Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Kung Pao Potato: Can China Learn to Love the Spud?

Chinese tend to associate the potato with foreign French fries. Now the government needs to turn the tuber into part of the national diet
Potatoes might be popular at this McDonald's restaurant in Shanghai, but they aren't widely eaten in China

Potatoes might be popular at this McDonald's restaurant in Shanghai, but they aren't widely eaten in China

Photographer: Kevin Lee/Bloomberg

The potato doesn’t get a lot of respect in China, where rice and noodles made from wheat typically dominate the dinner plate. Ask a Chinese Mainlander to name a popular potato dish and the likely reply will be McDonald's French fries—and that's in a country where fine national cuisine is a point of pride. The potato does show up in the meat stews in the northeast and alongside chicken and mutton in the far northwestern Muslim region of Xinjiang. One of the few widespread potato dishes eaten across China is served shredded and sautéed with green pepper in vinegar.

Now the Chinese government wants to turn the potato—known as tudou, or "earthy bean"—into a popular food in order to better utilize scarce farmland. In preparation for the starchy future, China's agriculture ministry announced plans earlier this month to double the land devoted to spuds production from five to 10 million hectares. China is already the world’s largest potato producer, with annual production of 90 million metric tons in 2013, according to Zhang Hongzhou, an associate research fellow at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. Most of this production is for domestic consumption, but given China's huge population, per capita potato consumption is low.