First Impressions: Food in Fuzhou

Trip Start Jun 11, 2011
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Trip End May 15, 2012


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Flag of China  , Fujian,
Monday, June 27, 2011

Dan's Perspective:

          It's tough to put into words how incredibly much I love the food here in China. Each new day brings a new onslaught of flavors, scents, and textures to the palette that would astound the most seasoned of Travel Channel hosts. While I haven't seemed to find the scorpions-on-a-stick or the batches of seasoned crickets (yet) that Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern might have featured on their shows, I have still found a wonderful alternative -- real, authentic, Chinese food that is, in an infinite number of ways, different (and much better) from type that we all know and love back home in the States.

          I came to this country with a rather romantic view of the people, the food, and the culture. I pictured bustling marketplaces erupting in a din of shouts and calls from the vendors. I pictured little old men boarding small, bamboo rafts at 4am to begin their daily fishing routine. I pictured small, curious Chinese children staring up at me with big, beady eyes and dirt on their faces, smiling and following me as I walked by, calling me "weiguoren", or "foreigner". Much of that view came from watching the Travel Channel, BBC documentaries, and the countless trips I had taken into New York City's Chinatown with Lynnae, my family, and during "bro-trips" with Ken and Tim, ordering up strange foods like chicken feet at Chatam House for dim sum, cold jellyfish soaked in soy sauce at New (now, Nice) Green Bo, and whole-cooked pigeon (head included) at Kam Man Market. I am so thankful that I have had those experiences in Chinatown, which broadened my sense of culinary adventure that no American-Chinese restaurant could have done. 

          While many aspects of my romantic envisioning of China may only be seen in the outskirts of Fuzhou (where there are supposedly a lot of quaint fishing villages that I am dying to explore), much of it can also be seen here in the city. In Fuzhou, the marketplaces burst to life at 6am, only to transform into bustling night markets of street food stalls and back-alleyway poker and mahjong games, played by shirtless old men smoking on cigarettes and drinking Seprin, a local Fuzhou pilsner. Vendors shout the prices of their wares to passersby from their stalls, little kids run rampant through their neighborhoods, squeeling and laughing as they chase each other with empty aluminum cans, and firecrackers go off at the most ungodly of hours due to a recent death in the family. This place is crazy. This place is chaotic. This place is the China I've looking for.

          Okay, okay. I know -- I've spent too much time gushing over how much I'm in love with this country (though, believe me, there's much about this country that irks me, but we'll get to that in a different blog). I need to get down to business. Let's start talking food.

          Unfortunately, almost every travel guide that I have read regarding Fuzhou's dining scene has painted a pretty grim picture. One book in my library of China guides (thanks again for those, Mom) went so far to open their dining section with the following: "Fuzhou suffers from aserious lack of restaurants. If you're looking to enjoy a nice sit-down meal in a quality dining establishment, this might not be the place for you." I came to Fuzhou a little unsettled because of statements like these. Anyone that knows me knows how much I love food. If I couldn't go on an adventurous food quest each and every day, what the hell was I going to do here? However, after just a few weeks of Lynnae's and my stay, it is safe to say that these books got it all wrong. This city contains such an insane amount of restaurants, it makes the text in those travel guides laughable. 

          Now, if you're looking for straight-up Chinese food, you're set. Fuzhou offers so many different types of Chinese cuisines, from, quite obviously, Fujian (the province of which Fuzhou is the capital), to Dongbei (Northeastern Chinese food), Szechuan (the hot and spicy food hailing from the southern province of Sichuan) and Cantonese-style (dim sum) restaurants -- I'm sure there are more variations of Chinese restaurants, I just haven't stumbled across them yet. If one gets bored of the vast array of styles of Chinese cooking in Fuzhou (though I can't imagine how), venturing out to other restaurants specializing in Korean, Mongolian, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Malay, etc. cuisine is supposedly rather easy as there are a good number of them scattered throughout the city. The best part of dining out at any of these restaurants is that after a meal that delightfully stuffs you to the brim, you walk away paying a bill that costs roughly 25 yuan a person (around $3.50). Yep, you'll eat like a king and pay like a pauper in most of Fuzhou's restaurants. If dining-in isn't what you're looking for, walk up to one of the countless food stalls and ask for whatever you're ordering for "da bao", or take-away. You literally can "da bao" anything -- from the leftover food at the restaurants, to baozi and jiaozi (steamed buns and dumplings, respectively), noodle soup, stir-fry, fried rice, garlic-covered steamed oysters, and even bubble tea, which has a vacuum-sealed top to prevent spilling. Just for the record, the bubble tea here is incredible and you can find it almost anywhere. Thankfully, Lynnae and I have already learned how to order up our favorite mango green tea with pearls -- "yi bei zhen zhu manguo lu cha gun zhen zhu". I mean, we don't know how to tell a taxi driver "straight", "right", "left", or "stop, god damn it, please stop" yet, but ordering up bubble tea is more important at this point... right?

          As for the location of our apartment, Lynnae and I both consider ourselves extremely lucky to have been placed where we are. While our gatekeeper is a senile, old man who charges us five yuan to unlock the gate to our complex after 11pm (which we've heard might not even be legal), it's in a prime location. It's about a twenty-minute walk from the school that we work at, a ten-minute walk to Fuzhou's West Lake, and a four-minute walk from a local supermarket chain called Yong Hue, where we do the bulk of our shopping to outfit our living space. However, the prized part of this apartment is the marketplace that is right next door -- literally, thirty seconds from our door. This is one of those marketplaces that I described above where you start to already hear commotion before daybreak. Food-wise, Lynnae and I can geteverything here. In the mood for eggs? Crates filled with farm-I-don't-know-how-fresh eggs are piled high, one on top of the other, ready for the taking. Just fill up a bag and hand it to the lady behind the counter who's cracking up at you because, apparently, you don't put eggs in bags. Almost every stall (there are probably twenty in total here) sells produce -- all of which is extremely fresh and looks great. Best part of all of this is that the produce here (except for some choice fruits) is wildly inexpensive. You can easily walk away with a week's worth of fruits and veggies for forty yuan, or about six bucks. In the mood for a night of carnivorous feasting? Grab a freshly-plucked pigeon whose fate of a neck-wringing came from the simple point of your finger. Regarding the butcher stalls, they truly are a sight to behold. Whole, plucked ducks lay on their backs, heads draped over the edge of the counter-top, with holes in their necks from where the butcher drained the blood. Pig's feet, shoulders, and intestines all hang from meat hooks dangling from a single copper wire strand, shielding the butcher from view behind a veil of fleshy bits. Squid, shrimp, crabs, fish, frogs and turtles all swim in shallow bins, awaiting their eventual demise. Yes, I know it all sounds so horribly grisly and repugnant, but hey, China definitely isn't a place for the faint-hearted.

          As for our adventures with street food, I was going to address it in this blog as well, but Lynnae and I haven't really experienced much of it yet. "Street food" in Fuzhou really begins to appear at night, roughly around 9pm, when vendors set up shop all along the curbsides, barbecuing anything and everything that you could imagine. Unfortunately, by this time, Lynnae and I are usually too exhausted from a day's work to head out to Daming Lu or "Student Street" around the University section (two of the famed street food sections) to get a taste of Fuzhou's late night eats, so we'll have to save that for a future blog!

          I hope I haven't exhausted you all too much with my lengthy food blog, but I just love food too much to keep it short! Lynnae's perspective follows the conclusion of my blog, and as you'll see in her first sentence, her relationship with the food here is quite on the rocks! Happy reading!

Zhe jian! (good-bye!)
Dan

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 Lynnae's Perspective:

             I haven't been quite as adventurous with my culinary selections as Dan, but, then again Dan will eat ANYTHING!  = )  We've been in Fuzhou for two weeks now, and my stomach still hasn't adjusted.  Though I can't say I haven't stepped out of my box...  I've eaten the meat from a pig's hoof, frog meat, raw beef topped with a raw quail's egg, and duck liver!  (That might explain why my stomach has been in upheaval!)  Fortunately, most of the teachers have been in the same situation, and they have been extremely helpful!  One of the teachers let me try a Chinese remedy (which looks unnervingly like rabbit droppings), and I've been working away at the industrial-size Pepto-Bismol chewables that we bought at BJ's before we left. I guess a diet consisting mostly of cereal and PB&J didn't exactly prepare my stomach for the vastly different Chinese food that we are now consuming!  

            I was a little nervous about the food coming into this experience because I am not fond of American "Chinese" food.  But, the food here is surprisingly tasty and flavorful!  Despite my stomach, I've been trying all sorts of new dishes, and it tastes nothing like the greasy "Chinese" food back at home!  As of right now, my favorite dish is the Lychee Pork, one of Fuzhou’s most notable dishes.  It consists of breaded pork and potatoes that have been soaked in a sweet sauce, similar to sweet and sour chicken.  Another one of my favorites is a green leafy vegetable (like broccoli rabe) that has been soaked in a very light garlic sauce… very simple and delicious!  Two dishes that really remind me of home are Dongbei mashed potatoes (a huge platter of mashed potatoes slathered in meat gravy) and Szechuan fries (shoestring fries served with a ridiculous amount of hot red chili peppers).  The other night at a Dongbei restaurant, we tried a new dish: caramelized sweet potatoes (bite-sized pieces of sweet potato covered in a layer of sugar).  The dish was absolutely fantastic, but as it cooled, the sugar hardened, and the sweet potatoes became rock hard!  ...And I was worried I’d lose weight in China!!     

           In China, restaurants serve meals in a family style manner.  Every table has a giant Lazy Susan on which all of the food and drinks are served.  The table setting--usually sealed in plastic wrap--includes a small plate, a bowl, one spoon, a glass (resembling a shot glass), a small sauce dish, and a set of chopsticks.  The small plate is used simply as a resting place for the bowl, and I've seen people discard their bones and scraps on the plate as well.  As the food is served, you simply push the Lazy Susan around and use your chopsticks to shovel food into your bowl.  Dan and I have really improved on our chopstick skills... We haven't used a fork at all since we've been here!  While there really aren't any manners to be considered for eating, the Chinese take their drinking VERY seriously!  Firstly, all drinks, whether it's beer, soda, or water, are always poured into the small glass.  (It's a bit annoying when you're coming in from the Fuzhou heat and you just want to chug the entire bottle of water!!)  Regarding drinking etiquette, here are a few things that we’ve learned so far:

1.     You should always pour for those around you before pouring your own beer.

2.      If someone pours your beer, you should tap on the table twice with your pointer and index finger to show your appreciation.

3.     You should not drink by yourself; always invite another to drink with you.  With that being said, it is considered somewhat rude to join in on a drink when not invited.  

4.     The person receiving the invite to drink should clink their glass just below the lip of the inviter’s glass to show respect.  If the inviter’s glass cannot be reached, both people should clink their glass on an object that makes a clinking sound (beer bottle, bowl).

5.     No sipping; you should drink the entire glass.  Don’t leave any leftovers in your glass…Otherwise, you may have to drink the entire bottle of beer (which is about triple the size of a beer back home)!

6.      "Gan bei!"  (Literally, 'dry the cup’)  Basically, if someone says this, you will probably be finishing the entire bottle of beer… Or, at the very least, taking three shots of beer.            

   Like I said, drinking is a very serious sport in China!

           As for the meat... Hmm, it's a very interesting concept.  The meat does not come prepackaged in China, but rather different cuts of meat are simply laid along several refrigerated surfaces.  Customers grab a plastic bag (similar to the produce bags we use at home) and sift through the pieces of meat with their hands.  Butchers work tirelessly hacking away at various animals, and the cuts of meat that are available are endless!  (Though, ground meat is not readily available in China, and boneless chicken breast is not easy to find either.)  Needless to say, the Chinese are not wasteful!  Fish swim around in shallow tubs or lay on ice ready to be purchased.  The tubs are so shallow that it is not uncommon to find fish, flopping around on the floor only to be scooped up and thrown back into the tank.  At first, the meat section of the grocery stores were very off putting (then again I didn't really like the meat section back home either), but such is the way of life in China... Just another thing to get used to!

Lynnae  
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Comments

Momma Z on

Great entry, Dan and Lynnae! Though I've heard just about all of this via our Skype conversations, it was fun to read about your culinary adventures. Your entries are very descriptive and well-written!

Hope your first days of teaching went well! Looking forward to hearing about the Chinese kids and the educational system there.

Love and misses,
Mom
xo

Sarah on

Danny- I'm so happy to hear that you're enjoying the various amounts of food I would probably never even try!! Bubble TEA!!! That is something I would probably have at least 2x a day ;) How cheap is bubble tea there?! Reading your blog really makes me want to come visit!

Lynnea- Hopefully your stomach will start getting used to all the different dishes! The sweet potatoes sound DELICIOUS!

Sue Yorey on

Dan your sense of adventure, particularly with food is tremendous! You have already thrown yourself completely into the culture. Lynnae, I'm with you, I'd probably survive on PB&J especially when you describe the hands all over the unpackaged meat - yuck! But I admire how much you have ventured out - I suppose your stomach will adjust eventually!

Extremely interesting reading - so descriptive! You should consider publishing this when you get home - so much fun to read the two completely different perspectives.

Love you, Aunt Sue xo

Glad you are both well and enjoying the experience. Keep the blogs coming.

EVA on

Wow guys!
Thanks for writing such a clear picture of the food. Lynnae Im probably on the same page as you as far as choosing food goes. I do not know if I would make it lol. As for Dan, you are quite adventurous with your food! Both of you take care and I wish you the best1

Sue Yorey on

Not sure if you are getting Facebook messages, so I thought I would write a comment on your blog to say, Happy Birthday, Lynnae! Hope your birthday in China is extra special! xo

forkstochopstix
forkstochopstix on

Thanks Aunt Sue! We miss everyone! = )

Barbara Radl on

Again, the writing is flawless and so entertaining -- I can picture (and almost taste) all the food -- what an adventure!!!! Continued good luck with the chop sticks, eating and drinking skills! :-)

Barbara Radl on

p.s. I'd love an order of the sweet potatoes...........yum! Hope you come back with some great recipes :-)

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