(Sorry… long and full of photos!)
We had our concerns about the food situation in China, since Larry is pesco-vegetarian (and a wimp – doesn’t like anything even remotely spicy). Pork is used heavily in China, and is often found in vegetable dishes to add flavor.We weren’t sure if he’d end up eating mostly steamed rice.
In addition, we knew we’d be spending a lot of time on trains and planes, and we’d heard that the food provided on tours was often not very good.
Fortunately, we had nothing to worry about! We prepared a paper with some phrases in Chinese characters on it before we went (like “I eat vegetarian”, “I do not eat meat”, “I eat fish”, “Not Spicy”). We used those a few times, but usually we were with someone who was able to talk to the waitress and work things out.
The tour company we used for the tour portion of the trip was great. One of the reasons we selected them was that they offer “a la carte” meals. Instead of serving a set menu, you are given a (generous) budget and can order whatever you want. The restaurants we were taken to were excellent, and our guides helped us select food items.
The food was delicious! I wish we had Chinese food even remotely like it here. (Most of our Chinese restaurants have Vietnamese owners – and I also think the food has been Americanized a lot.)
The fruits and vegetables were outstanding – so much better than our produce. We stopped at one of the many fruit stands when we were out in the country one day and got some strawberries. They were the best I’ve ever eaten. There were often fruit stands/carts at the tourist places we went to, and one of the popular items were cucumbers – they’d peel them whole and put them on a stick. Actually a great idea – refreshing, low calorie, and hydrating.
Most of our lunches and dinners looked something like this:
Many different dishes, brought out to the table as they were prepared, and put on a large lazy Susan. One of the things I thought was interesting was that although steamed or fried rice were commonly eaten, they are apparently normally brought out at the end of the meal, rather than at the beginning or with the other food. Larry told one of our guides that in the U.S., we usually get them at the same time and put the meat dish over the rice – our guide thought that was strange.
Our guide also told us that it was a good rule of thumb to order one more food item than the number of people in the group. When I asked if they have such a variety of different food items when they cook meals at home, he said yes – but often they make enough so that they can have the leftovers for lunch the next day.
One of the notable dishes we had twice, once at the meal shown above, was Sichuan chicken with chilies, shown below. You don’t eat the chilies – just pick through them for the chicken bits. It’s hot from the chilies, but the Sichuan peppercorns numb your mouth so you don’t really mind. I liked it a lot.
We did, of course, have Peking Duck while we were in Beijing:
And it was wonderful. First they bring out the dish of pancakes and vegetables, and the chef carves off the crispy skin and the head, which are brought out first for you to enjoy while he carves the rest. (That’s the lower left of the rectangular plates above.) The pieces of skin are dipped in either sugar or a strawberry sauce. Then they bring out plates of duck meat – some with fat, and some without. Then if you want (and we did), they will make soup from the bones to be served later in the meal. The duck was marvelous. Even my SIL, who doesn’t like duck, tried it and really liked it. It was not at all greasy or gamey.
Many of the restaurants we went to had picture menus. This was the first one we encountered, at Grandma’s Home. We wondered why there were fashion magazines on the table, until Larry’s niece told us those were the menus:
This is where we first had Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish, another dish we had more than once:
The flesh of the fish is cut into strips that are still attached, then it’s battered and deep-fried. The fish is intended to look like a squirrel, with the meat being the fur. I’m sure real squirrel never tasted this good.
One of the really fun things we did on the tour was to visit a private home, where a traditional home-cooked meal was prepared for us. That’s the hostess in the purple shirt below, showing us how to roll and fill dumplings.
She made a wonderful assortment of dishes for us, most of which we’d eaten before anyone thought to take a photo:
We also had lunch one day at a Chinese fast food restaurant. Meals for 6 people including beer, for a total of about $12. Huge portions – most of us couldn’t finish our meals:
It wasn’t all Chinese food all the time, though. We did go to a Bagel place, an Italian restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, and even a deli where I had a Reuben. One of the places we went that wasn’t very traditional was Element Fresh, where I had this delightful warm spinach and salmon salad that was quite delicious:
Whew. Did you make it to the end? It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t take too many photos of the food. It would have been too hard to select a few for posting.