Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Enjoying the Local Cuisine

Enjoying lunch in Li Huilian's home in a village near Baoji, China.

By Cindy DeLong
UNL Graduate Student

Now this was the GOOD shrimp, not the crunchy bugs.
Yesterday, we went to a village called Da Zhai Cun to visit some craftswomen. When we arrived we were invited in and offered cigarettes and tea. We passed on the cigarettes, but of course had tea. Later, after we had looked at her work, Li Huilian invited us to stay for lunch -- in her home. Yes, we actually ate lunch in the home of a craftswoman in a small village in China. My goodness that does sound exotic. She served us large bowls of noodles with tofu, pork, spices, vegetables, a nice broth AND chopsticks. Yes, chopsticks and noodles. It can be done, although using different etiquette than we would use in Nebraska. 

The first evening we arrived in Beijing last week, we went out to dinner to a fairly nice restaurant. We each ordered a dish and something to drink. The Chinese custom is to serve food family style so everyone shares and gets a little bit of everything. So when Amanda ordered shrimp, we all shared it and so on. A bowl of rice is served to each person. We used chopsticks to pick up the food, shrimp, pork, etc. and put it in the bowl of rice, then it's eaten from there. It is considered polite to hold the rice bowl up to close to your face, and to drink from your bowl if there is broth. It's okay to slurp soup and noodles! It's considered good manners to do these things we would never do at home. 

Before we arrived, I really worried about the food. I have been to China before, many years ago. Unfortunately, I didn't have a good food experience, and I was a little skeptical this time around.
Let's just say I came prepared with more than two or three granola bars in my suitcase.

However, I must say the food has been out of this world. Whether fine dining or in a villager's home, it's all been very, very good. Well, we won't count last week when Amanda ordered shrimp again (she keeps doing that). When the dish came it looked like bugs. No kidding. The "shrimp" were the size of peanuts and I swear they had lots of legs plus they were crunchy. I know because I ate some!

Thank goodness Marin arrived to help decipher
the menu. It's sure a good thing they have pictures!
Besides that it's all been good, very good. And much of it I have never had before. Like squid or octopus -- we weren't sure which -- was prepared with celery and scallions. The spices and cooking techniques here make the food delicious. The "Chinese food" we have in the U.S. isn't like this at all. In fact, I don't know if I will be able to eat takeout Chinese from my (formerly) favorite China Wok anymore. It just wouldn't seem right. 

The food prices are low. On Sunday night, after the market in Beijing we had a nice dinner with more food than we could eat. Our total bill was 164 RMB, which is about $7 each. That included four dishes and beverages for all of us. Of course, fancy restaurants with atmosphere and fancier dishes will cost you more just as they do at home. There is no tipping at restaurants in China. I don't know why, but it works just fine for me.  

We've eaten everything from noodles in a villager's home to banquet food served on a Lazy Susan in the middle of the table (yes, they keep bringing more and more and more food!) to a very nice fine dining restaurant, to a vegetarian restaurant, to McDonald's (well... one morning for a quick breakfast) to tonight's dinner -- the Chinese version of pizza.

It's all been wonderful and to me a GREAT surprise and bonus for this trip.

Cindy DeLong is working on a master's degree in textile history with an emphasis in quilt studies at UNL. She has a bachelor of sciences in home economics (clothing and textiles) and journalism from the University of Missouri. She has worked at the New England Quilt Museum as a curatorial intern and the International Quilt Study Center & Museum as a collections intern.

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