Food has been a tricky thing for me this trip. I set out full of determination – I was going to be a Good Traveler and eat only the Local Food! Really. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that even though I am now a Traveler ™ I am still a Picky Eater. *grumbles* Also, although it’s a very, very good thing I will now eat rice (well done me!) that’s uh. Not quite enough.What would be really good is if I could eat hot spicy food. As it is every venture into local cuisine is a tense stab in the dark – what spices lurk upon this seemingly innocent slab of meat???
I still object to the idea of food that causes physical pain in your mouth. This is not, I feel, what food should do.
(I am currently in Sichuan China. eheheh.)
I’ve eaten quite a few MacDonalds. What? When you’re hungry, tired really not up to another Cultural Experience (and the threat of hot spice waiting to ambush you) a MacDonalds is a pure, relaxing experience of pure joy. Okay, half an hour later your stomach feels like its got a brick in it but.
Having said all that my best experiences have been when I’ve wommaned up and eaten the local food. I’ve had some delicious meals, and I can remember a lot more of them, and a lot more fondly, than I do the MacDonalds.
And of all the food I love streetfood the most. It’s cheap, it’s quick, you see exactly what it is you’re going to get, in Beijing they ask if you want spice with that. You don’t have to run the gauntlet of intimidating restaurants and servers who hand you the menu and then want your order immediately. Like right now.
And some of my best experiences, with streetfood and with atmosphere, has been in the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an. The Muslim Quarter is this compact area full of streets packed tight with stalls selling everything from brightly coloured scarfs to t shirts to baskets of nuts to thick dense circles of flat bread. Everything from tourist tat to convenience stores.
And streetfood. A lot of streetfood. I asked my hostel where to go to eat they said the Muslim Quarter. For the streetfood.
So one night I went and as great as I’d found it during the day it really came alive at night with neon and the smells. Baking bread, frying oil, poaching fruit, sizzling kebabs, roasting nuts…
I treated myself to this delicious pancake thing that caught my eye. A woman stood at a table making them. She had tins full of different meat mixes in front of her. Another woman passed her circles of dough which she quickly spread with customers choice of meat mix, covered with another, and then pinched the edges together.
The pancakes were then passed to a man who deep fried them in a big circular pan until they were crispy and brown and delicious. The woman then deflty wielded an enormous, sharp looking knife, sliced the pancake into four, dumped them into a thin plastic bag and handed the whole steaming lot to the drooling customer.
My wild guess at the meat mixes turned out to be slightly spicy but the whole thing was soooooo good I almost didn’t care!
I then went looking for dessert which I found at a stall where an old woman made sweet sticky rice cakes in small, steaming wooden moulds. She then painted it with red bean sauce and rolled the whole lot in sesame seeds and handed it to me with a big smile. It was very very sweet and very very good.
I also had this big drink made I think out of hot poached apples and cloves but by then I didn’t have enough hands left to take pictures.
In sum: one of my favourite memories of the trip! Sometimes it’s worth taking a risk with your taste buds.