Bedford Ramblings
Steve Mills

Observations from a recent trip to China

Posted Wednesday, October 2, 2013, at 7:13 AM
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  • It would be so amazing to travel and see China and it's culture...You are one of the lucky ones!...that culture has so much honor....I would even bet like Japan their crime rate, as a country, is really low compared to the U.S., even with a population being way more.

    -- Posted by chefgrape on Wed, Oct 2, 2013, at 3:22 PM
  • I think the secret to their low crime rate might be the lack of repeat offenders. NO ONE wants to go their prisons. :-)

    I think theft is the biggest repetitive issue and that seems to be in places that a wise person would take some extra precaution.

    When I was in a crowed open marketplace I made sure my wallet was as secure as possible. I did not go to any night clubs which I understand to be very crowded and prime areas for pickpocket activity.

    You probably would have gone into sensory overload in the market. It was mainly food, spices, health herbs, teas, etc. Very crowded, very busy but a delightful place to be.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Oct 2, 2013, at 4:57 PM
  • Your right...the street markets would be my first interest...you see them on some TV shows like Anthony Bourdains new show...so many things you see at them...I'm not to sure that I would be eating any live scorpions on skewers though.

    -- Posted by chefgrape on Wed, Oct 2, 2013, at 8:26 PM
  • After safety another concern of people going to China seems to be the food. What to eat, what not to eat.

    Probably the most important thing is WHERE you eat. And where you eat just takes a little common sense, at least in big cities. Eat in restaurants not from street vendors and I always drank bottled water or bottles drinks.

    Mostly water but on the last night my friend suggested a local tea made from dates. Quite tasty.

    Sugar is used very lightly, I actually found cokes to be too sweet after a few days there but I had one from a cooler one night and it wasn't cool at all. It was actually hot.

    This prompted me to ask my friend if hot was normal but the answer was no, I just got one from a broken cooler. Great. They do however drink hot water quite regularly, not with tea, just hot water.

    In the morning I always ate at the hotel buffet. The decanters were full of hot tea and hot milk but not coffee. Apparently only of few of us drank coffee so it came out of a machine.

    Here are a few things on that buffet:

    A salad bar

    pickled bitter melon (that was a hit)

    pickled seaweed, lotus root, winter melon, pickled radishes, different textures of soybean noodles, cheese, garlic sausage, some type of less spicy sausage, speaking of spicy there was kimchee (Korean style) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimchi

    Then we got to pickled condiments, mushrooms, thousand year old eggs which were cut into eighths but I did not know they were still in their shell so when I ate the first one, it was over.

    Then a form of spam and next to it a form of baked beans, then what I know as bao (small) one plain and one stuffed with either a sweet bean paste or the next day a sausage type mix http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baozi

    Next came soups, then porridge and gruel, usually both and usually without much taste. Maybe that was what the small dishes of pickled stuff was for but after the first taste, I moved onto other things,

    Then several types of pastries (again very low sugar) and one of them looked like a dried a luffa gourd. It wasn't but the taste could be similar http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://arizonagourds.homestead.com/loofah.jp...

    Around the next corner was usually a beef or a chicken sausage, sesame seed balls, fried pumpkin pie which was not my idea of pumpkin pie, nor did it taste like pumpkin but it had a little orange tint to it, http://about-chinesefood.com/cookbook/fried-pumpkin-pie-2182/

    Then you might have fried rice, spring rolls, cauliflower in tomato sauce, fuzzy melon squash and some type of meat ball. After my first try and I could not identify the meat used, I stopped that one too.

    What they called large grain vegetables which was corn on the cob and some type of bean, and some other items that I cannot seem to remember right now. I sent my wife a text with the menu each morning so I will check her notes.

    Then they would make omlets for you or cooked eggs over heavy (meaning no wet yoke) which is what I had heard was best because the egg quality control was not the best.

    Oh yes, they also had a form of yogurt that was more liquid than I am used to but it was the sweetest thing there so I usually had one with black coffee.

    I ate dinner there one night when my interpreters could not be with me. It had a lot of seafood but some which most of us might not eat. I am used to experimenting so I got full on the samples. Most were good but few things were really hot so I did not eat a lot of any one thing.

    Speaking of hot, I ran across a lot of spicy things that I did not realize was spicy till the first bite. Luckily I can eat that too so it all worked out. Especially since there was unlimited beer on the buffet.

    I had a Tsingtao and a local beer and that was enough for me but I was curious why I did not feel anything since alcohol is not longer my thing. It was relatively low at 2.5%. By the way, the beer was room temperature.

    I'll talk about my dinners out with my interpreters next. They took me to nice restaurants in nice areas but they knew which ones to avoid for folks who were not acclimated to the diet.

    As we passed one Emma mentioned the food is very good tasting but they did not have a good health report. Good to know in advance because you would not know it from looks.

    Sherry took me to a food court in the bottom of a shopping center because she was looking for a food not usually found in restaurants. We survived but she was very picky about checking out the conditions.

    In all the restaurants I let them order. With my belly they knew I was not a stranger to food, but I did manage to lose 5 pounds while there and it wasn't from getting sick, it never happened.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Oct 2, 2013, at 8:58 PM
  • chefgrape, I think the girls kept me away from live scorpions, Just as well, I never developed a taste for things still moving.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Oct 2, 2013, at 9:00 PM
  • I understand spam is vary popular over there...here in the states, in the culinary world, there are a lot of recipes calling for miso (fermented bean paste)....I really like it and have used it a lot, its easily found in every oriental market, red and a pale yellow looking one, which I prefer....It and a little water is the miso soup you see in chinese restaurants, with wood mushroom, some veg and even noodles sometimes...I have never had bitter melon yet, but really want to try it...everyone says its really good...but to be determined for my pallet...I keep a bottle of Sriracha sauce around now and you will see it in most recipes I write nowadays that call for heat....here in the south we don't eat decent seafood but i'm up for it in almost any way it's served, however Asian fish dishes are vary fishy....I like that fresher side of like fresh caught Florida grouper!

    -- Posted by chefgrape on Thu, Oct 3, 2013, at 1:14 PM
  • My primary interpreter Sherry said she likes fish but I don't think we had much except for some sushi, so I cannot evaluate.

    Speaking of mushrooms, Emma took me to a hot pot restaurant where you cook you own food at the table in a boiling pot of water. I changed the picture up top to show you the spread.

    Among many things there was also a tray of different fungi. I prefer mushrooms but that is what they call it. There were also numerous "sauces" to dip your cooked items in, plus some side dishes.

    It was in a nice tourist area alongside a man-made lake that had paddle boats, etc. We chose to eat outside so the wait was about 45 minutes, but well worth it.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Thu, Oct 3, 2013, at 9:44 PM
  • Bitter melon is an acquired taste, in a way like beer. When I found it on the breakfast bar I asked around and found that not many actually like the taste but believe the health benefits outweigh the culinary distastes.

    I will bring some to the next garden club meeting. which is next Friday, the 11th of October.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Fri, Oct 4, 2013, at 5:32 AM
  • That would be great...I'd love to try it...I'll make sure I bring something to drink...I appreciate you Mr. Steve your such a fungi (fun guy)...sorry I just had to go there...I hope I'm a fungi too.

    -- Posted by chefgrape on Fri, Oct 4, 2013, at 9:56 AM
  • When I first saw "bitter melon" I wanted to read it as "bitter lemon." In Kenya, they have a soft drink called "Krest bitter lemon" which isn't really as bitter as the name implies; it's just not a sweet as some soft drinks. It's quite good, actually.

    -- Posted by jcarney on Fri, Oct 4, 2013, at 10:26 AM
  • You brought a smile to my face with that one chefgrape and a smile is always appreciated.

    Another favorite of Sherry's is an egg and tomato soup. Here is a recipe that seems like what we ate several times, but she was the expert so I need to compare recipes with her. http://homechineserecipes.com/soup/tomato-egg-soup.htm

    -- Posted by stevemills on Fri, Oct 4, 2013, at 10:33 AM
  • Not as sweet sounds healthy good. I think I mentioned that while there I was quickly weaned off sweet and just a little seemed great.

    Sherry mentioned that she likes sweet foods but compared to what we like as sweet here in the States her choices seemed sugar free. I would bet that she would not like it as sweet as we might make it.

    The egg/tomato soup I just mentioned seemed to have a sweet taste but maybe that comes from the sesame seed oil? OR, maybe it was because I had not tasted very much sweet since I got there.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Fri, Oct 4, 2013, at 10:41 AM
  • That tomato egg soup sounds good too...I don't care vary much for sesame oil, so I might cut back on it a little...the Chinese sure make simple soups with max flavors, and then again I have had a few that seemed like a cup of hot water...guess it depends on the cook...I have trouble adding the egg to egg drop style soups...I just can't grasp the right swirl, and end up with scrambled egg soup more times then not, but I'm a little scrambled most the time anyhow.

    -- Posted by chefgrape on Fri, Oct 4, 2013, at 10:45 AM
  • A word of caution should you decide to visit Beijing. If you are counting on using your credit card, be prepared for it not being accepted even though the restaurant has a CC label on the door.

    We asked each time we came in and they said yes, but at check time found out that they were expecting a debit card or they did not accept International CCs. Maybe that is because we were not in a tourist area but even at the Hot Pot restaurant (which was touristy) we were informed after the fact.

    Luckily we had the cash, but just a word of caution. I don't know if they need any dishwashers.

    That said, everywhere we ate gave exceptional service, friendly, patient service even to the point of escorting me to the men's room to be sure I did not trip on the door sills or get lost. Apparently, they had already heard about me. :-)

    Tips are not expected, and in some places even given back. Sherry & Emma explained that so many people served us while we were there that they would not know how to split the tips. In a Korean style restaurant we actually had a discussion with the staff, but they preferred not to accept it.

    The taxi drivers would accept, but they were not expecting a tip. They seemed to be genuinely please when they received anything.

    A comment about taxis, I chose to stay with well marked cars. There are plenty of black cars offering rides and it could be tempting when you can stop a regular one, but the one time I compared prices for the same destination, they were 20% higher, plus you have no recourse if they drop you somewhere else.

    Both Sherry and Emma negotiated when necessary and Sherry in particular would keep going back for better discounts until I had to ask her to let the poor guy make a buck. I never had a doubt as to who they were working for and they would do all they could to be sure I was not cheated.

    Not that I think anyone was purposely trying to cheat me. They were conducting business Chinese style. I think they expected haggling and it is a way of life.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Sat, Oct 5, 2013, at 7:33 PM
  • A lot of people don't realize that you may need to notify your bank before you travel internationally if you want to use your credit or debit card. I discovered this during a trip to Bolivia in 2007 when my card got rejected. As luck would have it, my flight home was delayed by a whole day, a few hours at a time, and there were several times I really wanted to be able to buy something there at the airport or at the hotel they put us up in overnight. Many banks, as a means of fraud prevention, automatically assume that international charges to your card are some sort of scam, and so you need to specifically notify them where and when you'll be traveling (including any airports along the way where you might want to use the card!).

    -- Posted by jcarney on Sun, Oct 6, 2013, at 5:35 PM
  • Good point John. I verified with my CC before I went because i wanted to know the extra charge for exchange. I had not thought about the possibility they would freeze the card. Guess I got lucky.

    I am not sure what they would have done if I did not have the cash. The interpreters were probably not prepared to pick up the tab, so.....

    -- Posted by stevemills on Sun, Oct 6, 2013, at 7:15 PM
  • Emma was nice enough to help me identify where she took me to eat.

    "The Hot Pot we had in the area is called Houhai(后海), which is a place gathered Chinese traditional buildings, delicate shops, restaurants and bars.

    The hot pot restaurant is called Nan Men Shuan Rou(南门涮肉). It's a nice place to recommend to anyone, local beijinger or tourists."

    We had a really pleasant time just walking the area and enjoying the local ambiance. The people were all fun and the place felt perfectly safe.

    During my whole trip I never felt uncomfortable about safety and for a city of this size, it was remarkably clean.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Tue, Oct 8, 2013, at 7:13 AM
  • One more comment on this post before I start a new one. Since most of this has been about food, I want to state clearly that at no time did I experience stomach discomfort.

    Knowing my personal stomach quite well, I know I would have experienced problems if I had eaten anything that was not prepared well or cleanly.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Oct 9, 2013, at 7:25 PM
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