"Dog Shit Cake," labeled as a Shanghai specialty on its packaging, recently hit the shelves of souvenir shops, tourist attractions and supermarkets across the city.
The Chinese idiom "dog shit luck" means something similar to the Western phrase "dumb luck," which the makers and vendors used in their advertising of this new novelty item.
As a Shanghai native, I hate to break it to the Chinese and foreign tourists who have spent their money (42 yuan, $6.22 in stores or 25 yuan online) on this product, but it is NOT a local specialty.
Dog feces never has and never will be eaten by Shanghainese, as much as jealous people from other provinces may wish us to.
Ironically, once word of the new Shanghai Dog Shit Cake went viral on social media, vendors in other provinces around the country soon started copying the idea, for example Xian Dog Shit and Shandong Dog Shit, claiming that their hometowns also serve canine feces as a local delicacy.
Which begs the bigger question: is there a universal standard to what can be proclaimed as a local delicacy? If more than one Chinese city claims doggy doodoo as their own native specialty, is it still special?
Legally, the boundaries are blurry. According to quality supervision authorities, there is only a standard for specific characteristic products, e.g. Chongming firewater or Chongming hairy crabs; however there is currently no standard to define what can officially be called a specialty.
This loophole has enabled many unscrupulous snack producers to fish in our city's murky waters. When challenged if Dog Shit Cake is a true Shanghai delicacy, the makers of the product passed the buck, saying "nowadays many things can claim to be a Shanghai delicacy," but emphasized that their product was legally licensed.
It's not that I believe that vendors should have to brag about the integrity and truthfulness of their food products, because really any food being sold in a store should have already been tested, inspected and licensed.
We as citizens trust that any edibles we pay money for are safe and authentic. But there should be a clear-cut standard for specialty products published by relative organs.
For example, the administration of Sichuan Province published a standard on local delicacies in 2010, with only brands officially granted as Sichuan Delicacy allowed to use the two words together.
Shanghai could easily institute a similar exclusive trademark for foods cooked only with local ingredients by local residents using only local culinary arts.
Spiced beans, for example, date back to the founding of Shanghai, when they were first sold in City God Temple by a Yangzhou-born businessman who fled to Shanghai at the age of 18.
Because of the shortage of commodities at the time, a dish of small green soybeans toasted with cinnamon, fennel and other spices became very popular in Shanghai during the 1930s and 1940s when there wasn't much other food to choose from.
Though its unique flavor may no longer be desirable to the refined tastes of well-off residents today, it still is the definition of a Shanghai specialty and ought to be trademarked and packaged as such.
Many other Shanghai snacks deserve similar status, but thus far our city doesn't seem to place any priority in doing so.
In a recent interview with the Shanghai Morning Post, the makers of Dog Shit Cake said that, after coming under fire for claiming it to be a Shanghai delicacy, they will alter the packaging to simply call it a Shanghai snack.
But the damage has already been done. Like a skid mark in one's underwear, Dog Shit Cake has stained the fine image of Shanghai, and it will be impossible to wash out.