Works for The Mouse
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Bean Town, Ewe Essay
Oh god, the stories I could tell about the food.
For starters, be careful if you have gallbladder trouble if you come here. Chinese cooking, at least in the region of China I'm in, uses a lot of cooking oil. They sell jugs of stuff at the supermarkets as big as chlorine drums. I've had a couple of gall attacks here because of the sheer amount of oil.
That being said, there's plenty to love here in regards to food. There's a saying in Chinese: "The East is sour, the West is spicy, the South is sweet and the North is salty." Living in Hangzhou and being so close to Shanghai I fall into the East region, which is famous for things such as preserved vegetables, marbled star anise tea eggs, and seafood. Each region has its own signature dish, but it's possible to sample all regions. I've had dim sum here, a delicious dish called Mongolian hot pot, stir fry, you name it. And in many of the bigger cities there is plenty of Western influence, as such places like steakhouses, Italian restaurants, even places like Pizza Hut and Starbucks line the corners.
The best things are the night markets. There's a number of streets around here that, at night, will come alive with hundreds of food carts making street food. You can get sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, beef and lamb kebobs, naan, noodles, pot stickers, baozi (large steamed buns) for very cheap (usually 1-5 RMB a piece; less than a buck), and for the most part they are very safe. I've never had a problem with them, and they've been a nice treat while bar hopping with friends.
If I had to pick a favorite, I'd have to settle on two of them. One is the hot pot, an interesting style of dish where a large pot of broth is placed in the middle of the table and brought to a boil. You then order all sorts of meats, vegetables, fish, and put them in the broth to make a soup. Once cooked you can fish out what you want from the pot and have your own bowl of soup. Usually we stick our chopsticks into the pot and grab what we want, it's more fun. The other is called xiaolongbao, which are these very delicate dumplings filled with pork, shrimp, or vegetables, and a bit of soup. These are steamed in bamboo steamers and brought out piping hot. Put one in your mouth and the dumpling melts away.
Now...the weirdest thing I ever ate happened on accident. My Chinese was still awful, and I went into a small restaurant for some noodles. One dish in particular looked good, but I couldn't read the characters. I got out my phrasebook and learned the name was Waist Flower Noodles. Thinking it was something fancy like the rose blossom chicken I've sampled before, I ordered it. The dish comes, and there's no flowers in it except for these oddly colored brown ones. I couldn't place the taste at all, it was very strange. I took a closer look and realized that the brown things in the soup.....were kidneys. Kidneys cut in such a manner that when they were boiled in water, they blossomed. Like flowers. Hence the name, Waist Flower Noodle.