Friday, June 4, 2010

Blood Tofu and Goat Testicles

How's that for a gripping title for today's post? Anyway, happy Friday!! I’m thoroughly excited for this weekend – although if it rains, I’ll be bumming. This weekend is “Festival of the Arts” in Grand Rapids. Now that we live downtown (WEST SIDE ROCKS!) we’re within walking distance of the festivities. 1/5 miles each way. If the clouds don’t dump on us, it’ll be great. Hubby and I both have Saturday off of work, so we’re planning on doing a cheap date day at the festival. Live music, food kiosk, art exhibits… look how cultural I’m being this weekend!

I’ve already been there once today. Today was not a great food day. Instant breakfast and an apple for breakfast. Chinese take out for lunch. I know, I know. The people at work were ordering and I caved. I ate less than half though, because it was kinda nasty. For dinner I had some leftover macaroni and cheese with broccoli mixed in. Then, we went to the festival. We looked through the art booths, listened to some music, and did some eating. I had corn on the cob and a sate skewer. Nom nom nom! Overall, I didn’t have the best balance of foods today – heavy on the carbs, light on the veggies and fruit.

Sunday is another story – I have to work  I’ve returned to work at the office I was at before China, but I also picked up a part time job at the mall working for my favorite clothing store. Due to privacy issues, I can’t share the name on the blog… but anyway, I thought it’d be awesome. I’d get sweet discounts, the “in” with what new things are coming in, and some fun money to spend. But, alas, it’s been nothing but trouble so far. Scheduling issues, missing family functions, etc. We’ll see how long this lasts!

I think each day I’ll post a little bit of info on my year in China. I have tons of stories stocked up in my head. I spend all day thinking about it; what I ate, where I went, the friends I made. I have some serious home sickness for my Chinese home in Fuyang.

I was homesick when I got to China, but it was nothing like this. I knew that I had 11 months, then I’d be back at home in the U.S. Now I’m facing the fact that I’ll never see most of my friends again. I’ll never play badminton at DongWu Park, or sit next to the West Lake doing cross stitch, or sitting at the Music House playing dice and drinking a Tsing Tao beer with friends.

Geez, that’s depressing! I’m trying to focus on the joy I was able to experience while I was there, and the experiences I had. When I think about it deeper, I know that I don’t want to move back. But that doesn’t mean that the transition home hasn’t been hard.

I’ll share today about the food in China, since y’all know I’m a little obsessed with food. I LOVED the food in China. I tried things I never would have here! Here’s just a snippet of the unusual things I ate…

Duck tongue, chicken feet, chicken heads, tripe, goat testicles, taro, dragon fruit, durian, crab lungs, river snails, fish eyes, blood tofu, stinky tofu, “rope” beans, sesame breakfast cereal, dragon well tea

Some of those things were absolutely wonderful. Some were downright foul. The fruit was amazing. Chinese people LOVE fresh produce. Every day I would buy something new from a street vendor. My favorite sweet treat? I would by a whole stalk (5-7 feet) of sugarcane for $1.00. They would take a machete, slice the outside skin off, then chop it into 3-inch segments. You chew on it and then spit out the fibrous stuff. I’d bring a bag of it into work and share with all of my co-workers. What a way to make friends! Other easily acceptable/delicious fruits were apples, longans, dragon fruit, watermelon, grapes, jujubes, breadfruit, bananas, and various random melons.

AND durian. In China, some people cal it “rotting flesh melon”. It’s an apt description. The fruit smells like nothing I’ve ever smelled before. Some people love it. I, however, HATE HATE HATE it. In some areas of Asia there are laws against eating it in public places. Last summer we spent 3 weeks in Malaysia on vacation. A sign on the door of one of the hostels we stayed at said “No durian beyond this point”. It was very considerate of them to watch out for the people like me, who get nauseous at the very mention of durian.

Our city was right on the river. We were fairly close to the coast as well, so our town was big on seafood. I am not. I branched out a little bit – ate some fish, squid, shrimp. But its all prepared a little different in China. Shrimp are cooked whole – head, veins, legs, and all. You pull off the parts you don’t want during the consumption process. Fish are almost always served whole. They taste delicious, but as an honored guest, you are often offered the eyes. It’s the best part, you see.

My favorite part of the Chinese diet is the veggies. OOOOOOHHH they were good. Sautéed bok choy, eggplant, beans, edamame, cabbage, carrots, wintermelon, squash… I’m drooling just thinking about it.

We had two restaurants that we frequented the most. Eating out for us was just about as cheap as cooking for ourselves, so we ate out just about every evening.
Restaurant # 1: The Hunan restaurant. They had a few dishes that we ordered religiously. Bandit chicken (a dry dish with chicken, hot peppers, and garlic that was so hot my mouth would burn for 24 hours), julienne potatoes (sliced potatoes, Szechuan peppers, garlic, and spring onions stir-fried in oil and vinegar), pork and cabbage, and eggs and tomatoes. Eggs and tomatoes are the easiest thing in the world to make – just chop up fresh tomatoes, simmer with a little salt and sugar, then add someeggs and a little vinegar, and cook until done. Mmm mmm good! Also good as a soup with chicken broth and bok choy added.

I also LOVED their green beans/eggplant dish, and Ma Po Tofu

Restaurant #2: Harbin ShaoCao BBQ). This was a MAN restaurant… but I also loved it, because of the veggies. Everything was served on skewers, and coated with a seasoning of cumin/red pepper/msg. OH MY GOSH this was good. They would stick anything on those skewers. The boys like the meat. Chicken wings, mutton, beef, fish, squid, goat testicles (you heard me), chicken hearts, pork, etc. I loved me some veggies – cauliflower, potatoes, green beans, seaweed, broccoli, bok choy, eggplant. Throw in a can of diet coke and I was in HEAVEN. And best of all? I felt good afterwards. It was dangerous going here with a group of the guys, though. Our good friend Jarvis and my hubby would sit down and say “hm… what do we want to start with? 20 skewers of chicken wings… 20 mutton… 20 beef… make that 30 beef…”

What food did I crave most from home? Good cheese, milk, and beef. Beef there wasn’t too great. Oh, and whole wheat bread. The bread there was all sweetened somehow – ick!

I’ve picked up a lot of new ideas and habits from my eating in China. One thing I’ve started doing more is stir-frying or simmering veggies without spices. This sounds bland, but they have it down to a science! If you get the right fresh ingredients to flavor the dish (ginger, garlic, spring onions, cilantro, etc) then you can really make a flavorful dish that lets the flavors of the veggies or meat shine through. I’ve also become addicted to edamame (soy beans). I buy it in the pod (either in the frozen section of the supermarket, or fresh at the Asian market) and I steam it in my rice cooker. Then, when it’s done, I lightly salt it and eat it as a snack.

The Chinese way of life is so interesting to me. Breakfast is usually similar to the other meals in your day. It could be fried rice, a boiled egg (baby chicken included!), noodles, red bean porridge, or what have you. Lunch is veggies, meat, and steamed rice, along with some basic broth for fluids. Dinner is more of the same. They snack all day long, but on good stuff. Veggies, fruit, rice cakes, etc. I never saw the Chinese teachers without their containers of green tea.

I need to get a’moving. My nightly episode of SVU awaits me. Until tomorrow!

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