Chinese Food Adventures

Posted by Heather Tang in China 06 Jan 2014

Living abroad through a WorldTeach program comes with the opportunity to experience new cultures and, of course, try new food! Madeleine Reeve is a WorldTeach China volunteer who has enjoyed exploring new culinary options in her new home. Read on to learn about Madeleine’s experience trying new food in China!

 

So I know this is probably a topic everyone wants to hear about. Yes, the food here is pretty good. But like everywhere else, it depends where you go. It doesn’t always depend on what you pay, though. Food here is generally very cheap. If I spend 100 kuai on a meal ($16) it better be amazing, and it’s probably Western food. A decent meal out you’ll drop 10-30 kuai ($1.50- $5) and usually I aim for 20 kuai or less. And yes, this cheap food can be delicious.

 

If you know anything about Hunan food, you’re aware that it’s known for being really spicy. In China, it’s part of a style called Xiang cuisine (湘菜 xiang cai). Because Hunan is an agricultural region, the ingredients are pretty fresh, and well varied. Besides the spiciness, it’s also known for being oily. The spiciness of the food usually comes from all the hot peppers they put into their food, so if you’re not a spice champion you can eat as many or as few peppers as you’d like. Despite all the hype about how intense the heat is, I’ve yet to have a dish here that I can’t handle, and I’m not the best with spice. I’ve probably upped my tolerance though–food at my school’s canteen can make you sweat. I’ve seen students take out the peppers, so I don’t feel guilty when I choose not to eat all of them. However, I’ve definitely noticed the oiliness of the food, and it can be kind of a turn off. I generally leave the food at the bottom of the bowl/dish alone because it is just swimming in oil. This is a personal thing though. Usually the other people I eat with will take care of the rest!

 

For breakfast, it’s pretty common to eat noodles (米粉 mi fen) or steamed buns (包子 bao zi). The noodles can be spicy or not. The buns can be sweet with red bean inside, savory with meat inside, or have nothing at all in them. Generally I don’t bother with breakfast because I have class at 8 am most days, and the school canteen finishes breakfast at 7:30–I have little desire to wake up even earlier when I’m generally not hungry when I wake up.

 

Anyway, here’s what I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for… pictures!

 

This is what I meant when I mentioned breakfast noodles. These are a little fancier than the usual, though. This was at a restaurant renowned for its fish-head soup. No I did not eat it myself, but I think it’s the one in the middle and/or right.

This is what I meant when I mentioned breakfast noodles. These are a little fancier than the usual, though. This was at a restaurant renowned for its fish-head soup. No I did not eat it myself, but I think it’s the one in the middle and/or right.

 

A man making pulled noodles (拉面 la mian). He pulls the dough over and over until it is thin enough to be noodles. You should look up a video on YouTube if you’re interested. Delicious and simple.

A man making pulled noodles (拉面 la mian). He pulls the dough over and over until it is thin enough to be noodles. You should look up a video on YouTube if you’re interested. Delicious and simple.

 

Fancy some taro (芋头 yu tou)? This is the most purple food I’ve ever seen.

Fancy some taro (芋头 yu tou)? This is the most purple food I’ve ever seen.

 

  A pleasant lunch I had once in the countryside. Pumpkin soup in the center. Clockwise: starting with the tofu on the bottom left; Chinese cabbage (bok choy I think); beef and peppers (this dish is everywhere and is one of my favorites); egg; small whole fish; pork and beans.

A pleasant lunch I had once in the countryside. Pumpkin soup in the center. Clockwise: starting with the tofu on the bottom left; Chinese cabbage (bok choy I think); beef and peppers (this dish is everywhere and is one of my favorites); egg; small whole fish; pork and beans.

 

The food has mostly been eaten in this photo, but this is a typical restaurant scene: Chinese people generally eat family style, with the food served on a lazy susan at a circular table. In the foreground, you can see a big dish of chicken soup–basically, they just chop up the whole chicken and put it in the soup. So you can eat any part of the chicken that you like. Hopefully you can see the foot in there. If you eat it, you’ll have success in business!

The food has mostly been eaten in this photo, but this is a typical restaurant scene: Chinese people generally eat family style, with the food served on a lazy susan at a circular table. In the foreground, you can see a big dish of chicken soup–basically, they just chop up the whole chicken and put it in the soup. So you can eat any part of the chicken that you like. Hopefully you can see the foot in there. If you eat it, you’ll have success in business!

 

This is a meal that a farming family made. They also have chicken soup (near the center). There is also two big bowls of pumpkin (南瓜 nan gua), and big green peppers stuffed with pork. Honestly, I don’t even know what most of the stuff was. This is pretty common for me in China. I just eat what I think looks good and hope for the best.

This is a meal that a farming family made. They also have chicken soup (near the center). There is also two big bowls of pumpkin (南瓜 nan gua), and big green peppers stuffed with pork. Honestly, I don’t even know what most of the stuff was. This is pretty common for me in China. I just eat what I think looks good and hope for the best.

 

A late night dinner. Noodles on the left, potato noodles to their right. Fried corn, and various kinds of fried meat. Not pictured: fried eggplant.

A late night dinner. Noodles on the left, potato noodles to their right. Fried corn, and various kinds of fried meat. Not pictured: fried eggplant.

 

This was a dinner a Chinese family made for me and some friends. In the bottom left, you can see we already ate the corn. On the right is some fried tofu. Most of this meal was pork and beef in different styles, and it was DELICIOUS. They also gave us cans of coconut milk and chocolate milk cartons. That was awesome because I never drink milk here.

This was a dinner a Chinese family made for me and some friends. In the bottom left, you can see we already ate the corn. On the right is some fried tofu. Most of this meal was pork and beef in different styles, and it was DELICIOUS. They also gave us cans of coconut milk and chocolate milk cartons. That was awesome because I never drink milk here.

 

 

This only scratches the surface… As a growing city, you can find Western food without too much struggle, and don’t even get me started on street food… There will definitely have to be more posts about food, later. Also, I’m realizing I don’t take that many pictures of food… I should get better at that. In general, the food is pretty darn delicious, cheap, and good portion sizes. It can be pretty spicy but it’s not unbearable. The oil does get to me sometimes though. There’s a lot of guessing involved when I go to a restaurant because I can’t read most of the menu. So it’s also an adventure seeing what I ordered versus what I thought I ordered. Of course I try to talk to the waiter to get what I want but it’s never guaranteed. Oh well!

-Madeleine Reeve, WorldTeach China Hunan 2013-2014

 

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