Innovation is perhaps the driving force behind the rise of China, and this is evident from the streets up to the highest skyscrapers.
As I’ve been traveling around China I’ve been collecting photos and videos of many of the interesting and innovative street kitchens that I’ve come across. From an old man making popped rice with an antiquated pressure cooker to a woman baking sweet potatoes out of something that looks like a sheet metal dresser, I’ve been trying to document it all.
Squeezed in between a vacant mall and a string of cheap restaurants in the Zhengdong New District of Zhengzhou, I came upon a husband and wife who were running a mobile kitchen off the back of their tricycle cart. They laid a board down over the small cargo bed of the bike, thus repurposing it as a table, and then built up a mobile kitchen on top of it. But what was truly interesting about their set up was that they were not cooking on a gas or wood fed stove, but out of a clay oven.
I focused in on the oven, as it was a remarkable specimen of crude though effective craftsmanship. It was basically two roughly cut metal domes that were fastened together to make a pod. A hole was then cut out of one side to allow easy access to its innards. The top of the oven was caked in brown clay. Inside of the oven was a bed of dirt with hot coals laid on top.
They were making the type of Central Asian influenced flat bread bing that Muslims often make in China, but I did not ask them about their ethnic affiliation. The woman would knead the dough and then hand it off to the guy, who would slather it in oil and spices and then toss it directly upon the coals inside the oven. It was only a matter of moments before each disc shaped piece of bread was cooked, and I watched them kicked out a stack of bread in very little time.
China has one of the most innovative cultures on the planet. Give someone a stick and a piece of wire here and they will make what they need out of it. Innovation — the ability to use what you have in new ways to get what you want — is a mentality, and it is one that is often culturally derived. As China modernizes, electronicizes, and becomes more and more reliant on the factory goods it creates, I must wonder if this innovative spirit will continue. As far as people doing and making things for themselves, well, that’s a dying tradition, but the type of intelligence and “it is possible” attitude that’s necessary for taking a couple metal discs and making them into an oven may be the same as that needed to quickly adapt to tech trends or even to build an entirely new city.
China has re-rigged capitalism, global economics, development, technology — they have taken a stick and a piece of wire and made something with it that nobody imagined could be possible. Innovation is the driving force of this country, this is a culture that takes what they can get, absorbs outside influence and technology, flips it around a few times, and makes what they want out of it.
Perhaps there is a lot that you can realize about a culture from looking at a crudely made clay oven street kitchen.
Next post: Easter In China
Previous post: A Journey to Zhengdong, China’s Largest Ghost City