Thursday, July 9, 2009

Chinese food is best in China

I miss the real thing

I’ve almost been away from China for 2 weeks now! Two weeks! Mad how time flies! While last week was kind of fantastic –beginning to end, this week has been the total opposite. Sore throat and fever = no running in the forest. Not being able to exercise always puts me down. Work has been OK although since I haven’t felt like top notch I guess my mood has been suffering a bit too. Anyways.

One great thing about being here is the food! I’ve been eating salmon and avocado almost every single day since I got here. Can’t get enough of it and it doesn’t bore me at all… it’s just sooooooo good. During my first week here I even lost 1,5 kg! Yiii-ha. Although then came the wknd (booze and hangover burgers) and the 1,5 kg re-joined my body. Oh well.

On Monday, however, I felt a new kind of urge in my body…. A kind of craving… that wanted something that I didn’t think I was going to miss that soon. Yup. Of course I needed some Chinese food!

There are numerous ‘Chinese restaurants’ over here (everything from ‘Golden Dragon’ to ‘Sunny China’) but only one ‘real’ one: Shanghai Ren Jia. (translates to: ‘Shanghainese home’). I remember when this restaurant opened and some narrow-minded journalist went there to eat and do a review. He ended up writing something like: “Not bad but not real Chinese food. I mean, there weren’t even any fried bananas!”

I so wish I could have met him on the street so that I could have asked: “where in China do you eat fried bananas?” And then we could start talking about what’s ‘real’ Chinese food!

Anyways, to cater for a population that prefers fried bananas to mapu tofu this place has abandoned their ‘authentic’ cooking and turned to the deep fryer, as well as the sweet and sour sauce. However, there’s still a list of Chinese dishes (at the very back of the menu) written in Chinese characters that you can order if you’re keen on something real. Obviously, me and my friend (who’s also lived in China for several years) opted for that one and ended up with: tomato-egg stir fry, gong bao ji ding (chicken with peanuts), a tofu dish and then we managed to get the owners to make us dumplings, just because we spoke Chinese to them. The place is run by a lovely, Shanghainese family.

Strange still, because nothing tastes even a little bit similar to how it tastes in China. And the bill? 30 euros. That’s around 300 rmb. For four small dishes (+ rice) And still we ended up getting a big discount because my friend is a regular as well as a friend of the family. I completely understand that they need to charge according to what other restaurants here charge, and if you compare it to a dinner at any other restaurant in town it is actually very cheep. But still. I guess eating Chinese food should take place in China only.


Anonymous said...

I'm totally with you, foreign Chinese food are heavily modified to fit locals taste, when I was in New Zealand, anything fried is good, spring roll, fried wonton, stir fried rice, stir fried noodle, and most dishes have mild taste because locals can’t handle spicy food very well.
Once I specially ordered “Shui Zhu Yu”(Boiled fish,水煮鱼) which was in a big pot, and everybody came alone our table and ask what it was.


Anonymous said...

Montreal has a pretty decent Chinatown. Not all restaurants are good but you only have to choose the ones where there are almost no foreigners ;)

Little Tiger said...

I recently went to a Korean/Chinese restaurant with my father and sister. When we sat down, we got a menu all in English. The entries were basically, a choice of one meat with one sauce, some spring rolls and chicken balls etc.
Not happy with having diced chicken with sauce from a jar, I asked for the menu in Chinese. A second (and completely different) menu came in Eng and Chinese but I still couldn't see things like bibimbap, dishes with Kimchi, pancakes etc. Hmmmm. When the waitress came to take our order, I asked where the bibimbap on the menu was because I couldn't find it even after scanning each entry carefully. 'Oh, I'll get you the other menu', she said. She then brought a third (and completely different from the second) menu all in Chinese (and Korean) that had all the dishes I was familiar with. Bingo! The food was great too and really spicy (maybe she forgot to tell the chef that laowai were ordering from the other menu now!! :)

Pete In Syracuse said...

We have only one restaurant in Syracuse that has real Chinese food called "China Road". The only reason I know this is that my boss says so & with him being Chinese & a world traveler I trust his word. I've eatten there but would like to try some of your favorite dishes Jonna, could you give me a meal list from beginning to end (appetizer to dessert) of a meal you would like?

Anonymous said...

Yep know what you mean Jonna. In Australia the local suburban "Chinese" restaurants had "authentic" chinese dishes that were tailored for western palates- fried rice, spring rolls, sweet and sour pork.

When my dad used to go down for take away, the boss/manager didnt even bother showing him the menu, because my dad would order proper dishes and the chef would cook them up as a special order!

Things have gotten much better since those days when I was a wee child (Physically that is. Mentally my age is questionable). But in the suburbs where there are heavy gatherings of westerners, the suburban chinese restaurant I mentioned still exists, as it clearly does in Finland :)



Chris Wolf said...

I am still searching for a great Chinese restaurant in Minnesota. There are small shops dotting the strip malls and several in every city, but none are more than pretty good. Perhaps I should learn and speak Chinese to them so I could eat what they eat in the back of the restaurant!
Very amazing that it took two whole weeks to miss cuisine you took perhaps for granted?

Unknown said...

You should visit San Francisco Chinatown. Well, you'd have to learn to speak Cantonese but the food their is pretty good. If your food tastes Americanized, you will get 0 business. The menus have something for everyone, American and Chinese. And yes, Americans eat chicken feet too. I have never seen a Chinese restaurant that serves fried bananas before. Chow mein and fried rice are the most popular dishes for Americans but they taste pretty good. At least they do in Chinatown. hehehehe.

Bill said...

Fried banana in China is Toffee Banana. It is usually called Drawn Silk Banana.

The banana pieces aren't supposed to be fried in batter, but coated in caramelized sugar, and then dip into ice water so that the sugar coating is crunchy, and the banana (or apple) is still firm and fresh. The "Drawn Silk" was the sugar filament just before the banana pieces hits the ice water.

There are a few Chinese restuarents in North America that serve it this way. Most use deep fried in batter technique.

Jonna Wibelius said...

fei -I guess the trick is to emphasize that u like your food 'la!'

Kanmuri -lucky you! No china town here as far as the eye can se...

Little tiger -haha, funny story. So maybe that's the way to do it?? So next time I go back I will ask again and again for a new menu... :)

Pete -I'm kind of boring... I normally don't do the 3 course meal thing. I guess I've never had a thing for appetizers and once I've finished my main course I am too full for dessert... unless it's a home made chocolate cake f course! My fave dishes in China are: spicy 'la rou' eggplant, egg-tomato stir fry (boring but soooo good!), mapu tofu, spicy sichuan chicken and broccoli with garlic... + a large bowl of rice!! Real simple stuff but oh so good... For western food: hm... well anything with salmon and avocado does it for me!! so maybe a salmon tart for starter (is that a starter?) then a salmon/tuna steak and then a chocolate cake (although it has to be home made, I don't like that dry, restaurant stuff) to finish things off. Real classy, huh? Haha!! How bout you?

Adrian -yeah I think you are right. Actually, a lot of my western friends loves the 'China food' in Scandinavia, but then when they come to China they think it's yuk... So, it's obvious that the sweet and sour pork is likable!

Chris -yeah I know.. 2 whole weeks! Well, before I came here I was kind of fantasizing about salmon and fresh garden salads so I was kind of occupied, food wise, in the beginning...

Bill -oh really? Well maybe it is better then. I don't know, I guess I just don't like the whole greasy thing about it so I'm personally not a fan...

Anonymous said...

just envy you.........