On food and eating
Eating always occupies time and thought in one’s day and no less when travelling in China. Our breakfasts are provided each morning in the hotels. In southern China, western food of bacon and eggs, toast and marmalade, coffee and tea was usually on offer but as we have gone forward north and now west, the breakfasts have become more Asian in style with veges, dumplings, and noodles. This morning for the first time there was no coffee or tea and our guide told us that was usual Chinese style.
Lunch is usually had standing behind the vehicles with the back door open and the boot acting as a makeshift table – standing and walking are good alternatives after sitting in the cars for long periods. We have been stopping in small towns mid-morning and buying fruit and bread from road side stalls or small shops. Our guide helps with the language difficulties, but people are friendly and open. We realise that as we go west ‘big noses’ are a curiosity not regularly seen in small towns. Young people particularly are keen to try their school-learnt English on us – with varying degrees of success. A group of giggling teenage girls accompanied us last night to a restaurant and ordered the meal for us – and then ran off to their English language lesson.
Dinner tonight for a change was at a western style cafe recommended in the Lonely Planet, close to our hotel, but is usually had in a small Chinese restaurant where the locals eat. These meals are at least half the price of meals in the hotel restaurants. Eating out is cheap – we can often feed the four of us for the equivalent of $20NZ, & this includes a drink as well. We try to find restaurants where the menu is presented with coloured photos so that we have some idea of what we will be served.
Two difficulties present themselves: how to eat with chopsticks without messing the entire table cloth and oneself as well, and how to avoid ordering food that is so spicy that one’s throat burns and one’s lips turn numb. We have asked our guide to write down in Chinese ‘no spicy food, no chillies, please’ or words to that effect, and we produce this when we order. Usually we order 3 or 4 bowls and share the food; several times we have had to leave food largely uneaten because of the fierce chilly taste. Martin thinks he can handle chop sticks with the finesse of an old hand, but we think we often provide amusement for the locals as they watch us try to eat slippery noodles that fall so easily off the chop sticks. Fortunately a spoon is also provided. And we watch the locals slurp up their soup straight from the bowl or shovel in rice from a bowl two inches from the lips.
If all else fails as we order the food, Maurice has a digital translator – you punch in the words and out comes a Chinese voice with the order – beef, rice. Mostly the young waiters seem to cotton on. So we are enjoying the food here and we won’t go hungry!