PETALING JAYA: Chinese and Italian food have long been popular cuisines known for their distinct flavours and diverse dishes.
However, the reputation of these cuisines has taken quite a beating as interest has plummeted worldwide after the viral outbreak.
According to culinary website Chef’s Pencil, Google Trends has shown that Chinese food, once the undisputed ethnic food champion in Canada, the USA, the UK and Ireland, has lost much of its allure.
Starting in early March, overall interest in Chinese food has dropped by 33% worldwide.
This means far fewer people are searching for Chinese restaurants, Chinese takeaways or for Chinese foods that can be bought in grocery shops.
Interest in some countries has plummeted dramatically, with Spain showing a 73% drop in interest for Dim Sum while Japan had the most drastic drop of 96%.
US and Australian Chinese restaurants are reporting far more empty tables than usual, with usually busy eateries completely deserted.
This trend is not limited to certain cities but is in fact a generalised phenomenon.
With 45,000 Chinese restaurants across the States generating US$20 billion in annual sales, the panic that has struck could end up causing economic repercussions.
There has also been some instances of xenophobia, with certain Japanese restaurants refusing to serve foreign customers.
Italian food has also taken a beating in terms of interest in it, as the Covid-19 crisis worsens there.
On a global scale, interest in Italian food has plunged by 24%, with neighbouring France noting a 25% drop.
Spain again saw one of the biggest drops, amounting to 43%.
Fewer people, particularly in the UK, France and Spain, are searching locally for Italian restaurants and Italian foods.
Google Trends data may mean slower business for local Italian restaurants and shops selling Italian produce.
On the bright side, countries like Germany and Switzerland have not seen the trend catching on. The data shows that only some culinary favourites are being rejected.
While worldwide Japanese and Korean cuisines have also suffered a drop in interest, food from Mexico and Thailand, which have so far been minimally affected by Covid-19, is still as popular as it ever was.
Interest in Thai food will have to be monitored as Thailand does have more Covid-19 cases than Mexico and it’s too early to tell whether it too will fall off the menu.
What is causing this?
Why are people giving up their favourite foods? Probably, a fear that restaurant employees have visited the affected countries and brought the virus back with them.
Or that the virus has been brought in with the food products themselves.
Racist attacks on Chinese people have been increasingly reported worldwide. It appears that other than illness, the Covid-19 crisis has led to a spread of xenophobia and racism as well.
But there is a world of difference between physically assaulting someone because of their ethnicity and staying away from certain cuisines.
Behavioural science experts say there is a difference between disaster panic and general panic.
During disaster panic which happens during natural disasters, people have knowledge and information. They make rational decisions about how to respond.
But in a general panic over a public health issue like a virus, it is more like a silent, invisible enemy – no one knows when or if it will strike.
That’s when irrationality rises; and the less official information people get, the more irrational they become.
Once fear and panic set in, people start to look at the world in terms of what is safe and what is unsafe.
According to Monic Schoch-Spana, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, sorting the world in this way gives us a sense of control.
So safe people, unsafe people; safe places, unsafe places. And, of course, safe food, unsafe food.
The good news is it won’t last, according to psychologist Katharina Wittgens.
History shows that these “panics usually decline after a month when people have had time to think more rationally”.
So Chinese and Italian restaurants simply have to outlast the crisis, and the hungry customers will come back soon enough.
To read Chef’s Pencil report, written by Caroline Williams, for yourself, visit https://www.chefspencil.com/interest-in-chinese-italian-foods-plummets-world-wide/