Sunday, December 01, 2013

China Day 10: Food - A Cultural Comparison

Where did days 6-9 go I  hear you wonder. I wonder myself! The time has gone by so very fast that I haven't even had a spare hour to myself to even think about what I have been doing, never mind write about it! 

I have noticed a few things about Chinese culture that I couldn't help but compare to British, or Egyptian culture. Overall, how different it is to UK, but how similar it is to Egypt, mainly due to the collective ness of society. People do things in groups.

One of these things is Food. 

You may have noticed already, in fact one of my friends has already pointed out to me, that in the 6 blog entries prior to this, food features heavily! 

This is partly due to the fact that I love Chinese food, how could I not mention all the pork and duck and goose, but also due to the fact that Chinese show they love you through food. Every day one student or another will have brought me something new to try.  From ginger tea, to strawberries, to local sweets, to the largest orange I have ever seen! In fact I though the orange was a grapefruit, but no, it was sweet, a Citrus Maximus, according to the Chinese translator! 

Like in Egypt meal times is social time. Very social. Eight of us went for cake after class one day and everyone ordered, but then I could believe that without asking everyone was diving their forks into everyone else's cake to try, even before the person themselves had taken a bite. This shocked my British sensibilities, I have I admit perhaps on overgrown sense of 'mine' and 'yours', but china has very similar attitudes as Egypt. People don't bring a packed lunch to class, they bring a picnic, enough to share. The past couple of days I have chosen not to go to a restaurant for lunch so that I don't eat before having to dance ( I did one day and the pork and rice was sitting very heavy afterwards). However, if I sit in the dance studio, I end up being 'strongly encouraged' shall we say, to sample everyone's food, so I end up eating almost as much as if I had gone out for lunch! I am sure I have already put on about 5 KGB in the last week. I dread to think what size I will be when I get back to Egypt! 

Talking size, the Chinese are again similar to Egyptians in that they are not shy to tell you about yourself. The good and the bad. One day whilst shopping after class will some of the girls, I picked up some trousers I wanted to try and was told, no no, that is too small for you, you need XL !!! I was heartbroken, but took the XL (and L and M) into the changing room, in case maybe the size systems we're so very different from UK. Nope. The M fitted just fine thank you. So I obviously seem to be fat here even if I am not. Either that or they are confused because I am tall, so they are giving me extra leg length! I will try to console myself that the later is the case, because the alternative is depressing. Maybe of course they can tell the future, and they were choosing something that will actually still fit by the time I leave this country after the month of pigging out! 

Hotpot was one of the things I read about before coming to China and I have been lucky enough to be taken out to do this twice already in my first week. Think of it as a savoury fondou almost. Everyone sits around a table with a large hot pot in the centre of it. 

Half the pot has a spicy juice in it, and half has water. You order lots of foodstuffs and then put it yourself into the pot, whichever side you prefer. When you deem it to be finished cooking, you fish it out again with your chopsticks. You cannot be squeamish about double dipping in this country! Everything went in there! Ducks blood congealed into a jelly cube, tofu ( in various forms) lamb, pork, mushrooms, crabs, green leafy things, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, noodles, I would tell you more, but I don't even know the names for most of the things! Even after two shots at this, I still haven't suss did the etiquette, if there is any. Seems you choose what you want individually, but then you fish out anything at all you like from the pot, so you end up eating each other's choices anyway! 

Each experience was fantastic, but very different and in very different venues, one was a more local place, which was fun and relaxed. The other was also fun, but in a massive restaurant and we had a private room just for us, with our own personal waitress, and bottles of rice wine to drink down shot style with the meal. There was even a kung-fu style noodle dancer who threw some dough around himself in a extremely skilled manner. He moved so fast I didn't even get a clear shot of him doing his thing. 

It is quite common for people to be sick after a hotpot meal, often because they have taken out something that wasn't cooked through, and I can understand why this happens because if someone else puts something in, and you didn't see them you think it's the thing you put in ages ago and it bound to be ready. One girl was off class the next day after our first hotpot with a bad tummy, poor thing, thankfully I was ok! People also get a bad stomach from the high chilli content in the dish. I have to admit to not finding it overhot at all. Tingly, but not burning. The rice 'wine' however did burn. I say wine, but this stuff was 38%vol! 

Anyway, that's enough about food for now, off you go and cook yourself something!

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