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Eating out in China

“One man’s meat is another man’s poison”

Visitors who have visited mainland China tend to come back with tales of having to scoop out inches of oil or lard off their main dishes or drowning EXTREMELY salty pieces of meat, fish or vegetables with lots of soup before attempting to eat them.

Or…these visitors end up eating McDonald’s or their packs of Maggi mee, dry crackers or other dried stuff they’ve packed from home.

Interestingly, one of my Chinese cleaners from Sichuan said that her in-laws cut short their visit to Fujian because they found the food unsuitable – NOT enough oil πŸ™‚

For foreigners like us who live here, we end up cooking at home almost seven days a week. Why? Experiment after experiment of eating out result in a very narrow list of “approved restaurants” which serve

  • clean,
  • delicious,
  • low on oil,
  • low on salt,
  • low on MSG,
  • at reasonable prices and of course,
  • menus with photos for the bananas and foreigners πŸ™‚

Because China has four seasons and the general population are working class who take the bus, train or walk everywhere, the local Chinese diet is chockful of lard (or vegetable oils) for the extra calories and salt, which is traditionally used to pickle meat and vegetables for winter.

MSG and dried chicken stock or granules is a relatively-modern phenomenon which took the Chinese mothers and housewives by storm because they could instantly whip up tasty dishes for the whole family.

Even my old Chinese grandmother was guilty of using MSG once in a while unless she’s caught red-handed!

Anyway, my eating-out adventures have been a hit-and-miss affair (with more misses than hits!) that I’ve almost given up trying out a new restaurant on my own, prefering to rely on friends’ recommendations…

ECONOMY RICE AT SM MALL
I had this on the first day I could leave behind my toddler at the kindergarten. Baffled by the sudden availability of free time, I wasn’t sure what to eat LOL

Seeing so many mall staff lining up at this eatery, I joined the line and paid a ridiculous RMB33 for a bowl of rice, salted fish, stir-fried brocolli and stewed pork meatballs.

In the end, I could only eat the rice, the salted fish, a small portion of the brocolli and 2 meatballs. The brocolli was rather salty and oily but nothing compared to the strong scent of PORK in the meatballs…

I’m already not a fan of pork so this was an immediate turn-off!

TAKE-OUT FROM A CHINESE RESTAURANT
We tried to order some regular Chinese-style dishes for dinner one night. I ordered a fish in bean sauce, a tomato and pork soup, stir-fried pork and stir-fried kangkung (gongxin cai).

But my fussy tot would only eat the rice, tomato and bits of the fish because the fish was *oily* and smelled funny. Sigh…we only wanted a SIMPLE fish in bean sauce but we got a complicated one πŸ˜›

The stir-fried pork was OK but the stir-fried vegetables was swimming in oil that even Hubby wouldn’t touch it. See now why I have to cook?

And if you don’t believe the amount of oil that’s used, check out the residue in the take-out boxes. Nothing kills the appetite more than this:

THE MMMM-MSG BEEF NOODLE SOUP
After dropping the tot off to kindergarten, I’d look around for my breakfast and found this nice soupy smell wafting my way. Peeking at what the customers were eating, I decided to try it out.

Boy, was it delicious! Especially as I could dip the pieces of beef into the pickled chilli with vinegar. Hahaha…my newfound joy turned to sorrow when I decided to pack it home for lunch.

Watching the master chef prepare it, I saw him put 2 heaped Chinese soup spoonfuls of ‘white powder’ into the stock he’d packed for me. When I asked him what was it, he said “wei jin” (MSG) and “ji jin” (chicken stock cubes/granules).

Alamak! 1 heaped Chinese soup spoon of MSG and 1 heaped Chinese soup soon of chicken stock πŸ˜›

When I ordered it another time, I told him to omit both – he looked at me doubtfully but agreed. Sadly, the delicious bowl of beef noodle soup wasn’t that delicious after all…

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  • My only culinary experience was in Shehzhen and you’re quite right, all I remembered was loads of pork, the salt, the oil and some partially un-cooked dishes!

  • I have heard of some horror stories re eating out in China….a friend unknowingly had dog meat served.
    Another friend saw a UFO in his soup.
    I guess one has to be adventurous in eating when in China.
    You keep well and have fun, Lee.

  • I remember eating in China many years back. The dishes were all like DROWNING in oil!
    PENGSAN!

  • Kit

    Paik Ling – Aiyo…I think you got the bad side of Shenzhen. We have a friend who moved to Shenzhen who’s now regaling us with yummy foods down there! πŸ™‚

    Uncle Lee – Hahaha, I can imagine your friend’s horror. I ALWAYS ask what meat I’m getting. Various words for meats are some of the first Chinese words I memorized.

    NomadicMom – It’s really funny that we complain it’s too oily but for some folks who visit this part, they can’t eat because it’s not oily enough LOL.

  • When I was in Beijing, the food was like that, all bathed in oil. But I remember food in Shanghai was a whole lot better.

  • Kit

    A Mom’s Diary – Oh yeah, Hong Kong and Shanghai are Chinese food havens as far I know πŸ™‚ And of course, Malaysia and Singapore LOL

  • li

    hmmm , i spent quite a few months in china back in 1999, the food was pretty good then. I ate a lot of cheap dumplings, great food from the canteen (not too oily, no msg, because i don’t remember being thirsty after eating), and they make this really great dish that’s this “wet” eggs with tomatoes, i LOVE that dish, and i’ve still no idea how to replicate it.

    Maybe things were really different back then…

  • Kit

    li – It really depends on the region where you are. Food gets saltier and oilier the colder the area gets. Personally, I can’t stand Sichuan dishes a) for the oil and b) for the Sichuan pepper (that numbs the tongue). Got friends who are still getting me to try out Sichuan food in the hope of “converting” me hahaha. I’m still open to Sichuan suggestions!

    I know that eggs and tomatoes dish you refer to – I LOVE that too! Hmm…let’s see if I can rustle that up one day, ok? πŸ˜‰

  • regina

    in some sense, it’s a great way to make sure you will cook. haha. how i wish i can be compelled in the same way then resorting to eating outside all the time. πŸ™‚

  • Kit

    regina – No choice, really. When I’m back home, I’m only in the kitchen to open and close the fridge hahaha!