I am not trying to show off my Chinese skills, because it is shamefully rudimentary. I know food is Chifan because every day at 12, one of my colleagues comes up to our desks and says “Chifan” “Chifan” to remind us that it is time for food. ‘In/At’ is thanks to Google Translate.
All blogs, all websites, all the people will tell you that Guangzhou people love food. The length of this post will prove it and what I have down here is just a glimpse. I am a vegetarian, so I have just had 10% of the menu in most places.
I don’t even know where to begin.
I’ll start with the canteen food we eat everyday. Dinner is usually what’s left of lunch or a boring version of lunch. Breakfast is pretty great. The serving lady knows that I “do not eat meat” and so serves me only the vegetable dishes.
Coming from the rice-eating part of India, I have been okay eating so much rice. However, the big difference here is that 1. you eat everything with chopsticks and 2. you eat a piece of vegetable, then a piece of rice. There is no mixing of the vegetable dish and rice! Now, that took some time to get used to, eating plain rice. Using chopsticks was a struggle, but I feel like I have mastered it fine. Here’s the proof:
An even bigger accomplishment is to be able to pick slimy things off the hotpot. This, I am still learning. A few of our colleagues took us to a hotpot in our first week here and it was my first time.
There’s boiling broth in the center and raw vegetables and meat are brought, you pick a raw item, dip it in the broth till it cooks, then dip it in the sauce in your bowl and eat it hot. It is pretty delicious. Picking smooth surfaced items (like sweet potato flat noodle, which is really tasty) with chopsticks, holding on to it or even picking it off the broth is a skill. I eat so ungracefully here, spraying the broth everywhere with my failed picks.
The one above is the modern hotpot with electric heating. Apparently the traditional ones worked with coal. Now, there are even hotpot places with individual single-person hotpots with rotating slab carrying raw dishes to choose from.
At restaurants, you get a bunch of equipment to deal with. I am still learning how to use them, by replicating what people around me try to do. You generally get a glass, two tiny bowls, one saucer, soup spoon and chopsticks. Hot Chinese tea is almost always provided.
It’s a practice to clean all these items with hot tea. Yes! There’s even a method to it, I have some learnt parts of it. The overall motto is to ensure all necessary surfaces are sanitized with hot tea.
Dishes served are usually large and it is always a pain to order if you are alone. Food is kept in the center and everyone picks from it and eats. One small bowl is for rice, the other small bowl is to place things on to. Saucer is to put bones and waste. This is what I think it is, I might be completely wrong.
Now, when I am out with people who speak the language, I get decent vegetarian food. Otherwise it is a bit of a struggle. All the menus are in Chinese and no one speaks or understands English: especially words like vegetarian or no meat, partly because almost everyone here eats meat.
Yeah, one more thing, the green leaves are huge, no much time and effort goes into chopping them. I asked my colleagues and apparently it’s a Guangzhou thing. “They like to eat things as they are, natural sorts”, it seems.
One great place to find vegetarian food, though pricey, has been near Buddhist temples. They have pure vegetarian restaurants which serve everything from chicken to fish to pork! Haha. They have vegetarian meat. That’s a thing here. Looks like meat, tastes like meat, but is not meat.
Like the vegetarian fish, restaurants here love displaying their meat, full-sized meat. Maybe Guangzhou people really love things natural, even when it comes to meat. They like to see and know what they are eating.
People here also love their food to be fresh. As they are very close to the sea and are in a tropical climate, they have always had fresh food available. So much that many restaurants have tanks with fish from where customers can chose their fish, which is then cooked for them fresh!
On our site visit, we came across a truck, which is used to carry these live fish to the restaurants: with oxygen tanks and everything. This is how much people here love food!
Coming back to our difficulty in ordering, people have been really nice, bearing with us. One restaurant person, asked me using translator app if certain items are okay and made a dish for me with those items. At one of the restaurants where you choose what gets put into your dish, the guy there took time to translate the menu for us and gave it to us, for the next time.
This choosing what you want in your noodle dish is called as “Malatang“. There are places where you can pick them yourselves, place them in a bowl and you are charged by weight.
This place has been great for days when you are in no mood to do any effort to get food. I have also found a couple of dishes around which are great.
We also found a pizza place nearby, where they give plastic gloves to eat the pizza. This is a thing here and everyone uses them. In China, they have Durian pizza. But then, they have Durian everything. Durian wafers, Durian biscuits, Durian pastries. Everything here comes in Durian flavor, Green tea flavor, Seaweed flavor.
We once came across a local fair of sorts and a lot of food:
We also came across this restaurant inside Haizhu Wetland Park, where you can see the noodle being made in the traditional way. These layers are then cut into flat noodles. This is what we gathered.
Here are more random dishes:
Now, I cannot talk about all this food and not about tea. From my first tea at Taipei Airport, I had been drinking a variety of teas at restaurants. I wanted to try buying some myself, but the number of options available at the shops intimidated me. We went to the nearby tea market and a 10-20g ball of tea was around 200 yuan (30US$, INR2,000). Finally, I realized that the grocery supermarket in front my place, had a tea section that was affordable. Plus, it is a supermarket, I can take my time without anyone constantly looking at me, like in the tea shops. After hovering over the area for a while, I finally picked up some tea and a tea pot and a cup. And it was amazing. Now my plan is to try as much variety as I can, during my time here.