We have been totally enthralled by China – it’s history, monuments and people (especially the kids who are usually agape when they see Mike), but one of the biggest highlights has been the food (no surprise to anyone who knows us!). We have eaten noodles and stir fries, hot pots and dumplings, rice porridge, steamed buns and even chicken feet.
I’d like to say we’ve become pretty handy with chopsticks but mike’s effort yesterday lunchtime (which resulted in a new Chinese proverb: a chicken in the eye is worth two in the bowl) somewhat undermines that… and we’ve gotten accustomed to carrying our thermos mugs everywhere and topping up with hot water which is free and almost universally available. And we’ve learnt to trust Yingchu and her excellent choices: we’d be walking along a fairly unprepossessing street surrounded by wonderful smells but where every neon signed shopfront looked closed or permanently shut or simply uninviting. Yingchu would try a door, wander in to an empty room whereupon someone would appear from upstairs or rouse from a hidden chair, welcome us all and quickly set about fetching tea. Food takes minutes to arrive, has been steaming hot and delicious.
One of our most memorable meals thus far was our first night in Beijing, where Yingchu let us fly solo. Doesn’t sound like much, but with literally no more Chinese than Hello: ‘Ni hao’, thank you: ‘Xie xie’ and We’re English! ‘Ying guo!’ and zero understanding of Chinese characters this was firstly a step into the unknown (after a few aborted attempts to dine in hairdressing salons) and then an exercise in mime. What we eventually stumbled upon was a Korean Barbecue where, we now know, you order a selection of meat and veg which you cook yourself at a smoking hot grill in the middle of the table. Clearly completely clueless our waiter resorted to a google translate equivalent and told us: ‘let me help you prepare for the exam’ which was a somewhat alarming start. However, at our insistence he did let us take over and we decided we’d nailed it in spite of their regular attempts to intervene on behalf of the slightly charred chicken.
Being in Beijing and despite my internal conflict (I’m sorry ducks! I’m sorry Toto!) we had to try Peking Duck. It was actually almost identical to my childhood memories of duck and pancakes and just as delicious. The roasted duck is brought whole to the table (looking like a plastic fake) where it is elegantly carved by the chef who then takes away the remains and either makes soup or deep fries them in spices – nothing is wasted here, and everything is shared.
One of our favourite meals has been a ‘hot pot’ where, again, you order a range of meat and veg and noodles which are dropped into a boiling pan of spicy soup for seconds to minutes until cooked and then fished out and dipped into sauce/dropped onto the table/never found again. A traditional dish of Sichuan province where our guide comes from we’re hoping it’s going to be a future craze in the uk.
Yesterday we had pork filled steamed buns and black rice porridge for breakfast. This morning it was spiced potato pancakes and Mongolian milk tea. There are an incredible number of restaurants in every town and they all take pride in serving a specific and different kind of tea, or preparing their dishes using the family recipe so no two places are ever the same.
Apart from KFC, which also seems to be everywhere.
Thanks to the many excellent cooks who have prepared food for us!