Global EditionASIA 中文双语Français
Home / Food

To foreigners, delicious local cuisine may be foreign

By Randy Wright | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-07-15 08:27
Share - WeChat

I had not realized-that is, until several friends from the United States visited me in Beijing-just how much of China I had absorbed into my personal life. Nowhere was that more evident than in the realm of food.

Here's what happened: Not far from Jingshan Park, adjacent to the Forbidden City, is a Qingfeng steamed bun shop, a brand made famous when President Xi Jinping paid an informal visit and ordered six steamed pork buns, a cold vegetable dish and a bowl of pig-liver soup. As a man of the people, he stood in line with others and paid 21 yuan ($3.25) out of his own pocket for the meal, according to a local news report.

So, naturally, I thought this would be a good introduction to real Chinese cuisine for my visiting friends. We were all tired after visiting the Forbidden City on that warm day, and it would be a relief to sit down.

Not only that, but this would give them a chance to sample classic northern Chinese food that should not shock their American palates too much. It seemed safe enough.

I wanted them to enjoy themselves. But let's face it, the local specialties in any foreign land can be a shock to an American whose taste buds have marinated for decades in McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Personally, I find that a little epicurean adventure adds spice to life-especially after one notices that the food in a foreign country, no matter how exotic or bizarre, doesn't seem to harm the local residents. You can be pretty sure you will survive.

I think adjusting to another culture's food is more psychological than physical. The brain, the tongue and the stomach are more closely related than one might think.

So while I generally welcome new experiences, I have my limits. When a big lake fish is beautifully prepared and placed on a platter in a lovely arc, as if it's still swimming, I can appreciate the artistry. But I'm not going to go for the eyeballs.

Fried animal brains are another red line. The thought starts my gag reflex going. And chicken feet. I never adjusted to chicken feet, although I learned to order them in Chinese for my wife. For her, they were a delicious delicacy.

(Side note: A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to parts of the country with a group of Chinese journalists. The bus took us to a roadside cafe whose smiling proprietor immediately produced plates of chicken feet. One of the journalists, a male in his early 20s, held up one of these claws when the nice woman wasn't looking and scowled in disgust. "No way I'm eating this," he said and tossed it back onto the plate. This made me realize that not all Chinese appreciate all Chinese food, which gave me license from then on to be myself.)

Anyway, there I was with my American friends at the Qingfeng steamed bun shop in Beijing, the brand made famous by Xi. This impressed them, and I thought these buns would be a safe bet. I helped them order some pork-filled and vegetable buns, and after a few minutes brought them to the table with dipping sauce.

My friends poked at the unfamiliar food unenthusiastically. Clearly, it didn't look appetizing to them. So I demonstrated, grabbing a bun with chopsticks and wolfing it down.

Still, they only poked at the buns, glancing at me to see if I would be offended. They took little nibbles with dour faces. Watching closely, I could see their gag reflexes going into overdrive.

Since I love stuffed buns, I felt it was my duty to not allow good food to go to waste. So, to their obvious relief, I ate their buns for them. I must have had 10 or 12 that day.

As I was reaching my limit, my friend's wife asked timidly: "So, Randy, is there a McDonald's nearby?"

Most Popular
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349