Chop, Chop, Chicken

Eating at the restaurant with Chinese people is quite an experience. There are so many rules of etiquette to follow. First and foremost, only one person pays and this person orders all the food for everyone. If he or she does it right, there will be lots of food leftover (no one went home hungry). Also, intestines and other parts rarely eaten by foreigners are considered delicacies.

Soup with strips of pig belly. Had a bowl, not so bad.

Vegetables and pig intestine. Tried it, almost spit it out but managed to swallow it.

Deep fried whole fish caught in little pools on the mountain. Ate a half dozen, so crispy they could have been anything.

I rarely paid for a meal with Chinese friends, once losing an actual hand-to-hand combat with Mrs. Pu over who got possession of the bill.

One rule I find amusing is that it’s ok to eat with your mouth open, speak with your mouth full or slurp your food but when picking our teeth with a toothpick you must cover your mouth with your opposite hand.

My biggest pet peeve is the way they serve chicken. They chop it up in small pieces so that there is not one piece left without a bone. This way, you put the piece in your mouth (using chopsticks), eat the meat and spit out the bone. Hands never touch any of the food.

The head is always left on. Some people like to eat it.

Typical chopping up of the drumstick and serving of chicken in restaurants and grocery stores.

Notice the cooked head on the platter.

Plates of chicken ready for delivery to the table. Notice the piglets hanging in the background.

 After a meal, it is always interesting to see the carnage left behind.

Guess who was sitting at the chair with the coke can.

I do like the idea of ordering a bunch of plates and then choosing what you will eat. Anything left over has not been touched by anyone and can be taken home. There are no served plates with uneaten and wasted food left behind because Jimmy doesn’t like broccoli, or the foreigner doesn’t like pig intestine.



Deep Fried Shrimp

One of the foods I am really going to miss from China is their shrimp. These delicious (the most popular English word used by the Chinese to describe food) little guys are made in many different ways but deep fried is my absolute favourite. When you order the deep fried shrimp at the restaurant you are expected to go to the restaurant’s aquariums and fish out your live shrimp with a net. The shrimp are then weighed and fried, completely as is.

When the shrimp come to your table, the shell is still on. You pick up the shrimp in your chop sticks so that the tail and head are on the side of the chopsticks facing away from you with the body facing towards you. You bite off the body, shell and little feetsie’s complete, savour the shrimp as you crunch it up in your mouth and swallow, and discard the head and tail in your discard plate. (The young man above is an amateur, holding the shrimp completely wrong but getting an A for effort with the sticks).

Being the lazy person that I am and being not too good with the sticks, I also eat the tail. It is no different from eating a crispy french fry.

In the photo above, the shrimp are deep fried in tea leaves. The wonderful Mr. Pu thought it was funny that Liebling would eat the tea leaves, apparently not done here, even though they are more edible than shrimp shells.

In the photo below the shrimp are deep fried and simmered in a very spicy sauce. Truly delicious (there’s that word again, it is time to go home).

Strangely enough, there are no such thing as egg rolls or Fortune Cookies in China. So much for the bad spelling in the fortune cookies in North America. I guess they are really written by Canadian High school students during their summer jobs.

A Side Order of Carcinogens Please

Today in Kyoto it was 25°C

I always think of my friends and family while I m traveling. Things I see or events that happen bring a certain person to mind.

My sister-in-law will be visiting soon and she has worked for Health Canada for many years, specifically with regards to the tobacco industry in Canada. She was one of the people involved with the appearance of the “tobacco wall” and the new labeling of cigarette packages.

I think a lot about my sister-in-law here in Japan.

The smokers have it good. There are vending machines everywhere selling a pack of smokes for approximately $5 CAD (a cinema ticket costs $20). You can smoke just about everywhere and where you cannot, there is a smoking room available. The other night we went to a restaurant and just before our order arrived, 4 men at the table right next to us lit up cigarettes.

We tried to move to another table explaining that the smoke bothered us but were told it was not possible. We gestured to all the empty tables and our waiter, not very impressed with us, brought us to another corner of the restaurant to have our meal. Last night we went to a medium sized restaurant to have our request for a non-smoking table denied, they simply had none. Today in the food court of a large shopping centre I had to put up with a couple smoking extra-long cigarettes while I waited to buy a donut, little kids sitting at the table next to them.

It is always fascinating to see how advanced and behind, at the same time, certain countries are compared to Canada. As far as tobacco consumption goes, the Asian countries I have visited have a long way to go. My sister-in-law will have a great time breathing when she comes to visit in July.






Subway, Eat Fresh !!!

Today in Guangzhou it was 26°C and sunny, although you can’t see the sun

Of all the fast foods in China, Subway is the most authentic to its Canadian franchises. The meals are exactly the same as in Canada although I find the steak on the steak and cheese a bit chewy (maybe it has changed back home too).

Walking into the restaurant, you would never know you were in China if it were not for the Chinese characters on the posters and menus. Subway also ensures that at least one employee on duty speaks English very well. The other fast foods do not use ESL as a hiring criterion.

We rarely go to Subway as it is very expensive and we prefer Chinese restaurants. Two 12-inch combos will run up to about 100RMB ($15 CAD), enough for a good meal for 2 at a Chinese sit down restaurant. My students tell me that the average hourly wage for a student is between 10 and 20 RMB.

I know most of you are thinking that we should be taking advantage of all the good Chinese food while we are here but it is not like we are at home. We eat real Chinese food most of the time and it is comforting to eat good bread and a familiar meal form time to time. Plus, it is a quick meal as the restaurant is in the same compound as our apartment.

With the high cost of the subs and their refusal to put any Chinese food on their menu, it is surprising Subway survives in China. I believe they cash in on their “Americaness” when it comes to attracting clients.

Chinese Galas

Today in Guangzhou it was 11°C and rainy

 Since we have been in China, we have been invited to a few galas. I think we are just token “white guys” but I am willing to play the game to eat and talk with fellow expats like Rocco and his lovely wife Gail. The conversation is actually the only reason we go.Rocco, Bing, Liebling, Gail are all hiding in this photo

 Our “Foreign Administrator”, a handsome young man named Bing, forwards the invitations to us and sets up transportation to and from the gala. He always accompanies us back home, which costs him almost 2 hours of his time. He also eats with us and candidly answers all our questions about China. I have never seen such a skinny person put away so much food. I am pretty sure it is the main reason he always tries to get foreign teachers to attend the galas. Gail and Rocco are trying to set him up with a good Chinese girl which just makes the 24yo Bing blush and come up with a million excuses as to why he can’t find a girl.

Upon arrival, we each get a lovely gift. At one gala we got a jade necklace and at another we got a collectors album of paper money and stamps. We then find a table and about 30 minutes later, speeches are held. After about 30 minutes of speeches, the buffet is opened for dinner. The people rush to the food and fill their plates. Bing always puts a mountain of food on his plate. Rocco will get dog and chickens feet and make me laugh with his sarcastic humor, something the Chinese never understand.


During dinner there is always a show. I feel bad for the performers, as everyone is talking loudly, eating and wandering all over the place.

After people have had their fill of the food they disappear. From start to finish of our last Gala we were there a mere 2-1/2 hours and were the last to leave. The same amount of time it takes us to get there and return home. If it were not for Gail and Rocco, I think we would just stay home and catch a stray dog for supper.

New Year’s Party

Today in Guangzhou it is 14C with a forcasted high of 22C

We celebrated New Year’s Eve last night with some of our close friends in China. Wanting to give them a western new years celebration, we needed western food. To do this we had to go to 3 different grocery stores across the city but we managed to find every ingredient except sour cream and dried onion soup to make a veggie dip.Here are the dishes that were new to our friends. Sarah made devilled eggs which where a hit. Liebling made a non-spicy chilli which some of our guests found too spicy but everyone enjoyed. The potato salad got a lot of great comments. Our tortilla chips with dip were quite the showstopper. One guest wanted the recipe and where to buy the ingredients. He went home with half a bag of chips and the left over dip (yogurt, cream cheese, salsa, olives and cheese).Our friend Roxanne brought her traditional Chinese instrument and played use some tunes. She was the life of the party with her bubbly personality.

As the subway shuts down at 10:40pm on regular days (11:40pm on Xmas and New years eve) we popped the champagne at 9pm. Mr. Pu suggested we all say happy new year at once in our native tongues. We had Mandarin, Cantonese, English and French. Mr. Pu was the only guest knowledgeable in all 4 languages.I started the party with 18 bottles of beer and finished with 17. We had 4 bottles of wine and finished with 3. Out of 12 canned drinks we finished with around 8. The one bottle of champagne was completely drained. Needless to say no one was swinging off the chandelier or driving home drunk, especially since only one couple came by car. Still, all 12 partiers really enjoyed themselves and everyone stayed for a long time (by Chinese standards) before taking off for home.





Animal Crackers in my Soup

Today in Guangzhou it was 23°C and haze

You never know what you are going to eat in China. It’s not like you can ask for “dunck and pataboes” and be understood. What ever you ask the answer is always “yes”.

Point to a plate and say “no fish?” and they reply “yes”. Does this mean “yes there is fish” or “yes, there is no fish”. Just to be clear you ask, “Is there fish or no fish?” and the reply is “yes, yes”.

Finally I gave in and learned how to say all the meats in Chinese. Instead of having 2 words for an animal/meat like Cow-Beef, or Sheep-Mutton or Pig-Pork, they use the animals name followed by the word “meat” which is “ròu” pronounced row.

So beef is actually cow meat or niúròu, pronounced “nyoh-row”.

Sheep is lamb meat or yángrow, pronounced “young-row”.

Before I learned these words I resorted to making animal noises. “Quack-quack” for duck and  “bawk-bawk-bawk” for chicken. The flapping of the arms in imitation wings helped too. I felt funny but got a lot of laughs.

I no longer have to go “oink-oink” with my nose raised and front teeth barred to see if a dish contains pork. However, I still feel kind of funny using the word zhuròu, pronounced “jew-row”, to find out if a meal contains pork.


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