Here’s Why Italy and China Have Such Strong Culinary Links

By Alistair Baker-Brian, June 22, 2021

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The synergy of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce, key ingredients in Italian and Chinese cuisines respectively, represent more than just a symbolic gesture. It is just one example of why Italy and China have such a long and interwoven history of common culinary tastes. 

Organized by the China-Italy Chamber of Commerce (CICC), the event, called ‘Food Synergies: Balsamic Vinegar and Soy Sauce’ on June 18, featured a masterclass from two executive Italian chefs. 

Taster dishes included authentic Italian balsamic vinegar coupled with Parma ham, bread, salad and even ice cream (the last one was something of an eye-opener for us.) 

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The event provided an insight as to why culinary links between Italy and China are so strong. 

One reason is the long culinary history between the two nations (we’re not just talking about spaghetti and noodles.) There are countless examples of how chefs of Italian food can incorporate Chinese ingredients into their cooking and vice versa. 

Alberto Zago, one of the executive chefs at the event, told That’s that even Sichuan peppers have long been a common ingredient used in Italy and other parts of Europe. 

Samuele Rossi, the other executive chef at the event who has worked on the Chinese mainland and in Macao for almost 20 years, said that incorporating locally-sourced Chinese products into his own Italian cooking was only natural. 

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Rossi said that some of his ingredients need to be imported from Italy and that this wasn’t always easy. While working for Grand Hyatt, Beijing in 2003, importing quality Italian ingredients was sometimes difficult. However, he notes that this has changed significantly since that time, largely due to efforts to promote Italian chefs and products. 

Another reason why culinary links are so strong, and in particular why Italian cuisine holds such a special place in the Chinese market, are the attitudes of Chinese people themselves. Cao Difei is a TV cooking host, food columnist and key voice in the F&B industry in China. He addressed the CICC event. 

He told That’s that Chinese people often arbitrarily distinguish between Chinese food and Western food. However, within the broad category of ‘Western food,’ Italian food comes closest to the Chinese palate. He points out that products like spaghetti, olive oil, tomatoes, rice used in risotto and more, all have big appeal in the Chinese market. 

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The event was part of a bigger project entitled True Italian Taste, funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and carried out by Assocamerestero (the Association of the Italian Chambers of Commerce Worldwide) in cooperation with the Italian Chambers of Commerce abroad. The project’s main aim is to promote authentic Italian products in the F&B sector, according to Giulia Gallarati, secretary general of CICC.

In addition to authenticity, the project also emphasizes healthy ways to use Italian ingredients. Gianpaolo Bruno, Italian Trade Commissioner in China and Mongolia, said this is a message they want to get across to Chinese consumers through the project. Healthy eating, he said, is part of the Italian lifestyle. 

COVID-19 has presented challenges for the Italian F&B industry in China. However, Simone Panfili, first secretary of the Economic and Commercial Office at the Embassy of Italy to the People’s Republic of China, stressed that such challenges have also brought opportunities. He said that within China, demand for Italian products has increased because Chinese consumers who would normally travel to Italy to buy products cannot do so. 

Recent figures suggest this is the case. Despite difficulties in 2020, the export of made-in-Italy food products to China appears to have bounced back in early 2021, according to the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT).

Clearly, culinary links between Italy and China won’t die down anytime soon – the ‘Food Synergies: Balsamic Vinegar and Soy Sauce’ event is just one example of this. Whether through balsamic vinegar and ice cream, or through more familiar Italian dishes, these two gastro-giants still have something of a special bond. 


To find out more about CICC, follow them on WeChat by scanning the QR code below:

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[All images via CICC]

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