This week’s theme for The Daily Post’s Photo Challenge is “Foreign”. I’ve had two opportunities to travel beyond the borders of South Africa – once to Canada and Connecticut/NYC, and the other to China. For Canada I was in Montreal, and the French certainly made me feel relatively non-local. But China? In China I was a foreigner through-and through.
I’ve written of China before here and here. One thing I haven’t written of was the food. We were in Hunan Province, which is decidedly un-Westernised. They are are well-known for hot and spicy food, and we were treated to their best.
Traditionally the tables are round. The person who is the (symbolic) head of the table will generally place all food orders. All dishes go onto the big rotating center, and everyone eats little bits of each dish. It was so painful waiting for a specific dish to reach your seat, but it was also quite a nice experience. Notice the chopsticks? Yeah, I actually learned to eat with those! I even ate a boiled egg with it. I kid you not.
The way our university’s Confucius Institute explained it to us, serving a meat dish whole or with the bone is a sign of wealth, and so, chickens were served whole. It was rather disconcerting having the chicken stare at you while dishing up. Big meats, like beef, are served with a bone on the side.
After a lovely day at Zhangjiajie National Park, we were a little tired and overheated. We got some bottled water, but we were rarely able to find frozen or chilled water – the belief, apparently, is that cold liquids are detrimental to one’s Qi. But we did find ice creams. Most of us had a lovely fruity or chocolaty ice cream, but one of our colleagues saw a pea-flavoured ice cream and decided it might be interesting. After seeing his facial expression, I didn’t taste it.
The most different and interesting thing about the food we were given in China was that the after-dinner treats were not quite as refined as the cupcakes and brownies I’m used to. They were made of vegetables – sweet potato or pumpkin. And, despite my Westernised sweet tooth, I loved them. I did miss my Cadbury’s, but these little treats remained a wonderful experience.
I never would have expected that food would contribute so much to my experience in China. It was the first time I was so far removed from the food I am used to, and there was actually a day in the middle of the trip that I did not eat at all, because fried rice and warm orange juice for breakfast was just not cutting it that day. For future travelers to China, I would suggest taking a box of cereal and some chocolate bars just in case, but do put yourself out there and try to eat as much local food as possible.