Eating out Chinese Style

by Touring Mama on May 27, 2010

Enjoying a meal at Grandma's Kitchen in Hangzhou with our good friends

The Chinese food available in restaurants and street stalls runs the gamut from stinky to spicy and everything in between.  In a nice restaurant you will be handed a huge menu (only one per table) containing pictures, and occasionally English translations, from which to order.  The menu may be up to 60 pages long and contain hundreds of items.  Your waitress will likely stand patiently just behind you while you peruse the menu.  This often makes us uncomfortable since we are not used to this level of service, but this is normal for China. You are sure to find something here to please the kids.  My kids are fans of the noodle dishes and also tofu.  A Shanghai specialty that we all enjoy is kao fu.  It is similar to tofu, but made from rice instead of soy, and usually served in a sweet brown sauce.  There is a strong possibility, but no guarantee, that you will be able to get a fork at these types of establishments.  When the bill arrives it’s likely to come with a plate of watermelon instead of fortune cookies.  Meat dishes are around $4 and vegetable dishes run about $2.

Buns served up in plastic bags are delicious, the kids like pork buns the best

Moving down the food chain are the small shops along the streets throughout country.  Shops dishing out soup, meat and veggies on a bed of rice, stir fry and bakeries serving up rolls covered in pork floss (a sort of sweet meat sprinkling – very weird), can easily be found in any neighborhood.  I usually carry around a couple of forks in my purse in case we find ourselves eating in one of these shops.  Even most 6 year old Chinese kids still struggle a bit with using chopsticks, and my kids have had much less practice at it.  Meals at these places can be had for less than $2.

This corn and egg wrap was delicious and cheap.

Finally, there is street food.  Many travelers are afraid of street food.  I find that it is some of the freshest available and my policy is that if it is steaming hot I’ll eat it.  As far as I know, none of my rare stomach problems can be tied to eating food on the street.  You never know what you may find on the movable carts roaming the streets.  I put small permanent places that have no walls or doors in this category also.  Meat on a stick, soups, and buns and dumplings are just a few of the things you can find on the street.  The kids will gobble up most of these treats without complaint.  My favorite street food is baked sweet potatoes.  A vendor will push around a 50 gallon drum on wheels.  The tops is cut off and the bottom is filled with charcoal.  A grate in the middle holds the potatoes out of the fire and a shelf with a hole in it is fitted above the cooking potatoes.  Potatoes that are cooked are set on the shelf to keep warm.  Usually you can smell the sweet potatoes before you see them, but once you find them you select a potato, have it weighed, and you pay around 60 cents for a good size snack.  Buns with various fillings run from 15 to 40 cents, so a whole meal can be very cheap.

When we get tired of eating Chinese food we eat at a foreign restaurant or at home.

Read about all our adventures with food in Shanghai and Beijing.

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