This month we will take a tour of the world of restaurants in the Eur / Ostiense district of Rome, which has always been very rich in 360° proposals. Let’s start by telling the Chinese culture and culinary tradition thanks to the chef Gianni Cataniwho awaits us in his dumpling bar. Who among us has eaten, at least once in their life, in a Chinese restaurant? They appeared in Italy about thirty years ago and over the years they have made more and more room in the taste of Italians, especially the youngest. Partly because they represented a novelty and brought original flavors, partly for the economic costs especially with the formula “All You Can Eat”however, often at the expense of quality.
Fortunately, today we can find Chinese restaurants of excellent quality and many of them are defined fusion, that is, they mix oriental cuisine with western ingredients and preparations. However, there are few who offer real traditional Chinese cuisine like the dumpling barprecisely. Gianni Catani he is a true enthusiast and lover of traditional Chinese cuisine, a distant but fascinating cuisine, a cuisine that often also becomes a philosophy of life. During this time the dumpling bar doubled, in fact on May 28 the Dumpling Bar Maceratawe can also find the Chinese chef’s dumplings Catania at the Olympic Stadium for SSLazio’s home games.
Hello chef, when was your passion for Chinese cuisine born?
There were two events that made me fall in love with Chinese cuisine. The first was in 1984 when I went to New York with my parents. One day, I took a two-hour tour alone in Chinatown and I was fascinated by it, I was struck by the fact that I was in a dimension out of time. The other event is related to my mother who in the past had a driving school and where the Chinese were often rejected, even several times. When, finally, they were promoted, they organized dinners where I went with my mother. They took place in a two-story restaurant of traditional Chinese cuisine for the Chinese.
In one the Italians ate, in the other the Chinese and I was always with them until they took me to see the kitchen. There I was shocked and I started to get passionate about this cuisine. I am writing a book about my bizarre history related to Chinese cuisine where I tell these stories and others and my small steps until today flanked by the Chinese Master Chef Jing Shan.
What does this kitchen represent for you?
Meanwhile, he represents a dream come true. Then the knowledge of a culture, a constant journey through flavors, smells and landscapes that only those who go there can appreciate. The charm of a people more than a kitchen. In China, there are eight regions, ranging from the sea to 3000 meters above sea level and they have more than a million unique recipes!
Can you tell us some ingredients or dishes of traditional Chinese cuisine?
In Sichuan, for example, there are very spicy dishes where the degree of spiciness is chosen on a scale of 0 to 9. The Chinese are very fond of vegetables, but they also make enormous use of pork. For example, I am fascinated by duck, I ate it both in Beijing and in Nanjing which is the homeland. There are restaurants that prepare up to 35 different duck dishes and eating them almost gives you an orgasm. The particularity lies above all in the kitchen which is a real ritual. The duck can cook for up to 12 hours in a cherry wood oven from centuries-old trees, it becomes very tender and melts in your mouth.
We come to his ravioli, does he follow traditional recipes or is there something unique to him?
When I went to China, I was attracted by the quick dumplings, which differ depending on the region, and the homemade spaghetti. My dream was to open a restaurant specializing in Chinese dumplings and another in artisanal spaghetti. I succeeded by opening the dumpling bar and the Lamian Bar, although the latter is currently closed. I was helped by the best ravioli chef Simone Tsanga Hong Konger for forty years in Italy.
We made a whole series of different types of ravioli, all original Chinese recipes but using products from the Italian sector of course. In southern China they make steamed dumplings, while in the north they are boiled, in this case the dough is thicker and they are all closed. In Hong Kong street food there is an endless sample of these dumplings and we have replicated many of them, we have at least 50 types that we rotate periodically. We were the first in Italy to open this type of place and were even copied by the Chinese themselves.
Is it true that the Chinese don’t eat dumplings too often?
It’s so true! In China, there are specialized places, but they consider them a heavy dish and at home they prepare them once / twice a month. Dumplings are first of all a New Year’s rite, the whole family gathers around the table to make them, in one of them we put a golden penny inside and whoever finds it, according to the tradition, becomes rich.
What response did he receive from the Romans? Have they learned to appreciate Chinese cuisine differently than what we are used to?
They responded unexpectedly. At first we couldn’t handle some situations due to the number of people queuing outside the restaurant, huge success! Even today the answer is important even if others similar to us were born in Rome, we are probably also chosen for our history, for the presence of the Master Jin by my side. We also take great care of the customer, we pamper him, we pass between the tables and we tell the story of this cuisine.
What is your goal with traditional Chinese cuisine in Italy?
The explosion of the pandemic due to Covid forced us to take different paths, the idea of cooking ravioli at 70% was born in order to be able to export them and it helped us a lot, so much so that it turned into a real business. We collaborate with many restaurants throughout Italy. We came to export not only dumplings but a full menu, restaurants just need a big steamer to finish cooking. This allows us to go everywhere! If before the dream was to open many restaurants, now we try to offer other restaurants which obviously must represent us, must like this cuisine, must have our philosophy. A trusted man controls them and trains them in the kitchen, becoming a kind of family franchise.
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