I Like Chinese Food, by Weston Dean

When I talk to my friends and family from back home, I often get asked the same question. “Don’t you get tired of eating Chinese food?” After all, how many times can someone eat fried rice and chow mien before it gets boring? It might be easy to think this way when every airport and late-night college Chinese restaurant in America seems to be serving from the same menu, but the truth is the food in China is much more diverse. There’s so much food to try, and I’ve made it my mission to try it all.

 

There are so many restaurants, stands, and street carts around Beijing that good food is easy to find and is very affordable. I hardly cook at home with so much food available to buy. When I go to a restaurant, I usually order a plate of jiaozi-dumplings filled with meat, egg, or vegetables that are steamed or boiled. If not that, a bowl of noodles with braised pork belly and cabbage always satisfies. Or, baozi, steamed buns filled with meat and vegetables, always make a great snack. When, I’m eating with friends, we often share plates of chicken, fish, shrimp, lamb, tofu, and of course, rice. If there’s a special occasion, it’s always nice to celebrate with a Beijing duck, the city’s most famous dish. Crisp slices of roast duck are served with onions, cucumber, and a sweet sauce. Put them together and wrap them in a thin pancake to enjoy. It’s a tasty dish, but one you will want to have friends to help you with.

 

Being in Beijing, there are so many cultures from around China that all come together, and with them come their food. There’s the Sichuan style from the southwest of China, which features plenty of spicy red peppers. Dishes like Kung Pao chicken and Mapo tofu are always popular with those who enjoy their food very hot. Another favorite of mine is the food of the Shaanxi province from the west of China. The region is known for its noodles, which are often cut very thick and long. I often order the biangbiang noodles, a dish that’s just as famous for its difficult-to-write character (seriously, look it up) as it is for its taste. One of Shaanxi’s most prevalent snacks, called roujiamo (or, “Roger Moore” as we like to call it), has become popular amongst many of the teachers here. Essentially a Chinese hamburger, roujiamo is a small sandwich filled with stewed meat. It’s a snack that tastes good at just about any time of the day.

 

Then, there’s the Xinjiang style food, a style I wasn’t ever aware of until I came to China. After one trip to a Xinjiang restaurant, I was hooked on it. It’s a style of food that comes from a region in the far west of China called Xinjiang, which is home to a large Muslim population. Many of the dishes use lamb as the main meat, sometimes mixed with noodles or vegetables, served on kebabs or baked into a special flatbread called nan. Before coming here, I would never have considered this to be Chinese food, but now it’s always what comes to my mind when I think of my favorite dishes.

 

Part of exploring Chinese cuisine requires a sense of adventure, as the food can get bizarre, at least by Western standards. For instance, if you’re not comfortable with chicken served with its head still on the plate, you may find some dishes to avoid. In the few months I’ve been here, I’ve tried chicken hearts, pig intestine, and lamb kidney, and some of them have turned out to be among my favorite dishes.  Then, there’s the barbequed scorpions from the Wangfujing snack street which are a must try (at least once). I haven’t tried it all yet, the infamous durian fruit has still eluded me, but I plan to keep on tasting as much as I can while I’m here.

 

So, when it comes to Chinese food, my best advice is to keep an open mind. Sure, you can find a pizza or McDonald’s if you really crave it, but there’s so much food to explore in China. You may not like everything you try, but you will find something to love beyond your ordinary Chinese take-out menu. Oh, and learn to use chopsticks.

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