Food and art fair

The Family had already explored the route our evening’s stroll was to take, so the walk was more purposeful than usual. We gawked at life on the streets of Guangzhou as we walked up Di Shi Fu road to a pedestrian section of the Kangwang South Road. A fair was in progress. I love these little fairs whether they are the Christmas markets of Germany, the weekly farmer’s markets of rural India or a different flavour of fair in China.

My eyes caught on my favourite Chinese sweets, versions of the Indian chikki or tilkut (tilgur). Nuts or sesame seeds are bound together with sugar or molasses. Wonderfully high calorie snacks. When I first found them in Japan, I was astonished. Then I found them in Korea and China. I suppose they independently invented, although it does not seem unlikely that Buddhist monks would carry these as sustenance as they trudged across Asia. In any case, this seems to be too humble and readily made to be carried as trade goods.

I tore myself away to get caught at the stall of dried fruits. This is something done well all over Asia, from the west to the east. Having seen the incredible variety in a food market in Xi’an a few years ago, my guess is that it came to China from west Asia over the silk route, and then from China it spread to the rest of Asia. I’m guessing, but one reason this might be true is that the only dried fruits in India are those that came directly from trade with Arabia. China and India had very little contact in the last thousand years. Even today, if you see dried pineapples, jackfruit, or Kiwi in India, it is likely to have come from Malayasia or Thailand.

Food was the main purpose of the fair, of course. But the peculiarly Chinese touch was that there was a large area where an art auction was in progress. I’d noticed in Guangzhou how invested people were in art: it was not uncommon for people to be seen doing painting or calligraphy, and it was not uncommon for others to stop and watch. Here in the middle of the fair I saw people were buying paintings and works of calligraphy at the auction; those are the red plastic covered tubes in the hands of people.

The Family and I stood there and watched the auction for a while. We are ignorant of the niceties of calligraphy, but the quick brushwork and washes of the paintings were techniques I’d learnt as a child. The mastery of these methods was very evident in the work being shown. Chinese contemporary art is very avant garde, but it seems to be rooted deeply in traditional techniques. The auction proceeded rapidly, much too rapidly for us to follow. We enjoyed the paintings as they were displayed one by one, and then walked back into the thicket of food stalls.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

7 comments

  1. I think all people have dried fruit forever since it was one sure way to preserve it and it’s lighter to carry. I think it probably happened spontaneously, like a random handful of wild grapes hung withered on a vine and some wanderer tried them and said, “Good!” Native Americans dried local berries — here chokecherries, wild plums and buffalo berries — to preserve them and they also smashed the fresh ones into the venison and other meat they hunted for flavoring and to help preserve the meat.

    The only dried fruit I remember in Guangzhou were salted plums. Sweets were SO rare — only raw sugar cane, sometimes sesame/honey candies, and pastries from the Moslem restaurant. I wish I knew the address and could tell you where it at least used to be.

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  2. Reminds me of the fairs that used to be a regular feature at Shillong when we were kids and the visual that remains in my mind looks much like this one. There used to be heaps of grams and churmuris of various colours piled up . Enjoyed it again!

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