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All eyes were on Yellen during China trip. People noticed she's good with chopsticks

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrapped up a trip to China this week. She had important issues to talk about, like working with China's leaders to avert a global financial crisis and warning them not to supply Russia's defense. But what a lot of people in China wanted to talk about was what Yellen had to eat. NPR's Emily Feng has more.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Among Chinese gourmands, the consensus is Yellen knows what's up with Chinese food. This week, she hit up an American-style brewery.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: So you've got the IPA. I've got the lager. And I can taste the American hops.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

FENG: A Cantonese restaurant in the Lao Chuan Ban canting in Beijing. The restaurant is a staple for anyone who loves the always-spicy-sometimes-sweet sophistication of Sichuan cuisine - and a favorite of this correspondent as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LI QIANG: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: That's Chuan Ban chef Li Qiang talking to Chinese state media. And Chef Li says approvingly that Yellen ordered dishes like mapo tofu and twice-cooked pork that are full of authentic Sichuan flavor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

QIANG: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: Chef Li says Yellen told him the food was very delicious and she'd be back again. This obsession with where Yellen eats on her China trips and how much it costs reflects just how much people in China love their food. It's also a sign of how closely U.S. and Chinese officials are being scrutinized in trying to balance a teetering relationship.

The verdict on Yellen is she's good with chopsticks and she's got a good appetite. During a trip last year to China, she caused a stir on both sides of the Pacific after frequenting a Yunnan cuisine place.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JANET YELLEN: There was a delicious mushroom dish. I was not aware that these mushrooms had hallucinogenic properties. I learned that later.

FENG: Mildly hallucinogenic if they're not cooked properly. But luckily, they were very well cooked. The anecdote does track with Yellen's reputation for being curious but prepared. Most of the time, Yellen has much weightier topics at hand, like trying to get China to open up its market more and not flood the world with its electric vehicles. But of course, it's way more fun to talk about what she eats.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Taipei, Taiwan.

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "TAMACUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.
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