Hello Uncle Foreigner

food

May 10, 2012

Cold beer

It’s very refreshing

A nice cold beer on a hot day

The temperature is in the 90s already, and it’s soooo humid. And, as the summer tends to do, it’s only going to get hotter. Our head teacher is very concerned that we have never experienced a Luzhou summer before, and she’s looking out for us. In fact, at our request, she found us some teaching work for July and because it’s going to be so hot, she’s making them pay us more. Even though the classrooms will be air conditioned. I am not complaining about either fact.

Tonight, we figured out something that should make the hot, hot heat a little more enjoyable: I figured out how to ask for cold beer! We’ve been getting served room-temperature beer no matter the room temperature since we arrived, and we figured that would continue forever. But, last night at sticks, when we asked for another beer about halfway into our meal (you generally order all the beers you’re going to drink at the start of the meal), our waitress said something like “Ping-ah” to which I said yes. And then she brought us a refrigerated beer!

So tonight at sticks … well, first: Because we’re regulars they just bring us three beers and the vinegar Peter likes without us asking. So tonight, before they brought anything out, I said “Pijiu, bing-ah.” (The word stuck in my head mostly because the second part sounds like “Ahhhh!”) And this resulted in three deliciously cold beers. What a happy ending!

Apr 22, 2012

一点儿

Just a little

On one of the ways we walk to the city center, we pass a vendor selling delicious snacks: Different types of vegetables and meats that are breaded, fried and then coated in spices and tomato sauce. We’ve been enjoying his wares about once a week since the middle of the winter, and as you can see above, I can accomplish this transaction with no words in any language. He speaks a bit of English, however, and I’ve been trying out some of the few Chinese phrases I’ve learned on him.

We visited him yesterday, and as we were wrapping up our transaction he said to me, “Your Chinese is getting better and better.” (Of course, he said it in Chinese first, to which I replied 我不说汉语, so he then said it in English.) It was such a nice compliment!

So, I’m very proud of me! … Although before you gauge how proud you are of me, too, here’s what I said that elicited the compliment: When he pointed at the spice mix, asking if I wanted any, I said, “一点儿,” which means “A little bit.” Hardly a treatise on world peace. But little by little I am able to communicate, and that’s very exciting.

Apr 22, 2012

Pizza party

So delicious

The final result

As I said in my last post, more food ingredients are coming into focus out of all of the visual clutter. I’m also getting much better at writing down characters from Google Translate and at guessing where a given product might be found (unlike with the plunger hunt). And that’s enabled us to recreate all kinds of non-Chinese food; we’ve done Mexican, Brazilian, Indian, Thai, American, Italian and random fusion of all sorts of cuisine.

Pizza in the wok

One thing we do really miss is pizza. They serve something called pizza at the Western Restaurants around town, but we have to be really desperate to go for that. But, over the past few months, cheese has shown up in a couple of the grocery stores. It’s mostly processed singles, but one grocery store has an analog of Laughing Cow cheese that, if we’re being generous (and we are!), has a texture like goat cheese. Tomatoes here are treated like a fruit — meaning ketchup, juice, et al. are on the sweet side — but the international sections of most bigger supermarkets carry recognizably Western tomato sauce. (Of course we could stew our own sauce in the rice cooker; that’s a goal for next time.) And, the last piece of our puzzle, using our translation notebook, we found yeast last weekend at the spice man’s stall at the farmer’s market.

And what does that all spell? PIZZA!

We used our good friend Martha’s recipe for pizza on the grill and just did it on the wok. As you can see above, we piled on the fresh vegetables, which were really good. The cheese behaved just as I had hoped it would, getting slightly crispy on the outside and ooey-gooey in the middle. We added some smokey tofu crumbles to one of the pizzas for a smokey-facon flavor (that was the best one). The crusts came out OK for my first time making them, though I think I’d like a little more practice before serving our homemade pizza to our Chinese friends.

It was pretty much a full day of work (not to mention all the ingredient hunting in the week before), but it was so worth it. Even with the not-perfect crust, the pizzas were delicious! It was also really satisfying to figure out how to make the impossible possible.

Mar 22, 2012

6 months in China!

So let’s eat more sticks

Yesterday marked six months to the day we landed in China! We celebrated, of course, at sticks!

There are two things we’ve learned for sure: China is always loud, and we like our food spicy.

Feb 3, 2012

Dinner at sticks, now with video

It will definitely get loud

Pretend you’re there with us and enjoy:

Dinner at Sticks from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

Jan 24, 2012

Happy New Year: I ate goat and rabbit tonight

Spring Festival with friends

An healthy spread for Chinese New Year
More pictures of our New Year’s celebration!

Our neighbors Xi Xi and Wendy invited us to dinner tonight with their family - during Spring Festival (that’s what they call Chinese New Year), family members take turns hosting parties for their whole clan. Peter has been fighting a cold for the past few weeks, and it has not been responding well to travelling, going out and staying up late, so he’s trying out staying home and resting. But I’m not sick, so I went along.

It was a lot of fun. Wendy’s sister-in-law is also an English teacher, and everyone there spoke at least a little bit of English, so I had someone to talk to all night. Like usual, there were many toasts, and everyone was excited to try out their English on me.

The issue that’s a silly issue for me is that the Chinese eat a lot of meat, and they’re much more OK with whole-animal eating that Americans-in-general and me-specifically are comfortable with. I guess you could describe my diet as “very picky,” and it’s a different kind of thing to negotiate than Peter’s vegetarianism. There are some things that I don’t feel bad about turning down outright; offal, poultry feet (once, someone offered me “duck’s paw”) or anything super cartilage-y, brains … But other than that, I do feel obligated to try everything that’s offered. Which is part of the experience; I’ve had to choke down some meat of a texture I didn’t really enjoy (according to a Christmas-present Sichuan cookbook [thanks Lizzy and Jesse!], the local cuisine is all about textures that are pretty foreign to the American palate), but I’ve also tried some stuff that I really enjoyed. As the heading says, I ate rabbit tonight, and that’s something I’m getting to really like. The goat … it wasn’t baaaaad, but it’s not my favorite.

But, regardless, the night was a lot of fun, and it’s such a great privilege to be invited to a family gathering for such an important holiday.

Jan 20, 2012

Chengdu: Taco Night at The Lazy Pug

With guacamole and cheese

Tacos and Nachos, Oh my!

In our research of Chengdu, a bar called The Lazy Pug kept coming up over and over as a popular hangout for Western ex-pats. That in itself wasn’t super enticing to us; we didn’t move to China to surround ourselves with other Americans. But. Thursday nights are Taco Night!

The bar is run by an American couple, and is pretty authentic in its Western-ness. It was easy to pretend that we were at home in New York while we were there - which isn’t something we want to do often, but every once in a while it’s comforting.

So, much like our visit to Hong Kong, this was a great place to assuage a little homesickness. Unlike our tacos in Hong Kong (which were good enough for being overseas), the Pug’s tacos were excellent. The meat was seasoned well and they understood what vegetarian meant, so both I and Peter were pleased. In fact, on our way out, we told the female half of the ownership couple that these were the most authentic tacos we’d had in this hemisphere. Her response was that she and her husband were taking a month off soon to travel and figure out how to make their own corn tortillas to make the tacos even better!

Jan 10, 2012

New food on sticks

Very similar to the old food on sticks

New sticks
Fish boat

Part of our explore-the-city mission is to find places to eat other than our beloved sticks pavilion. With that in mind, last week we got gussied up and went out.

Our intention was to finally hit up one of those boat restaurants we see along the river. Turns out - and we totally should have expected this — they are fish restaurants. You can even go pick out which fish you want. Unfortunately, we wanted zero fish, so we left. Strike one.

Looking for a rotating restaurant

But, we had heard about this rotating restaurant on the top of the Luzhou Hotel! So we went to search that out. When we found it, it looked like the whole building had been closed for quite a while. Strike two.

Fancy pants chain

Our next thought was to try this street near our house where we had seen several indoor eating establishments that looked cool. We picked one - and it was more food on sticks! It was a little more upscale than our favorite outdoor place - there were wooden benches instead of plastic stools and there was a wider selection of food. We got a bowl that was split in two, one side with super spicy broth and the other with a vegetable stock. It was a nice change of pace to have a similar meal with different flavors.

It was slightly more expensive than our usual place, but we’d definitely go back.

Dec 30, 2011

Dinner with our principals

Welcome to school

Our first banquet dinner

Last Friday night, or Christmas Eve eve, our head teachers Linda and Sarah took us for a long promised welcome dinner with our schools principals - we have one head principal and four vice principals. We went back to a restaurant that they had taken us to before: It’s hot pot, but everyone gets their own individual bowl of broth. I think because most Chinese dining is done family style, it’s a novelty to have your own portion.

We dressed nicely, to impress our bosses, but the rest of the night was not a staid, impress-your-bosses type of affair. There’s a manner here that we’re not sure is Chinese or local Sichuan, but people are very loud and forward. If you need more tea, you either yell for a waitress, or get up and get it yourself. Dropped your chopsticks? (Which I do often.) Go grab another pair from the waitress station. Even at upscale places, there’s a lot of yelling and getting up and grabbing. It’s brash and we like it.

But, anyway, ordering food is always a loud and confusing ordeal. Sarah did all the ordering for the table, but she and the waitress seemed to need to consult for a long time. In that time, the principals came in and were introduced to us. They had all been stuck at a meeting, so they were a little late, which they apologized profusely for. Each of them asked each of us for forgiveness, which was kind of astonishing and a little embarrassing - you’re the boss! Show up whenever you want!

After introductions, Sarah broke out the special bottle of Luzhou Laojiao that she had brought along, and the toasting began. Everyone was served a tiny thimble of the white liquor, and when someone toasted you, you stood up with them as they made their speech to you. The principals all could speak a little bit of English, but mostly Linda and Sarah translated. They wished us Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and told us how happy they were to have us at their school. They were thrilled to have us as part of the family, they said. It was all very flattering. When the toast was finished, you drank your glass down to the bottom and held it out to show the other person that you had indeed drunk it all.

The spread

The food just kept coming. There were meat slices, leafy greens, sprouts and other veggies, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, potatoes, pumpkin, fish bits, dumplings and much, much more. The good thing for us about this meal is that you only take what you want, meaning we could skip the intestines, etc. Halfway through the meal they brought out some desserty items: fruit, sticky rice cakes and mini pumpkin muffins. (None of these went in the soup.) This did not mean the meal was done, however. More main course stuff followed. As did ice cream. And then more leafy greens. When we thought we were done, the question was posed to the table: rice or noodles to finish the meal? All of our hosts were pretty drunk by then (the Chinese really do metabolize alcohol much differently than we do), so the discussion was a hilarious one (they were all laughing about it, anyway), with one of the VPs chanting “mian, mian, mian!” Somehow, the decision was put to me. I chose noodles, of course.

The jokes were flying around the table, though even translated they didn’t always make sense to us — I have a whole post about Chinese humor to come, but from what I’ve seen it involves making a statement that is obviously false and then laughing your head off. As they had more to drink, there was less and less of an effort to translate things into English, but it was kind of interesting to sit back and watch the room descend into silliness.

When the meal was over, it was over. Everyone abruptly stood and gathered their coats and things. There was no lingering, no talk of an afterparty. The meal was done, it was time to go home. Everyone said their goodbyes and wished us Merry Christmas again as they bundled us off into a cab.

We may not have understood the whole night, but it was a fun time anyway. We feel so lucky to be at a school where everyone loves having us here. We’ve heard stories that that isn’t always the case — foreigner teachers can be resented, ignored, cheated, etc. But everyone from the students to our fellow teachers to our bosses has been incredibly nice and generous with their time and help and attention. I’d say, as winter break approaches, it’s going quite well.

Dec 20, 2011

Hong Kong: The search for Mexican food

Spoiler: We find some

Our need for pizza sated, the mission Sunday night was Mexican food. We looked up a few places in Central that sounded good.

An awesome thing about Central district: It’s situated on a super steep hill, so they’ve built a giant 800-meter long escalator. There’s a break every block, so you can get off and on where you need to. It’s super cool.

The Mexican place we found was called something like El Taco Loco, and it was just the kind of disgusting cheese-covered junk food we were looking for. It was a super casual place, with tacos and burritos served in red plastic baskets, and it seemed to be super popular with the younger ex-pat crowd.

After eating, we hit up an English-style pub called Waterloo Station. Basically, we wanted to suck up all the foreign-ness that we could before we returned to China.

We found some terrible Mexican food!
Follow the full journey to find Mexican food.