Dalton and I had no idea what kind of foods would be available to us once we moved to China, but we were ready to just get by on whatever was available. We knew sacrifices would be made, but hoped to find some new foods to love as well. Now that we have been eating (every day) for over a month, we have learned quite a few things: how to gamble shop, how not to ask questions, foods we refuse to finish, foods we can’t stop eating, and foods we miss from the States.
How to Gamble Shop
I have mentioned gamble shopping before in previous posts (see my post on fresh air), and we still love it every time we go out. Since we cannot read Chinese (specifically Mandarin), we buy products based off the shape of the container, pictures, and numbers (which are written in alphanumeric…This is not something to be taken for granted).
As some of you know, I am allergic to meat products (especially pork), which takes the risk/reward of gamble shopping to a whole new level; anything made with meat, lard, or other animal byproducts will cause a negative reaction. For non-sweet food, it rules out most of the frozen and microwave meals. Desserts are much harder to decipher, and lard is sneaky and can be found in anything from gummy candies, pie crust, to the cream in Oreo cookies.
The key to gamble shopping is buying in small proportions. The food is extraordinarily cheap, and so when I buy something that is so bad (see “Food We Refuse to Finish” below) that it makes me gag, I throw it out (after offering some to Dalton, of course).
Once we’ve found our staples, or food items that we can eat consistently and enjoy, we buy in bulk! Just don’t forget what the packaging looks like…
Note: This is from the food selection of rural northeast China: Fushun. The area is influenced by Korean foods, and I have seen quite a few Russian liquors. It does not represent eating in large cities, or in other rural areas throughout China.
How Not to Ask Questions
When you are eating in a cafeteria for most meals (which is true when working at a boarding school), you learn to just eat what is available. I can confidently say the cafeteria food never looks appealing, and we usually have no idea what we are eating. My students call every meat “chicken” or “fish”, but I am not convinced that every meat dish served up is chicken, since pork is a major favorite in this town.
Even though the food will look rather sad, soupy, or a funny brownish or grayish color, it is usually quite good, and leaves me feeling healthy afterwords – never bloated or sick or overly tired. Dalton and I have both learned to try new foods no matter their appearance, and while we don’t like everything, it has been a positive experience. However, we still aren’t interested in learning exactly what it is we are eating … as we are enjoying the food too much.
Foods We Refused to Finish
There have been quite a few purchases that have been just awful. Our first surprise was purchasing vanilla-flavored ice cream. It tasted awful, and left this horrid aftertaste that made me want to brush my tongue. Turns out, anything flavored with vanilla in China has the same soapy flavoring that is completely unpalatable. Also, turns out it can be difficult to decipher if something is flavored with vanilla using pictures only.
While you can buy milk in China, I would not recommend it. It is not pasteurized here (like we do in the States), and health reasons aside for drinking non-pasteurized milk, it has a taste that is far different. While I do not like the taste of any milk (I drink soy milk), Dalton cannot drink the milk unless he is using it for dipping Oreos.
Foods We Can’t Stop Eating
The fruit is fresh. As in, probably just picked off a tree and brought to the little market store down the street. It tastes amazing – I have never loved fruit so much in my life, and I cannot get enough. Our favorite are the little mandarin oranges. I can get a bundle of about 15 oranges for what equals a U.S. dollar, and they are tart and juicy and amazing.
For some reason, peanut butter and anything with peanut butter inside of it is delicious. We haven’t found any good salty crackers (such as Ritz), but they have these slightly sweet crackers (called “breakfast crackers”) that are amazing, and when combined with the peanut butter here… it’s my personal ambrosia.
We found a local sushi restaurant in an outdoor shopping mall we foreigners call “University”. Dalton loves the sushi there so much we have been going about twice a week for a while now. For about $2.50, he gets a full sushi meal, while I go to the “American Food” restaurant nearby for foamy coffee and something called “fruit pizza” (a personal pizza with cheese and different kinds of fruit).
Foods We Miss (from the States)
Cheese. While words cannot express the horror of being apart from cheese, I will do my best. Dalton and I have always loved cheese (it’s one of the only things that both of us eat regularly), and we will nosh on anything from sharp cheddar, to gouda, to brie, and anything shredded. Unfortunately, dairy is not a “thing” in China, and we have only been able to procure cheese in an American store in Shenyang (over an hour away). While is was advertised as “gouda”, it tastes like bland sliced cheese and even comes in the little “single packets”.
While we have rice with every meal, I miss pasta and marinara sauce (and I’ll say it again, cheese). My first real food craving hit just a few days ago, and it was for rotini pasta, olive oil, basil tomato sauce, and cheddar cheese.
Dalton’s most missed foods include mac ‘n cheese (specifically the Vermont White Cheddar mac and cheese frozen meal) and cheeseburgers. Are you sensing a theme yet?
If I ever get to visit France, I will make up for this cheese-less time in China.