Eating in China?
Eating in China, can conjure up so many thoughts. From the exotic appeal of an ancient cuisine, to the scary realization of eating something that you would never think of. Eating in China can be a real adventure in of its own.
I'll give you fair warning, just to be prepared. Restaurants here in China are nothing like what you are used to around most of the western world.
There are millions of restaurants here in China. Therefore no shortage of food establishments. Practically every street in every city has some sort of place to eat. With a population of over 1.4 billion people, places for eating in China is a natural.
However, according to Forbes, Chinese restaurants do not exist in China. Which is true, so to say. Because in China, a restaurant is categorized as being either Hunanese, Cantonese, Shanghainese or Sichuanese or some other ethnic variation. You will not hear anyone saying "Lets go eat Chinese food." Or "Lets go to that Chinese restaurant on the corner." Yet you will hear "How about tonight we eat Taiwanese."
Chinese restaurants are a western concept serving sweat and sour chicken, egg rolls and fortune cookies. Except for western style restaurants, I have yet to see a fortune cookie in any of the local restaurants here in China.
Table for Two?
Restaurants range in size from the small single owned establishment that may have a table or two seating four people each. To restaurants where rooms are like banquet halls specific for family, friend or business gatherings.
I have eaten in both and everywhere in-between. As a result, the quality of food ranged just as wide yet not depending on the size of the establishment. I have had great food and gut wrenching food in both large and small restaurants.
May I light your Cigarette?
Here in China, smoking is allowed in 99% of smaller restaurants. Drinking is also common. It is a familiar sight to see a case of beer sitting next to the table of a group of patrons having a meal. “Gombay!” they will yell. The Chinese word for “Cheers!”
Eating in China on the Run?
I haven’t mentioned the street food you’ll find everywhere. You can find street carts in the morning that serve something like a burrito. It is made from a thin layer of floured dough spread very thinly on a heated skittle. Once flipped, the cook will toss on an egg, some shallots a sort of Chinese hot dog, some spices and a few other things.
The cook will then fold the entire thing in four folds to house all the contents. Actually a good breakfast. One ordinarily gets either a milk tea or a soymilk kind of drink with that. Both served warm. The combo usually costs 3 RMB ($.50).
Also there is what is referred to as barbeque. You’ll find these vendors more so in the late afternoon, on through the wee hours of the night. Here they serve all types of meat, alternating with vegetables that is skewered on a stick over a flame. Also very delicious. Even things like squid or frog meat on a stick is available. Expect to pay anywhere from 3 to 6 RMB per stick.
When eating in China, you always have to be careful of the outdoor cuisine. Food poisoning is not an uncommon thing. You see, although China has health regulations, they are nothing like what we are used to in the west.
Food inspectors here can be paid to look the other way. Many of the restaurants I have been in are nowhere clean. Food can be left out in the open all day long. Different meats like chicken, pork fish and beef can sit right along next to each other.
Think of a buffet bar. Do you know what the sneeze guard is on top of the buffet table? No such thing here. Anyone can handle the food. Holding a cigarette in one hand and checking out your proposed meal in the other.
In the west we each load up a plate of whatever is on the menu. A slab of meat, a portion of greens. We then commence to shoveling it down our throats, guarding our meal as if we just foraged for it in the wild and are afraid someone else might want it.
Sharing your Meal?
Consequently, eating in China is a bit different. Meals are a shared experience. When you order from a menu, you request something that you would enjoy eating. Hence, you are not the only one that will eat it.
Each person in the dinner party will order a plate or two of something they are particularly fond of. When the plates arrive to the table, they are placed at the center of the table in reach of everyone.
Each person has their own personal place settings. Usually one flat dish, one small rice bowl a tumbler glass and a ceramic spoon that looks like a small ladle and a pair of chopsticks. Except for the chopsticks, these items are always encased in a shrink wrap clear plastic.
After the food arrives, patrons will choose from the dishes at the center of the table with their chopsticks and place the food in their own dish.
Eating in China with the Family
One of our last big holidays here, I took my girlfriend’s family to dinner at a very high rated, high class, expensive restaurant. Therefore, being an American foreigner, I had to show face and impress her family.
We reserved a private room for the night. The room was quite large. There was a full living room set off to one side of the room. Plush couch and love seat with a large screen television hanging on the wall. There was also a full private bathroom towards the rear.
On one wall were floor to ceiling windows with curtains that hung from the top of the wall twelve foot above our heads that draped all the way to the floor. Our reservation also included a private staff member that waited on us the entire night. He made sure dirty dishes were replaced with new ones and our glasses were full of whatever we were drinking.
In the center was a round dinner table. I have to say it had at least a ten foot diameter. In the center of that was the glass lazy Susan where the meals would be placed. The lazy Susan was motorized. Therefore slowly turning and offering a new dish in front of you every 10 seconds or so.
A Good Dining Experience
Every plate looked like something you would see in a food magazine that covers any fancy restarant. There was salmon, pork, beef and chicken. Frog, squid, duck and eel. There was vegetables of every kind and four or five different kinds of deserts.
Including me, eighteen men, women and children attended. Everyone eat until they were stuffed. All kinds of alcoholic and non- alcoholic drinks were being poured all night. The meal lasted just over three hours.
Consequently, at the end of the evening, several of the relatives took home doggie bags (a common thing here) and there was still food left on the table. Everyone went home very happy and my bill that night came to……..
$276.92USD. That's less than $20 per mouth.
That is eating in China 😉
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