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DH just back from China...have to ask these questions about the food he had....is it all like this or did they miss out? China experts ... would like your input.

DH just back from China...have to ask these questions about the food he had....is it all like this or did they miss out? China experts ... would like your input.

Old Jul 3rd, 2007, 02:41 PM
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DH just back from China...have to ask these questions about the food he had....is it all like this or did they miss out? China experts ... would like your input.

My husband just returned as part of a delegation to China. He was in Beijing, Jinan, and two other cities in the Shandong province.
We knew the food was nothing like the Chinese food in the US....however??!! Very bland...even when they went to a Szechuan restaurant nothing was spicy. Nothing remotely similar to anything we've had at home and no dim sum. They had fish & duck (with the head) at almost every meal. Chicken and beef full of gristle, lots of cabbage and leafy vegetables including seaweed, bean curd, some kind of bark and had very little rice served...they were told rice is considered a filler.

All their meals were banquet style with multiple dishes on a lazy susan type thing.

Can you get spicy food and they missed it?

And the main question....how in the world did the American style Chinese come to be since it's so vastly different?
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Old Jul 3rd, 2007, 02:55 PM
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Not an expert, but...Sounds to me like he got the typical tour group cuisine, which is unfortunate, because from everything I've heard the food in China is outstanding.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2007, 03:16 PM
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If you have banquet style meals, rice will only come in the end as a filler. Fish, duck, chicken...are to be served whole (both head and tail), especially in banquet style meals. Beijing has very good Szechuan restaurants and definitely spicer than the Szechuan restaurants located in the south. Cantonese dim sum is not in every restaurant but can be easily found. Sorry to hear your DH missed out on all the good food.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2007, 03:24 PM
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Seems like I also missed the good stuff. I had exactly what you describe (and then some). We were on a private tour.

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Old Jul 3rd, 2007, 03:51 PM
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Possibly the spiciness could have been toned down to suit foreign taste?

For banquets, rice or noodles are served right at the end for the big eaters. Smaller eaters would skip that for the dessert!

Also food served at banquets are way different from home cooked food. Most homes would not have the equipment to cook the dishes the same way.

Poultry, fish and even suckling pig must be presented with the head and tail (even though not everyone eats them) to demonstrate it's the whole thing being served and not parts. Also it means completeness from head to tail/toes or whatever.

Dim sum is part of Cantonese cuisine more commonly found in Guangzhou and HK. That is not to say they can't be found elsewhere.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2007, 03:54 PM
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If you are equating Chinese food with spicy hot food, then no wonder what he had tasted "bland"!

Spicy hot is just one of the tastes. There's sweet. There's sour. There's bitter. There's salty. Etc. Chinese cooking covers a vast range of different tastes, not just spicy hot. Soemtimes the entire reason for a dish is to combine different tastes: bitter with sweet, bitter with salty.

I don't know where you live, travelfan1, but the American Chinese restaurants in the US used to be mostly Cantonese, because the Cantonese were the first Chinese to come to the US, and the food in those restaurants were gawd-awful "chop suey" type of food. Then the Vietnamese "boat people" came and Chinese cuisine in the US underwent a vast improvement. Today, along the West Coast, there are numerous excellent Chinese restaurants. Most of them are still Cantonese, but - since Americans tend to like spicy hot foods - all Chinese restaurants in the US add spicy hot dishes to their menus. In large cities, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver, BC. there are great Chinese restaurants serving Chinese food with genuine Chinese regional flavorings.

As for banquet food, yes, as the others have said, rice is a filler. The host is supposed to have given you a sumptuous meal consisting of the best of meats, fish, etc. You are supposed to feel full at the end of the banquet. If you are not and are still scarfing down rice, then the host has failed in his task to entertain you with the best of foods. His shame. It's as if, after a great banquet in the US, you ask to have bread and water because you are still hungry and thirsty.

Fish and duck are served whole to indicate how fresh they were - freshly killed just before cooking. Nowadays, with refrigeration it's a moot point, but the custom is long-standing.

"some kind of bark" probably was "mu erh" = wood ear. It's a kind of fungus that is crunchy, used somewhat like mushrooms. It's usually inserted into a vegetarian dish for the diner to enjoy the crunchy texture.

Can you get spicy food in China? Of course, but you have to frequent a restaurant that serves food from the West of China, like Szechuan. In restaurants such as those, anything with "ma..." such as "ma po tofu" or "ma la..." such as "ma la tang" would be hot. There's usually a jar of hot chilis at the table and you can add as much as you wish of the hot sauce.

I'd suggest, however, that your DH learn to enjoy the other flavorings in Chinese cuisine. Otherwise, he's missing out on a lot.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2007, 04:02 PM
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I guess a real good reason not to go on tours Glad we don't travel that way!

We found very spicy sichuan food in BJ along with Cantonese, Mongul,etc.....all kinds.

If anything the food served in Beijing was over spicy. We would have to watch the peppers that were all over some dishes.

Even the ketchup packs at McDonald's(had a quick and cheap breakfast one day) was spicy hot.

Aloha!
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Old Jul 3rd, 2007, 04:20 PM
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Wow, the responses above are right on.

I should also add that rice is not a stable in northern China. They grow wheat up north, so you'll see noodles and buns. Rice is mostly southern Chinese (especially Cantonese) thing.

Anyways, the "Ma" in Szechuan food refers to "numbness" delivered by huajiao, which looks like black pepper. The spicy hot dishes you find in many Chinese restaurants use various chili pepper, and is mostly a hunan dish. The two "hotness" are totally different.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2007, 06:01 PM
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Great answers! One other thing to think about... if you've ever done the "banquet circuit" in the US, you know that what is served is rather bland, even if the food is high quality (which it isn't always - how many jokes have you heard about rubber chicken?).

As others have pointed out, some of the things you think of quinessentially Chinese cuisine are in fact regional Chinese cuisine. In the US you wouldn't expect to get great Tex-Mex food in Maine or to have fabulous clam chowder in Albuquerque.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2007, 06:09 PM
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Advice so far is what I would also agree with. I believe that the spiciness was toned down because the delegation was probably all Westerners and your hosts were being polite; the received wisdom here is that Westerners do not like spicy food. After almost 20 years living in Asia, I am still asked (was just asked this yesterday at lunch) “can you take spicy food”? If your DH had looked around, he may have noticed small dishes of chilis, both dried and fresh, with which he could have spiced up various meals. There are also usually other sauces on the table which can be added for flavor.

Dim sum is only served as a lunch/brunch item, and your husband would have been very unlikely to have been served it at a dinner banquet, and even much more unlikely to have been served it at a luncheon banquet in northern China. It is southern Chinese cooking.

Pork is the food of choice for most Chinese, followed by chicken, duck and seafood, beef is not nearly as well favored. That may explain the quality of the beef, which may have been served again out of politeness to the Western delegation. Vegetables and bean curd are staples. As noted, rice or noodles are always served at the end, that is how you know dinner is over.

I never eat “Chinese” food when I am back in the US, because to me, it is vastly different from what I am used to. In fact, when people in the US say they love “Chinese food”, I always think “well, you can’t, because its all regional”, to me that is like saying “I love European food”. That could mean bratwurst or tapas. Very different. No one says that, they say “I love Italian food” or “I love French food”. Same with “Chinese” food. Most people mean Cantonese or Sichuan or sometimes Hunan. Ever had Swatow?
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Old Jul 4th, 2007, 04:40 AM
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Thanks for all the responses. I think he missed out since he had no choice where to eat. He wasn't looking for spicy but would have loved to have found some since we do enjoy it. Even the vegetables served were mostly the same thing...he saw broccoli once.
KM - Dessert, if you want to call it that, was fruit.

This wasn't a tourist type tour...it was an educational delegation visiting schools.
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Old Jul 4th, 2007, 05:13 AM
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Broccoli is not natively grown in China. Probably imported and very expensive.

But anyways, like others have said, good food is everywhere. Whoever arranged food for the tour may have 1) brought them to the wrong place, 2) ordered the wrong (i.e. plain) food because they worried about the palette of the guests, 3) was given a very low budget for meals, 4) pocketed part of the budget, or 5) a combination of above.
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Old Jul 4th, 2007, 09:04 AM
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Chinese cuisine is not big on desserts since historically home kitchens do not have baking ovens to make cakes/pastries nor frig/freezers to store ice cream. So fruit is usually served at the end of the meal.

You also notice the cold appetizers are not made up of raw veggies like western salads, it's simply not part of the diet. And you don't want to eat it anyways even if it's served since the veggies are washed in non-pottable water.
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Old Jul 4th, 2007, 03:35 PM
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travelfan, I was interested in your comment "All their meals were banquet style with multiple dishes on a lazy susan type thing."

Does this differ from most Chinese restaurants in the US? I've only eaten at one, in SF's Chinatown, and that's how it came, as it would for a sizeable party at a Chinese restaurant here in Australia, and each dish is shared. Unlike China, however, the (mostly Cantonese) restaurants here serve rice with, not after, the meal.

We also travelled in the east/NE of China and being mostly accustomed to Cantonese fare noticed the differences. However, my take on Cantonese cuisine is that it most merits the description "bland", or better, "subtle", as it tends to rely on fresh ingredients with flavourings used to accent rather than overwhelm the natural character of the main ingredients. Generally we found northern cuisine more strongly flavoured, and oilier. Although not every dish we ate received our seal of approval, it does sound as if your husband was short-changed.

Most restaurants here add non-Cantonese items like sizzling Mongolian lamb and Sichuan dishes to the menu to broaden their appeal. Also, quite a few are run by Malaysian/Singaporean Chinese people, so it's not unusual to see dishes like beef rendang on the menu.

Dim sum is referred to as "yum cha" here, and that's where you'll find a few sweets, although restaurants usually offer simple desserts like lychees with ice cream in deference to Western tastes.
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Old Jul 4th, 2007, 03:41 PM
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An afterthought - I remember reading that chop suey was invented on the fly by a Chinese cook in California, under pressure from hungry miners to produce a one-dish meal with limited ingredients.

That sounds credible, as it's never been common in Australian Chinese restaurants (chicken or pork chow mein, made with crispy noodles, would be the nearest equivalent), despite a very similar Chinese immigrant experience here following the discovery of gold in the mid-19th century. Fortune cookies I think were also an American invention.

Something else - I see many references to "egg rolls" in American books featuring Chinese restaurants, but have never seen them on any menu here. Maybe another US innovation?
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Old Jul 4th, 2007, 03:59 PM
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Neil - In a Cantonese banquet, each course is presented separately. You finish one, they take it away, wait some, then next dishes. I've never seen a piece of white rice at a Cantonese banquet in my life. [I am Cantonese.]

The courses will be something like this:

1. Roast pig, or combination of several cold dishes, or lobster salad.
2 & 3. Two hot dishes. Scallops, shrimps, bird's nests, etc.
4. Shark Fin's Soup
5. Japanese mushrooms, or abalones, or sea urchins
6. Whole steamed fish.
7. Whole fried chicken.
8 & 9. Fried rice and fried noodles.
10. Red bean soup, or mango pudding, etc
11. One or two types of cakes/sweets.
12. Oranges or other fruits.

Take 2-3 hours to finish it. But no plain steamed rice.

Also, Cantonese are actually quite fond of dessert. There are two major dessert chains in Hong Kong - Hui Lau Shan and Moon Kee - all over the city.

If you go to Macau or Shunde (halfway between Macau and Guangzhou), you'll find lots of places selling very sweet steamed egg/milk, or variation of that.

---

Having said that, what the OP's husband has isn't really a real banquet. It's just that proper Chinese food is almost always served in a communal fashion. And most often in tables of 10 to 12, especially if he's in a delegation. Chinese restaurants that cater to Chinese here in the US or anywhere else in the world is the same. You never find each person ordering his/her own dish, like you may do in some fancy highend restaurants here in the US that caters to Americans.

And with 10-12 sitting around a table, a lazy susan is most often used. Though at most higher end places now, in a banquet the waiters will bring the dish to the table for everybody to see, then take it away to divide it up for everybody, and then bring to each person individually.
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Old Jul 4th, 2007, 04:03 PM
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Neil, egg rolls are usually called spring rolls, and while I don't remember eating them in China, we ceratinly ate plenty in VN, Cambodia, etc.

I have a too much experience with banquets for groups here in the US. My experience is that the menus presented by the restaurants or hotels are pretty bland (certainly no regional specialities) and I expect the same thing happens in China. What banquet managers do not want to do is offend anyone with something that is too spicy or too unusual. I don't think one has to posit someone pocketing the money for the meal for them to end up with bland food.

Remember the Chinese food stories when China first opened it's doors to visitors? A friend of mine was part of a delegation of US Native Americans who were hosted in China. She talked about having a hard time finding food in the banquets that she wanted to eat, but was attracted by a deep red dish that looked good. After taking a helping, she discovered it was clotted blood...
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Old Jul 4th, 2007, 04:08 PM
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There is spring rolls as a dim sum in Cantonese food. Each spring roll is about 1/16 the overall volume as the egg rolls I've seen in Chinese restaurants catered to Americans here - half the length, and 1/4 the diameter. One dim sum serving will have 3 of these rolls. Deep fried, very crunchy, not much stuff inside. You can dip it in a tiny bit of Worcestershire sauce when eating it.
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Old Jul 4th, 2007, 04:09 PM
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Speaking of clotted blood, that's what I'm going to have for dinner. Thanks for reminding.

I am 100% serious.
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Old Jul 4th, 2007, 05:04 PM
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rkkwan, that is the kind of spring roll we had in Cambodia. In VN, we had both that kind and "salad rolls" which were unfried.

As far as the clotted blood is concerned, to each his/her own... (Actually, I'm really glad you added that as I was afraid others would think the clotted blood was just an "old travelers tale.")
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