We heard mixed reviews about the food in China before we arrived. We love Chinese food at home, but knew what we eat home was the Americanized version of the cuisine. So, just to be safe, we brought 2 boxes of protein bars with us on the trip. We did need them, but only a few times!
Let's quickly go over how to make a safer choices when looking to eat in a non westernized country:
1. Look for some sort of refrigeration system at restaurants to prevent food from turning. This may not always be obvious, so beware. But if the food is sitting out, it is really hot inside the restaurant, or you see multiple flies around the place, keep walking.
2. This isn't fool proof by any means, but if #1 above is met, look for a place that is crowded. An empty restaurant may mean low turn around of food, giving it time to rot. A busy restaurant may mean fresher ingredients.
3. Stay away from cold items that may have been washed in the unsafe water - think salads, fruits, vegetables, and any drinks with ice or smoothies. Some of the places we went with the guides were deemed safe and had water filtration systems so we ate the fruit without trouble. But as a general rule if your not sure, stay away.
4. Do not eat anything fried on the streets - e.g the night market items. The oil is used over and over again, and is not clean! We were warned by all guides that this will make us very very sick if we tried anything!
Back to what we did eat...
Sadly this was some of our only choices on 2 occasions, but at least we know what to expect from these places, right? Wrong!
McDonalds - The first night of our trip in Beijing we were jet lagged and looking to grab something quick, and McDonalds was right across the street. The place smelled pungent, like a sewer, and while the burger tasted mostly the same as home, the fries were undercooked, unsalted, and completely inedible. We popped some Tums that night just in case!
KFC - At a day market in Shanghai, we were warned by our guide that KFC and McDonalds were the only safe choices in the area. I ordered the popcorn chicken while Brian ordered a chicken breast and we both had mashed potatoes. The popcorn chicken had some the the blackest meat I had ever seen, and I couldn’t eat it. The mash potatoes, however, were edible and were the only thing I ate that afternoon.
|Looks the same, but looks are deceiving!|
Many of the lunches we had, and a few dinners, were included as part of the tour package. It seems China has a good handle on the tourism industry, and the menus are created with Western taste buds in mind. We had things like sweet and sour chicken, sticky rice, spring rolls, etc. On a few occasions some unique things popped up, most notably the fish with the head still on it, which is how it is served in China as it means wealth and luck. All meals also included a free beer, which was always Tsing Tao, the main beer of China. The food is served family style and is on the middle of a round table on a lazy susan that you can spin around to taste the different dishes. Most of these restaurants are also attached to a factory or store of some sort, to entice tourist to make a few purchases after eating.
|Chinese dining style - Lazy susan|
|Tsing Tao - the official beer of China|
In Beijing, we had limited dining choices due to the location of our hotel being out of the city center. We, along with another couple from the tour, found a restaurant full of locals and gave it a try. Even though the menu had pictures and was translated into English, we still had difficulty communicating our order to the waitress. We ordered pork, chicken wings, and sweet potatoes, but when the food arrived it was only 2 pieces each on skewers. Since this wasn’t enough food, we ordered some pork over white rice in a mushroom sauce to supplement. It soon became clear the pork was actually pieces of fat, so we ate the rice and went to bed hungry that night!
So, up until now it seems like the food isn’t so good huh???
I saved the best food for last!
Famous Peking Duck Dinner
Our tour guide recommended this restaurant 10 minutes from our hotel, and it was a fancy place. We went with 3 other couples and ordered 3 ducks plus an additional dinner and it was more than enough food. They bring out the entire duck, head included, and carve it right in front of you. It was delicious!
We also just happened to notice that scorpion was on the menu.... Hello Adventure eating! For only 7 Yuan each (a little over $1US), three of us were served these tiny scorpions on a sort of chip:
|The Peking Duck menu|
|They carved it right in front of us - notice the head in the back|
|Yup... I actually ate one of these|
|I'm smiling here - but actually terrified!|
As an optional part of our tour, we were taken to a restaurant in Xian known for their steamed dumplings. They are prepared two hours in advance, and have a variety of different meats inside as well as tofu, mushrooms, and an assortment of other tasty things. Other than the Peking Duck, this was one of the best meals we had on the trip.
Overall the food was interesting and I’m glad to have tried so many different types of authentic cuisine. Would you eat scorpion?