Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Five Senses Of China

Part V: Taste

One of the preconceived notions that I had about living in China gets blown out of the wok every day that I live here. You see, before leaving the US, I wondered how I could possibly eat Chinese food every day for a year. After spending my life in a country where Monday's selection is Italian, Tuesday's is Mexican, Indian on Wednesday, etc., I wondered how the people of China could eat the same kind of food day after day.

The errors in my thinking have become tastefully apparent, as I have realized that the entrees that I was considering were actually the American versions of Chinese food. The take-out menu delights, like egg rolls, chicken chow mein, and shrimp egg foo young, don't even really exist here. What I know now is that there's really no such thing as "Chinese food." Rather, given the local tastes of each region, as well as the seasonal selections of produce, you can probably eat a new dish every day for your entire life...No repeats!

Sichuan, Hunan, Yunnan, Mongolian, Dongbei...The menus are varied and delicious. And while you can probably get gong bao ji ding (Kung Pao Chicken) at any type of restaurant, chances are that each region will create its own tasty version.

To choose a favorite dish is impossible. To choose a favorite regional cuisine is equally impossible. So, instead, in this blog, I will honor the wonderful representation of "Chinese food" that has fed us so well this year in Yan Bei Yuan's alleyway restaurants. Not only has the food in these fandian filled our bellies, but also the warm reception that we have received from the laoban, shifu, and fuwuyuan this entire year has filled our hearts.

From the Muslim restaurant's owner, who knows exactly how Z likes his chuanr prepared (and I mean exactly!),

To Hui Min, who knows not only how to tickle our Hunan taste buds, but also how to brighten our day every time we walk into "Restaurant #3" (even if it's just for tea),

To the "13 kuai" place (named as such because of what it costs for three overflowing dishes of mala doufu, tudo si, and rou si chao can they make any money when they charge so little!?) that we pass by every day and are greeted by a husband and wife whose smiles are the answer to China's energy crisis,

To "Restaurant #1," whose sizzling platters of bao cai, tu duo pianr, and doufu cubes are undoubtedly our favorite trio,

To "Restaurant #2," which we hold near and dear to our hearts, since it was our first ever foray into alleyway dining,

To the corner mala tang place, where we are always served without bags over our bowls (everyone else eats their dinner out of a plastic bag inside a bowl, but, for us, the wife washes the bowls before hand and serves us without the bags), which always makes us feel special,

To the "red restaurant," which always has a party atmosphere, as large groups are always chowing down on Sichuan delights while sharing huge bottles of beer and baijiu,

We will undoubtedly crave these intensely when we leave!

Despite this list, we have not even come close to sampling all the specialties that are right under our noses (literally!). The people who own and operate each one of these fandian have our sincere gratitude, for serving delicious food at unbeatable prices to a family of waiguoren in a way that always makes us feel welcome, comfortable, and, of course, full.



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