Thursday, May 19, 2011

In Which I Outline the Scope of My Project

So here's the lowdown: In October of this year, I'm going to set off for China. Over the course of two-and-a-half to three months, I will be traveling around (ideally 50 - 60 cities) and gorging myself on street food. Why, I hear you asking? Several reasons, really. Mainly, I believe that eating street food is one of the best and most delicious ways to learn about China. Bear with me here. Visiting a foreign country can, perhaps, be compared with looking at a painting. At first glance, you get a pretty good general impression of the painting. You get a sense of the color scheme, the mood, the basic contents...important information, but relatively shallow in the grand scheme of things. The more time you spend with it, though, the more you realize the little details that make the painting special. Things like particularly vigorous brush strokes, or that little person in the background that you didn't notice at first, or the mysterious shape of a smile on a woman's face. To bring this metaphor back to the point, I would say that when you first visit China you get a fine--but shallow--sense of Chinese culture. In order to dig deeper, to look behind the veil of the monolithic Chinese culture at-large, you need to do a bit of poking around smaller subcultures of China. This is where street food can be invaluable.

Most Chinese cities have street foods that are unique to their cultural history. Many times, it is literally impossible to buy these foods anywhere outside of this city, not in another Chinese city and certainly not outside of China. These foods are frequently items of civic pride and part of a city's indelible identity, distinguishing it from the other hundreds of cities in China. With every bite of street food you eat, I would contend, your understanding of China grows a bit deeper. You start to see the details that together make up the bigger picture. Street foods can tell you about the local climate and ecosystems, the types of people who live there (including the 55 recognized minority cultures in China), a bit of history, and much more.

Which brings me back to my project. Right now, there is no existing guide book of China that focuses on street foods. Many current guide books, such as the Lonely Planet guide, include occasional recommendations about local street foods, but not in a particularly systematic way. My plan is to write as comprehensive a guide to street food as I can. The end result will be a good supplement to a traditional travel guide. Travelers who want to incorporate some good, old-fashioned street food diplomacy into their trips will be able to buy the book (physical and Kindle versions will both be available) and learn a) which street foods are available in each city they travel to, b) where to find those foods within the city, and c) what to expect taste-wise. There will be other little features like anecdotes or historical tidbits sprinkled about, but the bulk of the book will be a straightforward, practical guide to finding some of the best street food in the world.

So there you have it. That's the plan.


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