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Published: October 14th 2011
I've heard it said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. That being the case I can announce that I am totally in love with China. The food has been more than great. We
have enjoyed the food immensely and haven't had to worry about our health. How often can you say that about traveling in the hinterlands?
First, let me mention the fruit. I think it was Chongqing where Jacob, for the 25 hour train ride south, picked up a citron, a large yellow citrus fruit reminiscent of grapefruit but larger, almost as big as a bowling ball. The four of us dubiously watched him peal the citron. Indeed, it resembled a dry grapefruit and promised to be just about as good. But, lo and behold, we liked it. Not a strong flavor, but light and very refreshing. We often found citrons on the roadsides and often purchased them. They would be stacked in pyramids like cannonballs.
Another favorite of ours was the pineapple – the fruit we bought most often. Our first bunch was bought in Ninger just outside its beautiful town plaza for 5 yuan, about 80 cents. The vendor
Jim enjoying sumptious dinner in Chongqing
Jim, Lynn's Aunt Mae, Lynn's Dad, Lynn's Mom in photo
very skillfully peeled it with a large knife so that we received it in bite-sized chunks in a plastic bag with 5 toothpicks. Juicy and sweet with no fuss and no waste. The further south we traveled the more often we looked forward to more pineapple. No longer was one a day enough. Two would barely quench our desires.
Another favorite were the bananas. There were banana trees everywhere – sometimes their planting seemed totally random - beside the road, in family yards, or just in the jungle; other times banana fields would stretch for a kilometer or more. The fruit itself was plump and tasty – the best bananas, except for the little oritos in Ecuador, that I've ever tasted. We loved them as snacks but also savored them cut up with a bowl of yogurt. Delicious!
Oranges were also found in abundance and, although not as flavorful as a good Florida orange, were plenty tasty. All this fruit we ate made it seem as though we were in a tropical paradise.
From fruit we now go to our dinners.
To talk about dinner I first have to talk about Jacob.
Understand that in China the custom is for a single person to order for everyone. And they don't just chose necessarily what's on the menu. They may have to inspect the vegetables and meat that is available and question what are the seasonings and sauces, order how it is to be cooked and how it is to be presented. It's a big deal. And it helps if you speak Chinese, which Jacob does and the rest of us don't.
Jacob would lead our brave little party through the streets of town until he found a place that looked promising. It had to be clean and have good looking ingredients. It might look upscale but most likely it would look quite humble – something like what Joseph and Mary would have found in Bethlehem. We would settle down at a table which often would be low to the ground and have a large glass lazy susan in the middle. While we waited, perched on low stools, Jacob would approach the order person and give, what was for us, a command performance. A masterful performance. Gesturing with both arms, nodding his head, alternately raising his voice and dropping to a
Fruit stands piled high in Menglun
Pineapples, papayas, citrons, pomegranates, etc. There are bananas in there somewhere too.
low whisper, he would examine exactly what that particular restaurant could do for us. Occasionally, he would turn to us to make sure that we weren't interested in pig face or pig entrails or chicken feet or something like that. But usually he would be pretty intense in his conversation for about 5 minutes or so. And then he would return to our table. We hadn't understood a word he said, but it was a performance worthy of a Shakespearean actor. It didn't matter if were eating Sichuan or Uyghur or Dai or Thai or whatever, we knew it was going to be good.
Often what appeared first was a pot of tea. Most likely this would mean loose tea leaves floating in hot water. Usually it was very good – aromatic and calming. Then the dishes would start arriving. For vegetables that might mean steamed greens, mushrooms, banana flower, pumpkin flowers, cucumbers, eggplant, green soy beans, green beans, edamame, potatoes, carrots and peppers Platters of chicken pieces, barbequed pork or beef, fish, fried tofu, shrimp. Once we had ground pork wrapped in a banana leaf – unbelievably good! Lots of spiciness despite entreaties from Jacob to cut
I remember that first night in Beijing when we went to a small Uyghur restaurant and ordered some noodles. I could see the guy in back pulling the dough back and forth, making the noodles by hand. Five minutes later they were on my plate. I loved those noodles - so fresh tasting with just the right amount of bite. That experience has been duplicated many, many times on our trip – in towns large and small. Whether it is the fresh fruit bought on the street, snails at a little bar in a back water town or pineapple rice in Jinghong eating in China has been a wonderful experience.
(Note from Kit: This one's for you, Bob. Enjoy!)
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