All of this is what I miss most about China. Hands down.
Starting at the source – planting next year’s potatoes in a mountainside garden in Sichuan Province.
Homemade rice wine – a slightly alcoholic rice wine with soft, sweet rice balls floating in it, and sometimes actual grains of rice for good measure. Served in my friend’s mountain home in Sichuan.
Hot pot. Basically Chinese fondu. Famous and delicious, served here at home in Sichuan, where it was invented. A cauldron of boiling water, oils, and maybe a few spices with veggies, meats, tofu, and anything else added. Pull things out with your chopsticks when they’re done (just guess), and dip in sesame or peanut sauce.
Weddings are a great occasion for filling a table with two or three times as many dishes as needed – which is how most meals go, anyway.
Sichuan wedding food, including pídàn, or “thousand year eggs,” which are preserved in a strange mixture of ash, salt, and more. I think they’re yummy, but lots of people don’t.
Mapo doufu. The best tofu in all of China. Of course, it’s from Sichuan province, which is known for its firey spices. Even though it’s tofu, sometimes this dish is made with pork in the sauce, because vegetarianism hasn’t really made it to most of China – except the Buddhists.
Me and Chaorong, my Sichuanese friend and often tour guide, buying roasted sweet potatoes (a staple for me and everyone else in the North).
Sort of like individual hot pot. You walk through a line and select your veggies, noodles, tofu, meat and fish balls, and mystery foods, put them all in a bowl and hand it over. Five minutes later, someone brings you soup.
Pig feet. Experiment at your own risk. Texture somewhat like fat, but slimier, and they do not taste like bacon.
Cooked pineapples filled with rice and sweet bits of something. Wonderful, relatively safe treat in Jinan’s snack street, Fu Rong Jie.
Jack fruit. So good! So giant and spikey!
Frying up some goodness.
Dòujiāng, or soy milk, which really isn’t soy milk, but more like a delicious rice and soy and jujube smoothie made with hot water. My favorite breakfast drink.
Yummy food from Xīnjiāng (the large province of Northwestern China). More similar to Middle Eastern food than to anything you’d find at a Chinese restaurant at home.
Sweet, herbal tea from Xīnjiāng.
What every single Lanzhou la mian shop in China looks like. (AKA Muslim noodle shop, after the Muslim families from Western China who always run these places.)
Lanzhou la mian. The best noodles in China, which also happen to be everywhere in China. Western Chinese style. A fresh plateful usually costs about 10 yuan, or $1.50.
I believe Korean style noodles.
Always sliced in front of you, then you assemble adorable Chinese tacos with thin, rice tortillas, green onion slices, and hoisin sauce. My mouth is watering.
Shanghai dumplings. Caution: Filled with hot broth. Give it time, then put the whole thing in your mouth. Or try it your way. Good luck.
Báijiǔ. Don’t forget the booze! China’s “white alcohol” is made out of sorghum, a type of grain. Sometimes it’s called sorghum wine, which is a vast underestimation of its potency. Any time you go out to dinner, it will be offered. Don’t say no, but be careful.