Food is a major part of any culture. We all use it as a form of socializing, or as a hobby, or a way to relax. However, every country has its own cuisine and its own take on different dishes. Depending on where you go in China, each province has its own school of cooking. Sichuan province is renowned for its fiery dishes, and Beijing for the Peking Duck. Fuzhou’s food isn’t as famous as those two examples, but it does belong to a different school of cooking, where the focus is placed mainly on seafood. This is due to the proximity to the sea, and therefore the large availability of fish. It is also noted that provinces in the South of China don’t use as much red meat as northern provinces. This is a clear indicator of how the weather and geographical position of provinces influents the diet of many people.
The main dish for Fuzhou is fish balls. It is as delicious as it sounds, or so I am told, as I am one of those rare creatures found in China – a vegetarian.
Whilst you may be forgiven for thinking that due to China’s rich history, and large population of Buddhists, that vegetarian options would be available pretty much everywhere. You would be wrong. The word vegetarian does not appear to have the same meaning here in China than it would say in England or America. Here in China, it means you can eat small amounts of meat. Or Fish. Or seafood.Furthermore, they do not feel the need to tell you that the vegetarian option you have asked for, and specifically requested not to come with meat, will in fact have meat in it. How do I know? Because the consumption of meat makes me ill, and it isn’t always hidden within the food.
That shouldn’t deter anyone. Myself, and several other vegetarians are surviving, with a wide and varied diet. Lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, tofu, rice, even some western foods are available over here. There are some trusted restaurants that you will find, and it is always a way to expand your own culinary skills.
For those that will eat everything, then this is the place for you. They have everything here, from chickens feet to cow’s tongue. There’s plenty of rice and noodles, and ordering food becomes second nature. It is definitely a place to expand your food choices.
The restaurants and eating out in China is also an experience. It is an adventure, and often leads to funny anecdotes. Don’t come expecting everywhere to be of a Western standard, with spotless areas, but they have their charms. The waiters and waitresses are so welcoming and friendly. Even if you don’t speak Chinese they more than try to help you, often laughing with you as you try to TPR out a food menu, or draw food items with your fingers.
Street food is amazing. There is a whole culture of street food, with so many vendors lined along different streets, opening after dark and not closing until late. They are everywhere. But the food is delicious. Especially the barbecues. You walk up to a vendor, and the food is all fresh and on display. You don’t need to speak Chinese to order, you can just point at what you would like. They add the most amazing spices, and everything just tastes amazing. I definitely recommend the sweetcorn and the aubergine, well any of the vegetables.
A lot of people love the ban mian (noodles cooked in something like peanut butter) and the rice and chicken. These are available everywhere, and cost from 3 – 14 Yuan. So cheap and convenient, it almost makes it seem cheaper, and easier to eat out everyday rather than cook.
Whilst some restaurants may make it hard for people like vegetarians, or those with certain allergies to eat out, it is not impossible. The street vendor food is delicious, and you watch it getting cooked whilst you wait. There is so many combinations to choose from, you have to go back time and time again.
If you don’t want to eat out, then the food in the supermarkets is just as fresh, cheap and convenient. Fruit is even sold on the streets, from baskets, or on carts. You cannot escape the different foods available here, they are literally on every corner you walk past. They are so colourful, and tempting.
The lack of western food also forces us out of our comfort zone, and into the area where we are left to experiment. Believe me, the food here is nothing like the food at home. There is so much to choose from, and so many new fruits and flavours to try, a year wont be long enough!