Have you eaten?

My impression of China is that the single most important thing to them culturally is “face” and “guanxi”.** However, a close second seems to be the importance of food. Eating together is much more important in Chinese culture than in any Western culture. While friends or co-workers in the West might go grab some drinks, if you are really friends with someone in China you’ll eat with them (alternating who pays of course)! Nearly every day someone in my office will bring in an armload of candy or cakes and just put it out on one of the tables.

Community meal in China

It’s easy to see what sort of things are important to a culture by looking at the language. Continue reading

FacebookTwitterShare

Reasons why I love China… North Market

One of the hardest things to adjust to when moving to China is the food. It’s not that it’s bad. (Ok, some of it is, but most of it is very good.) It’s just that it’s a completely different diet than we’re used to eating. They don’t eat a lot of dairy products, including milk and cheese, so they are a little scarce. You can find them in most import shops, but they are more expensive than other parts of the world. A small 8 oz block of cheese runs about $5 here.

The milk isn’t found in the refrigerated section. It comes in a box. It is not pasteurized, but sterilized with a process called UHT, ultra-high-temperature processing. I expected for it to be very different than what we were used to, but it’s not that bad. The hardest part is that it is hard to find low fat or skim varieties.

Another difference is that canned and boxed processed foods that we use often in the States are not readily available. Again, some are available in the foreign import stores, but for the most part Chinese don’t use pre-packaged foods. For the last couple of years, I’d been cutting back on cooking with this type of food anyway. I think we consume way too many preservatives in the US, so I had started to cook from scratch more. Not all organic, just as natural as was convenient. However, I never realized how often I did just crack open a can of condensed soup or a jar of spaghetti sauce or a box of noodles.

But I guess necessity makes it much easier to change. Continue reading

FacebookTwitterShare

A new menu for Pizza Hut in China

I was a little disappointed in the Pizza Hut in Shenyang for the last few weeks.

You see, they had this awesome cheese pizza.

In the States, I didn’t normally eat just plain cheese pizza, but it’s amazing how your taste buds change when you move to other side of the world. And when you go from lots of cheese in your diet to a very little, sometimes plain cheese is just what the doctor ordered. And you could always count on the Pizza Hut to load that thing down with cheese.

And then. Continue reading

FacebookTwitterShare

Living in China: Comforts from home

When you live in China, after a while you start to miss little things from home. Things you don’t really expect to miss. You expect to miss your family, friends, and pets. But when you’ve been living here a while, you start to realize things that you never thought were important become important.

Like food.

You never really appreciate an ice cold Coca-Cola and a Snickers bar until it’s one of the only things in your diet that tastes exactly like you expect it to. Every time.

I went to the Riverside Grocery a couple of days ago to pick up a few things for dinner. It is a great little shop, and one of the best in the city for finding American and foreign import goods. Fortunately (and unfortunately, considering the prices) its within our compound and a 5 minute walk from my apartment. Whenever I go in, I always take a complete walk around the store. (It’s really not very big, more like a convenience store in the US.) You never know what they’ll have it stock. It’s always changing.

The rule we follow here says that if you find something you’re excited about, buy them all. They may not have them tomorrow (especially since all the expats follow this rule) and they may not get them in again for another six months… or ever.

So today, when I happened upon the next to last isle on my systematic trek around the store, I literally jumped for joy. Seriously. I may have even squeaked.

It’s really no wonder they stare. We just think it’s our skin color. Actually, it’s because we jump and clap over products on the grocery isle. Or maybe it’s just that now we have no problem making such a display in public because we realize they are going to stare anyway so we might as well give them a reason to. The chicken or the egg? What do you think?

But in this case, I really just didn’t care… (ok. ok. In most cases, I just don’t care. But that trait turns out to be pretty beneficial here.)

…a light shone down from heaven and I’m sure I heard angels singing.

Riverside Grocery. Shenyang, China

Shells & Cheese!!

To understand how exciting this is, just try this out.

Fast from cheese for the next 4 weeks.

Eat rice. And noodles.

Then you’ll see.

Oh, and the one thing I went to the store to buy…

Shopping for food in China

This little grocery trip only cost 110 RMB.

For those of you who are as bad at conversions as me that makes it $16.56 USD.
More than $5 each.

What do you think? Would you do it?

If not for mac and cheese, what food would you fork out the cash for no matter the cost?

FacebookTwitterShare

The one that almost got away…

Eating in China
Photo by benketaro.

The food here is different than it is in the US.

Sometimes it’s just a little bit different, but sometimes it’s a matter of life and death – literally. For example, I was at a seafood restaurant with a bunch of my Chinese colleagues. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet, hot pot style. Hot pot is a lot like fondue back in the US but instead of oil, they use broth. Usually you order lots of raw foods and have them delivered to the table. But at this buffet, you could go grab whatever you want and come back and throw it in the pot of boiling broth on your table to cook it.

So, I happened to be one of the last ones in the restaurant and when I got to the bar, most of them were heading back to their seats, plates loaded down with food. (It is really no wonder the Chinese guy always wins the eating contest.)

I grabbed a plate and walked up behind one of the guys. I noticed he had a crab on his plate and was picking up another one with some tongs. As he dropped the second one onto his plate he turned toward me with a look of panic. When I looked down at his plate, I realized that he was desperately trying to twist his plate around like a tilt-a-whirl trying to keep both crabs on there…

They were both desperately trying to make a break for it!

I’m not sure what the next three seconds means but you’ll have to judge for yourselves. My reflexes led me to reach my empty plate out just in time to catch the crab on the front in midair as he jumped off the plate. My colleague instantly reached down and grabbed my plate. In one smooth motion, he flipped it over, slammed it (and the crab) down on top of the other crab on the original plate. We stood staring at each other for half a second and then he grinned, gave a quick “Xie xie” and walked back to the table.

Only in China…

FacebookTwitterShare

Would you like to know what I had for dinner?

Yeah…

…so would I.

This was one of the things that made it home with me on one of my first shopping trips to Carrefour. I couldn’t read any of the packaging, obviously, so I just got the one that had a cartoon chicken on it. I crossed my fingers and prayed that it was some indication of what was inside the breading. I was just hoping they don’t do mascots here like Chick-fil-A. You know, like the cute little chicken is saying “Eat More Brain” or something and I just can’t read it.

And how are you supposed to cook these?

I’m from South Carolina so you know what I did with them.
Deep fried in peanut oil.
Yum. That’ll make any kind of meat taste good. Doesn’t matter what it is.

I thought about trying to bake them (for about 2 seconds). We do have an oven in our apartment which is VERY rare in China. However, I can’t read the dials. And the temperature is in Celsius, which I still can’t convert correctly.

Just ask my family about my conversion skills. For about 3 weeks I thought we were only allowed 125 lbs in our air freight. We were told we got 275 kg. I packed all kinds of things into storage I would have brought because I thought we didn’t have space. Turns out 275 kg is actually 600 lbs.

oops. (should’ve been my middle name.)

FacebookTwitterShare

McDonalds in China

McDonalds in China…
is crowded on a Sunday at lunchtime.
They greet you, seat you, and take your order.
A waitress takes your order.

And they have a big creepy painting of Ronald on the wall…

And if you try and fail miserably at ordering a double cheeseburger with no pickles, onions, ketchup, mustard, or mayo with your horrific Mandarin. And they bring it to the table with ketchup and onions, having only omitted the pickles, mustard and mayo. If you stick your finger in the ketchup and say “Bu yao”, pronounced “boo yow,” rising then falling tone. They’ll take them back and bring the correct thing right away. Even if it was your fault because you stink at speaking their language.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure they just give those other sandwiches to someone else who did want ketchup and onions. I have no proof. I’m just guessing. I’m also guessing, even if that person knew, they wouldn’t care. Waste is a bad thing here.

FacebookTwitterShare

Brain is good for your Brain

So I have to admit something.  On our Look See visit this week, Joe and I have not been exactly adventurous when it comes to experiencing the local restaurants.  Joe is never very adventurous when it comes to food, but normally I’m always pushing to go and try something new.  However, this week I guess I just figured we’d have two years after we move here to experience more than our fill of local cuisine.  So rather than go exploring, so far this week we’ve eaten at Ikea twice, the German bar in the hotel 3 times, the Chinese restaurant on the second floor of the hotel twice (once for lunch and once by room service) and Pizza Hut.

That being said, I’m pretty sure we made up for the whole week with our dinner tonight. 

http://picasaweb.google.com/kjziska/Export#5499720656800324962

To fill in a little background, we met a local Chinese guy who works in IT at the plant on Wednesday.  He got roped into giving us a tour.  I’m pretty sure it was just because he was the only one they could find to speak English well enough to to do it on the spot since they weren’t able to get us on the organized tour. 

Anyway, after we got back to the hotel that afternoon, we decided to hit up the Chinese restaurant in the hotel since we knew they’d have English translations on the menu.  We knew we were in trouble when we saw all the dishes and only chopsticks and a giant spoon for utensils.  To make a long, slow meal short, we figured out very quickly that we had no idea how we were supposed to order, or eat in China.  I mean, you only have this little saucer sized plate in front of you. Do you pick the pieces off the serving plate onto your little plate and then eat from there?  You can only pick up things one at a time with chopsticks (unless you’re Joe, then you can’t pick up things at all.)  so that doesn’t really make sense.  So if you eat straight from the big dish, what is the little plate for?  And what in the world is the giant spoon for? 

We decided after that meal that we needed some help. We came straight back to the room and sent a quick email to our new friend Kevin. We invited him to join us for dinner Friday night and he could pick the place if he’d plan on explaining some of the customs and etiquette of Chinese dining. (We already knew that they never go “dutch” in China and whoever does the inviting orders and pays for the meal.)  He offered a couple of suggestions for types of food and we settled on one of the famous local dishes, Roast Duck, or Peking Duck as it is often called.

The restaurant was this really cute, very traditional, local place. We had to stop 3 different cabs before we found one who knew where it was even though we had the name and address printed out. (It wasn’t in The Book unfortunately.)  Kevin was there waiting for us and when the waitress laid out the menu, I was immediately glad that we hadn’t tried to go it alone to our first Chinese restaurant. One other thing you might or might not know about the Chinese, is that they eat everything. And by that, I mean they eat every part of an animal. They even stew the bones. Yeah, so at this point, you can probably guess where this is going.

As we flipped through the menu, Kevin started to point out some of the dishes as we turned the pages.  The menu was like a book. No English, but it did have photos.  We tried to get him to give us some suggestions on what to order, or what he liked best, but as I mentioned above, with the Chinese, the person who does the inviting is expected to order since they are the ones footing the bill. We settled on a sampler platter of duck, a plate of some sort of snow peas with ham, and a cold dish of something else. Roast duck comes without ordering, as does a stew made of the duck bones.

After the dishes started coming out, we began to ask what everything was. We later decided that isn’t a good idea. Better to just eat and not ask. Kevin had to look up the parts in his dictionary since liver and brain aren’t in the normal vocabulary list when you’re learning English. I was so proud of Joe though, he jumped in and tried everything. Even the clear, gelatinous, slimy stuff mixed in with the cucumber salad. We never found out what that was since Kevin only knew the local word for it and it wasn’t in the dictionary. Thank the Lord. I may not have been able to keep it in my stomach.

So in case you ever wondered…

http://picasaweb.google.com/kjziska/Export#5499720652129189922

this is what a platter of duck parts looks like.  On the far left we have duck heart.  The light colored stuff in the front is liver.  The far right is stomach. And the big pile in the middle, that’s a pile of heads. Yep, brain included.  Thankfully, you aren’t expected to eat the beak, just suck everything out and spit that and the skull out on the table.  Yum.

http://picasaweb.google.com/kjziska/Export#5499720662273453794

This is the cold plate.  It typically comes out first, kind of like an appetizer.  It was a pile of shredded cucumber with the undetermined jellyfish type stuff on it.  The cucumber was good. We both managed to swallow at least some of the jelly stuff. Neither of us threw up or even gagged.  It felt like a victory. 

http://picasaweb.google.com/kjziska/Export#5499720669607242658

This is a bowl of stew or broth made from the boiled bones.  You can see them floating around.  It really didn’t taste like anything. I was a little surprised because it actually looked pretty good, comparably.  Really could have used some salt.  Behind it is the platter of sliced duck meat.  This is the only part we’d have served back in the States.  Here in China, you take a pile of those sliced green onions on the left and a couple of slices of the duck meat and roll it up in a very thin soft tortilla type thing.

http://picasaweb.google.com/kjziska/Export#5499720639134616402

This was our saving grace.  It was some type of snow peas or something like that sauteed with ham.  The two of us ate most of this plate.  My husband, who normally runs the other way if he happens to glimpse a piece of something green in his meal, went to town on this dish.  In his words, it was the safest thing on the table.  Plus, he could claim to be practicing his chopstick skills because they were small.  In reality, the bigger pieces are more difficult, because if they slip they go flying across the table.

Kevin gave very good lessons on how to eat with chopsticks also.  One funny thing he mentioned was that most Chinese people don’t know how to properly use chopsticks either.  They just learn by watching the next guy, it just happens to be when they are 2-3 yrs old.  He didn’t learn the correct way until he got to college and realized his roommate could eat much faster. This meant the roommate always got the best parts of the meal. It was then that he decided it was time to relearn how to use the sticks correctly so he wouldn’t go hungry. 

Luckily, we’ve learned the correct way from the start.  Wouldn’t want to miss out on the duck brain because the next guy was faster with his chopsticks than me.

FacebookTwitterShare