidentifiable.
A big chunk of meat, one sign of an excellent meal in Canada, is foreign to Asian tables. Nor does it lend itself to easy handling with chopsticks.
But then, I was looking at the meals as a foreigner would. Those in charge of marketing Canadian beef have considered it from a more knowledgeable angle.
Many Chinese dishes require thinly sliced, savoury meat, the “small bits” I consumed on my own journey. Thus the culinary door is wide open to Canadian-sourced short ribs, chucks, butts and blades that will suit the Chinese cooking style and palate.
If and when the menu becomes more westernized, this country can meet that demand, too. Masswohl related an astonishing fact during our interview: if every person in China ate one more hamburger, it would amount to more beef than Canada produces in a year.
In a story on page 9, reporter Barbara Duckworth recounts market potential in the Hispanic and halal markets here in North America. We’re not talking steaks and roasts there, either.
Clearly a wider perspective on meat marketing is best.
The array of Asian dishes, though tasty, gave me appreciation for the cuisine.
But I won’t be trading in barbecued steak or pork ribs for those saucy little bits of protein. Other markets can have those.