Eating Out in China

18 Jan

(The following material was sent as part of our training, so we would know what to expect. I am anxious to file a first-hand report when we actually arrive.)

A person can get culture shock going back and forth between the two Chinas: the modern, Western city of skyscrapers and sleek hotels, and a second, much vaster China that is older than time.  Happily, fast food outlets, Western-style, have sprung up all over China in the past few years, as they have done in most other large Chinese cities.

The first thing you need to know about fast food in China is that it’s an upscale event, a fashionable way to spend the evening, and depending where you go, a good deal more expensive than “real” restaurants — quite the opposite of fast food in America, where it was invented for the express purpose of being casual, convenient, and cheap.

McDonald’s is the oldest and most widely established Western fast-food franchise in China, and you will see dozens of families eating exotic hamburgers and taking photographs of each other in front of that redheaded clown, Ronald.  A Big Mac combo meal (Big Mac, Medium Fries, and a Medium Drink) is 18 Yuan or about $2.65.  You can super size it for another 3 Yuan (about 45 cents).  A milkshake is 6 Yuan ($1.00) and a soft serve cone is only 4 Yuan (60 cents).

The second most popular franchise is KFC. The Colonel with his white goatee and spectacles can be found looking out upon Chinese streets in many locations in China, and a combo meal is about the same as a combo meal at McDonalds.  All the Western-style fast food outlets pride themselves on absolutely un-Chinese cleanliness, and it is generally impossible to walk up or down a flight of stairs without tripping over an employee with a mop.

So foreigners need not starve in China.  For those moments of culinary homesickness, it is nice to know that empty calories are so close at hand.

On the other hand, for the adventuresome of heart great food at an indecently bargain basement price can be found in many of the local restaurants in the neighborhood around your back gate.  You may hesitate to partake of the food hawked by the street vendors.  These folks just set up a metal drum, put charcoal blocks in it for heat, add oil to a wok shaped pan, and start cooking.  The students at your school keep these guys in business because they are very cheap.  Sanitation can be a major concern for the faint hearted.

We have, however, found that we can eat extremely well at a small restaurant near our apartment. I don’t know the actual name of the place–in fact, it could be Any Hole-In-The Wall Restaurant in China, on the lower end of things economically, but not the absolute rock bottom.  Our restaurant boasts of air conditioning (although it has to be swelteringly hot outside for them to turn it on), tile floors, and two different menus.  If you sit in the downstairs area at the tables and stools, you order off the jiaozi menu.  If you sit in one of the rooms at round tables upstairs, you order off the more extensive menu which is several pages long.

Chinese people think of food as “dishes” and “staples.”  Dishes are meat, fish, and vegetables.  Staples are noodles, rice or other grain fillers.  The more expensive the meal the fewer staples you will see on the table.  The food is served communally in the middle of the table, and everyone uses their chopsticks to remove the food to their own bowls or plates.  You may also be given a small porcelain spoon in a small bowl.  This is important if soup is served.  (I have yet to see anyone manage soup with chopsticks!!)  Our table is set with chopsticks and paper napkins (or sometimes a roll of toilet paper).  The paper is indispensable for the necessary wiping off of all utensils and dishes before using them.  When you get wooden chopsticks, you must rub the ends together (kind of like sharpening a knife) so that you will not end up with any splinters on your tongue when you spear your first piece of food. Don’t expect to be served a glass of water with a meal (which would be standard practice in a restaurant back home.) No one drinks tap water, so the restaurant will sell bottled water if we want some.

One of the Chinese teachers at our school went to lunch with us and translated the “short” jiaozi menu for us.  There are about 9 different kinds of jiaozi you can order.  What is jiaozi?  It is a bite-sized form of steamed dumpling filled with meat and vegetables.  (I suppose most cuisines around the world have a version of some sort of meat filled pastry or pie—this is the Chinese version.)  We are able to order the type of jiaozi we prefer (after sampling many kinds we prefer the pork & Chinese cabbage version) as well as a huge bowl of fried rice.  The menu lists the price of jiaozi “per jin” so it looks rather expensive.  However, a jin of jiaozi would be about 60 dumplings—way too many for our family of 4!  You must also order the rice by the jin.  We usually order a half jin of rice and have enough left over to take a box home.  A half jin of jiaozi is ample for our family, too!

A sufficient amount of jiaozi and rice to feed our family of four costs 15 Yuan.  That translates to $2.20 for the meal or 55 cents per person.  We bring our own bottle of water and push away from the table sated and satisfied.

Most foreigners love Chinese food and eat it regularly at home. However, the Chinese food you are accustomed to in xx hometown, is not the same in China. Most foreign teachers think it is BETTER! One thing you will find in China that you may never have seen in the US is a restaurant referred to as “huo guo” or hot pot. A hot pot is like Swiss fondue without the chocolate or cheese. A pot of broth—usually divided down the middle between a spicy mixture and plain vegetable broth—is placed on a portable gas type range in the middle of the table. You place all sorts of meats, vegetables, and noodles in the boiling broth. Once the food is cooked you remove the food to your bowl and dip it into various oils, spices or pastes before eating. DELICIOUS!

BREAKFAST in CHINA: The Chinese concept of breakfast is very different from ours. A typical Chinese breakfast for your students consists of milk or, more commonly, a warm yogurt drink and either rice porridge, some type of bread or a “baozi” (a steamed bun usually containing a green vegetable). There may also be some noodles or fried rice involved as well. So where are the bacon, eggs, biscuits and pancakes? You prepare your own.

COFFEE: Coffee drinking is becoming more common-place in China these days (especially among the younger generation). It is usually pretty high priced in restaurants, although you can get a cup of coffee at McDonalds for a reasonable price. You may also find a streetside “café wu” (coffee house) in your city where a whole pot of locally grown coffee will cost about 3 Yuan (45 cents) a person.

MILK: The last thing I want to mention is that milk in China is processed using a different method of pasteurization (UHT rather than HTST). Milk that has been prepared using the UHT method can be stored unrefrigerated for long periods of time. For many of us, buying unrefrigerated milk in a cardboard box takes some getting used to.

Here is other information you might find interesting:

  • Bring toilet paper – public restrooms are holes in the ground with no toilet paper provided
  • YOU WILL NEED universal adapters or else your electronics will be fried
  • Credit cards are accepted everywhere
  • Street vendors will negotiate everything
  • Men can get a custom-made suit in one-day for under $200
  • You may need Tylenol PM for the first night there
  • Have your meds in their ORIGINAL containers for customs
  • There is a 12 hour time difference between us.
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Posted by on January 18, 2011 in Main


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