Saturday, May 3, 2014

Zhōng​cān​ (中餐)

People tell me that, once you become a parent, life is never the same again.  We haven't become parents yet (the damned TA still hasn't come!), but life has already changed for me.

I love to eat.  I REALLY love to eat.  However, for various reasons, my tastes were pretty limited when I was younger.  Other than pizza, spaghetti, and the occasional trip to a Mexican restaurant, my diet was essentially limited to Southern American cuisine (which is, of course, quite delicious).

This started to change in university when I became friends with some yank... um... people from the northern part of our country, I meant to say... who were (and are) excellent cooks and started to introduce me to dishes that I'd never tried.

Things changed a lot more when I traveled to Barcelona for work in my first job.  Despite dire warnings from my department head - "Don't drink anything that doesn't come out of a bottle or can, because you're going there to work, not be sick!" - I determined to at least try whatever was set before me.  Paella, squid, octopus, even snails (though, truth be known, I was three sheets to the wind at the time)... All delicious.  I should note that I got an upset stomach twice during my trip: once in Spain, and then immediately when I returned home and hit my favorite fast food joint after leaving the airport.

But Chinese food?  My father was in Thailand during the Vietnam War and told us horror stories about the things that Thais would eat.  From this, I got the idea that Asian food in general... Well, you're taking your life into your hands to even taste it. 

We live and learn.  When we started the process of adopting our daughter, I made up my mind that I was NOT going to spend my time in China searching desperately for a McDonalds or KFC.  I also decided that I was NOT going to live on fried rice, either: I WOULD try the local cuisine.  To help prepare myself for this, I asked our Mandarin tutor about where she likes to eat here in town.  She put us on to a local place, Sampan, that she told us was good and also authentic.  I'm so glad that she did!  I don't claim that Chinese food (Zhōng​cān) is my favorite, but there are some dishes that I very much enjoy.  The fried dumplings (jiānjiǎo) at Sampan are absolutely delicious; I can easily eat two orders and still not feel as though I've gotten enough.  Beef soup with noodles (Niúròu tāng miàn) is also very good as well as being served in a bowl about the size of a tureen for those of us with a healthy appetite.  But the dish that I think I've come to love best is beef chow fun (n chǎo niú hé).  This plate of paradise is conceptually pretty basic: stir fried beef, onions, bean sprouts, oyster sauce and wide rice noodles.  However, preparing it correctly - not turning the delicate rice noodles to mush, for example - requires a certain amount of skill, and I've read that the ability to cook n chǎo niú hé is an absolute requirement for those who wish to become Cantonese chefs, much in the same way that anybody wishing to say that he know how to cook Southern food has to be able to make fried chicken and biscuits.

Let's just say that they do it right at Sampan, including cooking with fresh (not dried) rice noodles.

I like to eat mine with hot Chinese mustard: I dip my chopsticks in the mustard - a little goes a LONG way - and put it on the noodles.  This causes my wife a great deal of amusement as the mustard is hot.  Blistering hot.  Thermonuclear hot:

SELF [upon taking the first bite] - "Ah... ah... ah!  This is so hot... OH!  I'm dying!  [shoveling in as fast as I can]  This is so... WATER!  I'm on fire... delicious!  MORE!  Oh, I can feel my sinuses burning out!  MORE!"

The owner of Sampan is often amused (amazed?) by my ability to wolf down a huge plate of chow fun (usually right after a double order of jiānjiǎo​): "You have a good appetite!"

With a plate of their chow fun before me?  YES, I DO!

I have read that the food in both Wuhan and Guangzhou is excellent, and I am looking forward to trying règānmiàn (hot spicy noodles) and dòu​ (a sort of fried cake or casserole of rice, tofu and other things) in Wuhan and, of course, chow fun in Guangzhou.

It's no wonder that I'm fat...

As a final note, before we were matched, all our research indicated to us that our daughter would likely be small and underweight.  We were not worried: if there's one thing my wife and I know how to do, it's put weight on a young 'un!  Given Caroline's actual size, however, our problem MAY be that she and I will fight over what's on the table... or go bankrupt trying to feed the two of us.

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