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SAQ in Hot Mess Over ‘Mongolian Fondue’ Recipe

A revision to the recipe some are calling “insensitive” and “dishonest” is currently in the works


A recent post featuring a recipe for a “Mongolian Fondue” on the website of Quebec’s provincial alcohol monopoly, the SAQ, has drawn criticism on Instagram from those concerned with the amount of research and care put into the entity’s recipe development.

The recipe features on the SAQ’s Inspiration page — part of their “Fondue at the Cottage” recipe series — and includes such non-Mongolian ingredients as coconut milk and lemon grass. It is also complemented by sambal oelek, an Indonesian chili sauce featured in many of the SAQ’s generic “Asian” recipes.

A post on the SAQ’s Instagram page yesterday prompted commenters to decry the recipe for being dubbed “Mongolian,” some even calling it “malhonnête” (dishonest). Among them, local food blogger and Chinese-Asian cuisine specialist Jason Lee (Shut Up and Eat) commented: “If you’re going to create a pseudo recipe for the sake of selling wines, at least make it believable instead of yellow-washing a bunch of ingredients because they’re Asian and anything ‘Asian’ fits in the same bucket.”

Rachel Cheng, a Montreal-based food activist who regularly leads discussions about race and food, commented saying, “I hope you understand that calling this recipe a Mongolian fondue is like calling Breton crêpes French pancakes — it just doesn’t happen, as these foods and their cultures are distinct… I suggest that the SAQ invest in anti-racist training. It may seem anodyne to someone who is not Asian, but in reality, similar gestures erase distinct cultures and show insensitivity.”

Meanwhile, author, food blogger, and Chinatown guide Victor Yu, said, “No way it feels Mongolian — the ingredients are very south-east Asian. Mongolian is more focused on spices and lamb.” Yu recently penned an extensive article, for new Montreal-based Asian food magazine Bon Baos inaugural issue, dedicated to hotpot, the name used in China for what is known in Quebec as “fondue chinoise”.

In it, he describes hotpot traditions across China and the region, from Beijing-style lamb to Jiangsu-region chrysanthemum flower hotpot, Yunnan mushroom, and Guizhou sour and spicy fish hotpot. While Yu refers to a southern-style hotpot in Hainan (south China) made with coconut and chicken in his piece, there’s not a goji berry in sight, and Hainan is over 3,000 kilometres away from Mongolia.

Subsequent to the pushback on Instagram, the SAQ commented on Instagram this afternoon, saying the following: “Thank you for your constructive comments about the recipe. We will revise the article and recipe name. Our team is currently working on this revision. We want to let you know that it’s an important matter for us and we apologize to the communities that might have been offended.”

Shortly thereafter, the SAQ modified its Instagram post to read “hotpot” rather than “Mongolian Fondue.” As of 5:30 p.m. on Monday, the SAQ published a revision to the post, which changes the name of the recipe from “Mongolian Fondue” to “Chinese Fondue” and includes the line, “For an exotic twist, why not try our recipe inspired by Chinese fondue?”

In response to Eater’s request for comment, the SAQ provided the following:

As you can guess, we had no intention of offending anyone. In order to present a variation of the traditional fondue, we wanted to trace the origins of Chinese fondue and that’s the reason why we are talking about Mongolian fondue. In no way were we trying to pretend our recipe was a traditional Mongolian fondue but we do recognize that this could be confusing. To avoid any more ambiguities, we changed the title and we also quickly made changes to the text. This clumsiness is quite involuntary. It reminds us, however, that we must be more vigilant to avoid such misunderstandings in the future.

Update: January 18, 2021, 5:40 p.m: This post has been updated to include information that the SAQ has subsequently revised its recipe post.

Update: January 19, 2021, 9:00 a.m.: This post was updated to add a comment provided by the SAQ.