Steamed corn cake, kasha and soybean food, which have for a long time dominated the Chinese dinner table and have been a sign of poverty and inferiority for years, have now become fashionable cuisine.
Maize, millet, sorghum and other soybean products are thought to be coarse food among Chinese, in contrast to finely processed rice and wheat which have long been a wealthy person's privilege.
However, special coarse food menus now provided by restaurants in Taiyuan, capital of north China's Shanxi Province, where over 30 varieties of coarse food grains grow, have attracted gourmets who include salary earners, well-paid professionals and many foreigners.
"Coarse food is a big change from my usual diet and may be better for my health," says Taiyuan-based editor Zhang Yumei justifying her preference for coarse food.
Experts say that Shanxi's heavily producing crop varieties have made the inland province one of the key areas worldwide to supply health food varieties.
So far, buckwheat noodles, oat chips and buckwheat vinegar produced in Shanxi have been exported to foreign countries such as Japan, Sweden and Russia.
Shanxi is not the only Chinese city where coarse food and potherb consumption have become a health fashion.
"It was a luxury to have rice in family feasts before 1970s as people had to carefully manage their quota to buy food such as meat, eggs and milk," recalls Zheng Fengrong, a 62-year old retiree currently living in Beijing.
According to Zheng, steamed corn cake has become a favorite snack of her 16-year old fashion-conscious grandson, who claims to be tired of staple food such as rice.
Chinese Ministries of Agriculture and Health jointly issued a program earlier this month, stressing Chinese people should consume more soybean and dairy food over the next 10 years so as to provide the people with much protein and other nutritional necessities on a daily basis.
As China makes strides in improving the nutrition of its citizens, an increasing number of people throughout the country have started to realize the importance of having a balanced diet.
Although more expensive than rice and wheat, well-packaged coarse food have a ready market in such cities as Beijing,
Shanghai and Guangzhou. People believe that this less refined food will help balance the daily diet which is usually high in fat and protein.
Nutritionists said that excessive calorie consumption and lack of exercise had lead to a large number of people suffering from obesity, diabetes, astriction and cardiovascular disease among Chinese urban dwellers and some rural residents in recent years.
More Chinese have switched to coarse food, usually grown in pollutant-free regions and having a high nutritious content, to improve their health.
Xie Yaqin, a Tianjin-based university teacher, said that she serves coarse food meals twice a week for her family to promote health.
Businessmen have developed many varieties of corn, sorghum and soybean products to cash in on people's increasing preference for coarse food and related products.
Statistics show that the export of 1,000-kg of coarse food grains equals that of 2,700-kg wheat. The fact that coarse grains can be processed easily offers better prices to producers.
At present, an increasing number of Chinese farmers choose to cultivate coarse food to meet the market needs. The cropping area of coarse food grains in Shanxi amounts to 40 percent of the provincial crop total, local sources say.
Experts with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations say that the development of coarse food grain will play important roles in assisting China to develop its vast west region.
(Xinhua News Agency December 10, 2001)