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Master’s Degree in Product Service System Desin 2013 Delicious. A Porduct Service System that helps non-Mandarin speakers to order food in Shanghai. Professors: Davide Fassi, Wu Duan Tutor: Francesca Valsecchi Master’s degree graduation project by Arianna Biamonti, matriculation number 765104.

delicious A product service system that helps non-Mandarin speakers to order food in Shanghai.



ABSTRACT Because of the decisive role it has acquired in the World Economy, China is gaining an ever-greater importance. Every year more and more people come to China from all over the world, for tourism, business or studies. Cultural differences are an every-day experience for people in a foreign country and, as constructive as they can be, they must be managed in order to avoid misunderstandings and frustration. Buying and consuming food is one of the most common and natural interactions that one has to experience when travelling to a different country. Nonetheless, it is not always easy to purchase and consume food in a foreign country. Food tells a lot about our culture, and it is a very enjoyable way to get to know better the country one is visiting: when it comes to China, this is particularly true. Not only Chinese food is so various, but it is also particularly rich in history and culture. Helping foreign visitors in experience Chinese food at its best would help in enhancing a more openminded and relaxed approach to it; it would help to improve visitors’ travelling or living experiences in China, and that of Chinese people having to sell or serve food to non Mandarin speakers; it would allow people with particular food necessities to travel to China. The research focused on one hand on desk research and on the other on field research. The desk research served as a way to understand the role played by food in our culture, the current trends in inbound tourism in China, food tourism and the Shanghai restaurant panorama. The field research was designed to understand which are the main problems that foreigners have to face in all food related activities when coming to China and to establish their level of knowledge about Chinese cuisine. The aim of this research is to understand how to improve the accessibility of food and food-related services for non-Mandarin speakers in China and which kind of tools foreigners need to enjoy their dining experience while being able to communicate with food vendors. Key Words: Chinese Food; Accessibility for foreigners; Inter-Cultural Communication; Multi-Language System.







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I moved to Shanghai at the beginning of 2012. I remember the first night me and my classmates got here: as everybody coming a long way, we were exhausted and went right outside of the hostel to look for some food. We didn’t want to go to McDonalds or some other western restaurant; we wanted to try something Chinese, to start getting familiar with it. We walked into some food stalls on the street and decided to give it a try. None of us could really speak Chinese, but we all thought the same thing: one doesn’t need to speak a language to make himself understood, there’s body language and signs. So we tried: first we got closer and observed what others were taking, than we tried to ask information about the food in English, but of course the food vendor could not speak it. We then tried to order, we pointed at other people’s food and than said the quantity we wanted with our hands: easy right? Apparently not: first of all we found out that Chinese people and western people count with their hands in different ways and what to us meant six, to them meant nothing. Second we learnt that the problem was understanding what we were about to eat: food is so different that it is hard to understand what one can expect from it. Well, long story short, it took us at least twenty minutes of


disastrous communication with the food vendor and embarrassing attempts to mime our desires to end up with few over-spiced food, all for the great enjoyment of our public, ten Chinese people or so, that, seen the comedy potential of the situation, decided to stick around and watch the circus. Tired and frustrated, we went back to the hostel, all thinking the same thing: we’ve got to study Mandarin! Since that day I have learnt a lot about China, its culture, its food and its people. I’ve had the chance to enjoy Chinese food and get to know it thanks to very kind Chinese friends that have enlightened me the way, and still sometimes I find myself having a hard time ordering food. This is what motivated me in this research: I wanted to design something that could help people to enjoy Chinese food in every occasion, helping them to communicate with the food vendors and discovering what a delicious treasure it is. When I first came to China I knew very little Chinese. I remember that what shocked me the most was realising I had become illiterate: I could pronounce just a few words, understood even less and could not read anything. I was like a giant two years old baby! I remember also, realising how

used I was to read what was around me in Europe: street signals, driving indications, shops’ names, billboards, advertising in the metro or on the bus. Not being able to understand what surrounded me made me feel so lost. The worst frustration, though, was not being able to communicate. The language barrier is probably the first point in any intercultural communication class, that’s true, but when the two cultures involved in the confrontation are a western one and the Chinese one differences go way beyond the language: even the way we count with our hands is different, let go the way we relate to others in everyday life. It took me a very long time to decipher the cultural code of this fast-changing society and I’m still learning something new everyday. It is for these reasons that I decided in my studies to focus my attention on the problems originated from inter-cultural communication. In particular I wanted to help people that do not speak Mandarin in having a more relaxed attitude towards Chinese food, making the whole food experience easier to face. This booklet contains the results of my research.






FOOD IS CULTURE It has shaped the world and the way we perceive it. Food is the fruit of our identity and it is an instrument to express it and communicate it.

BANQUET, STILL LIFE WITH A MOUSE (detail) by Abraham van Beiyeren (1621)


onsidering food as a simple mean to sustain the man’s daily activities is a superficial assumption. Considering food as part of nature is a naïve mistake: not regarding the natural origin of the food man eats, the choice of food itself represents a cultural expression. Food is culture. It has shaped the world and the way we perceive it. It is culture when it is produced when it is prepared and when it is consumed. Food is the fruit of our identity and it is an instrument to express it and communicate it. Beginning with Hippocrates, many philosophers have described food as a thing not of nature. Food belongs, indeed, to the artificial order of things and it was one of the first indexes of civilisation. The transformation of the reality that surrounds them has always been what distinguished men from animals. Animals eat what they find in nature, as they found it. Man, instead, preparing and cooking food, transforms it and states his evolution. It is in the cultural context of the first agrarian societies that the idea of a civil man evolved, a man who artificially and artfully created food itself, a food not existing in nature, and one that served precisely to mark the difference between nature and culture, in order to distinguish the identity of animals from that of man. In the Mediterranean region, the zone of wheat, it is bread that reveals modify the

symbolic as well as nutritional function: bread does not exist in nature and only man knows how to make it, having elaborated a sophisticated technology which envisages a series of complex operations, the fruit of long experiments and thoughtful reflection (from the cultivation of the grain to the preparation of the finished product). Bread, therefore, symbolizes man’s exit from the animal kingdom and the establishment of civilization. A similar symbolic role was played by wine and beer, fermented beverages that, like bread, do not exist in nature but represent an outgrowth of knowledge and of a complex technology. Man had learned to dominate the natural processes, adapting them for his own benefit. According to Massimo Montanari, an Italian historian specialized in medieval history, culture takes its place at the intersection between tradition and innovation. He defines tradition as the ensemble of knowledge, techniques and values which were handed down to us. Regarding innovation, instead, he says that is something that happens when this knowledge, these techniques and these values modify the place of man in the environmental context, allowing him to experience a new reality. A very successful innovation: that is how he defines tradition. Culture results, therefore, as the interface between these two perspectives.


FOODISM THE HUNGRY SINNER by Gustav Almest책l photographic series for THE GOURMAND (2013)


In the last thirty years a great interest in food has slowly risen all over the world. It is called foodism, defined as an exaggerated interest in the preparation, presentation and consumption of food. The term foodie was used for the first time in 1980 in an article of the New York magazine and referred to the new gastronauts, the new gourmet: a person that is so passionate about food as to consider it one of the most influential factor to his happiness.

In three decades the foodie culture has reached all social levels, as every trend does, each at its own pace (Herbert Spencer, Social Stratification Of Trends). This new passion has engaged millions of adepts, who give more and more importance to what they eat, where they eat it and with whom they eat it: cookery dominates the bestseller lists and TV schedules, celebrity chefs have become lifestyle gurus and cooking is referred to as a high art.

All human history attests That happyness for man - the hungry sinner! Since eve ate apples, much depends on dinner Lord Byron, Don Juan (1818-24) Canto XIII Stanza 99



YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT by Mark Menjivar is a a series of photos featuring the contents of more than 50 refrigerators across the United States. (2008-2012)

ne of the main trends in the food culture is to pay more attention to what one eats in order to improve one’s life. The trend does not only concern health related issues: at the contrary, it makes health, both physical and psychological (and spiritual for some), the center of one’s lifestyle. Much of this concept comes from the fusion between Asian philosophies and religions, Chinese and Indian being the main ones, and a particular western philosophy, that was almost born by mistake. Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, in Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante, 1826: “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.” [Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are]. In an essay titled Concerning Spiritualism and Materialism, 1863/4, Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach wrote: “Der Mensch ist, was er ißt.” That translates into English as ‘man is what he eats’. Neither Brillat-Savarin or Feuerbach meant their quotations to be taken literally. They were stating that the food one eats has a bearing on what one’s state of mind and health and referred to a materialist philosophy to which they belonged. The actual phrase did not emerge in English until some time later. In the 1920s and 30s, the nutritionist Victor Lindlahr, who was a strong believer in the idea that food controls health, developed the Catabolic Diet. That view gained some adherents at the time and the earliest known printed example is from an advertising for beef in a 1923 edition of the Bridgeport Telegraph, for United Meet Markets:


“Ninety per cent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat.” In 1942, Lindlahr published You Are What You Eat: how to win and keep health with diet. That seems to be the vehicle that took the phrase into the public consciousness. Lindlahr is likely to have also used the term in his radio talks in the late 1930s (now lost unfortunately), which would also have reached a large audience The phrase got a new lease of life in the 1960s hippy era. The food of choice of the champions of this notion was macrobiotic whole food and they adopted the phrase as a slogan for healthy eating. The belief in the diet in some quarters was so strong that when Adele Davis, a leading spokesperson for the organic food movement, contracted the cancer that later killed her, she attributed the illness to the junk food she had eaten at college. The phrase kept on being used throughout the last century and still is nowadays, a typical example of how a misunderstanding can perpetuate through time and start a new stream of thought on itself. Nowadays the idea that food conditions the state of our health is very much shared among people, and not wrong at all. It has been demonstrated in fact, in the last decades that many substances contained in certain food can be of great help in preventing diseases and, on the contrary, that the excess in the consumption of some other foods can cause them, unfortunately. The incredible leap forward in the scientific research regarding food science has built a solid backbone for a new healthy food market and has boosted the mainstream knowledge about healthy food. The demand for healthy food has grown over the years and people are more and more concerned with what ends up in their plates.



AN HOLISTIC EXPERIENCE From the design of the space to that of the food, customers are more and more demanding, looking for the right balance among each single element of the dining experience. THE ITHAA RESTAURANT is the first underwater restaurant in the world.

For foodies it’s not only all about food, but about the whole food experience: from the interior design of the restaurants, to the food design itself, even reaching the menu copyrighting, the expectations of clients are getting always greater. Of course it has always been important to take care of every aspect of the experience lived by the client, but it used to be something that was taken into consideration only in the most chic restaurants. In the last decade, instead, it is more and more common to notice a particular attention to design even in the informal and cheap restaurants, looking for coherency among the many aspects of the dining experience. Throughout the whole world designers and chefs have started very successful collaborations engaging with the design thinking theory to provide very original and pleasant experiences for their clients. One of the most original ones lately has been Ithaa, the first under water restaurant, in the Maldives Islands: the restaurant sits five meters below the sea and is surrounded by vibrant coral reef offering a 270 degrees of panoramic underwater views. This 5 x 9 meter restaurant has a capacity of 14 people and was designed and constructed by M.J. Murphy Ltd which is a design consultancy agency based in New Zealand. Of course this is just an example of how much effort is put in designing the dining experience recently, but it sure stands out.





ately, things related to food are very popular all over the social media, and food promotions on this platform are rampant. You see almost every other person tweeting or Instagramming the meal they just had (that includes me too). Somehow the trend for sharing the food we just had or are making on social networking websites has become very common now. People all over Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etcetera, are posting pictures almost every other hour. There are various groups on Facebook dedicated to food, where people share the reviews of their favourite eateries specifically highlighting what they liked or disliked. According to a research conducted by Flowtown in collaboration with Column5 in 2012, 29% of social media consumers are on a social networking website while they eat or drink at home, and 19% do the same while eating outside of their homes. Apparently Americans, youngsters in the age range between 18 and 32 years old, are very multitasking while dining: according to the interviews 32% of people text or socialize on a mobile device at mealtime; 21% seek out recipes; 40% learn about food via websites, apps or blogs; 24% say they respond to conversations on social media sites; 21% look up discounts, coupons, and deals on food. Moreover, the study also tried to understand how much people photograph their food before to eat it: the results showed that 25% of interviewed people photograph their food on a routine basis for a food photoblog or food diary, and 22% like to document their own culinary creations, with 72% of photographed food being a main dish, better than a snack.


There has not been a similar research in China yet, but seen the trends in the Internet use among Chinese youngsters, data will probably be very similar to the American one, if not superior. According to the government-linked China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC), China’s Internet population reached 564 million at the end of December 2012, an increase of 26 million over the past six months. More users in the country are going online with mobile phones. At the end of December 2012, China had 420 million mobile Internet users, adding 32 million users over the six-month period. Helping to drive the growth are low-cost smartphones, cheaper data plans, and the popularity of mobile apps. The handsets are also helping users in rural China and low wage earners to go online. 81% of China’s Internet users are aged 39 and below, with those aged in their twenties making up the largest group at 30.4%. Considering this data it is not hard to predict the same phenomena that are occurring in America also happening in China. The restaurateurs and various owners of the eateries also have a chance to reach out to their customers via these internet groups or pages and update them regarding different activities, new launches, and the sort. Social media has had an impact on us not only individually but on the way we do business as well, the way we market our products. As a matter of fact, there is a growing trend where people find all the information they want about food and recipes more online than offline (like in food magazines, cookbooks and other forms of printed materials). That’s a huge shift from even a few years ago. The widespread passion with photography and the one with food have finally met each other, and it looks like it will be a long, loving and tasty relationship.





The pandemic obsession with food that has spread in our era is not shared by everyone, nor it is supported. Contrasting opinions on a contemporary matter.

ogether with the rising interest in food and food related matters, there has also been a growing wave of critic to the foodist movement. Many scholars, philosophers and sociologists have analysed the phenomenon and found their conclusions on the subject, not always positive. Some of them are not that supportive with the obsession on food demonstrated by so much people around the world. Like the English journalist Steven Poole, who wrote a book on the topic, You Aren’t What You Eat – Fed Up With Gastroculture. In his book the journalist states that food is the new sex, drugs and religion and he considers it quite an unhealthy obsession. Poole is convinced that Western industrial civilisation is eating itself stupid. We are living in the Age of Food. Cookery programmes bloat the television schedules, cookbooks strain the bookshop tables, celebrity chefs hawk their own brands of weird mince pies or bronze-moulded pasta in the supermarkets, and cooks in super-expensive restaurants from Chicago to Copenhagen are the subjects of hagiographic profiles in serious magazines and newspapers. In his book the author 26


“ If you can’t watch cooking on TV or in front of your face, you can at least read about it. Vast swaths of the internet have been taken over by food bloggers who post photographs of what they have eaten from an edgy street stall or at an aspirational restaurant, and compose endlessly scrollable pseudo-erotic paeans to its stimulating effects. Right now, five of the 10 bestselling books on are food books, with Nigellissima outselling Fifty Shades of Grey. According to the spring 2011 Bookscan data, British sales of books in nearly all literary genres were down, except for the categories of “food and drink” (up 26.2%), followed by “religion” (up 13%). (Before 1990, the bibliographic category of “food and drink” didn’t even exist.) That food and religion alone should buck the negative trend is no coincidence, for modern food books are there to answer metaphysical or “lifestyle” rather than culinary aspirations, and celebrity chefs themselves are the gurus of the age.” eople with an overweening interest in food have been calling themselves “foodies” since a Harper’s & Queen article entitled Cuisine Poseur in 1982, one of whose editors then co-wrote the semi-satirical The Official Foodie Handbook of 1984. The OED’s very first citation of foodie is from 1980, an oozing New York magazine celebration of the mistress of a Parisian restaurant and her “devotees, serious foodies”. “Foodie” has now pretty much everywhere replaced “gourmet”, perhaps because the latter more strongly evokes privilege and a snobbish claim to uncommon sensory discrimination – even though those qualities are rampant among the foodies themselves. About this linguistic aspect of the matter, Poole states: “The word “foodie”, it is true, lays claim to a kind of cloying, infantile cuteness which is in a way appropriate to its subject; but one should not allow them the rhetorical claim of harmless innocence implied. The Official Foodie Handbook spoke of the “foodism” worldview; I propose to call its adherents foodists. The term “foodist” is actually much older, used from the late 19th century for hucksters selling fad diets (which is quite apt); and as late as 1987 one New York Times writer proposed it semi-seriously as a positive description, to replace the unlovely “gastronaut”: “In the tradition of nudist, philanthropist and Buddhist, may I suggest ‘foodist’, one who is enthusiastic about good eating?”

Everywhere in the ideology of foodism we see a yearning for food to be able to fill a spiritual void. Food is about “spirituality” and “expressing our identity”, claims modern food-knight Michael Pollan. His celebrated catechism of modern foodism, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, speaks of eating with a “full consciousness”, and claims that every meal has its “karmic price”; it ends with the declaration that “what we’re eating is never anything more or less than the body of the world”. And so every meal is a multi-sensorial experience that brings us closer to the whole World. This thought is not self-standing though: many think that eating goes beyond a necessity or a pleasure, but actually enriches the human spirit. From this point of view eating is almost considered in religious terms, or at least conceived as a ritual experience that must be taken seriously. About this topic Poole says: “Note, too, how many manuals of eating are termed “bibles”: in the cult of “nutritionism” we have Patrick Holford’s Optimum Nutrition Bible and Gillian McKeith’s Food Bible, and there also exist a Baby Food Bible, a Whole Food Bible, a Gluten-Free Bible, a Party Food Bible, a Spicy Food Lover’s Bible, and so on ad nauseam or perhaps ad astra.” What about cooks themselves? If food is spiritual, then modern celebrity chefs have become our priests or gurus: “The cook is in tune with the terroir; an interpreter of Gaia for our lip-smacking pleasure and spiritual improvement. We no longer trust politicians or the clergy; but we are hungry for cooks to tell us not just how to eat but how to live, the moralistic synecdoche easily accomplished since we now happily accept that one lives through eating. A 2011 advert for the supermarket Waitrose reads: “Love food. Love life.” The ordering implies a conditional: if, and only if, you love food, will you then love life, in the right way.[…] Yet since then foodist rhetoric has, like the early universe, experienced a period of rapid inflation. The foodist movement is desperate to claim other cultural domains as inherent virtues of food itself, so as not ever to have to stop thinking about stuffing its face. Food becomes not only spiritual nourishment but art, sex, ecology, history, fashion and ethics. It even becomes, in the mind of some of its more addled fanatics, a universal 27


“I like foodist precisely for its taint of an -ism. Like a racist or a sexist, a foodist operates under the prejudices of a governing ideology, viewing the whole world through the grease-smeared lenses of a militant eater.” Steven Poole, You Aren’t What You Eat (2012)

THE FOODIE ALPHABET by Vidhya Nagarajan (2010)


language. Alex James, for instance, told the Sun: “Food is a brilliant way to connect with anyone. I used to think music was a universal language. But if you go to Africa and play a Blur song, someone might have to translate. Give them cheese, though, and they can instantly taste it and react.” And so a hunk of Cheddar becomes superior to Nevermind: a universal medium of communication; or at least, for foodists, a universal solvent of the intellect.” Food has been invested with a greater importance than it has ever been and many have made of it the medium of their elective affinities, to identify themselves and others in clusters of people and differentiate from each other. It does not belong to the author to state weather or not this is right, but for sure all these considerations create a fair background to highlight a trivial fact: in modern culture food is a complex matter, that defines people and their beliefs. Not keeping this in mind in the execution of this research would make it shallow and approximate. The researcher, for this reason, will keep in mind all these aspects during the whole execution. The food market has evolved in a very fast and complex industry that is subject to trends as much as the fashion industry. All over the Internet, food related websites, blogs and social networks reach millions of people and establish what is trendy and what is “out”. The attention given to food goes beyond a will to taste great food: what we eat tells more and more about who we are and what we believe in. Thanks to the growing importance of the Internet and social networks in our daily life, we pay more and more attention to what is “hot and cool”, and food is both these things. Nowadays, everybody is a foodie in his own way and wants to share his passion with his peers online and offline. China still has to reach its maximum potential in this matter: China has to establish a stronger link with the foodist culture and encourage people to travel to its cities and enjoy its cultural heritage, which food is a part of.







ver the past six decades, tourism has experienced continued expansion and diversification, becoming one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world. Many new destinations have emerged, challenging the traditional ones of Europe and North America. Despite occasional shocks, international tourist arrivals have shown virtually uninterrupted growth – from 277 million in 1980 to 528 million in 1995, and 983 million in 2011. According to Tourism Towards 2030, UNWTO’s recently updated, long-term outlook and assess-


ment of future tourism trends, the number of international tourist arrivals worldwide is expected to increase by 3.3% a year on average from 2010 to 2030. This represents some 43 million more international tourist arrivals every year, reaching a total of 1.8 billion arrivals by 2030. In the past, emerging economy destinations have grown faster than advanced economy destinations, and this trend is set to continue in the future. Between2010 and 2030, arrivals to emerging economies are expected to increase at double the pace (+4.4% a year) of those to advanced economies (+2.2% a year). As a result, the market share of

emerging economies has increased from 30% in 1980 to 47% in 2011, and is expected to reach 57% by 2030, equivalent to over one billion international tourist arrivals. During the 6th UNWTO/PATA Forum on Tourism Trends and Outlook, which was held in Guilin, China in October 2012, some very promising data were presented. According to the analyses conducted by the World Tourism Organization, inbound tourism in the Asia and the Pacific area has presented a healthy growth in all sub regions during 2011, always rising from year to year. In particular, North-East Asia has seen a huge growth

over the last sixteen years, passing from 40 million of international tourist arrivals in 1995 to 116 million international tourist arrivals in 1995 to 116 million in 2011. It was also said, during the conference, that North-East Asia is expected to be the region with the biggest growth in inbound tourism in the whole Asia and Pacific area, reaching in 2030 293 million of international tourist arrivals.



SHANGHAI INBOUND TOURISM In 2011, the number of foreign tourists visiting Shanghai reached 8.18 million, a 4 percent drop from the previous year that saw the successful hosting of the 2010 World Expo. But it is expected that in 2012 the number of inbound overseas travellers has risen to 8.25 million, a 3 percent increase. Shanghai hopes to cement its burgeoning reputation as a global tourist hotspot by allowing visitors to spend three days in the city without a visa. ( Starting in 2013, citizens from 45 countries will be permitted a 72-hour visa-free stay inside the “administrative area� of Shanghai. According to the Tourism Research Institute under the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, the new policy, approved by the State Council, will boost Shanghai tourism. Shanghai already had a program allowing visitors from 32 countries a 48-hour visa-free stay. The extra day will start a whole new pattern of tourism, most of all allowing business visitors to the city, the financial centre of the country, more time to enjoy a city tour. A kid playing with an installation by URBAN ART PROJECTS at Shanghai World Expo (2010).





FOOD TOURISM For many of the world’s billions of tourists gastronomy has become a central part of the tourism experience. For many of the world’s billions of tourists, returning to familiar destinations to enjoy tried and tested recipes or travelling further afield in search of new and special cuisine, gastronomy has become a central part of the tourism experience. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in recent years, Food Tourism has grown considerably and has become one of the most dynamic and creative segments of tourism. Both destinations and tourism companies are aware of the importance of gastronomy in order to diversify tourism and stimulate local, regional and national economic development. Furthermore, Food Tourism includes in its discourse ethical and sustainable values based on the territory, the landscape, the sea, local culture, local products, authenticity, which is something it has in common with current trends of cultural consumption. Today, travellers are more experienced, have more disposable income and more leisure time to travel, and thus tourism allows them to escape the daily routine

of their usual environment and immerse themselves in a world of freedom and novelty. Thus, more and more tourists in the world are looking for concrete learning experiences, and in this endeavour the gastronomic experience, in highly diverse ways, is playing an increasingly prominent part.

Vendors at the floating market in Bangkok, Thailand.

Current research in gastronomic tourism is scarce and is mainly focused on wine, and “oenotourists” are not necessarily the same individuals who engage in other, non-oenological gastronomic activities. Gastronomic tourism is an emerging phenomenon that is being developed as a new tourism product due, inter alia, to the fact that according to the specialized literature (among others, Quan and Wang, 2004) over a third of tourist spending is devoted to food. Therefore, the cuisine of the destination is an aspect of utmost importance in the quality of the holiday experience. One of the most utilized definitions of gastronomic tourism used in the literature is that proposed by Hall and Sharples (2003), according to which food tourism is an experiential trip to 37


With their proximity to food-producing lands, rural communities often enjoy a comparative advantage when it comes to serving up traditional fare.


a gastronomic region, for recreational or entertainment purposes, which includes visits to primary and secondary producers of food, gastronomic festivals, food fairs, events, farmers’ markets, cooking shows and demonstrations, tastings of quality food products or any tourism activity related to food. In addition, this experiential journey is related to a particular lifestyle that includes experimentation, learning from different cultures, the acquisition of knowledge and understanding of the qualities or attributes related to tourism products, as well as culinary specialities produced in that region through its consumption. Thus, the experience of gastronomic tourism is considered as such, provided that everything mentioned above constitutes the main reason or motivation to travel for visitors to a particular destination or one significant reason. Tourists are attracted to local produce and many destinations are centring their product development and marketing accordingly. With food so deeply connected to its origin, this focus allows destinations to market themselves as truly unique and appealing to those travellers who look to feel part of their destination through its flavours. This is especially important for rural communities, many of which have struggled in the face of rapid urbanization.


With their proximity to food-producing lands, rural communities often enjoy a comparative advantage when it comes to serving up traditional fare. Tourism, particularly food tourism, allows these communities to generate income and employment opportunities locally, providing jobs for vineyard tour guides or local chefs, while fuelling other sectors of the local economy, such as agriculture. Several studies have found that tourists travel to those destinations that have established a reputation as a place to experiment with quality local products (Hall and Sharples, 2003; Quan and Wang, 2004). In the tourism world there are influential destinations whose brand image is connected, with varying levels of intensity, to gastronomic values. By way of example, it is possible to give a non-exhaustive list that includes, among others, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Portugal, USA (especially in areas such as California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys), Brazil, Peru, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Chile, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, Bali, China or Singapore. It is significant, for example, that the Mediterranean diet of Spain, Greece, Italy and Morocco was included in UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in November 2010 (UNWTO, 2012).

With a view to the publication of the Global Report on Food Tourism, a survey was conducted among the UNWTO Affiliate Members in order to know their opinion about the current situation on Food Tourism. Responses from Affiliate Members, working in diverse sectors around the world, were received in this regard. According to the results this survey, 88.2% of respondents consider that gastronomy is a strategic element in defining the brand and image of their destination. Only 11.8% were of the opinion that gastronomy plays a minor role. However, a smaller percentage of respondents believe that their country has its own gastronomic brand: only 67.6% responded in the affirmative. In fact, a considerable percentage (32.3%) believe that their country has not structured its own brand of gastronomy, meaning that, in general, destinations still have some ways to go in terms of their strategic reflection on gastronomic tourism.






TRADITIONAL CHINESE FOOD XIAO LONG BAO soup dumplings. ZONG ZI glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves.

rom ancient wisdom to modern science and technology, Chinese cuisine has been established from a long history of the country and gained a global reputation of its sophistication. Traditional Chinese foods and cuisine that exhibit Chinese culture, art and reality play an essential role in Chinese people’s everyday lives. Recently, traditional Chinese foods have drawn a great degree of attention from food scientists and technologists, the food industry, and health promotion institutions worldwide due to the extensive values they offer beyond being merely another ethnic food. These traditional foods comprise a wide variety of products, such as pickled vegetables, salted fish and jellyfish, tofu and tofu derived products, rice and rice snack foods, fermented sauces,


fish balls and thousand-year-old eggs. Further development of the traditional techniques for formulation and production of these foods is expected to produce economic, social and health benefits. Food in China is not consumed merely to satisfy hunger, but for health promotion, treating diseases and, most importantly, building relationships among people and enhancing family values. Chinese cuisine has long been a creative and individualized art. The variety and combi- nations of food served at each meal should never be the same. Meal styles also differ regionally, so that a specific food pattern has been established in each province. Chinese traditional foods, thus, play a unique role in Chinese culture and are important to people’s everyday lives.

THE HISTORY OF CHINESE FOOD IN THE WEST he attitude of the West towards Chinese food has changed very much in the last two centuries, since there has been a radical alteration in western eating habits. At first westerners regarded Chinese food as a curiosity and treated it as an aspect of the exotic character of the country. From the late 18th century westerners’ descriptions of Chinese food became more hostile, and the Chinese list of foodstuffs and their methods of preparing them were sometimes dismissed with contempt or even disgust. By the 20th century a more subtle range of attitudes had emerged: some westerners recognised the achievements of Chinese gastronomy, some continued to find grounds for criticism and rejection, and others ate the food of the common people of China to demonstrate political support for their cause.

It was in the 1960s that, starting in the United States of America and then in England, from where it spread also throughout Europe, a new trend of exoticism started to taint the menus of restaurants and the kitchens of westerners. In her book From China To Chinatown: Chinese Food In The West, J. A. G. Roberts analyses the reception of Chinese food in North America and the United Kingdom. The book traces the opening of the first Chinese restaurants caterings for foreigners, and the beginning of the appreciation of Chinese cuisine in the west. It then examines the phenomenon of the mass acceptance of Chinese food, with the proliferation of Chinese restaurants and take-aways in the cities and towns of the western world, the increased availability of Chinese foodstuffs in shops and supermarkets, the injection of capital into the ethnic food market, the publication 43


Mooncakes are a typical treat during the mid-autumn festival in China.

of recipe books for Chinese food and the use of the media to popularize its consumption. n the book, two broad themes recur. The first relates to the analysis of images of other cultures and of attitudes towards other races. Harold T. Isaacs, struck by the contradictory notions of China and the Chinese shared by generations of Americans, once suggested the following sequence of attitudes: the Age of Respect (18th century); the Age of Contempt (1840-1905); the Age of Benevolence (1905-1937); the Age of Admiration (1937-1944); the Age of Disenchantment (1944-1949) and the Age of Hostility (1949-). Isaacs was quick to admit that these descriptions were crude, that expressions from different ages coexisted, and that the view of individuals might vary. It would be presumptuous to suggest that this study answers the question how images of another society are formed and perpetuated. However, by concentrating on a single theme, that of food, it does reveal the complexity of attitudes towards what is perceived as foreign. Present day attitudes to Chinese food may be manipulated by advertising and the forces of international capitalism, but the fundamentals of those attitudes were established over centuries of western contact with China. The second theme concerns how, when and why the eating habits of the inhabitants of the west have changed to incorporate Chinese food. This change is characterised by two qualities: it is cultural and comparatively recent. Although many books have been written on changes in American and British diets, their focus has been on gastronomical and medical developments rather that cultural change. However, the worldwide acceptance of of ethnic food id the outcome of a variety of influences of which gastronomical preferences and health considerations are only two. The author discusses a lot about the acculturation of Indian food in Great Britain, as the most dramatic example of the incorporation of ethnic foods. As an example she reminds the readers of a study conducted in 1977 through a Gallup poll that estimated that over 25 per cent of the British population ate curry at least


once a week. This popularity was attributed as much to cost and convenience rather as to aesthetic appreciation, and the same is true for much of the consumption of Chinese food, though other factors encouraged the trend. The author wants to trace how Chinese food came to achieve widespread acceptance in North America and Britain, and to do so she tracks down examples of moments when Chinese restaurants and Chinese food stores began to attract western customers, when Chinese food and Chinese cooking methods began to be welcome in western kitchens and on western tables and when westerners began to cook a version of Chinese food to eat in their homes. ccording to the author’s research the early stages of this switch happened because of Chinese enterprise and a modification on both sides: Chinese dishes adapted to suit western taste-buds and, later, the gradual alteration of American and English eating habits. The change accelerated, the author tells us, when the media began to popularise western food and when publishers began to include ethnic cookbooks on their lists. From this point forward, the history of the evolution of the conception of Chinese food in America and England is very close to the one in Europe in general. This interest towards ethnic cuisines spread throughout the western world as, we can say, a new way to get to know foreign countries. Scepticism was replaced by curiosity and a new need for open-mindedness. With the evolution of telecommunications and the quick technological revolution between the sixties and the seventies, along with the invention of television, communications among people became quicker. The airplane industry grew, people started to travel more, and farer. The great East was their to discover, and it became very vogue. Step by step, the world undertook a change that we now call globalization, and people started to want to know what was out there. Cuisines can say a lot about a culture, as I argued before, so eating ethnic food became in the west a way to show open-mindedness and get to know other cultures.




GLOCALIZATION OF CHINESE FOOD In order to match the taste of the people in different countries, chefs must adapt the original recipes and methods of cooking. Since the beginning of the 20th century we can say that there was a Chinese community in almost every country in the world, communities that grew very much in the last century, becoming strong, organised and well interconnected. These communities started as autosufficient realities in which people brought with them their traditions and habits, re-creating small versions of China wherever they went – hence the term China Towns. The main business in which Chinese people invested overseas was in the dining industry. Decade after decade Chinese restaurants and take-aways started to pop-up in every city. But the major part of westerners considered Chinese food as an easy and cheap option for a fast meal. Just a few entrepreneurs understood the potential of a Chinese cuisine luxurious dining market, for high-end clientele that was looking for an exclusive exotic dining experience. Even today, the grand part of Chinese restaurants in the west is very informal and cheap, just a few of them are high-class restaurants. There is one important thing to notice when talking about the exportation of Chinese food: the adaptation of the cuisine itself from country to country. In order to match the taste of the people in different parts of the world, chefs must adapt the original recipes and methods of cooking. As an Italian I can say that Italian

food outside of Italy is very different, usually creamier and less tasty. But Italian food in France is very different from Italian food in America, and China. Ingredients play for sure an important part in this matter, but the main reason is that people from different countries like different things.

From the exhibition A NATION OF NATIONS, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.

The same thing happened with Chinese food, which has been changed in a different way in each country. The best example can be made with fortune cookies, which in America are a typical treat in Chinese restaurants. But fortune cookies are an American invention. They originated in California, even if their invention is still debated. Unequivocally not Chinese, the fortune cookie may in fact not even be Chinese American. Fortune cookies became common in Chinese restaurants after World War II. Desserts were not traditionally part of Chinese cuisine, and the cookies thus offered Americans something familiar with an exotic flair. Early fortunes featured Biblical sayings, or aphorisms from Confucius, Aesop, or Ben Franklin. Later, fortunes included recommended lottery numbers, smiley faces, jokes, and sage advice. Politicians have used them in campaigns, and fortunes have been customized for weddings and birthday parties. Fortune cookies are the perfect example of how a cuisine can independently evolve when exported out of its native place.



Desserts were not traditionally part of Chinese cuisine, and the cookies thus offered Americans something familiar with an exotic flair.


n its adaptation to local taste, Chinese cuisine has lost a lot, both in richness and variety. This has brought many people to have a totally distorted conception of it, often in a negative way. Instead of spreading the Chinese food culture, Chinese restaurants outside of China invented new cuisines, usually making it less spicy, less flavoured and various. It must be considered that in the west much of the food culture has been influenced by religious beliefs that perpetuated in the centuries and shaped our modern way of eating. In China, instead, maybe due to the many periods of starvation, very few foodstuffs are excluded from the category of eatable food. Cows were not breaded in China, so bovine meat and dairy products are rare in Chinese cuisine, maybe also because of the influence from the near Indian country, were cows are sacred animals. But Chinese have learnt to use every possible ingredient, adapting to the surrounding environment in order to survive in any given condition.


Chicken feet, frogs, bugs, jelly fish, turtles, monkeys, cats, dogs: nothing is considered not eatable. But for westerners having a chicken foot as a snack is simply not conceivable, eating dog is an outrageous injustice and bugs are conceived with disgust. I don’t want to discuss who’s right or wrong, it is not my place to do so. But as a foreigner that chose to move to a different country I decided to be open about my food experience and actually tried some of the foodstuffs that in Italy are considered disgusting. Sometimes, I must admit, ending up appreciating them. These stereotypes ruined the reputation of Chinese food even in the west. People are often afraid of the “true nature of the ingredients” when eating at a Chinese restaurant, and this is one of the factors that brought to the common misleading belief that Chinese food is not healthy. Moreover, the circulation of these notions brought to life some very silly stereotypes that still nowadays condition the public opinion.






A CLASH OF CULTURES Shanghai became popular because it had a reputation of being multicultural, safe and a place where one could get rich quickly.

The Bored Bar Owner (1949) from DRAGON REPORT.

hanghai has always been the most multi cultural city in China. During the 19th and 20th centuries when Shanghai was a treaty port the city faced high immigration. The city was never part of the formal British Empire, but rather a part of the informal Empire – a place where Britain had influence but never formally controlled. Treaty ports like Shanghai became a place where foreigners went because they had special extraterritorial privileges. Foreigners could not be tried under a Chinese Court but had to face trial by their own country, even when the crime was against a native person. Shanghai became popular because it had a reputation of being multicultural, safe and a place where one could get rich quickly. The get rich quickly reputation attracted not only foreigners but also natives. Prior to becoming a treaty port Shanghai was barely a speck on the map, but the creation of an international port caused an economic boom that attracted people from all over the world. Shanghai was segregated like many colonial cities. The non-Chinese lived a small section of the city known as the International Settlement, whereas the Chinese lived in the older walled part of the city. Originally, both groups favoured this segregation as both foreigners and the Chinese saw it as a way of preserving their cultures. The International Settlement was not just inhabited by the British but from a wide variety of nations including British, American, French, German and Japanese. This meant that the culture in Shanghai was different from other colonial cities like Delhi and Singapore as it was more multicultural.


The city was also viewed by natives and foreigners as a place of refuge. During the Taiping rebellion thousands of Chinese people fled to the city as they believed that the international presence there made the city less likely to be attacked. Similarly Jews fled to Shanghai to escape persecution from the Nazis. The reason some 20,000 Jews fled to Shanghai was because unlike almost every other city in the world, Shanghai did not require any passports or documentation to enter. Although Shanghai housed lots of foreigners, 97 percent of the people in the city were Chinese. The increase in immigration was caused by the wealth that the international presence in the city had. It also must be noted that neither Britain nor the other nations in the city ever ran Shanghai; the land was always Chinese and the area that foreigners lived was only one section of the city. However people such as Mao Zedong as well as historians have described the city as semi-colonial. Shanghai has earned this status because it was part of the informal Empire and foreigners had special privileges there, but it was never formally colonised. Shanghai attracted people from all walks of life, from both in China and from abroad. They came for a variety of reasons, from seeking economic prosperity to escaping persecution. Yet despite attracting a wide variety of people the city still had two very different cultures which coexisted within the city: native and international culture. Although treaty port Shanghai was a multicultural city, the various cultures never fully integrated together.




FOREIGNERS IN SHANGHAI Nowadays, Shanghai is home to roughly 210.000 foreign residents. According to official data released by Shanghai’s Bureau of Statics and, foreign residents make up 0.91% of the municipality’s population. The Taiwanese are the largest group of foreign residents in Shanghai with a total 44,900, accounting for 21.6 percent of the foreign resident demographic. Some 29,700 Japanese make up the second-largest number of foreign residents, with Americans coming in third at 23,600. The foreign residents in Shanghai come from 214 different countries and regions. In Shanghai there are about 43,000 foreign students from 177 different countries and regions; many are from South Korea, Japan, and America, which has the largest number. And Fudan University has the most foreign students out of any Shanghai university (news.hexun. com). In this scenario it is necessary to start re-thinking a lot of services in the city to facilitate the interactions of its so many different stakeholders and allow them all to enjoy in an easy way what this city has to offer. Nanjing Lu, one of the busiest streets in Shanghai.



MANDARIN VS. ENGLISH Wrong translations are very commonly found in China.


eing such a good business opportunity, services for foreigners are abundant in Shanghai: it is more and more required of the staff in tourism related business, such as hotels, restaurants and bars, to be able to speak English. survey shows that China has a low proficiency in English. According to the Education First’s English Proficiency Index, a ranking of English-language abilities worldwide, after the last survey, which examined 1.7 million people in 54 countries in which English is not the first language between 2009 and 2011, China ranked 36th. China lacks an environment to practice English. Students have few opportunities to practice English outside of school and learning a language requires practice. Furthermore many Chinese students study English for tests.

However, many well-recognized tests, such as the national college entrance exam, still focus on reading and writing instead of listening and speaking, which leads to students failing to practice listening and speaking. Many foreigners living in China do not speak Chinese, or they can speak it at an elementary level. There is no official data on the subject, but Chinese being such a difficult language to learn doesn’t make it worthy of learning for all those that live in the country for a short period, let go for those that are only visiting shortly. Not having a common language to communicate is a great problem because it doesn’t allow a correct integration between Chinese and foreigners. This

means that Chinese and foreigners look at each other like strangers and they don’t have the instruments they need to truly collaborate and build a solid cultural exchange. When one moves to a foreign country it is wise to learn the language spoken in that country. But if he or she is visiting for a short time it is unthinkable to learn a language that they will speak only for a brief period. Learning a language takes a lot of time and in the case of Chinese Mandarin especially, it takes a lot of effort. But Shanghai is meant to remain the trade hub and cultural window on China and this problem of the language barrier will remain. I personally think it is one of the main problems of China nowadays and it needs to be solved or at least diminished. 57



hanghai offers a huge variety of cuisines, one for every taste for sure. Not only there are restaurants offering authentic Chinese cuisine from every region of the country, but also many restaurants offering international cuisines, from all the continents of the world. Due to the high percentage of immigrants from Taiwan, Japan and the United States of America, a lot of restaurants offer the cuisines from these countries. Italian, Spanish, French and Indian restaurants also represent a big slice of the pie. There are more than 20.000 restaurants listed in, a Chinese web platform for consumers to share information about the restaurants they go. lists 6.700 restaurants; lists 1160 restaurants; lists less than 1000 restaurants. Why is there such a big discrepancy between the number of the restaurants reviewed on the Chinese and the foreign friendly websites? First of all because is a user based review platform: all the venues reviewed and discussed are added on the list by the people that went to the restaurant and wanted to share their experience with others. Since its first launch in 2003 has grown into an


influential industry giant. It’s far and away the largest restaurant review site in China: it covers over 160 cities with more than 3 million restaurant reviews and over 6 million unique visits per month. This data show that there is an active and frequent participation by the users, which means that it is a privilege to be able to spot a new restaurant and be the first one to add it on the website and give a review.

simple shanghainese restaurant that is outside the radar of this kind of website. But let’s forget about these business-centred websites, and let’s focus on As much as, is a user generated content platform, so why are there so many restaurants missing from the huge amount present on the Chinese website - the number changes from 20.000 to less than 7.000?

Websites like and have a more vertical content power generation: it is the staff that chooses what to publish and the reviews are made by their writers. People are free to comment, that is true, but still, it is a different approach.

Maybe the solution lies in the fact that Chinese standards and Western standards are different: what’s worth reviewing for Chinese people might not be for Westerners, and vice versa. If we analyse the type of restaurants reviewed on westerners’ friendly website, we will see that the major part of them follow western standards: from the name to the branding, they are western restaurants in China, even serving authentic Chinese cuisine. Maybe all those cheap and not branded Chinese restaurants, that popup like mushroom all around the city are not considered worth a review by westerners. Or maybe, simply, the restaurants that we find on and the other websites like it get paid by the restaurant owners to upload reviews, so to attract western people and do direct marketing on them.

Moreover, those are website that make publicity to the restaurants: restaurants owners actually pay the websites to add their venues online and give it a review every now and then, in order to attract the attention of the clients. The restaurants that one can found on these websites are all foreign friendly, or at least have something noticeable: they are all medium-high standards or higher. But, according to which criteria? What is considered low priced on, for example, it is cheap according to western standards; but it is not cheap at all if compared with a small and






OBSERVATION Since the beginning of the research, I observed foreigners ordering food in Chinese restaurants and analyzed their interactions with the staff of the restaurant during the whole process. Here is a brief summary of my findings.

DIAGRAM 1 Crucial fractors in the ordering process.

SPEAKING MANDARIN he first important difference must be made among foreigners that speak a little Mandarin and those that don’t speak it at all. One might think that speaking some Mandarin may solve the problem of communication in such a simple task like ordering food, but that’s not always true. First of all if one’s level of spoken Mandarin is not sufficient, trying to speak and explain oneself could make it worse, for two main reasons: the vendor might not understand what the foreigner is trying to say or he might ask further questions regarding the request and the foreigner might not understand that. The result is almost always chaos, were both parties try to communicate with each other, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing. Furthermore, even if one can say a few words it is hard to understand words that one doesn’t know, or to ask the vendor for an explanation. The result is that foreigners learn how to say a few dishes and then end up always eating the same things.


Many foreigners can speak a little Mandarin, but not read, so when the menu is presented all written in Chinese, maybe printed on the wall for everybody to read, it is kind of disorienting. And even when one is able to read the descriptions of the dishes are not realistic, but more abstract, since they are meant to give a certain allure to the dish. So a dish of mushrooms and meat is described as a “velvet forest”, which doesn’t provide much information necessary to understand what the dish is made of. If we then think of all the dialects and different accents that Chinese people speak, understanding Mandarin is not easy and this can lead to many misunderstandings and a lot of stress in communication, most of all when one is hungry or feels lost. Concluding, speaking a little Mandarin is not sufficient to ensure a clear communication an a good dining experience: at the contrary it can cause many problems in the communication process and stress for both parties.
















UNDERSTANDING CHINESE CUISINE hinese cuisine has a great variety of regional cuisines and dishes, and it varies very much from restaurant to restaurant according to the type. When a foreigner comes to China he might not know about the great difference there is between the many types of Chinese cuisine, and most of tourist are astonished by how different and various it can be. Getting to know the real flavours of Chinese food is for sure one of the most interesting parts of the trip to China, but it can also be confusing, Some people may not like spicy food and end up in a Szechuan restaurant, only to find out that all the food served is spicy. Travel guides and websites offer very good descriptions of Chinese regional cuisines and can be of great help in understanding the kind of dishes one can find in each restaurant. Smartphone applications also give a good understanding of the issue, and there are many of them: the app store is full of travel guides for China, both free and with a fee. It is true, though, that it is not that easy to understand which type of cuisine is served in a restaurant when one walks into it by chance. In my personal experience I noticed how there actually is a visual code to identify the different kinds of restaurants according to the regional cuisine they’re serving. First of all there are some characters written in Mandarin after the name of the restaurant that indicate the type of cuisine served there. But again, if one cannot read Chinese they cannot figure it out. Second of all there are recurrent patterns in the way restaurants are designed, depending on the type of cuisine served. The easiest example are Mongolian Hot Pots. In this type of restaurant 64

customers order raw food (from meat, to vegetables or noodles) and then boil it in a pot full of broath set at the center of the table on an in-built flame. The first time I walked into an Hot Pot restaurant with my friends, we had no idea of what we were doing: we were really surprised to find a boiling pan of water in the middle of the table and we did not know what to do and how to manage the experience. We ordered blindly from the menu, which was a list of food written in Mandarin and we found out what we ordered just when the food was brought to the table. We did not know there was a logic to follow in putting the food in the boiling water and that we had to wait to finish to eat some before putting more to cook. We ended up with a lot of over-boiled food, some of which we would have never ordered if just we could understand the menu. It was a really bad experience. Small accidents occurred in other occasions, like trying to order xiao long bao, which are dumplings typical of the Shanghai region, in a Dong Bei restaurant (Beijing region), or asking for fried rice in a soup restaurant. The point is that, as much as discovery is part of the travel experience, having some basic information to enjoy the experience at the most is much better. This is not the biggest issue in the matter of helping foreigners eating in China, I agree, but it’s still an issue worth considering: keeping in mind the relevant trend of food tourism and the possibility of improving the dining experience in China, so to enhance a new kind of tourism, not helping travellers to understand what they are about to eat and not giving them the means to look up for further information on the Chinese cuisine heritage is a lost chance to create the ideal environment for food tourism.

FEAR TO EAT t is very common to listen to conversations among foreign tourists or residents in Shanghai and hear complaints about the look of the restaurants or the hygiene and clineliness of the place. People from different cultures have different standards in these matters and in the case of China it takes some time for a westerner to adapt to the local standards. Many westerners visiting or leaving in Shanghai eat just in western friendly restaurants also for this reason. But doing so they lose the experience of a simple and authentic Chinese restaurant. Of course one must feel comfortable and sure about what they eat, but sometimes prejudices win over and deny the opportunity to eat good and authentic local food just because of the look of the restaurant. Hygiene is not the only concern though: we must also consider the fear of westerners for low quality ingredients and the nature of the ingredients themselves. People think that in a cheap restaurant they will eat cheap food, which therefore will be of cheap quality. This assumption is not wrong itself, but it brings to a wrong conclusion in the opposite situation: high prices equal high quality. In China there are many food scandals: we hear that rat meat is served instead of lamb meat or that frying oil is used way over its maximum exploitation possibilities. All this news keeps on terrifying western customers, who then eat just at expensive and westernized places. Unfortunately though prices on the menu do not ensure high quality, as much as low prices don’t automatically correspond to low quality. Chinese standards are hard to understand for foreign customers and this factor must be held into consideration.

A MUTUAL FRUSTRATION ommunication issues don’t only create problems and stress for foreigners that face the challenges of eating in China, but also for Chinese food vendors. Some food vendors are already scared when a foreigner walks in, feeling the pressure of the language barrier even before they try to speak. Sometimes foreigners try and order food in a Chinese restaurant but can’t because the food vendor is so afraid to fail in the communication attempt that he panicks and cannot manage the communication attempt. Sometimes they even refuse to serve foreigners. The major part of food vendors are scared at the beginning, but when they see that you can actually speak a little Chinese or that you manage somehow to make yourself understood they calm down and try to help you as best as they can. When travelling to a foreign country dining can be the main occasion for tourist for a cultural exchange, since dealing with the food vendors is a necessary task for any tourist. But when there is a language and cultural barrier this exchange can be stressful. If two persons don’t share any common code they will easily experience frustration when trying to communicate and in the worst cases even argue or get angry. Inter-cultural communication must be managed in order to ensure a pleasant experience for both parties. Chinese food vendors need new tools to manage the daily interactions with foreigners, with whoom they don’t share any code, as much as foreigners need them. For this reason I unnderstood I should design something considering both parties at the same time. 65

QUESTIONNAIRE Javier answering to the questionnaire on his ipad, on surveymonkey, at Captain Youth Hostel.

In order to get a clear understanding of the communication problems between foreigners and food vendors, I made a questionnaire for non mandarin speakers foreigners in Shanghai. The main goals of the questionnaire were: understanding foreigners’ attitude towards Chinese food; understanding foreigners’ knowledge about Chinese food; understanding the tools used by foreigners in their dining experience; understanding the main communication issues in food related activities when travelling to China; understanding the main concerns of foreigners when dining in China; understanding the appreciation of foreigners of their dining experience in China; understanding how to improve the ordering processes in Chinese restaurants and the best case scenario. The questionnaire was made both online, using, and in person, in order to reach a wider target. In order to find tourists that did not speak Mandarin and travelled to China, I tried to find the best place where to meet many of them all at once. After giving it a thought, I arrived at the conclusion that hostels where the best places where to start. I wanted to focus on


young people that didn’t have a very big budget for their trip. Why? Because they are those seeking the most for a cheap and good meal, possibly close or simply found on the way during their daily toursist activities. In a survey made in 2012 young people aged between 18 and 32 years old instead, listed “respecting the budget” as one of their main concerns when travelling (UNWTO). I targeted three hostels, all of them central and famous among foreigners, the best rated hostels on and Rock&Wood International Youth Hostel (Zhong Shan Park), Utels Youth Hostels (Jing’an district) and Captain Youth Hostel ( the Bund). I went there with printed copies of the questionnaire and found as many people as possible that accepted to do the questionnaire. ost of the respondents were under 30 years old; 47% of the respondents were aged between 18 and 25 years old; 46% of the respondents were aged between 25 and 30 years old; only 7% of the respondents were aged between 30 and 40 years old. 51% of the respondents were females and 49% were males, so the division between the genders was equal enough.


How do you feel about Chinese food?

Frightened Disoriente d So and s o Enthusiastic Othe r 0%






During your trip in China, how often have you looked for information in travel guides, on the web or on smartphone applications in the following tasks?

Finding a restaurant Understandin g Chinis e cuisin e Communicatin g with the f ood vendor s

Neve r Sometime s

Learn some food relate d Mandarin

Ofte n Very often







Did you find Chinese food in China much different from Chinese food in your country ?

Yes No 68








of respondents answered very positively about their attitude towards Chinese food and declared to be enthusiastic about it. Almost 8% of them said they felt frightened and were afraid of what might end up in their plate or of the quality of the food. 18% of them answered that they also felt disoriented and they didn’t know what to order and that even if they didn’t dislike Chinese food, they still preferred western food. I also gave them the possibility to express other thoughts and feelings in an open answer option. Out of a total of 40 people I interviewed, 16 of them wrote comments about food scandals in China: rat’s meat being served in restaurants instead of lamb meat, the blue milk scandal, poisonous substances in canned food and general comments on how the media in western countries often talked about the low quality of food in China. Overall, the results were quite positive. Talking with people everyone said they were really surprised to find out how good Chinese food tastes in China and that they enjoyed the food very much.

TOOLS USED IN FOOD EXPERIENCE esults, I must say were much different from what I expected. Most people answered that they used travel guides, websites or smartphone applications never or just sometimes in order to get information about dining in China. 42% of respondents said they never used such tools to better understand Chinese cuisine (39% did it sometimes; 13% often; 5% very often). The tasks for which they used tools often or very often were mainly for communicating with the food vendor and to learn some food related Mandarin (20% for the first task and 25% for the second), while the major part of the respondents answered that they used it sometimes (34% for the first task and 43% for the second). Still, 20% of the respondents said that they never use tools in these tasks. In order to find a restaurant to eat, the major part of the interviewed people answered that they use such tools sometimes (37%) or never (31%), while just 18% of the respondents said that they use it often and 13% very often. The main tools that respondents used were dictionaries and applications to translate words in their language in Mandarin (mainly Pleco). The second most used ones were websites, such as and google translate, and travel guides (mainly the Lonely Planet).

AUTHENTIC CHINESE FOOD hen asked if they had found Chinese food in China much different from the Chinese food they had eaten in their country, almost all respondents answered positevely. 98% of the people I interviewed answered yes. The tiny 2% of people that answered no then commented that they didn’t like Chinese food very much, neither in their home country nor in China. It was quite an obvious answer to quite an obvious question, to be honest. But I wanted to obtain this data: I wanted to have a reassurance on what I had given for granted till that moment, in order to be able to prove that it wasn’t just a mere assumption. 69

Which one of the following regional cuisines did you get to know in your trip and which one did you already know?

Yue (Guangdong , Cantones e) Chua n (Szechuan) Hui (Huizhou )

Su (Jiangsu , Shanghainese ) Lu (Shandong)

Min (Fujian)

Mongolia n Hot Pot

Xian g (Hunan )

Zhe (Zhejiang)

Xinjiang Islami c Barbecu e Tibetan Cuisin e

Not familiar with a ny or some of the abo ve

Afte r Before







During your stay in China, have you ever been to a small local restaurant where English was not spoken?

Yes, but they ha d a menu with pictur es Yes, the menu di d not ha ve pics, but I managed Yes, the menu di d not ha ve pics an d it’s been ha rd

No 70







REGIONAL CUISINES his question was meant to establish how much tourists knew about Chinese cuisine before and after their trip to China. I asked them to tell which types of regional cuisines they knew out of all the existing, before and after the trip. Not surprisingly, nobody knew them all before the trip to China, and a big part of the respondents still were not familiar with any of them, even after the trip (77%). The main cuisine that respondents already knew before coming to China was Cantonese cuisine (50%). But almost everybody had tried at least four out of the eleven enlisted in the question. The results indicate that there isn’t a good knowledge about Chinese food overseas, but that people are interested in knowing it better when they travel to China.

SMALL LOCAL RESTAURANTS eople were then asked if they had ever been to small, cheap, local restaurants in their trip. To be honest I expected at least some negative answers, but, at the contrary, everybody did, even if facing some problems. The grand part of them only went to restaurants with pictures, and said that they only go to those restaurants because it is easier for them to order food. A good portion of the interviewed, though, had been to restaurants that did not have pictures on the menu, all having problems communicating: 50% of them still managed to order food, while 42% said it was very hard to communicate. Data was surprisingly positive, since it demonstrated that people want to try authentic small restaurants, but have problems communicating their desires. On the other hand this data also means another thing: there are many restaurants in Shanghai where English is not spoken. 71

If you ever went to a Chinese Restaurant where English was not spoken, which of the following issues did you encounter most frequently ?

Having t o order blindly Understandin g which dishes were ser ved Vendor couldn’ t understand m y request Vendor panicke d because I don ’t speak Chinese I ended up with a di sh I didn’ t want/lik e I tried, bu t simply ga ve up






Which kind of information does your ideal menu provide?

Type of meat used Presence of particular ingr edients Flavour of the dish Cooking T echnique Temperature of the dish




MOST FREQUENT PROBLEMS hen asked which were the main problems encountered in restaurants where English was not spoken, respondents, which were given the possibility to check more than one option (multi-choice closed question), answered all quite the same thing: the main problem was that they had to order food blindly, because they did not understand what kind of ingredients there were in the dishes (57%), while 50% of them said that they were not able to communicate their wishes to the food vendors. 40% of the respondents said they had problems understanding which kind of restaurant it was (which kind of Chinese cuisine) and an average of 33% said that they ended up with food they didn’t want or like or that the vendor panicked because they couldn’t speak Chinese. In the comment section three people wrote that they were “kicked out of the restaurant” because the food vendor refused to serve them because they didn’t speak Chinese. Ten of them said that they usually pointed at food that other people was eating, so at least they knew what to expect.

wanted to understand which kind of information could be most useful to help people in ordering their food. After having understood which could be the main issues when ordering food and what interested people the most, I made a list of some important elements. The main question was whether or not menus with images was enough for people to understand: 40% of them said yes, but at the same time they checked some other option. I don’t know if this is a mistake I made in phrasing the question, but I think that the main message was that even if they feel comfortable enough with menus with images, they would also appreciate if some extra information was given. 66% of the respondents said that they would like to know the type of meat used in the preparation of the dishes and, in the comments, 20 people said that they would like to know if there is any meat at all: 6 of them were vegetarians and wrote that it happened many times that they found meat or meat-based sauce in what looked like a vegetarian dish. An average of 43% said they would like to know also the flavour of the dish (salty, sweet, sour, etc.), the cooking technique (pan-fried, fried, steamed, etc.) and the presence of particular ingredients (meat, milk, eggs, etc.), and 34% would also like to know the temperature of the dish. In conclusion all the options were fairly recommended as helpful information to add in the menus, but the presence and nature of the meat used in the preparation was the most urgent matter judging by the results. 73

THE OVERALL EXPERIENCE he last question was meant to establish how the interviewed people judged they overall dining experience in China: respondents were asked to rate different tasks in a closed question, in a range that went from very bad to very good. The first matter was the taste of the food: 55% of the respondents rated it as very good, and 32% said it was good; only 11% of the respondents judged it acceptable and 2% mediocre. None of the respondents said it was very bad. So, obviously this data shows once again that westerners like Chinese food. The second aspect that I asked to rate was the quality of the food: 42% of people answered that according to their experience the quality of the food was acceptable and 29% said it was good; both the grade mediocre and very good got a share of 10%, and 8% of the respondents said it was very bad. According to the data most people 74

didn’t consider the quality of the food such a big issue in their food experience, even if they don’t consider it very good. I then asked people to rate their understanding of Chinese cuisine, after the beginning of their trip: the major part of the interviewed people answered it was acceptable (42%) or good (29%), and only 8% said it was very good; but 21% of the interviewed people said it was mediocre, while nobody judged it very bad. This data highlights the necessity to help people in getting to know better Chinese cuisine while visiting China. Regarding the communication with the food vendors, most of the people said it was acceptable (36%) but not many less judged it mediocre (29%) or very bad (21%); only 13% of the respondents listed it as good, and nobody chose the option very good. As I expected, communication problems with the food vendors constitute a big issue in travellers’ dining experience.

Comparing the results of the previous question to those regarding the help people had received by food vendors when ordering food, it is clear there is a problem: 26% of respondents said that they were not helped by food vendors, and another 26% judged the help received as mediocre; 21% of respondents said it had been acceptable or good, but nobody answered very good. Finally The major part of the respondents said they had developed acceptable (39%) or very good (35%) skills in ordering food at Chinese restaurants; Almost 8% said they developed very good skills, 13% answered with mediocre, while just 5% said they were still very bad at ordering food.

ANALYSIS OF THE DATA Analyzing the data obtained through the survey was not easy and took a lot of effort. First of all some of the data appeared incongruent or controversial. Second of all, giving almost at every question the possibility to express a further comment, I had a lot of information to organize. In the end, I tried to understand the answers and make an average of the incongruent answers. The overall results demonstrated that there is a deep interest in Chinese cuisine, but mainly focused on the experience, better than on the theory: respondents noted that even if they don’t have a perfect understanding of Chinese cuisine, they don’t consider it such a problem. They would like, though, to be able to manage in a better way their food experience, most of all when it comes to the practical part: eating. The questionnaire highlighted how people would like to better understand what they could order in the different restaurants and what are the ingredients

used in the preparation of the dishes. Meat seems to be one of the main concerns, not only for vegetarians: many people expressed a dislike for some kind of meat or the fear to eat kinds of meat that for them are unusual (frog, donkey, etc.). Communication problems, as expected, are widespread in the food experiences of any non-mandarin speakers travelling in China: on one hand people said it was hard to order because they did not know what they could order, on the other hand they said they had special requests that were not understood. Many of them experienced misunderstandings with the food vendors and ended up with dishes they did not desire, or they had to order blindly. Some considered the last matter in a positive way, since they accepted it as a part of the experience of travelling to a foreign country, but still they encountered problems or didn’t like the dish. Those who had certain issues, either medical or related to their preferences or lifestyle, gave a negative feedback about this topic: having to order blindly for someone that strongly dislikes one or more types of food, easily ends up in a failure. Many respondents said, in the comments that, after a few negative experiences, they started to go only to foreigners’ friendly restaurants, either because they were tired of putting so much effort in their dining experience or because they were afraid of possible failures. Concluding, the questionnaire revealed that the overall situation for foreigners travelling to China is acceptable, but can be improved very much. The analysis of the data gave me many ideas and highlighted the issues on which I should research more. How to enhance new ways of interaction to facilitate the communication between Chinese food vendors and foreigners? Where is it that a design intervention is most needed? And finally, how can I design a system that provides users with the desired amount of information, being versatile and easily accessible?


In order to get a deeper understanding of the issues faced by particularly problematic targets, I interviewed two people. Going around hostels to look for youngsters visiting Shanghai, I met Alessia, an Italian girl who is vegetarian, and Javier a Spanish guy allergic to seafood. These two people were kind enough to discuss with me their food experience in China, after they finished their questionnaire and helped me understand the problems and challenges they encountered during their trip. And it was inspiring.

lessia is 26 years old and had been travelling in China with her friend Turchezia for almost one month at the time of the interview. Alessia is vegetarian and told me that it hadn’t been easy to maintain her diet in China. She told me she had translated the sentence “I’m vegetarian, I don’t eat meat” when she was still in Italy, using Google Translator, and printed it out. She had brougnt it around with her travelling in China, but it didn’t work. Apparently, even if she showed the note to the restaurant staff, she had still been served some meat: ham, bacon, minced meat, all used in the preparation of rice dishes or vegetables dishes. Even if she tried to show to the waiter or waitress that there was some meat in the dishes, they answered surprised, telling her that was not meat. Most Chinese people don’t consider those ingredients meat, for them it’s just something that gives taste to the dish; untill there’s no substantial piece of meat in a dish

the dish it’s not considered meat based and so not worth considering. She then told me that a Chinese guy, hearing of her misadventures, wrote a new note for her and that one turned out working. Curious, I translated the note and the result was quite enlightening. It said:” If this woman eats meat, any kind of it, she will get very sick”. No wonder things changed with the new note! As funny as it was, this chat helped me understand how vegetarianism is not conceived by everybody in China yet, most of all by the owners of small and cheap restaurants, that are simple people, most of the times not even from Shanghai. If the food vendors were simply told that she didn’t eat meat, they understood that she didn’t eat dishes that consisted mainly of meat, but some meat was considered tolerable. But once they were told that it was a matter of health they took the matter seriously and avoided giving her any kind of meat. Maybe, in order to really avoid the problem, one should exaggerate.


“ Since I don’t speak Mandarin, I printed this sentence in Mandarin when I was still in Italy and showed it to the restaurant owners every time I had to order. It says “I don’t eat meat”, if google translator didn’t trick me. But it didn’t take me long to understand that the concept of vegetarianism in China is not main stream yet. You tell the waiters you don’t eat meat and they’ll nod their heads and serve you tofu floating around in minced meat. Or, your eggplant will in a pot that also contains tiny meat pieces. Or, like once when I was in Yunnan, I ordered tofu that came with slices of pink ham. -But I don’t eat meat! I told the waiter. –No meat! She replied. Luckily, when I talked about my problem to a Chinese guy working in a hostel we were staying at, he wrote a new note for me. I have no idea what it means, but it’s working much better, I haven’t been served meat almost every time I showed this one! ” (The new note said: “If this woman eats meat, any kind of it, she will get very sick”, Ed.)

Alessia, 26 years old Italian, vegetarian, travelling alone in China, does not speak Mandarin (2013).



Javier, 25 years old Spanish, allergic to seafood, does not speak Mandarin (2013).

“ In my experience in China I noticed there is a tendency to serve up foods with items not requested. A person may specify that they are allergic to seafood, and still be served fish or a small amount of shrimp. When I pointed this out to the server, they were likely to respond “it is just a little bit”. It is important in China to be very clear with the staff about what foods you are allergic to and the consequences of eating even a small amount of the food. If you do not speak Chinese, you should probably have this information printed out on papers that you can give to the server to take to the kitchen. Personally I bought a travel translation card online on it has been very useful, even if sometimes, as I said, it was not taken seriously apparently. Other alternatives are to eat in hotel restaurants where communication is less of a problem and the concern is more likely to be well understood. But that is such a limitation! ” avier is allergic to sea food, and said that he had faced many problems in his dining experience in China. He said that he was conscious that a lot of Chinese cuisine used sea food also before coming to China, so he bought a translation card online, which stated that he had a health condition for which he could not eat sea food or sea food derivates. According to his experience, most food vendors understood, but some of them seemed not to understand his problem and, feeling insecure, he went to another restaurant to avoid any risk. To face this challenge though, Javier had bought some medical translation cards online, that stated exactly that he was allergic to seafood , both in Mandarin and Cantonese, a card that he had brought around everywhere and showed to the kitchen staff everytime he had to eat at a restaurant. I didn’t know such cards existed and it was really inspiring seeing that something had already been done in the matter.


Unfortunately, though, Javier told me that this card as well translated as it was and as official as it looked, didn’t always work. In fact he told me that he had been served small amounts of seafood even after having shown the card to the stuff, and when he tried to complain with the waiters they answered that the amount was so small that they didn’t see any problem. This example was particurlarly helpful and decisive for my research. If not even this kind of cards had solved the problems of an allergic person, maybe the problem went beyond communication, the language barrier or the ability to explain something in the right way: it is a cultural problem, one that has to deal with a mind-set more than with a common code. That is why I decided to give up on allergic people issues. I chose to focus on common people’s problems, without targetting particular odiences. Translation cards for medical issues will not be included in my service.






BRIEF After the desk research and the field research it was clear which way the projects had to evolve. On one hand I wanted to improve the interactions between foreigners and Chinese food vendors, giving them the means to communicate with each other. On the other hand, I understood it is necessary to make the dining experience of a nonMandarin speaker in a Chinese restaurant in Shanghai more predictable, without taking away the discovery factor, though. My research question at this point was: How to design a codification system that is universally understood by both foreigners and local food vendors, in order to improve the everyday face-to-face interactions among them related to the consumption and purchase of food? The project is meant to create interest and curiosity among foreigners travelling to China about Chinese cuisine, taking away the stressful part of the experience, while enhancing a new approach to food related activities. Alessia, trying to communicate with the waitress of a restaurant.





CONCEPT Creating a set of translation cards designed to respond to the needs of users in communicating with Chinese food vendors and understand the cuisine they are being served, using both written language (Chinese and English) and icons.

he results of my research led me to the conclusion that the best way to proceed was to focus on standard needs that non-Mandarin speakers have when travelling to Shanghai. Thanks to the questionnaire I understood which were the most common needs and what people wanted to be able to communicate the most. Thanks to the interviews, instead, I understood that the Chinese mindset towards food related issues is much different from ours, and so the only thing a foreigner can do when travelling to China is to embrace it and accept that there will be things out of his control. There are, though, basic needs that everybody have felt and that are quite easily satisfiable. Most of the times people just want to be given simple information, such as the type of meat used in the preparation of a dish or the presence of a particular ingredient. That is how I formulated the concept: a set of translation cards designed to respond to the needs of users in communicating with Chinese food vendors and understand the cuisine they are being served, using both written language (Chinese and English) and icons.

Translation cards allow an immediate understanding by all stakeholders and iconography helps in clearing any doubt. In this way foreigners can get familiar with Mandarin, learning some easy words and can feel safer in trying something new, wether when talking to the waiters or trying some new specialty.

The first draft of the cards.

The cards will be small enough to fit in a wallet, so that people can bring them around and use them whenever they need them. They are the simplest way to respond to the needs of the target chosen during the research. They are designed for all: they are a physical output, made of paper, no need for a particular technology or device; they are cheap; they are immediate and simple; they perfectly fit the goals of this project. These cards could answer to many needs: the key of the project lies in identifying which is the best way to structure the contents of the cards and the scenarios for which to design them. The goal of the project is not to create a dictionary or an encyclopedia of Chinese cuisine, but to enable non-Mandarin speakers to communicate with food vendors. 87



FLASHCARDS Flashcards for kids by MUDPUPPY Plastic models of spaghetti at an Italian restaurant in Tokyo.

lashcards are a learning tool to help people to memorize thanks to a direct and immediate visual layout. There are flashcards for kids, that can play with them to learn names of things, while getting used to recognize letters. Or they can be designed for adults, to learn much more complicated content, to prepare exams or to organize the study material. What makes this card so effective its their immediate visual communication. Information is usually


divided on the two sides of the card, so on one side we will find a question ad on the other one the answer to the question. Flashcards that are designed for the study of languages present the word or sentence to translate in one’s native language on one side, and the translation in the language one is studying on the other. In the case of Chinese flashcards, they can also present the pin yin translation, which is the official phonetic alphabet to use with Chinese characters.

JAPANESE PLASTIC FOOD MODELS o find a series of iper realistic plastic dishes in a Japanese restaurant is quite common. This popular habit in Japan is also quite useful: in fact it solves many problems of communication between food vendors and clients. By showing models of the food, restaurant owners can immediately communicate the idea of the dish to everybody passing by. These models solve more than one problem: on one hand they avoid misunderstanding with clients

giving them a very clear idea of what they are ordering, on the other hand they attract clients, who maybe passing by the restaurant will decide to stop for a meal or a snack. What I want to emulate from this reference is the immediacy: I want my design to be as immediate and simple to get as these models are, and I want them to clear out doubts in the same way they do. Plastic models imply, though, that all the dishes are standard. My goal instead is to design something flexible, able to adapt to any dish. 89






lashcards will be designed to respond to standard needs among non-Mandarin speakers in China. They will solve three kinds of issues: understanding the cuisine and the dishes one is being served; discovering new dishes and ask for help to th waiter or waitress when ordering; providing users with basic tools for a more relaxed experience in Chinese restaurants.

he poster works like a secondary menu: a menu for the menu. It contains all te basic questions one could want to ask and all the basic attributes for the questions. It is designed to help people to ask questions about food in any kind of menu one could find in a Chinese restaurant. Content is divided in tabs for an easier interaction and it is organized in categories.



he mobile application contains both the cards and the poster. It also allows the user to creat their own cards. Being digital, it comprehends a bigger amount of information (not having physical restraints): users can choose from a great variety of actions and ingredients, attributes and objects, organized in alphabetical order, and compose their own translation cards.

n order to help Chinese restaurant staff to get familiar with the translation system, it would be ideal to design also a pamphlet, containing all the necessary information to better understand how to use the different outputs to optimize their interactions with foreign clients. In this way the staff of the restaurant will be the first promoter of the service, offering the cards and the menu to their customers. 91



UNDERSTAND hese cards are designed to help users to understand standard information about any dish or food. They present a question on one side and the options for the answer on the other. From the type of meat present in a dish to the presence of particular ingredients, they allow users to ask basic questions and express their desires or particular requests to the waiters. 92

EXPLORE he cards to explore are thought for brave users who want to give a try to Chinese cuisine in an unexpected and playful way. These cards basically help users to ask for help to the waiters in choosing their meal: they are formulated to directly ask to the staff of the restaurant to choose for the user a dish, wether it is the signature dish of the restaurant or a simple dish of noodles. 93


BASIC TOOLS n order to allow users to better experience Chinese cuisine, without the stress of having to try to communicate a very simple request with gestures or theatrical skills. They represent common requests that one could want to pose at a Chinese restaurant: from chopsticks to soy sauce, from white rice to cold water. Being a collection of words, and not sentences, they are also fun to learn. 94




DECIPHER he poster is meant as a menu for the menu: it allows the user to ask questions and formulate requests ina very basic way. There some tabs containing questions or actions and some others containing the complements of th sentence. By pointing at different tabs, users can articulate a discourse and interact with waiters in order to exchange information. 96



PROTOTYIPING In order to test the system I organized a prototyping experience. I identified different types of restaurants, that had different menus: one only in Chinese, another with the menu written in Chinese but with pictures of the food, one with Chinese and English translation of the names of the dishes and the last one with all three attributes (Chinese and English description of the dishes and pictures). I simply gave the prototypes of the cards and the poster to the testers and told them to analyse them and then use them as they saw fit. Results have been positively surprising: foreign testers and Chinese waiters have begun to use the printed devices in their own way and started to play with them in a very interactive way. Waiters did seem surprised and doubtful at the beginning, when shown the devices, but then became curious and even enthusuastic about them. I was really surprised to see the output of my research working so well and testers also gave me many ideas on how to improve the service or to exploit at its best. They all asked to keep some of the cards with them, finding them very useful and practical. It was a very good result indeed. Pictures of testers trying to order using the cards and poster system.






hat I liked the most was the part of the poster to ask which kind of meat there is in a dish: since I moved to Shanghai I haven’t learned much Mandarin, except for the addresse of my apartment, and everytime I go to a restaurant it takes so much effort to order. I only eat chicken meat, so I always end up ordering the same thing: kung pao chicken. At least now I can discover something new!

really enjoyed this method of ordering food. I’ve been to Shanghai for a week now, and it has been so challenging to eat at restaurants not being able to speak Mandarin. I think there is a big potential in this system and I reckon it would be perfect for a mobile app: in this way I could always have his favorite cards with me and use them anytime I need them.



have no idea why nobody thought of this before: it is such a great asset for a tourist travelling to China. I’m in love with Chinese food, but it is so hard to understand what you’re about to eat. Since I travel a lot I thought this system could be applied to any country: there could be a version for any country and it could solve problems related to food experience for many tourists.

he poster is genius! I loved how it helped me in having a conversation with the waiter, even if mute. I’ve been leaving in Shanghai for a couple of months now, and it’s so frustrating not being able to communicate with people around you. I think the poster could become a sort of table clothe, something that you find on the table of the restaurant directly, as a courtesy to foreigners. 101






t could be interesting to insert the cards and the poster in travel guides: in this way there could be a version of them for each country, for each culture, in order to avoid intercultural communication problems and ensure a good travel experience in food tourism. Furthermore, it would represent a huge business opportunity and a it would actually create a standard among tourists.

he idea consists of a series of cards that offer a fair range of typical products or dishes of the Shanghainese region, for example. These cards would promote local products and local cuisine, enhancing a new sense of discovery among tourists and enabling people to taste the typical delicacies of that region. From drinks, to seasonal delicacies, there’s a huge potential to explore.

KILOMETRE ZERO s it would work with the regional cuisine cards, it could be interesting to design a set of cards that enable users to ask to food vendors for local products. In this way not only tourist could find out typical dishes of a certain region, but they would also be the promoters of a sustainable behaviour in food consumption in China, where this trend still has to bloom. 103



BIBLIOGRAPHY [1] MONTANARI, M. (2004), Food Is Culture, Laterza, Roma, Italy; [2] ROBERTS, J.A.G. (2002) China To Chinatown, Chinese Food In The West, Reaktion Books, London, England; [3]WU Y.H., CHEUNG, S.C.H. (2002) The Globalization Of Chinese Food, Curzon Press, Richmond, England; [4] Koester, J., Lustig M. (2012) Intercultural competence: Interpersonal communication across cultures, Lavoisier, Paris, France. [5] Elishakoff I., Ren Y. J. & Shinozuka M, Variational principles developed for and applied to analysis of stochastic beams. Journal of Engineering Mechanics, 1996,Vol.122 (6): 559-565 [6] POOLE, S., 2012, You Aren’t What You Eat: Fed up with Gastroculture, Union Books, London, England; [7] SPENCER, H., 1851, Social Statics, or The Conditions essential to Happiness specified, and the First of them Developed, John Chapman, London; [8] POLLAN, M., 2007, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A NAtural History Of Four Meals, Large Print Pr, London; [9] QUAN, S. & WANG, N. 2004, Towards a structural model of the tourist experience: An illustration from food experiences in tourism, Tourism management, vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 297-305; [10] UNWTO, World Tourism Organization (2012) Global Report on Food Tourism, World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Madrid, Spain; [11] HALL, C.M. & SHARPLES, L. (2003). “The consumption of experiences or the experience of consumption? An introduction to the tourism of taste” in Food tourism around the world, Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford, pp. 1-24 [8] JIANG-RONG LI, YUN-HWA (2004). “Traditional Chinese Food Technology And Cuisine”, Asia Pacific Journal, pp. 147-155;


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Ringraziamenti Ai miei amici e colleghi, Roberta, Francesco, Mattia, Riccardo, Vincenzo, Angelica, Salvatore e Viola, con i quali ho condiviso un pezzo di vita che non dimenticherò mai. A Milena, e a tutte le api che hanno ronzato in quell’alveare. A Giulia, Alberto, Alice e Anita, che mi hanno cambiato la vita. A Ambra, Petra, Barbara, Francesca, Silvia, Sara e Andrea, per esserci sempre, anche se io non ci sono. A Nicol e a Maria, le mie sorelline acquisite. A Rossella, oh mia vecchia madre! A Biagio, pezzo di cuore. A Meme e Jeanot, per avermi insegnato che cos’è l’amore. Ai miei nonni, che mi porterò sempre dentro. Ma soprattutto ai miei genitori, che mi hanno dato tutto, incondizionatamente. Ce la metterò tutta per diventare la persona che voi vedete in me. Grazie.



I developed my Master's degree thesis during an exchange program in Shanghai. The project focuses on the design of a product service system...

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