Food in China, Part 1

This is a picture from the meat section of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart, in the states and other locations I’ve seen it in (S. America), pretty much look about the same. At minimum, they don’t have live fish (the only live food I’ve ever seen in any grocery store is lobsters). But here in China, they go all out. Frogs, turtles, eels, fish, and all sorts of sea creatures that I don’t even recognize.

People here are so much more close to the origins of their food than they are in the States, or even Europe. And their palate is much broader than in the “European” countries in S. America (Argentina, Uruguay). Even in Turkey I didn’t see live frogs in the market. And this is Wal-Mart, not the exotic, strange food tourist streets in Beijing, so you know regular people are buying these things regularly.

There is no food allergy awareness here. I have an allergy statement which says “I’m allergic to garlic, onion, and gluten – please help me choose something on the menu which can be made without these things”. And it has pictures. It now has Chinese writing all over it where I’ve asked my friends to add:

  • “rice is okay”
  • “gluten is found in wheat, flour, barley, rye”
  • “I’m also allergic to soy sauce” (soy sauce is fermented with wheat!)
  • “meat and fish are okay”
  • “please ask the chef to make me something”

Because otherwise, waiters look at my note and just stare at me. I had a chef say no he wouldn’t cook me anything because it wouldn’t taste good without garlic, onion or soy sauce. I had this happen twice. The second time, I was with a Chinese student and she was able to convince him to cook for me, and he kept coming out and skeptically asking us if I was sure I thought it tasted good.

(On the plus side, whereas in the US and Europe I usually end up with a plain piece of meat or – even worse – a chicken salad, the Chinese chefs do go out of their way to actually make up for the lack of spices, which is a real treat and means more to me than I think they realize).

Also, there’s a restaurant in my neighborhood which slaughters a goat on the street every day (I saw them draining the blood once) and then they put the remains on the street. I appreciate getting close to your food and it’s a philosophy I’m trying to embrace but . . . the goat head on the street was pretty intense. I’ll spare you the picture.

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