This blog is about food. The day to day contact I have with food is real, personal and unavoidable. Unavoidable in the sense that food is serious business in China. I am understanding very quickly just how serious it is. I suppose when you factor in that 1.3 billion people in this country are hopefully consuming food 3 times daily perhaps it makes an impression upon you. Now I am no expert on China even if we have a passport booklet that says we are… and don’t hold my every tidbit to be tried and true. I am merely documenting things the way I see it, as I see it and it may change. I hope it does change otherwise I wouldn’t be learning anything. My synapses are firing rapidly, daily to the point that Lep and I sometimes can’t verbally express it all in one evening, the events we have encountered during the day.
Back to food, I am going to try to share some of the things I have witnessed regarding the subject of aquiring food.
Overwhelming is the word I would use in a polite way when one goes to the market in China. All of my senses are immediately peaked when I enter the grocery store or fresh food market. The signage and labels currently for me are indecipherable. The Chinese food labels are mostly in chinese symbol form, not pinyin.
Here is the definition of pinyin from Wikipedia,
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pinyin (Chinese: 拼音; pinyin: pīnyīn), or more formally Hanyu Pinyin (汉语拼音 / 漢語拼音), is currently the most commonly used romanization system for Standard Mandarin (标准普通话 / 標準普通話). Hànyǔ (汉语 / 漢語) means the Chinese language, and pīnyīn (拼音) means “phonetics“, or more literally, “spelling sound” or “spelled sound”. The system is only for Standard Mandarin, not for other Chinese languages, including the ancient official Chinese Guangyun (广韵 / 廣韻). The system is now used in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, parts of Taiwan, Malaysia andSingapore to teach Mandarin Chinese and internationally to teach Mandarin as a second language. It is also often used to spell Chinese names in foreign publications and can be used to enterChinese characters (hanzi) on computers and cellphones.
The romanization system was developed by a government committee in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and approved by the Chinese government on February 11, 1958. The International Organization for Standardization adopted pinyin as the international standard in 1982, and since then it has been adopted by many other organizations. This romanization system also became the national standard in the Republic of China (ROC, commonly known as Taiwan) on January 1, 2009.
I would be completely lost without pinyin. I was taught to read phonetically so I understand about putting word-group sounds together to make words. Being a singer has helped too since every letter has 4 tones. The tone should be right or it will be misinterpreted… but this altogether is another subject for another day, Back to the grocery.
Pre Packaged food aisle: this aisle has an infinite amount of foods that I have no idea of what they are. I will ask someone when I am more versed at the language or if I ever see what appears to be a westerner that has an ultra confident shopping personality or heck any westerner for that matter. 🙂 That was a joke people. From what I can tell, lots of squid, chicken feet with claws, kelp and fish of all shapes and size, all vacuum packed, ready for instant eating.
The Refrigerated Section: This is where it gets tricky. Eggs and milk by the whole are not kept cold but at room temperature. There are a few cartons of cold milk but I can’t help but feel the grocers stock it there to appease people like me who are worried about spoiled foods. I call it the token milk section. Chinese like their flavors of Jasmine and Green Tea. I have seen but not tasted Jasmine Milk and Green Tea Milk, also Ice cream bars with the red bean middle of which they are so fond. We have found some tasty Gouda. I don’t think the chinese people eat much cheese. ‘Century Eggs’ or ‘100 Day Old Egg’ or ‘1000 Year Egg’ as sometimes called are blackish-green egg yolks and a popular chinese cuisine. there is a preservation method of clay, ash, salt and limes for this delicacy. The egg is hidden away for several months for the yolk to darken. Very popular here.
Meat/Fish Section: This section alone will suddenly bring the question to mind if you are prone to becoming a vegetarian. The smell gets to you first, then you realize you are staring at animals/animal parts. The bins are open where you can just stick your hand in and pick through what one might want for dinner. Ducks are cooked with their heads on. This area is famous for Peking Duck.I looked at a freshly cooked duck the other day(It made me sad) and it seemed as if it was looking back. Ugh…Hard for me to handle. I am not going to elaborate too much here as I ‘m sure you can get my gist when I say an animal part is not wasted in the chinese diet. I am curious though how one avoids being sick from eating the things I’ve seen. I have to toughen up, I tell myself.
Tea Section: Oh the smell of a green tea aisle..it smells so good and fresh just like a rolling pasture. Jasmine tea, I was not so familiar with at first. It is a perfumey tasting tea. Seems to be very popular. I also want to add, this is a very large section! With lots of teas, loose leaf.
Packaged Cake and Cookies Section: Carbohydrates are alive and well in China. Lots of cakes, cookies, chips. The potato chips have very curious flavors from manufacturers we know and love. Pringles, Cheetos and Lays to be exact. What Americans do not have (or I have seen)are the flavors that are offered here. Blueberry Potato Chips, Cool Cucumber Chips, Sweet and Sour Fish Soup flavored chips..I could go on. I tasted a package of Strawberry Cheetos the other day. I thought they were the regular flavor. It wasn’t bad, but it was a surprise. Very Captain Crunchish….hmmm.
Fruit and Vegetables: This seems to be the largest section of the stores. I can pick out things in this section at not a great risk…broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, corn, leek, parsley, endive, cilantro. There are many types of fungus and roots that are not discernible to me. The fruit section is the most fun. Dragon fruit, funny looking melons with points. I think I found a mangosteen today in which a dear friend told me to keep a look out.
I really wish I could read the labels. I would love to do a comparative analysis on preservatives, sodium, sugar etc. alas….
I have spent a fair amount of time in these stores so I can acclimate myself to the event of grocery shopping.
I appreciate the diet in which I am accustomed, but there is a certain amount of admiration I now have for China and I feel a bit sheltered by my American food knowledge and its consumerism. My perception is, and feel free to disagree with me on this is. Americans analyse overly about our food, and I’m sure it is a very good thing to discuss our food and the health benefits or the lack thereof. But it seems the business of eating here is serious too, without a lot of psychological guilt we so often thrust upon ourselves. They eat in China as much as we do. Perhaps the approach is different. Food and eating is a non emotional event and a matter of fact part of life, by my perception so far.
Finally, Gallus Domesticus is the scientific name for a domestic chicken. I saw a food package the other day with chinese writing and in English it read “Gallus Domesticus”.
I looked further to find a small picture of a cute fluffy chicken. Thank Goodness for pictures 🙂
Until my next post~xoxo