I love food, and China offers plenty of different food to keep anyone’s taste buds satisfied. There are so many different meat, fish, and vegetable dishes to choose from, that it makes sense that the Chinese will often share several dishes together instead of just consuming one on their own. In fact, when the Chinese greet each other, instead of saying something like “hey, what’s up?” or “hey how are ya?” they will usually say something along the lines of 你有吃反了吗？ Which translates into “ Have you eaten?” Or, more specifically they’ll ask, “Have you had lunch?”
I remember my very first dinner in China. It was someone’s birthday on staff so everyone had gone out to a restaurant for dinner. This was my first time meeting everyone, and, having just landed in China a few hours earlier this was a rather overwhelming experience. I had eaten Chinese food at restaurants at home before but still the cultural aspects of sharing dishes and eating with chopsticks was still somewhat of a surprise, or perhaps something that I just hadn’t prepared myself for or thought about.
Over the next few weeks I gradually began to learn where and how to get food for myself. At school most people ordered their lunch so I could read off the one English menu and try some new things, or have people surprise me by ordering randomly. I also tried some of the local restaurants, mostly going with someone who new more or less what they were doing. Eventually I had learned where to get dumplings, baozi, and various Sichuan dishes at a couple places near my apartment. I soon realized though that as delicious as the food tasted, I really had no idea what exactly it was that I was eating. The meat could be coming from anywhere (or any part) and so much of the food was drenched in unknown oil. While this may not seem important to most people, I do enjoy cooking, knowing what goes into my food, and most importantly (as a diabetic), how many carbohydrates I’m eating. It took me a while to learn how to shop for even the most food items. The first few times I bought bread it was sweet and cake-like, the second time it was all stale. Cheese and milk tasted strange or sour and the broccoli was already blue.
I still thought I would take it upon myself to learn how to cook my own Chinese food, so I bought some chicken, vegetables and spices from a local grocery store and cooked up my own dinner. It looked all right but something about the chicken wasn’t right and I was sick the next morning and ended up at the hospital. I’ve refrained from buying meat ever since.
Two or three days later I was out with a friend (who is also a foreigner) who made me try hot pot. This was my first hot pot experience. I don’t know if it was my body still adjusting to life in China or whether it was because I hadn’t left the food cook enough, but I was sick again all that night and in the hospital the next day for the second time that week. Needless to say, I was turned off Chinese food for a few days and switched to eating Western food that I bought at Auchan.
Is it delicious?
For anyone that has been living in China, you will probably be familiar with a Chinese person asking you “is it delicious?” to whatever it is that you are eating. This question is usually met with some giggles – ‘delicious’ being a strong word to describe taste and rarely used unless something tastes really, really good. But Chinese food is delicious, and I didn’t let my two sick days stop me from experimenting all that Chinese cuisine has to offer. I have since tried many Chinese delicacies, including chicken feet and heart, goose liver, bullfrog, and various fruits and vegetables that aren’t seen in mainstream Western supermarkets.
East and West
I still do enjoy balancing my diet between Chinese food and Western comfort food – pasta is easy to shop for and cook up, as are Western styled breakfasts with eggs, toast with peanut butter, and bacon. Knowing what is in my food has also proved to be extremely important, especially when it comes to the amount of carbohydrates in a dish of rice, a slice of white bread, or in various sauces. It hasn’t been easy living so far away from home and completely reliant on medication that is determined by how much you are eating, and I often do suffer the consequences of high (and sometimes low) blood sugar levels. I do my best not to be too discouraged, and I have a fantastic support team at home that I am constantly in contact with. I feel lucky to have been able to live abroad for a year, and I am extremely thankful to everyone that has made it possible for me to do this.
And I haven’t let any condition, be it food poisoning or diabetes, stop me from enjoying the delicious Chinese food…in China.