First Impressions: Food in Fuzhou
Trip Start Jun 11, 2011
10Trip End May 15, 2012
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It's tough to put into words how incredibly much I love the food here in China. Each new day brings a new onslaught of flavors, scents, and textures to the palette that would astound the most seasoned of Travel Channel hosts. While I haven't seemed to find the scorpions-on-a-stick or the batches of seasoned crickets (yet) that Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern might have featured on their shows, I have still found a wonderful alternative -- real, authentic, Chinese food that is, in an infinite number of ways, different (and much better) from type that we all know and love back home in the States.
I came to this country with a rather romantic view of the people, the food, and the culture. I pictured bustling marketplaces erupting in a din of shouts and calls from the vendors
While many aspects of my romantic envisioning of China may only be seen in the outskirts of Fuzhou (where there are supposedly a lot of quaint fishing villages that I am dying to explore), much of it can also be seen here in the city. In Fuzhou, the marketplaces burst to life at 6am, only to transform into bustling night markets of street food stalls and back-alleyway poker and mahjong games, played by shirtless old men smoking on cigarettes and drinking Seprin, a local Fuzhou pilsner. Vendors shout the prices of their wares to passersby from their stalls, little kids run rampant through their neighborhoods, squeeling and laughing as they chase each other with empty aluminum cans, and firecrackers go off at the most ungodly of hours due to a recent death in the family. This place is crazy. This place is chaotic. This place is the China I've looking for.
Unfortunately, almost every travel guide that I have read regarding Fuzhou's dining scene has painted a pretty grim picture. One book in my library of China guides (thanks again for those, Mom) went so far to open their dining section with the following: "Fuzhou suffers from aserious lack of restaurants. If you're looking to enjoy a nice sit-down meal in a quality dining establishment, this might not be the place for you." I came to Fuzhou a little unsettled because of statements like these. Anyone that knows me knows how much I love food. If I couldn't go on an adventurous food quest each and every day, what the hell was I going to do here? However, after just a few weeks of Lynnae's and my stay, it is safe to say that these books got it all wrong. This city contains such an insane amount of restaurants, it makes the text in those travel guides laughable.
Now, if you're looking for straight-up Chinese food, you're set. Fuzhou offers so many different types of Chinese cuisines, from, quite obviously, Fujian (the province of which Fuzhou is the capital), to Dongbei (Northeastern Chinese food), Szechuan (the hot and spicy food hailing from the southern province of Sichuan) and Cantonese-style (dim sum) restaurants -- I'm sure there are more variations of Chinese restaurants, I just haven't stumbled across them yet
As for the location of our apartment, Lynnae and I both consider ourselves extremely lucky to have been placed where we are
As for our adventures with street food, I was going to address it in this blog as well, but Lynnae and I haven't really experienced much of it yet. "Street food" in Fuzhou really begins to appear at night, roughly around 9pm, when vendors set up shop all along the curbsides, barbecuing anything and everything that you could imagine. Unfortunately, by this time, Lynnae and I are usually too exhausted from a day's work to head out to Daming Lu or "Student Street" around the University section (two of the famed street food sections) to get a taste of Fuzhou's late night eats, so we'll have to save that for a future blog!
I hope I haven't exhausted you all too much with my lengthy food blog, but I just love food too much to keep it short
Zhe jian! (good-bye!)
I haven't been quite as adventurous with my culinary selections as Dan, but, then again Dan will eat ANYTHING! = ) We've been in Fuzhou for two weeks now, and my stomach still hasn't adjusted. Though I can't say I haven't stepped out of my box... I've eaten the meat from a pig's hoof, frog meat, raw beef topped with a raw quail's egg, and duck liver! (That might explain why my stomach has been in upheaval!) Fortunately, most of the teachers have been in the same situation, and they have been extremely helpful! One of the teachers let me try a Chinese remedy (which looks unnervingly like rabbit droppings), and I've been working away at the industrial-size Pepto-Bismol chewables that we bought at BJ's before we left
I was a little nervous about the food coming into this experience because I am not fond of American "Chinese" food. But, the food here is surprisingly tasty and flavorful! Despite my stomach, I've been trying all sorts of new dishes, and it tastes nothing like the greasy "Chinese" food back at home! As of right now, my favorite dish is the Lychee Pork, one of Fuzhou’s most notable dishes. It consists of breaded pork and potatoes that have been soaked in a sweet sauce, similar to sweet and sour chicken. Another one of my favorites is a green leafy vegetable (like broccoli rabe) that has been soaked in a very light garlic sauce… very simple and delicious! Two dishes that really remind me of home are Dongbei mashed potatoes (a huge platter of mashed potatoes slathered in meat gravy) and Szechuan fries (shoestring fries served with a ridiculous amount of hot red chili peppers). The other night at a Dongbei restaurant, we tried a new dish: caramelized sweet potatoes (bite-sized pieces of sweet potato covered in a layer of sugar). The dish was absolutely fantastic, but as it cooled, the sugar hardened, and the sweet potatoes became rock hard! ...And I was worried I’d lose weight in China!
In China, restaurants serve meals in a family style manner. Every table has a giant Lazy Susan on which all of the food and drinks are served. The table setting--usually sealed in plastic wrap--includes a small plate, a bowl, one spoon, a glass (resembling a shot glass), a small sauce dish, and a set of chopsticks. The small plate is used simply as a resting place for the bowl, and I've seen people discard their bones and scraps on the plate as well. As the food is served, you simply push the Lazy Susan around and use your chopsticks to shovel food into your bowl. Dan and I have really improved on our chopstick skills... We haven't used a fork at all since we've been here! While there really aren't any manners to be considered for eating, the Chinese take their drinking VERY seriously! Firstly, all drinks, whether it's beer, soda, or water, are always poured into the small glass. (It's a bit annoying when you're coming in from the Fuzhou heat and you just want to chug the entire bottle of water!!) Regarding drinking etiquette, here are a few things that we’ve learned so far:
1. You should always pour for those around you before pouring your own beer.
3. You should not drink by yourself; always invite another to drink with you. With that being said, it is considered somewhat rude to join in on a drink when not invited.
4. The person receiving the invite to drink should clink their glass just below the lip of the inviter’s glass to show respect. If the inviter’s glass cannot be reached, both people should clink their glass on an object that makes a clinking sound (beer bottle, bowl).
5. No sipping; you should drink the entire glass. Don’t leave any leftovers in your glass…Otherwise, you may have to drink the entire bottle of beer (which is about triple the size of a beer back home)!
6. "Gan bei!" (Literally, 'dry the cup’) Basically, if someone says this, you will probably be finishing the entire bottle of beer… Or, at the very least, taking three shots of beer.
Like I said, drinking is a very serious sport in China!
As for the meat... Hmm, it's a very interesting concept. The meat does not come prepackaged in China, but rather different cuts of meat are simply laid along several refrigerated surfaces. Customers grab a plastic bag (similar to the produce bags we use at home) and sift through the pieces of meat with their hands. Butchers work tirelessly hacking away at various animals, and the cuts of meat that are available are endless! (Though, ground meat is not readily available in China, and boneless chicken breast is not easy to find either.) Needless to say, the Chinese are not wasteful! Fish swim around in shallow tubs or lay on ice ready to be purchased. The tubs are so shallow that it is not uncommon to find fish, flopping around on the floor only to be scooped up and thrown back into the tank. At first, the meat section of the grocery stores were very off putting (then again I didn't really like the meat section back home either), but such is the way of life in China... Just another thing to get used to!