Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Chinese food market

Hearken back to the days of your youth when your Dad took you and your unwilling Mom, brothers and sisters to the Chinese restaurant for Sunday night dinner. For you whippersnappers still in your youth, Chinese food here in suburban New York back then was Cantonese.

Szechuan? What's that? Hunan? Well, maybe you saw a dish called Hunan beef with its sort of spicy sauce. The only thing really hot, and I mean atomic, was the mustard they served next to the duck sauce and crispy yet greasy noodles. I do not recall ever seeing anyone, including my Dad, eat that mutant paste.

No, grasshopper, it was sub gum chicken chow mein, sweet and sour pork (with pineapple chunks in a glowing red sauce) and chicken almond ding.  We liked that name. Ding!

Also back then, after wontons, the biggest ingredient in the food was good old mono-sodium glutamate, better known as MSG. Who can forget getting "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" after eating too much of this additive.

But whether you were light-headed after a meal or just full, the old joke was that you were hungry an hour after eating. Perhaps because we fat Americans were not used to meals consisting of more vegetables than meat. Or drinking 25 glasses of water because every time you polished one off, the man in the bow tie and vest came to fill it back up.

Where the heck is this going, anyway? Well, I did not intend to go one for quite so long but once the memories came flooding back I could not stop myself.

Anyway, just today, the headlines were still rife with commands to "buy the dips." Or "here are three stocks that will....."  You fill in the blank as long as it means rally.  An hour after you buy stocks you are hungry to buy more. Certainly, nobody is sated with their purchases. And everybody wants the free fortune cookie telling them what will be the next stock to embark on a relentless journey northward (like Chipotle, aye caramaba!).

VIX in the 15s. Sentiment surveys bullish. And, as Alan Newman wrote in his CrossCurrents newsletter earlier this week, with added dramatic flair because he is that kind of guy, "Everywhere we read, even the bears who make the most sense and deploy indisputable logic are afraid to declare an imminent reversal."

That reads like capitulation to me. Even I cannot bear, er, bring myself to write more bearish columns because nobody wants to read the boy crying wolf any more. 

This is from ChineseFood.About.com:

Unfortunately, Cantonese cooks have had difficulty reproducing their native cuisine in a foreign land. As cookbook author Eileen Yin-Fei Lo points out in an interview, the first immigrants were men, coming from a society where women traditionally did all the cooking. Furthermore, faced with unfamiliar ingredients, they made adaptations that were less than successful. 
Dispensing with the step of blanching vegetables prior to stir-frying resulted in soggy vegetables, which they covered up by adding extra cornstarch. To hide the lack of natural flavor in the dish they overcompensated with seasonings such as sugar and soy sauce. American-style Cantonese cuisine was born. Of course, the fact that westerners gradually developed a fondness for "Chinese junk food" didn't help matters. 
Read that closely, especially the second paragraph.  Then substitute zero percent interest rates for cornstarch.  And quantitative easing for sugar and soy sauce. 

The market is not what it was back home (in the first half of the last decade) yet everybody has developed a taste and a hunger for it. Sooner or later, the pukefest will begin as it always did when somebody scarfed up that last quart of shrimp in lobster sauce.
Now, somebody get me a scoop of pistachio ice cream with the big chunks of cherries.

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