Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dietary conditions

Before I came to China, many people informed me, with widely varying degrees of glee/melancholy, that food here would be very different from what we Americans call Chinese food back in the States.

On the one hand, a fair share of my meals here have not been that exotic- dumplings, steamed buns, and lots of noodles. And holy cow(!), lots of pork. It actually kind of blows my mind to think about how many pigs the PRC consumes every hour.* My family does not eat pork at home, so this is requiring some adjustment. All these foods are generally a bit saltier, greasier, and MSG-ier than Chinese food in America.** For those of you who know/have ever eaten with the tofu-brownrice-organic-granolamunching-lowsodium members of my family, you can probably imagine the trauma my stomach is currently experiencing.

This is probably exacerbated by the fact that I don't really know how to order food in Chinese. I can only express fairly simple ideas with basic vocabulary, such as "I want your best-tasting noodles" or "No pork, please." Not that complicated, right? But (I think) the fact that I'm not non-Asian = no mercy: most waiters at this point launch a high-speed barrage of questions with a thick Beijing accent I am woefully unprepared to decipher. At this point:

1. Point at something and say "这个 (This one)." One order of mystery, coming right up.
2. Even better: "你有什么我就吃什么 (roughly translated- I'll eat whatever you give me)." Then I smile and try to look like a pitiful foreigner. (I probably just appear somewhat constipated.) Unfortunately:

yesterday's disastrous results of method 2

I'm still not quite sure what this was. Some kind of noodle in a dark brown broth generously saturated by MSG. It also had some bone chips and these herbs that vaguely reminded me of a family vacation in Morocco...

1. I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater, but plastic bag slowly releasing chemicals into boiling-hot soup was not on my list. (Yes, that plastic bag is between the soup and the bowl...)

2. Eomma/Appa, please don't freak out. I've found that food in China, even more so than back home, improves exponentially as price increases. Last night, for example, Tyler and I had a great meal at a nearby hotel = therapy.

3. I apologize for the whininess of this post. Plan 3: I will study the crap out of Chinese menu terms this week. In the meantime, I plan to survive on a newly-acquired bag of delicious goji berries and on daily purchases from a nearby baozi (steamed buns) stand.

* I just read a report that the Chinese consumed 621,951,219 pigs in 2006, (that's about 70,999 pigs per hour). And trust me, they eat the entire pig.

** This might not be the case for Golden Chopsticks, Andover's most beloved late-night institution. (Secret deliveries at 3 a.m.? What?)