11 June 2009

Do you like Chinese food?

I spent 10 days in northern China in late May. It was supposed to be two weeks, but my traveling companion, we'll call him Geoff Knools, said he had had enough of China after the first week so we moved up our departure date.

I wanted to make a running blogumentary while I was on the trip but it turns out the government of China now blocks all Blogger/Blogspot domains. So I couldn't post to my own blog and I couldn't read anyone else's that uses Blogger. This must be a fairly new change in China because I successfully blogged during my trip to Shanghai last October. Anyway...

We spent a few days in Langfang, Tianjin, and Beijing. I pretty much just took pictures of the food because it is so crazy. So no long narratives here - just a bunch of photos for your viewing pleasure.

I should mention that we were there as part of a diplomatic trade mission so everywhere we went we were greeted by government officials and treated to the highest-quality meals. Almost without fail, the preparations and service were phenomenal, but the food was almost always gross. In China, group meals are taken at a circular table with the food placed in the middle on a circular platform that spins around. At the fancy restaurants, the food platform is mechanized to spin slowly and continuously (meaning that no matter how gross a particular dish was, it was bound to pass in front of your nose about once every 60 seconds).

The dish below is sea cucumbers. Also known as sea slugs, a fact I learned just a few seconds after putting this in my mouth and then spitting it out. The texture was horrible and the taste wasn't far behind.

It takes real culinary skill to slice pig's ear into thin, delicate pieces. Not surprisingly, most of the pieces remained on the plate throughout the meal.

Notice how beautifully the chef arrayed this lovely plate of giant sea clam (served cold, of course).

These little cakes were served as a dessert dish. They were warm, just out of the oven and were actually really good. They are made of green bean paste and coated in sesame seeds. They had the texture of a cookie fresh out of the oven - crispy on the outside but chewy on the inside. There was some sweetness to them but I'm not sure what ingredient caused it. Nevertheless, it was a winning dish.

So, wow. This item is called "thousand year old egg". Apparently, in China, the term "thousand years" means "a long time". So the concept here is that they bury a raw egg in the ground for a long time. Then they dig it up. Then they eat it.

I asked how long is "a long time" and I learned that these eggs typically stay underground for about 6 months before being harvested. You can see that the yolk has decayed into a solid green mass and the white has turned into an opaque rubbery brown substance.

Honestly, are they just trying to think of new exciting ways to make even grosser food?

I'll take a break here to mention that every meal, without fail, features an entire fish laid out on a plate. Scales, head, eyeballs, fins, tail, everything. You have to poke at the flesh and extract the meat (usually with small bones in it) with your chopsticks. I took before and after shots of many of the poor fish. Please enjoy.

Enough fish. How about snails? The first picture is a plate of shelled, giant slugs. The second photo is a bowl of tiny snails still in their shells. Something for everyone!

Here's a photo of me outside of a restaurant where we had lunch one day. The name of the restaurant, translated, is "The Dog Won't Eat It". No lie.

Well here's a photo of the most vile, disgusting food I've ever been served in my life. It's called "stinky tofu". Tofu, by itself, is pretty gross. It is fermented bean curd after all. But regular tofu isn't even in the same stratosphere as stinky tofu.

Stinky tofu is made by taking regular tofu, then sitting it on tables in direct sunlight for days and days, then taking into dark cool rooms where mold can thrive for days and days, then taking it back out into the sun for days and days, again and again. The aging process can last for months, depending on just how stinky you like your tofu.

The consistency was like a burned brownie. The smell was nothing like a brownie.

Honestly, when they brought it to the table it triggered our gag reflex. Two Chinese people at our table actually tried a bite but they both put down the rest of the piece on their plates. The dish circled around the table for about 2 minutes until we asked the waitress to take it away. She set it on a table behind one of the guys in our group and the smell remained so strong that he had to get up and leave. Finally they took it away altogether.

Stinky tofu smells like a pig corral on the hottest day of July. I lost my appetite just from the stench. If there's anything fouler that people voluntarily eat in this world, I'll be amazed to find out what it is. Trust me - you don't want to get within 10 feet of stinky tofu.

The trip was actually quite successful for our business purposes. I expect to be going back to Beijing sometime this year, and probably on a regular basis thereafter. I have learned that no matter where you go in China, it's not hard to find the golden arches. Those arches are always a welcome repreive, even if they are serving bean pies. (2 for a dollar - what a deal!)

Speaking of beans, one evening "Geoff" and I went to a large mall looking for a movie theater with English movies. We didn't find one, but we found an ice cream vendor selling a white ice cream with brown chunks in it. It had its Chinese name on the label, and underneath it said "Cookies and Cream". Seemed safe enough so we bought it even though it was $3 (which is a lot to pay for snacks in China where everything is cheap). One bite into it, we learned that the brown chunks were boiled black beans, all mushy and beany. Sorry - no photo - but you can imagine my dismay.

Oh, here's a cool thing. I broke my personal land-speed record. Previously, the fastest I had ever traveled on land was 161 mph in Geoff Knools' BMW Z8 a few years ago. We hit that mark somewhere in the Beaver Triangle on a trip down to Vegas.

But 161 ain't nothin', my friends. We took a bullet train from Tianjin to Beijing and hit 204 mph during the trip. That train was smoove - there was no vibration and virtually no sound. Check it out.

We had a lot of adventures on this trip. I swashbuckled my way through the Silk Market en route to tons of great shopping bargains. I toured a 100% organic farming community that grows all of its food inside mud huts with plastic tarps for a roof. We met with the management of an enormous steel factory and saw the molten ore glowing as it was poured into I-beam formations. I even played a round of golf at a "country club" in Beijing, where the rented clubs were Dunlops that were of a mid-1980's vintage (I shot 84 from the back tees despite the terrible sticks).

Here's a parting photo - one that will inspire you to visit Beijing yourself the next chance you get. This is Sidney, one of the guys in our group. In this photo, he is just finishing off the fourth scorpion on a skewer that he purchased from the street vendor behind him. That's China.


Earl Family said...

loved the update. Thanks for the giggles.

Scott said...

Amazing. It's like one of those cheap horror movies they used to show on the USA network. In this one, someone who claims to like Chinese food ends up in a dungeon eating real Chinese food. Or whatever that stuff is.

cort said...

This entry has really enticed me to do whatever deems necessary to get there. You should go into Marketing for China, I am convinced:)

duke of earl said...

stinky tofu sounds delicious, but really, 10000 year old eggs, that seems like a dream come true.

Cali said...

This makes my classic "cold cereal for dinner" look like a dream come true.

gramyflys said...

Just unbelievable. What a great experience.

Supercords said...

Great report. Loved the pictures and details. I'm an adventurous eater, but some of that stuff is just plain revolting. Still, I'd love to tag along on the next trip.

Scott said...

The food can't be worse than the lemon pepper wings at the Shak...

emily said...

Seriously, you know WAY too many pregnant ladies to be posting crap like that. Just looking at some of those "food items" triggered my own sensitive gag reflex. I can't remotely fathom having to smell them...

Natalie said...

Joey, was it offensive to the Chinese people in your group that you passed on many of these dishes? I wonder what would happen if you introduced something like "Wing Shak" into these places and gave them a clue about what good food tastes like!

Kyle said...

Based on that score I would buy those golf clubs if I were you. Who knows we might have a China Open some day.

Lindsay said...

I can't go to China...ever. I will starve.

chang said...

Wonderful! i like this foods... more template