Alyssa’s Expat Life—My First Experiences With Authentic Chinese Food

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Waking up the next morning, I realized I was still on planet earth, but barely. I will talk about daily life in my neighborhood in an upcoming blog, but first I want to touch on the food since many of you have asked. After going to bed at 1:30 a.m., I was due to meet Ruby and Gavin, people who worked at my school, at 11:30 a.m. for lunch. We walked to a restaurant close to the school, which as I have found out in later weeks, is the only restaurant nearby that has photos in its menu. Score.

Ruby and Gavin had me pick out what I wanted to eat from the menu. I thought this would be my meal. As I was poring through the photos and reading the English descriptions (a rarity in China, most menus do not have English or photos and we just have to get up and leave), I thought to myself, “Holy crap, all this stuff is gross.” I mean, it was like beef intestines and duck and frog and absolutely weird and disgusting stuff that we Americans stereotype as Chinese food. Then I got saved by the photo of the sweet and sour pork dish.

We walked upstairs and the chopsticks were looming. Crap, I forgot to practice with those. Little did I know that my lunch didn’t include just the sweet and sour pork. It was a four-course lunch complete with what Ruby and Gavin had ordered. I had to try everything since it was a shared meal or I would’ve felt super rude. Uh oh, I was trapped.

First was a beef broth, which doesn’t sound bad, but the beef was super fatty and all clung together. I didn’t have a knife, and I tried a piece and gagged. I stuck to the broth. Ruby asked me if I liked it since she noticed I didn’t eat the meat, and I said that I didn’t eat beef. I do, but definitely not that kind.

My pork was great, but there was another pork that was pinker and sort of deep fried. Ruby put it on my plate. I think this must be a Chinese thing, them taking their own chopsticks, which have been in their mouths, and serving things on your plate. It’s the American equivalent of double dipping—in this case infinity dipping. The pink pork ended up being not bad, but I couldn’t look at it due to the pinkness. I swallowed and moved on.

Next were dumplings (great) wrapping up shrimp (gross). Ruby put two on my plate. I chewed once and swallowed those things like I was in a Survivor food competition. Mercifully my first lunch was over.

In the upcoming days, I have found that the food situation isn’t that bad, as long as you have menus with at least a photo. At that same restaurant I have found green beans that are slathered in some sort of meat stock, and I already know I will be trying out that recipe when I come back to the states. They are the best green beans I’ve ever had. Period. I’ve also found fried chicken that are sort of nuggets, but they are deep fried and have little bones in them, so you have to be careful. They don’t gross me out and are quite tasty.

The Uni-Mart is my closest “grocery store.” It’s sort of a glorified Walgreens. I can buy minimal produce, TV dinners (the ones I can read), bread, wine complete with corkscrew, chips and other basics. I figured out they charge you for plastic bags to carry your groceries in, which is ridiculous, so I’ve learned to bring my own to the store.

We also found an awesome pizza place near the main school, and we have meetings at that school every other week. I plan on stocking up on pizza and bringing it home for warm-up purposes. There is not much to go off of food-wise in my neighborhood that I’ve found yet, so I have to get it where I can.

The other two group meals have been pretty uneventful. One was with the school owner and the guy who hired me, Mr. Gao. He was very big on manners and I was so nervous with the chopsticks that I knocked a huge beer over. Nice one. There were many more people at this table, so I got away with passing on dishes that people again put on my plate with their infinity dipped chopsticks. Then Mr. Gao got a call from a handyman and left in the middle of lunch. For someone who was so big on manners, that was pretty rude. But, he was paying, so I’ll take it.

Yesterday the new and existing teachers went to a welcome buffet at a hotel with unlimited beer and wine. The server gave me and Bob (the only other American teacher at my school) a fork and knife without me even asking, which I certainly appreciated. Why make things harder on yourself? Spear it with a fork! And cut those big pieces with a knife instead of choking it down. Ugh.

Most of the buffet consisted of weird meats and seafood, but I definitely found plenty to eat and it was a very nice meal with many toasts and welcomes. The teachers have been the saving grace of being in China, and Ruby and Gavin (and Shane and Arnold, the school officials) have done so much to make me feel comfortable and welcome in the school and in a foreign country. Even though the structure of the school itself and the training was super weird (also a future blog post), I feel like I won’t starve to death. I’ve already lost a belt loop size, but that’s probably because I don’t know how to say McDonald’s in Chinese to the cab driver—yet.

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