Here's an interesting interview with Fuchsia Dunlop, an English food writer and an expert on Chinese cuisine. She isn't your run of the mill Westerner with a knowledgeable taste for Chinese food. She actually went and trained at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, so she knows at least as much about the preparation side of Chinese cuisine as she does on the dining end.
Here a few details from the interview that stood out to me:
In ancient China, people considered the ding (cooking pot) as a symbol of political power (I guess kind of like the crown and scepter in European cultures). So the ability to find the right balance of seasoning a stew was used as a metaphor for being able to balance competing political interests.
The Cultural Revolution devastated traditional Chinese food culture (and traditional Chinese culture in general). It was a bleak period for food culture because of famines and attacks on elitist/elaborate meals. But today there are niche restaurants in China that serve the simple meals eaten during that period as part of "some weird nostalgia."
It's unfair for Michelin inspectors to use western gastronomic ideals when judging Chinese food for two main reasons
- The finest Chinese restaurants serve their food family style, so it's not suited for Michelin inspectors who often eat alone
- Chinese cuisine values a wide variety of food textures including "slithery, bouncy, rubbery and slimy textures" that most westerners don't like