It was a FaceTime conversation with my incurably selective eating brothers that inspired this post. They asked a simple question – ‘would we survive in China?’ The answer is probably not, or at least some massive dietary changes would have to be made.
It’s ridiculous really as everything in China is edible, heads, feet, arseholes, everything! I asked a local if they could name an animal that wouldn’t be eaten and they couldn’t name one. Cats, dogs, insects anything!
It’s admirable really as nothing is wasted, in fact they say westerners waste all the best bits – the feet and the heads! The arseholes tend to be given to elderly relatives as they’re the most tender bits and don’t require a huge amount of chewing, with no bones.
Having said that, the food I’ve experienced in China has been amazing. I haven’t eaten in huge hotels but off the beaten track in farm houses, rural guest houses and local restaurants. Yes you have to pick carefully as I wasn’t quite ready to experience pig brains thrown into my Chengdu hotpot just yet.
Each region is notable for it’s slightly different cuisine, whether that’s noodles, rice breads, hot pots or similar. But vegetables seem to be in large supply in most of China and I’ve had broccoli, mushrooms, sweetcorn, purple sprouting, cucumber, aubergine and a million other veggies cooked up into mouth watering dishes with ginger, garlic, lemongrass and chillies.
Tofu comes as standard with most meals in various different guises. Sometimes it’s pasta like, or fried as tofu chips. The meals tend to be a carb onslaught with huge vats of white rice served with every meal. The meat is often in shorter supply, with tiny shreds of pork or chicken served mixed with veg and often nuts. There also tends to be an egg dish with most meals, sometimes with spinach or occasionally fish.
In the big cities you may find MSG has been added to meals. As a westerner I’ve learned to hate this substance that gives you an insatiable thirst, sleepless night and occasionally an upset stomach. Sometimes they’re brazen enough to give you a pot of it to add to your taste.
Overall though eating in China has been a pleasurable experience. You have to be wary of meats masquerading as different meats. If you want to be cautious, best not to order beef as that tends to be expensive so can be substituted. To be super cautious veg and rice or veg and noodles rarely disappoints. The most daring I got was donkey and a packet of swan on an internal flight. Pigs brains can wait until I’m settled and not legging it to a new destination each day. I don’t fancy a stomach churning experience on a sleeper train, public bus, or in an open squat toilet.