This study paper interrogates and investigates Chinese food in the contemporary Emirati society. This study paper established that the number of Chinese restaurants has grown tremendously in the UAE. This growth has been caused by the need to diversify the Emirati economy, the Silk Road, an increasing Chinese population in the UAE, and the growing Chinese influence through “soft power”. This paper also established that Chinese food has impacted the Emirati culture with the introduction of different dietary practices and Chinese architecture. However, the Chinese dietary practices have also been affected by the Emirati practices through Halal foods. This study paper established that the first Chinese restaurant to open in this region is the Miyako Restaurant in Hyatt Regency. The most famous food types offered by these Chinese restaurants include chili potato, vegetable Manchow soup, and chicken Manchurian among others. This study paper estimates that Chinese restaurants in the region will grow thanks to the ever-increasing Chinese international influence through soft power and public diplomacy.
Undoubtedly, Chinese food is probably the most famous cuisine around the world. This fame has emanated from the ever-growing Chinese influence in various nations and regions. Of particular interest is the introduction of Chinese food in the UAE. Chinese food was first introduced in the UAE during the early 1980s when the region relaxed its strict cultural regulations to attract foreign investors. It came as no surprise that Chinese restaurants have grown tremendously, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The UAE has traditionally had a limited diet that includes rice, chicken, and Halal meat. Such a limited diet was partly due to the need to observe Halal regulations. However, the introduction of Chinese food in this region has helped diverse the dietary practices of this region (Chinese dragon spreads its wings across the country, 2008). Chinese food has been a welcome boost in the UAE dining scene thanks to the authentic nature of Chinese restaurants. These Chinese have impacted the UAE food industry both in terms of food types and culturally.
According to the Food and Beverage Market Entry Handbook: UAE, it is essential to follow certain guidelines. Chinese restaurants have had to follow these guidelines to the letter despite the region being open to the diversification of the economy aimed at reducing oil and gas dependence (European Commission, 2017). Traditionally, this region is synonymous with a bias towards fish, rice, yogurt, and bread. Doing so prohibits such food types and beverages as pork and alcohol. With such a limited diet, the introduction of Chinese food which is diverse was a welcome gesture. The most common Chinese food types in the UAE include hot and sour soup, spring rolls, vegetable Hakka noodles, Chow Mein, dumplings, fried rice, chicken Manchurian, chicken lollipop, honey Chilli potato, and vegetable Manchow Soup (Han Cuisine, 2022). The first Chinese restaurant to open in the UAE was the Miyako Restaurant at the Hyatt Regency. The most famous Chinese restaurant in the UAE is the Hakkasan Chinese restaurant in Abu Dhabi. The restaurant is highly rated and offers authentic and specialized Chinese dishes.
Chinese food in the UAE has proven to be the most famous cultural import in the UAE. Chinese food restaurants in the region usually specialize in preparing high-quality food. These Chinese restaurants especially in Dubai tend to create a beautiful ambiance with a nice dining style (Chinese dragon spreads its wings across the country, 2008). More so, Chinese cuisine has owned popularity in that it is very easy to get addicted to. According to a study conducted by Admiddleeast.com, (2021), Chinese restaurants have become synonymous with the Arab world and especially the UAE because this region has opened to other cultures. Such a welcoming nature has provided a conducive business environment for Chinese restaurants investors. This coupled with the ambiance which comes with Chinese culture has created a boom for Chinese restaurants for the better part of the last few decades.
According to Year of the dim sum: Chinese food is making its mark in the UAE, (2018), Chinese restaurants in the UAE offer great styles and table arrangements. In this case, styles should be understood through the prisms of architectural, interior, and exterior designs. As is widely known, Chinese architecture is heavily influenced by their traditions and an eye for detail. While this style of building restaurants was introduced in the UAE, it was eye-catching as established by Digital Georgetown, (2020). This coupled with unique table arrangements prompted the UAE population to take a glimpse into the upcoming restaurants and the new cultural import. It then became a common phenomenon for such restaurants to offer formal meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a region where eating out was not a routine per se.
A research study conducted by Han Cuisine, (2022), established that some of the Chinese restaurants in UAE offer a buffets system with a wide variety of options to choose from. Such kind of food arrangement gained much publicity thanks to food review shows and food magazines in the region. Still, the friendly staff in these restaurants also promoted the fast growth of the Chinese food industry in the UAE, especially in Dubai (Carita–Rosa & Gomes, 2021). Most of the staff are friendly, down-to-earth, and respectful towards their clients and customers. Taking into account that the UAE is growing economically at a fast rate, such a conducive environment allows for formal business meetings and meals. After all, economic growth means additional foreign investments. Hence, these Chinese restaurants tend to offer a peaceful where locals and foreign investors can hold business and formal meetings (Chinese dragon spreads its wings across the country, 2008). Also, it has become a common phenomenon for the general population in the region to indulge in the enjoyment of the new Chinese cuisine and culture. So far, as China and the UAE: New cultural horizons, (2020.), puts it, Chinese food and culture in the UAE have been nothing short of a revelation. This proves the notion that Chinese food is the most famous cultural import to the UAE.
While interrogating the concept of Chinese food in the UAE, it is paramount to take into account acculturation. As much as Chinese food has impacted the dietary patterns of the UAE, it has also been affected or impacted by halal food of the UAE. According to Halawa, (2018), acculturation is a process by which a country or a group of people assimilate to a different yet dominant culture of another county or social group. Halawa, (2018), established that the process entails adopting either linguistic skills, social traits, and /or dietary patterns of the host culture. In this case, the Chinese food culture has borrowed heavily from the UAE dietary practices. Halal food is food prepared according to certain mandatory Muslim dietary obligations. These obligations apply to all Muslims irrespective of where they come from or travel to. It then follows that Muslims can only consume food that is permitted by their religions. Hence, it is valid to note that despite Chinese food being diverse and sometimes unique, it can only be prepared according to the obligations and recommendations of Halal.
For instance, Muslims can only consume meat from animals that have been slaughtered according to Muslim rules. On the same note, Islam prohibits the consumption of porcine foods, dead animal meat, meat from the beast, and animal blood. Thus, despite such foods being acceptable within Chinese culture, non-Halal foods can never be sold to Muslim customers. It then follows that Chinese restaurants in the UAE must be very careful about the types of food on their menu. Another aspect of UAE culture that must be strictly observed is alcohol. It is very rare to find Muslims consuming alcohol as is the case for other religions and cultures where consuming alcohol while eating or after meals are common. This practice is strongly prohibited in the Islam culture. It is important to note that alcohol consumption among the Chinese is no big deal. Still, the Chinese investors in the culturally rich region of UAE must observe these strict rules and obligations emanating from the strong Islamic religion.
Interestingly, the acculturation of Chinese food started way back in history. According to Halawa, (2018), the ancient Silk Road opened various trade routes to and from China. This ancient Silk Road has for the better of recent history served as a gateway for traders and missionaries between the two regions. In so doing, it has allowed quite many Chinese investors, tourists, and stakeholders to indulge in the journey towards the UAE. A research by Ptáčková, (2019), established that the Silk Road brought with it the open-minded Chinese into the UAE. In addition, being open-minded has allowed the Chinese to easily assimilate and accept Halal foods. However, the Chinese have had to follow the Global Halal Certification process to be allowed to sell their food products.
As earlier established through this study paper’s thesis statement, food plays an important role in cultural exportation or importation. On that note, it is important to interrogate the concept of “soft power”. According to a study paper by Khondker, (2022), the term “soft power” was first used by Joseph Stalin in response to the Pope. He argued that the Pope influenced people to the tune of billions through “soft power”. Thus, soft power can be defined as a situation where an individual or group of people subdues another by virtue and by winning their hearts. While analyzing the impact of Chinese food in the UAE, it is paramount to admit that the Chinese employ the concept of soft power to effectively win over the Emirati population. At the height of his power, Chinese President Xi Jin Ping declared that “China’s soft power and international influence, has grown significantly” (Khondker, H 2022). One reason which has contributed to this growth of Chinese international influence and soft power is the spread of Chinese culture around the world including the UAE. It is right to admit that the Chinese have been at the forefront in being charm offensive or using soft power in the UAE. This is particularly so because this region has traditionally been regarded as one with a rigid and strict culture. Yet, the Chinese have been able to influence this region culturally. Due to its soft power or charm offense, China has been able to export its food and general culture into the UAE.
According to a study conducted by Wang, (2020), there has been a steady rise of Chinese studying or living in the UAE. The number has risen from 200,000 in 2016 to around 450,000 today. At least 300, 000 Chinese are currently living in Dubai alone. With such a high influx of Chinese into the region, then it is inevitable for Chinese cuisine to be rampant in the region. UAE has gone further to host various Beijing International Book Fairs (Yellinek, Mann & Lebel, 2020). This shows that UAE has already undertaken to welcome Chinese literature and culture. Also, more than half a million Chinese tourists visit UAE annually. Such a high Chinese population warrants the availability of Chinese food in the region. That is the influence of soft power. Coercing another country to do what another wants without force or coercion.
From the analysis, it is valid to conclude that Chinese food has become common in the UAE. This trend has been caused by the need to diversify the Emirati diet and economy. Consequently, the presence of Chinese food and restaurants has attracted a high number of Chinese into the region. Doing so has impacted the Emirati culture in terms of dietary practices and architecture. Also, the Silk Road and growing Chinese influence has acted toward elevating Chinese food in the region. With such a growing influence, it seems that more Chinese restaurants will open up in the region despite acculturation by the Emirati through Halal foods and certification.
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