Nineteen years ago, McDonald's debuted a popular, Chinese sweet and sour dipping sauce - Szechuan Sauce - as a marketing gimmick tied to Disney's release of their new Mulan movie. Watch this commercial advertising the new sauce and movie:
When McDonald's retired the sauce, customers have missed it ever since. Recently, Rick and Morty, a popular Adult Swim animated show, went on air and asked McDonald’s to bring it back. After all, a new live action Mulan comes out in 2018, so it would be a good time to add Szechuan sauce back into the repertoire. The idea caught on, as Twitter users immediately began tweeting at McDonald's to get them to bring it back.
McDonald’s responded in a way that wasn't a definitive answer to their customers' requests:
Nevertheless, liberals took the moment to be outraged over the idea that McDonald's would bring back the Szechuan dipping sauce. Yasmin Tayag does not like it that "the country’s elaborate cuisine and varied flavor profiles were likewise distilled into that catch-all sweet-spicy-sour Chinese condiment... and served up alongside all-American chicken McNuggets."
She writes, "Sichuan (the traditional spelling) is just one of the country’s 34 provinces — but it’s obvious that this instance of cultural and culinary reductionism doesn’t seem to hold as much weight. It’s not hard to imagine why." Actually it is hard to imagine why, but thankfully she goes on to explain that this controversy is good because it causes Americans to really ask what Szechuan sauce actually is.
That’s like asking an American what Southern sauce is — it isn’t anything. Sichuan province (which actually wasn’t recognized formally until the year 1286, well after Hua Mulan), with its spice-filled complex flavor profiles that include gustatory sensations like tingling numbness from Sichuan peppercorns and fiery heat from New World chilis, has a number of sauces, none of which are singularly representative of the region.
She goes to write:
Rick and Morty fans deserve to have their appetites for this now-mythical sauce sated, but not in relation to a live-action remake based on real Chinese folklore and culture. Asian-Americans already suffer from consistently one-dimensional portrayals in the media and only rarely get the opportunity to educate others about the differences between entire Asian nations, let alone nuances within an individual culture. Ultimately, what the Szechuan sauce effect does is flatten cultures that Western society deems too complex, too other to consider more carefully, and Asians have too often fallen victim to that judgment.
It sounds like another instance of a liberal looking down her nose at what normal Americans do -- run into McDonald's for a quick bite, not a lesson on Chinese history or on the cultural nuances of various regional foods. No amount of liberal hand-wringing will change that.
Photo credit: Flickr