I could never understand why my husband was stuck in such a dietary rut here. Beer and tuna salad were pretty much his staples until I arrived and I couldn’t see how this gastronomically fairly adventurous man had been reduced to this timid epicurean.
And then I started doing the grocery shopping for us…
Shopping for new and never before tried foodstuffs in China leaves you a bit like a puppy that thinks he’s been let out of the house into an unsecured yard with the whole world outside open to explore when really, there’s a shock collar around his neck and sensors on the perimeter set to buzz him the moment he gets too close to freedom. You know the type? The first day you rush out, all happy and bright-eyed and excited to try out the fabulous cuisine this country has to offer. You’re delirious, eager, ready for anything. The world is your never before tasted, exotic oyster. And then BAM! You eat something that you took off the shelf with only a vague idea as to what it is. And it’s vulgar. You are shocked, your taste buds assaulted, but you’re sure it’s just an isolated incident. So the next day you rush out, slightly less eager, a little more hesitantly, but still ready to try anything. And BAM! You are shocked again. What in the name of all that is holy IS that?? Surely this is not food? How can anyone eat something so foul? Like a smoked sausage that appears to be chorizo, but tastes like a piece of plastic sweetened with too much sugar or a spring roll stuffed with nothing but what’s supposed to be shepherd’s purse but tastes like shepherd’s mouldy undies. So eventually, just like that little puppy shocked one too many times, you peer hesitantly around the corner when the elevator door opens by day 4, wondering if you really should venture forth because it can only turn out badly for you. You slink slowly into the supermarket and, defeated, you buy an onion, two apples and a bag of Lays because at least then you should know what you’re going to get. Honestly, they could make Ready Steady Cook: The Extreme Edition in this place – whip up a meal with an onion, two apples and a bag of Lays. Finding something to eat when you don’t have time to make everything from scratch is a minefield. Which brings me to the purpose of this post: Every now and then you find something that’s really pretty good! (Note how I am not overly extolling the virtues of these foodstuffs – I’m just saying they’re pretty good okay? I know there is great food out there – I just haven’t found it! Yet.). And if we find something we like, I’ll share it here in the hope of helping some other poor, lost expat standing in the supermarket and unsure of what to try next.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the mutton (I haven’t found lamb yet) we have had in the restaurants around here. I think I had more mutton in the first week than I ever had in 7 days back home! I kept thinking it’s a fluke and we won’t see it again. But, even though you can’t find fresh lamb or mutton in our immediate area, we were rather chuffed when we discovered Little Sheep mutton kebabs in the frozen foods section at our local supermarket. The meat is tender (maybe even a little too tender, but the Chinese seem to like all their meat that way – I’m not sure whether that’s due to their less than stellar oral hygiene?) and it is perfectly spiced with cumin, without having the usual Chinese 5-spice obliterating all other flavours. It’s properly muttony though – the way I like it – with quite a strong sheep flavour. I actually prefer the Chinese mutton I’ve had so far to the Karoo lamb we get back home (cue the collective gasp). Simply grill the kebabs for a few minutes and serve with salad, flat breads and dressing.