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Where’s the Chinese Food in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List?

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The list of this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants was just announced in Singapore last night, marking the first time the ceremony has ever been held in Asia. Yet, somewhat predictably, Chinese food is conspicuously absent.

Aside from new entry The Chairman — an excellent Cantonese establishment in Hong Kong — Chinese food still makes up a meager one entry on this year’s list. (Ultraviolet in Shanghai, headed by French chef Paul Pairet, is considered “avant-garde” for their and our purposes.) Going down the list, only three other restaurants serving Chinese cuisine or even Chinese fusion make the newly expanded “51-120” countdown. While Chinese food fares considerably better in the regional Asia’s 50 Best list, restaurants there similarly lean towards Cantonese and contemporary takes on Cantonese, with a few notable exceptions. (Shout out to the Chinese bars holding it down in Asia’s Top 50 though!)

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The internet is already rife with criticism about these lists and who they represent as “world’s best.” And it’s not to say that the restaurants serving Chinese cuisine that are represented aren’t exceptional — we just wish there were more of them. For China, whose food traditions boast among other things an extensive history and worldwide popularity, the lack of representation is arguably even more striking. And while many Chinese view World’s 50 as little more than a “checklist” of how many world-class restaurants they’ve managed to dine at, others have definitely picked up on how poorly represented their food cultures are.

When Michelin released its first ever Shanghai Guide in 2016 — and then Guangzhou in 2018 — it met immediate backlash among Chinese netizens who disagreed with the list’s picks.

They were quick to note that the picks for Shanghai heavily favored Cantonese cuisine — which, again, really seems to be the order of the day with Western food guides. Still others criticized the Guangzhou guide — where you’d expect them to do better, given the city is located in what was once known as Canton — as being “out of step” with Guangzhou food ethos.

Chinese food is regionally very diverse — so if the full spectrum isn’t represented on these lists, should we be looking towards homegrown efforts to do it better justice? In an attempt to produce China’s answer to the Michelin Guide, Chinese user review platform Meituan-Dianping launched its first-ever Black Pearl Guide (黑珍珠餐厅指南) in early 2018. It administered rankings for predominately Chinese and China-based restaurants between one and three diamonds (194 of the 287 restaurants ranked in the 2019 guide are located in the Chinese mainland).

Meanwhile, an increasing number of food documentaries — such as 2018’s Once Upon a Bitedelve into many of Chinese cuisine’s regional varieties and the people who make them, effectively putting Chinese food in a global context, dish by dish.

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In the meantime, we’ll keep our fingers crossed that more Chinese food will one day make the cut on one of these lists — be it Sichuanese, Dongbei, Fujianese, Guizhou, Yunnanese….

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Header image: Dishes at Jade Dragon, Macau, ranked #27 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and #103 on World’s 50 Best Restaurants (courtesy World’s 50 Best)

Mayura Jain
    Mayura Jain is a Shanghai-based writer, editor, illustrator and designer originally from Los Angeles. Before joining RADII as Life Editor, she worked for City Weekend Shanghai and Sixth Tone as both an editor and graphic designer. In her spare time she frequents art exhibitions, fosters cats, and chows on unhealthy vegetarian food.

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