I have joined a mad Irishman on a cycling trip around the world.

Monday, 1 July 2013

China: An Epic. Part 2

Food varies quite a lot across China. For the first month or so we ate very plain food, eggs with tomatoes, cabbage and beans with rice, or else plain noodles. I'm not sure if that's because that's all there was or because that's all we knew how to ask for!

Sichuan cooking is what the Chinese call "Chinese food". The strangest flavour we've come across is the Sichuan pepper which has a bitter taste and a numbing effect - it makes you feel like you've been to the dentist. The first time we had it was in the otherwise very plain noodles in the south. There it was all ground up and mixed in so we couldn't avoid it. It gave me pins and needles in my lips and made me dribble everywhere. Once we got to the Sichuan province and especially in Chengdu, it was in everything but it was whole so we could pick out the pepper corns. It is supposed to offset the fieriness of the piles of chillies they cook with, especially in the Sichuan hot pot which is famously lava-like.
Sichuan hot-pot

Spicy stuff!
Noodles are much tastier in Muslim areas. Lamyen is a dish of hand pulled noodles with meat, onion and peppers and is very delicious and perfect cycling food. Listening to a restaurant full of people slurping them up can be off putting. I actually made a recording on my ipod once, it was like an orchestral performance.

Making the noodles

Noodle stew!


Making bowzers


Hot pot noodles

Line them up!

Knife cut noodles, really tricky to eat

Dishes in China don't tent to have more than two ingredients which means if you want a selection of food you have to order three dishes, one meat, one tofu, one veg for example. We found we were getting full to bursting eating three dishes at a time so we bought ourselves a tupperware box to fill with rice and leftovers. It's perfect, we get two meals out of every one.

Mystery meat
Food waste in China is incredible. People in a restaurant often order far more food than they can eat to show how wealthy they are. It is common to see dishes which are completely untouched cleared from the table and chucked straight in the bin. One evening we stayed in a hotel where we were the only guests not part of a wedding party. The car park was full of tables absolutely laden with food but there were only enough guests for a third of the places. At the end of the party we watched the hotel staff chucking the untouched food into massive bins. We were invited to share some of the left overs (and bijou, the very strong Chinese rice spirit) with the hotel staff. It's funny eating with people, when they're finished they just all up and leave without warning, we're done, bye!

We saw a report on TV about a man who is trying to start a "Clear you plate" campaign encouraging people to take doggie bags from restaurants and particularly targeting Government conferences where huge quantities of foods are wasted (the report showed three wheelie bins full from just one dinner party). So we are trailblazing the "Clear your plate" campaign with out tupperware!

He loves mashing potatoes!

Happy food sellers in the market, making meat sandwiches

Meat in the market

Sweets and grains

At the other end, toilets in China are really something, the worst I've ever seen. A typical public toilet is a tiled trough with low dividers between you and the person in front, no doors and definitely not any loo roll. They get flushed once a week. It can be tricky using these as you don't want to touch anything or anything to touch you so you're holding your nose, holding up your trouser bottoms and swatting frantically at the poo flies all at once. And they're the nice ones.
No peeking!
When we're riding and can't find a suitable spot out of doors we have to resort to using petrol station loos. These are concrete bunkers with holes cut in the floor. Depending on when the last poo collection was the poo mountain might reach the hole and if it's really bad there might even be poo maggots to poo on. It is all quite traumatic. The worst experience I had was when a dog wandered underneath and I got a shock and peed on it. In the countryside the waste just all flows out into the rice paddies to make poo rice.

Some of the nicer petrol station toilets

No comments:

Post a Comment