Quartermaster’s Note: This is a “guest post” by my oldest son, a 13-year-old beginning 8th grade this year, who traveled with me to China this Summer.
In China there were many times when our group would sit down to a meal, and just be blown away, by food that didn’t even cost half the amount of a much lower-standard American Chinese restaurant, but looked and tasted three times as good!! In this way Chinese cuisine in China was on a whole other level.
One of the things noticeably different in the places we ate, yet such an improvement, was the lack of fried flavorless meat with an overwhelmingly sticky sweet sauce (e.g., lemon chicken, General Tso chicken, orange beef, etc.). Instead, meat was carefully cut according to its cooking method, seasoned and flavored with things like cumin, Szechuan peppercorns, all sorts of other interesting spices and ingredients, and without heavy doses of syrup or sugar.
There were lots of interesting proteins to try: in addition to chicken and beef, we enjoyed pork, lamb, mutton, duck, and an array of fresh seafood. One of my favorite dishes was lamb cut into strips and stir-fried in a hot wok with lots of different spicy peppers and cumin. It was brought to the table atop a little portable stove that kept the aromatic meat sizzling through the meal.
With at least one vegetarian in our group at all times, we enjoyed lots of different
vegetables and tofu. I don’t normally like tofu, in part because it’s rather flavorless, but the preparations of it in China were varied in terms of texture and cooking method — we sampled it in soups, cubed and deep-fried or cut into ribbons and stir-fried. Generally, tofu actually tasted like something edible, and since we always had other dishes with meats at mealtime, the amazingness of the meat balanced out the quantity of tofu, so that the tofu dishes became another fun thing to try.
During my visit to China I learned some things about stereotypes concerning Chinese food. For example, dog as food is not as widely accepted in China as the stereotype suggests. In fact, one of our hosts in Taiyuan shared his experience that animals like dogs and mules are sometimes consumed as food in China, but usually eaten only in certain areas and at specific times, like special festivals. He also told us that he would not eat the meat of an animal that he knew has been mistreated.
Soy sauce is a universal condiment at the Chinese restaurant in the United States, but not something you find on the table in China; it’s still an ingredient in cooking, but it is far more common to find a condiment such as hot chili oil or malt vinegar (certain provinces, such as Shanxi, are famous for special vinegars). All you salty rice lovers, being your own soy sauce.
The weirdest thing I ate in China was definitely scorpion, which we tried on Wong fu Jing street in Beijing. It was my first fried arachnid, and while crunching into something with tiny little legs and a stinger was a new experience, the taste was similar to crispy fried chicken skin, and hence, not bad. The most upsetting part of the experience with eating scorpion was watching the live ones that had been skewered and anchored in display baskets, waiting for their turn in the fryer, squirming around while remaining fixed in place.
As a seafood lover who is especially fond of sushi, I enjoyed visiting the local markets in Beijing, which had an absolute top notch selection of not only fresh and live fish, but all sorts of shellfish, shrimp, crab, octopus and squid, oysters, claims and other mollusks. We saw an amazing variety of things from the sea during our visit.
My personal food favorite of the trip definitely goes to the dumplings (“Jiaozi”). Unlike potstickers common in American restaurants, jiaozi are steamed and very tender. The dumplings contain a delicious mix of meat and vegetable, and usually a little “soup” that escapes when you bite into one. They are served with vinegar and chili oil. I enjoyed them so much, and literally ate dozens of them during the trip.
My trip to China this summer was one of the most tantalizingly awesome trips I have ever embarked upon, for me and my palate. I hope to travel there again very soon, and for anyone reading this, I hope that that your experiences involving China are filled not only with God’s love and grace, but also with the amazing Chinese cuisine that I love so much.