Posts Tagged With: Cooking

China: Hutong Cooking

It was a lovely day in April, so why not go get lost in the seemingly unending network of hutongs – the traditional Chinese neighborhoods – in Beijing, China. As I strolled through these labyrinths of narrow streets and alleys with their hidden courtyards surrounded by apartments, it was evident that food was central to life here. No need to travel far eat. On just about every street corner in this neighborhood, there was cooking on the streets, even at restaurants, the kitchens were essentially outside, enticing would-be diners.

Here, fried dough and steam buns stuffed with pork and spices. Like so many places around the world, China is all about food. Eating is central to everything families do, an activity that bonds people. “Family style” eating has been part of Chinese culture for centuries. Lots of dishes come out and everybody shares.

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What You Get Isn’t Always What You See

I am a very picky eater. A difficult thing for a guy who loves to eat in restaurants. An especially difficult thing hopping from strange country to strange country with strange foods. Strange, of course, to me – the visitor. As foreigners we sometimes gag at things others eat. Food can stir up such emotions. Just spend a moment with a vegan.

My palate has grown more adventurous as my travels have increased. I will now try any local weird food, but the weirder the smaller the bite.  Guinea pig (they call it cuy) in Ecuador or Peru? Okay, but just a sliver. I didn’t say my taste buds were wild and carefree 🙂

So today, that taste for food adventure emerged. A hankering for something different for lunch. So out into the wilds of foodland I went in search of some local fare, perhaps some mean cuisine with a twist and a bit of flair. I walked to the center of Calama, Chile, where there’s a concentration of restaurants, looking at menu after menu. Nothing struck me. I made my way back across town in the direction of a particular restaurant that seemed to have some local items. I ordered an Italian cappuccino and asked the server to give me another minute to decide what to eat. Impatient, she gave me a half-minute. I asked for another minute, please. She stepped aside, but hovered. Feeling rushed, I couldn’t decide what to order. None of the items on the menu sungO Mio Babbino Caro to me. When that happens I’ve struck upon a heavenly delight.

[Impatient server moving closer] Okay. I think I will really go wild: how about a Caesar salad? Yep, a Caesar. This is what it looked like:

Caesar salad? Really?

So much for adventure today. But what’s with all this cheese in my Caesar? Under that thick layer of yellow was just lettuce and a few chicken strips. Mustard on the side. Croutons on the perimeter. Okay. You are not in your homeland. Things are done differently elsewhere, I reminded myself. Dig in!

Well, not bad with the spiced up mustard added. And the chicken hidden below the cheese was cooked to perfection. So, too, I gather, was the long strip of hair I found as I went for another bite. This is what I found:

A little bit of pepper, a dash of paprika, a pinch of salt, a strand of hair...

Well, I did have a taste for something exotic, didn’t I? Brunette? Hmmm…yum!

I calmly put down my fork and called over the server nearest to me. My impatient server had gone AWOL. When she reappeared, the other server whispered in her ear – presumably not sweet nothings, but the problem at Table 9. She came over and offered to make me a new salad – yeah, right, I’m going to fall for that fresh plate of salad trick – or order something else. Well, I think I’m done eating, thank you. I’ve suddenly lost my taste for food adventure. Then again, on the way over here I think I saw a McDonald’s.

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