Foodie

So far China has been a lot of things, and one that stands out has been the food. I think it is fair to say that we have run the gamut in terms of fine dining and cheap eats. And my taste buds (for the most part) are happy. Maybe one of the biggest challenges of travel for me has been the issue of food. It is not realistic to have aesthetically-pleasing, well-balanced, finger-licking good meals every day while traveling on a budget. But in some countries it’s easier than in others. China is one of these. So we’ve splurged and done the Peking Duck thing, which was and will be the most we’ve spent on any meal during this entire trip. Typically though, we’ve been more than happy with the awesome street food (my favorite so far, the spicy pork on giant skewers) and all the bakeries with their baos and sesame balls and dan tats and deep fried goodness. All for just a few cents! YUM. Half the time, we don’t even know what we’re ordering. We just point, pay, and wind up pleasantly surprised.

Quail eggs on skewer

Quail eggs on skewer

Last week we found ourselves on a side street in the polluted transit city of Shijiazhuang. The Lonely Planet states that there is no reason to go there, except to pass through, and unfortunately we could see why. Here were our food options for lunch: A California Beef Noodle King USA. A Yoshinoya/Dairy Queen (a common pairing in China). And several over-priced looking restaurants, one called Sushi Beef. Hmmmm. Or….a trip down a tiny, dirty, alleyway lined with food carts.

Food cart alley it was. No menus here. No English either. We walked slowly by each cart, some set up with as many as twelve different dishes in trays, looking for something appealing. We passed over the pig noses and vat of chicken feet. We slowed down in front of the next cart and started pointing. We got a heaping plate of three different dishes (an onion dish, a bean sprout dish, and a tofu dish). As there was no seating outside and no apparent eating area inside, I had figured we’d get a take-away container of sorts. So when I was handed the heavy plastic plate, I just stood there and did my best pantomime of “Where to eat?” It became evident that we were to go inside. Behind the food cart, past a heap of dirty buckets and trash were a couple of steps leading down around a corner. As I rounded the corner, I spilled an enormous amount of sauce on the concrete floor. I looked back apologetically, but even though they witnessed it, no one seemed to mind. I looked up and it became clear why. There was a pile of black dirt, about waist high on my left, heaps of debris, garbage, and old food on either side, and through the dump there were four tables in a dimly lit concrete compound. There was food all over the floor. No décor whatsoever. The tables and floor were covered in sauce stains (evidently both freshly made as well as days/weeks old). It was the kind of place where you just know you will see a roach or rat if you look hard enough. There were a few middle-aged men, sitting around and drinking, who stared as we entered. Toward the end of our meal, a fly dropped dead and landed upside down on our table. But the food was delicious. Really really good. The three dishes, plus two bowls of rice the man brought over, were 60 cents total. It was so good that I told Jeff I would consider coming back for dinner, but that I might have to eat with my eyes closed.

This week we tried hot pot in Sichuan the night we left Chengdu with our friend, Cat and her friend, Chris.  Luckily, their Mandarin is better than ours and although “not spicy” was not an option, we were able to order a safe selection of items for our pot.  It was HOT, but good.  The real deal.  Like shabu shabu, but with a giant pot of deep red spicy broth with a layer of Sichuan and chili peppers covering the surface, instead of plain boiling water.  A little intimidating, but I’m glad we got to try it.  Plus, it gave us an excuse to go for ice cream immediately after dinner to soothe the burning in our mouths.  Awesome.

Hot Pot and some fixin's

Hot Pot and some fixin's

Posted: September 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: China | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »