Foodie Style: Eating in China

Now, there are many different ways to eat food here in China. From street food to barbecue to restaurants. I haven’t tried all of them, it takes some courage to eat in a place like Langfang because hardly anyone speaks English and everyone stares at me. So this is a quick “How to Eat in China and Survive”.

The good news is, most of the menus have pictures.

Langfang, Hebei, China
This was taken at a restaurant where you would go with friends in a large group.

For the most part, someone at the table orders food for the entire table at a restaurant like this. I read somewhere that the rule is one dish per person at the table plus one more or something like that. If you go out to eat with a lot of people, that’s a lot of food.

Langfang, Hebei, China
Different restaurant, same style. There was more food on the way, too.

The food is usually put in the center of the table and everyone just eats out of it. There’s no “This is my dish” or anything like that, which is nice for me because then I can just eat veggies and no one really notices. 🙂

I bet you’re wondering “Will I get sick from eating the food?” Truthfully? Yep, probably. I was constantly in and out of the bathroom my first month and a half here, but truthfully, it gets better, too. I’m not sure if it’s the food itself, the way its cooked, the different levels of sanitation, or what, but I was definitely feeling the change. Chances are, you will, too.

But truthfully? It’s worth it. Don’t skip out on eating the food just because you think it might make you sick. For example, yesterday I got some kind of pancake thing from a food cart while walking home from the market. It had a pancake-type breading that was sort of like a thick crepe, an egg, some kind of little red hot dog, lettuce, and sauces. I obviously have no idea what any of that was, but I thought to myself “That little hot dog is going to make me sick” (I can’t eat hot dogs), but I ate it anyways and it was delicious. I thought “This is so worth the potential repercussions!” And, surprisingly, I am used to the food enough that I was not exponentially worse after eating that whatever it was.

So, yeah, the food will probably make you sick and people will always bring you a fork if you’re white (even if you’re good with chopsticks), but man, is the food so worth all of it.

Beijing, China
My second or third day in China, lunch at some place near the health center
Beijing, China
包子 (bāozi, steamed bread with filling, usually pork and/or veggies) and 豆浆 (dòujiāng, soybean milk, absolutely delicious home-made and sweet)
Beijing, China
My second or third day in China, lunch at some place near the health center
Langfang, Hebei, China
Korean rice, one of my favorites from Yummy Street
Langfang, Hebei, China
My students and I making 饺子 (jiǎozi) dumplings in their dorm room
Langfang, Hebei, China
My students and I making 饺子 (jiǎozi) dumplings in their dorm room
Langfang, Hebei, China
Restaurant #2? Maybe #3?

Foodie Style: Noodles versus Noodles

I love noodles. Pasta, noodles, whatever, yum yum yum. However, there is more than one kind of noodle available in China, which I didn’t know. When I thought of Chinese noodles, I always thought of the really soupy kind that you sort of push into your mouth with chopsticks.

My students, however, introduced me to the thicker kind of noodles that seem to be made in-restaurant/canteen.

Spring 2014 - China - 312

 


Alright, so we’ll start with the soupy noodles because they’re the ones everyone thinks about when they think “Chinese Noodles”. Or, at least, they’re the first ones I thought about…

Spring 2014 - China - 314 Ingredients:

  • Noodles
  • Ham
  • Cabbage
  • Peanuts
  • Some kind of broth?
  • Cilantro, optional

How to Eat:

  • Stir it all together
  • Using chopsticks, scoop up noodles and whatever else gets tangled
  • Shove into mouth
  • End up with noodles all over your chin
  • Either bite the noodle ends or slurp attractively

 


I like the red noodles better, even though I’m not sure what either of them are called or how to distinguish between them. Normally, I just tell the person bringing me food “Whatever you think is good, not spicy” and it turns out well.

Spring 2014 - China - 313Ingredients:

  • Noodles
  • Red sauce of some sort
  • Green peppers
  • Egg

How to Eat:

  • Using chopsticks, pull and tug on noodles until they break or a chunk comes loose
  • Get fed up that they won’t detach from each other because they’re not soupy
  • Break down and get a spoon
  • NO FORKS
  • I lost my fork anyways (I still don’t know how. I’m the only person who lives here! Where did the fork go?!)

I tend to save both of them for later, these pictures are actually of some that I took out of the fridge. It occurs to me that the red noodles look like brains. NOM NOM BRAINS.

Foodie Style: Jambalaya Means Happy

So, as usual, I decided to make Jambalaya for the people I know here. Specifically, my students. I’ll probably make it for my other friends at some point, but these particular students made dumplings and so I made them Jambalaya.

Jambalaya – China

Langfang, Hebei, China

Ingredients

some Cajun seasoning (that I bought in the US and brought with me)
some unsalted butter
two packages of sausage (the recipe also calls for ham, but I had to forgo the ham because I couldn’t find it)
a package of boneless chicken breast
bay leaves (they’re probably bay leaves, we had some translation issues with this one…)
an onion
three smallish green peppers
a package of spaghetti sauce (supposed to be tomato sauce, but it’s close enough)
two smallish tomatoes
rice from the canteen (that way, we don’t have to cook it)

Directions

1. Go to the store with the students. Spend a lot of time trying to convince them that you really can shop and you’re pretty sure these are bay leaves. They look like bay leaves, anyways.
2. Spend a fair amount of time looking for the meat. This isn’t like an American shop, even though it’s a Walmart. Trying to find “smoked ham” is nearly impossible. Give up and substitute with more sausage.
3. Pack everything away and start cleaning for the dinner tomorrow.

Langfang, Hebei, China

4. Tell your students you’ll start cooking at 5:30. Dice the veggies and the meat around 4:45 so they won’t try to help you cook. Cook the meat a little bit because you want to MAKE SURE it’s completely cooked when it’s time to eat.
5. Change out of that sports bra and those yoga pants and into, like, a shirt and skirt or something. AKA, put on proper clothes.
6. Update Facebook while you await the students.
7. When the students show up, try to insist they don’t have to take off their shoes just because you aren’t wearing any. Watch as they get as far as the living room before they all turn around and take off their shoes. Go into the kitchen to put the food on the stove. Let them take over stirring the food and making sure the chicken is cooked.
8. Add some cajun seasoning. Just sprinkle it on. Continue letting the students stir.
9. Add more seasoning. Stir.
10. Add more seasoning. Have the student currently stirring ask why you put so much on. “It doesn’t smell right yet.”
11. Wait until there are no students in the kitchen. Add more seasoning. Stir. Repeat until it smells right.

Langfang, Hebei, China

12. Wait and wait and  wait for the rest of the students to show up with the rice and the soda. Sneak bites of food while the students watch TV to make sure it’s not overdone and that it tastes right. And to satiate your hunger until it’s time to actually eat.
13. When the students arrive with the rice, try to introduce them to the American way of eating. 1 bowl of food, 1 person.
14. Serve yourself some food, let the students decide how they’re going to eat it. Use a spoon because eating it with chopsticks doesn’t make it feel like home. Silently be grateful that the students can eat it with chopsticks.
15. Bask in the praise of students. “Now when we are happy, we say ‘Jambalaya!’ It’s so good!”

Langfang, Hebei, China

16. Marvel as they put the living room/dining room back and sweep up what little mess there was. Best houseguests ever!


For more commentary, you can check out the post about Jambalaya on my travel blog, Ever-Present Wanderlust!