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Chinese Food Is Addictive Because Of Opium?

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Chinese food can be addictive, and Chinese authorities are concerned that restaurants are exacerbating the problem by adding opium to their dishes. Alex McClintock takes a look at the lengths to which Chinese chefs will go to leave their guests satisfied.

Lobster, noodle dishes and hot pot are the most common targets. A few months ago, a man failed a police drugs test. He hadn’t taken any drugs and suddenly had this idea that the drugs in his system were from the noodles he’d had at a small shop for lunch.

Fuchsia Dunlop, a food writer, chef and the first westerner to train as a chef in the Szechuan Institute of High Cuisine in Chengdu, has had firsthand experience of the practice.

“About 10 or 20 years ago I was in Szechuan and I went out with some friends to a town to visit some other people. They made hotpot for lunch, so we sat around in the kitchen around this bubbling cauldron of chillies and Szechuan pepper and we used our chopsticks to cook our own food. As the afternoon went on we just got more and more relaxed until everyone just felt drowsy.

We all went and fell asleep on beds and sofas and I can still remember having this absolutely blissful sleep. When I woke up I went back into the kitchen and I noticed that there were poppy heads bobbing around in the broth.”

According to Dunlop, adding opium to food was banned in China in 2008, and a crackdown has all but ended the practice in large commercial restaurants. It’s still possible at small, family run restaurants, though, thanks to a lack of health and safety oversight.

“A few months ago there was the tale of one man who failed a police drugs test. He hadn’t taken any drugs and was completely mystified, and suddenly had this idea that it was the noodles he’d had at a small noodle shop for lunch. He persuaded some of his relatives to go back there and try some of the noodles too, and they then failed drug tests. It’s definitely going on.”

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