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Amber: Hey everybody! Welcome back to Amber and Victor’s Chinese Buffet. I am Amber.
Victor: 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo), 我是 (Wǒ shì) Victor.
Amber: And today we have a new segment, Victor.
Victor: Oh, what is it?
Amber: Think everyone’s going to like it. It’s called ‘Belly Up’ because it has something to do with the belly. Because what we do in this segment is we feature a unique food or drink of Chinese culture.
Victor: This show can go on forever on Chinese food.
Amber: We have many episodes to come and we talk about the cultures surrounding the consumption of it.
Victor: Okay.
Amber: So, today we’ve chosen something probably the most obvious one if we were going to start with the drink. No, it’s not Coca-Cola. No, it’s actually Chinese rice wine.
Victor: Yes.
Amber: Better known to those of you who have been to China as…
Victor: Baijiu.
Amber: Yes, the infamous ‘baijiu’. Now, I don’t know if everyone has tried it before but maybe we can just start off with some of our personal impressions of baijiu.
Victor: Sure.
Amber: I’ll never forget the first day I smelt baijiu. I smelt it before I drank it, which possibly is a mistake. I’d recommend don’t smell before you drink. It’s not like a fine red wine that you want to swirl around.
Victor: Just down it.
Amber: Just hold your breath and down it. You know what it smelt like to me, Victor?
Victor: What?
Amber: It smelt like…it actually even tasted to me like band aids. Like that plastic latex smell of band aids. I don’t know why but the second I smelt it, it wasn’t like oak or like cherry. It was band aid.
Victor: It’s like the Chinese version of vodka and it’s much more intense in a way.
Amber: Yeah, it’s clear. It’s a clear distilled liquor.
Victor: It seems quite innocuous but when you get to taste it, you’ll realize your world has turned upside down.
Amber: Exactly. But that’s also because, though it looks like it’s similar to vodka, in fact it has a significantly higher alcohol content than vodka, than any of the other Asian clear spirits. For example, the soju or whatever, those Japanese or Korean liquors. It’s actually 80 to 120 proof, so it’s 40 to 60 percent alcohol by volume. So, if you compare it with the vodka, vodka is usually 35 to 50 percent.
Victor: So, this one is much more…
Amber: Almost can be double.
Victor: See, this is where the real party is at in China. They thought the Russians were tough. The Chinese are even tougher.
Amber: Exactly. So, now you’re finally going to get a chance to try it hopefully if you go to China. Well, in fact you probably will try it if you go to China.
Victor: Yeah. Chances are it’s everywhere.
Amber: It is. And especially on special occasions which many people feel that a foreigner coming and they invite you to dinner, this is a special occasion. Lucky for you!
Victor: Something they have to bring out the best stuff, right? It’s like the real thing.
Amber: That’s right. So, basically baijiu… do people drink it every day, Victor? Is it like something you have with your meal or, what is the deal?
Victor: Some people do actually, especially the older generations.
Amber: Especially the alcoholics.
Victor: But you know, it’s not something where you just down the bottle or anything. They usually have a small glass, like a shot glass of it with a meal or whatever, just for the taste. Some people actually enjoy it if they grow up with that kind of stuff, which I will never understand but a lot of people actually do.
Amber: So, beyond that, probably the times you’ll definitely encounter baijiu as well are such occasions as business dinners, for sure.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So Victor, let’s talk for a minute about baijiu and the business dinner.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Well, basically Chinese business is done not in the boardroom so much. The big deals are done over the dinner tables.
Victor: It’s more about the personal connection in a way.
Amber: Yes.
Victor: And of course, food having such importance that as in Chinese culture, the dining table is a lot of times where important things happen.
Amber: That’s right. And I think what happens is the baijiu actually greases the wheels of the business deals.
Victor: Yeah. Definitely. You cannot do it without it.
Amber: So, I think that what happens is everyone gets really drunk and then things are agreed upon, which is really remarkable. It’s quite a talent I’m sure. And I feel like perhaps the underwear Westerner that comes and gets really drunk on baijiu perhaps might get the raw end of the deal. You have to be careful. But anyways, what’s going to happen is they are going to sit down and start toasting.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Toasting is a big part of the culture of baijiu.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Well, first of all you have to learn what’s an invitation to toast sounds like.
Victor: When people are trying to make a toast to you, it’s very polite to pour the liquor for other people.
Amber: Before they will into your glass.
Victor: This is one thing you notice in Chinese eating cultures that you never just pour things for yourself. You’re going to always have to look around you and do if other people… Sometimes, it can be a problem when you don’t want anything but just out of courtesy, you have to accept it. Usually it’s poured into this little glass like a shot glass and they’ll raise their glass and say ‘Gānbēi!’ Of course,that’s the very famous phrase to…
Amber: The Chinese toast. The Chinese cheers.
Victor: Right. ‘Gān’ means to try to dry out. ‘Bēi’ is the glass. So, you have to basically finish the glass.
Amber: So the culture is, say you’re at a business dinner, maybe manager or whoever is the boss, he will pour out the baijiu. Is that right?
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: And then when they ‘Gānbēi!’ you have to finish the whole glass, or can you sip it?
Victor: Sometimes, they specify. Whenever someone’s making a toast, they’ll say ‘to your own will’. If you want to drink all of it, it’s fine. If you don’t, that’s fine. Sometimes they’ll say. Otherwise, they will specify ‘let’s just drink it all’.
Amber: And you have to do what they say. If you want the deal, you better do what they say.
Victor: Sometimes it’s more about like the emotions of the moment. They feel happy, let’s just drink it all. That’s fine. If not, you do whatever you want.That’s fine too.
Amber: Okay. So, would it be rude to excuse yourself? Is there any excuse you can make?
Victor: Not exactly. I’ll say, if you’re a foreigner and comes to the China for the first time and if you really don’t like it, then people probably won’t push you too hard into it. But traditionally, it’s something you cannot refuse. Yeah, that’s the bad part I guess.
Amber: So, I do have some tactics which I can offer up for everyone.
Victor: What do you have?
Amber: Well, I don’t like to be rude but at the same time, you don’t have any idea what a baijiu hangover is. I’ve heard it’s like death. But my tactics have prevented me, fortunately, from ever having one. Well see, I think there is usually like a teacup also at the table. So, what you do is maybe you just take a sip and as on the way back to the play, you dump the thing. Or even maybe in your plate if you already finished the food.
Victor: Do it very discreetly.
Amber: Yeah. Or, if I didn’t, I could pretend I drank the whole cup but really, I only took a sip. They wouldn’t be offended. When they’re going to pour it again maybe they’ll notice there is still liquid, but by that time they’re probably too drunk to notice.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: That works too.
Victor: I remember seeing skits on TV about just making fun of companies and sometimes even officials like they’re always drinking and trying to do business in that way. And sometimes, there is one really funny thing about this company hiring a PR person and they’re requirement is you have to be able to drink other people down to the table, underneath their tables.
Amber: Because they need someone they know to keep it together to close the deal, right?
Victor: Yeah. So, drinking is as important as your other skills.
Amber: Your job skill. It’s true. I’ve heard that as well. To be a real manager, you need to be able to drink baijiu.
Victor: That’s probably more of the extreme versions of things, I’d say. But you know…
Amber: But it’s definitely part of the culture of business dinners in China, drinking baijiu. Also, lots of family celebrations, any holidays, you’re going to see a lot of baijiu coming out.
Victor: Pretty much all the occasions that you could go into.
Amber: Now, here is a few more tips. Back to my tips on how to handle a baijiu. I mean, let me give you three. If you have to drink it and you really hate the taste, which you are probably going to hate the taste, I’ve not met one person that really enjoys the taste of baijiu.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: It’s more of a duty. So, what you do is if you drink it, just immediately have a chaser. Like maybe you can also ask for a Coke. So, you drink it and then you immediately put the other liquid in your mouth to get rid of the taste. That works. Another actual warning, not really something you can do, but just don’t inhale. This is important. When it comes after you… yes, I told you the smell is bad, but if you inhale it’s so strong that the fumes is going to burn your nose. So, do not inhale while you’re drinking which will have the added bonus that you will smell…
Victor: You sound worse and worse as you goes on.
Amber: Well, as an added bonus, you won’t smell band aids when you’re drinking and feel grossed out. And then the third thing is, this is a really good tactic – swallow it with strong food. Because Chinese food, a lot of it has really strong, spicy flavors. It actually is okay when you do that.
Victor: When people say, when you get all the fat or the oil, the grease in your stomach, it kind of protects your stomach or body from the alcohol.
Amber: Yeah, exactly.
Victor: Some people do argue that. Yeah, they do say that as well.
Amber: Yeah. I think that a good match to the baijiu flavor would be some Sichuan, like dish that’s full of hot peppers, although I do fear for your stomach.
Victor: There’s a party in your stomach.
Amber: Anyway, those are three tactics you can try. Now, no wonder baijiu is such a part of the culture because the other thing is, it’s very cheap. Well, it ranges right, Victor?
Victor: Right.
Amber: You can go into convenience stores and buy a bottle for 8 to 10 Renminbi, which is like barely a dollar or so. So basically, if you’re thinking about it, it’s actually cheaper than water. It looks like water so…
Victor: What is this say about the Chinese, huh?
Amber: So, if you need to save money... I mean, if you drink the baijiu, your employer won’t know because it looks like water. But anyway, it may be a way to up your tolerance as well by increasing your intake on baijiu on a day-to-day basis.
Victor: Let’s talk about some of the current brands that are very common that you’re going to see in China.
Amber: Yeah. Please Victor, can you give us some recommendations?
Victor: Sure. Let’s go from the bottom up. The most common one is called ‘èrguōtóu’.
Amber: And this is the kind you’ll see in the Korean stores for a dollar.
Victor: And it’s usually in Beijing and in that area and people will drink it a lot and go with meals which is at home. Very casual, very cheap.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: Also, a very famous one is called ‘wǔliángyè’. It’s about a level up. Slightly fancier. And the average is about 50 US dollars a bottle.
Amber: That’s really expensive.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Does it taste better, Victor? Like every single one I’ve ever had taste the same.
Victor: Yeah, exactly. It’s kind of hard to tell. I think you have to be like a professional…
Amber: We need like a baijiu tasting.
Victor: You’ll be out like halfway through, I’m sure.
Amber: That’s the problem.
Victor: Some very ancient of this ‘wǔliángyè’ can go up to 100 US dollars per bottle. And now comes the most expensive. It’s called ‘máotái’. Máotái is actually a little town in southern China and historically has been able to produce the highest quality of baijiu. And this is the most expensive of all. It averages about 100 US dollars per bottle. That’s on the cheaper end and depending on the years that has been made and all that, it could go up much, much higher than that.
Amber: So, maybe the problem is I’ve been drinking the cheap baijiu.
Victor: You just got to have the real thing, Amber.
Amber: The color rosy of wine or something. Maybe I need to get like some fine French wine equivalent to baijiu. Well, speaking of where it’s made and everything, what is it made of?
Victor: Baijiu is usually distilled from sorghum and different parts of the country in China are different variations. In Southern China, usually they are made of glutinous rice and in Northern China, they are generally made of wheat, barley and millet.
Amber: Yeah. So basically, any old grain sounds like it will do.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Maybe it changes the flavor a bit? I’ve realized from this research, Victor, that perhaps I have knocked the baijiu before having a thorough understanding of the baijiu.
Victor: Yeah, there are a lot more to know. Historically, it’s been a very popular drink as well. It’s not just modern times. Actually some of the literary giants that historic big figures, big poets from the Tang dynasty to present times, most famous one being 李白 (Lǐbái) is probably the biggest Chinese poet historically ever. Basically, in modern terms, he was a big drunk all the time. He would just find his inspiration from drinking all this wine, all the baijiu and he would make references to the wine.
Amber: Even like oath to baijiu.
Victor: But, of course it sounds very poetic. It sounds very good, you know.
Amber: Like a tortured artist. Drunken, alcoholic.
Victor: But when you actually interpret it. just look at it from a simple point of view, he was just drinking.
Amber: When you bring it out, he’s probably up in his room drinking.
Victor: But he wrote a lot of great stuff with that.
Amber: Okay. I’m going to try that.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Next time, I’ll write a podcast. We’re going to have some baijiu.
Victor: Bring it up here! We can do that on the job.
Amber: No, no, no. We will put it in our water bottles and we’ll get down.
Victor: Right. So, that’s about it for today.
Amber: Yeah. I’d just like to say gānbēi, Victor. Clink.
Victor: Gānbēi.
Amber: Sign off?
Victor: I hope we didn’t scare any people off.
Amber: Yeah. Basically, you’ve got to try it. Actually, you have no choice. You will end up trying it. So, that’s it for the Chinese Buffet today and if you want to learn more Chinese or about Chinese culture, make sure come visit us at chineseclass101.com. We have lots of lessons there that can give you lots of insights about China and also teach you to speak Chinese. 再见 (zàijiàn)!
Victor: 再见 (zàijiàn).