Yesterday, a friend of mine from the motherland – USA – began asking me all kinds of food related questions about living in China. I realized this is something I haven’t shared much about with friends in the States; and I haven’t written in awhile. It is time to write again. I love this place and the food is great! There are just a few things to know before coming and eating the food here. So here is a little “taste” of my life in China.
What is different about food in China?
My friend began by asking me if I was ever worried about the things I consume here. Standards are much different than in the US. Mainly, it seems there are no standards. There is something similar to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) here, but it seems far less controlled. Not to say it isn’t doing its actual job, because I don’t know what they do or how they operate here. In the US, we as a whole are very keen on knowing what our government is doing, how they are doing it, and what resources they use to do that. Here, that is not the case. But back to food. So, yes. There are some things I am concerned about putting in my body. There are some things I cannot eat. For instance, I heart gummie snacks in the US. They are just so gummie and delicious; and are pretty much pure sugar, but hey … no judgments. There is a brand of gummie snacks here that makes me break out into little red bumps. Yep, it happens. But that is ok, I don’t need another sugary substance to consume anyway.
There are other things, I have learned since living here, that I cannot eat. There is an ingredient in the digestive biscuits here (just think of a super fiber filled cookie) that makes me throw up. It has happened on more than one occasion with a different type of biscuit every time. I kept trying different ones thinking it was just that biscuit or that brand. No. There is a devilish ingredient out there that makes me throw up. No. I will never eat another one ever EVER again. Markets and convenient shops sell individually wrapped hot dogs and other types of packaged meats. These also make me throw up. Joy.
Ok, let me clarify. When I say they make me sick, I am not saying I gag a little and then have a really “girly” ‘Oh my gosh, that is so gross’ moment. No. I am saying I turn green and … I’ll spare you. It is not pretty.
MSG, MSG Everywhere!
Standards here are much different. Also, education on what is good and bad for your body seems much less developed here. MSG (monosodium glutamate) is in everything. I mean eh-very-thing. If I order noodles, it is in that. If I order a vegetable dish, it is in that. If I order food in general, it will have that. Four days a week, I live with 3 local women. When they cook, they put MSG in it. A foreign friend came over and cooked fried rice (western style, no MSG) for my local friends. The locals complained that it had no flavor, went into the kitchen threw MSG and spices into it and then ate it.
To put it lightly, MSG is not good for your body. But I’ll let you do your own research on that and come to your own conclusions.
How do you survive?
My friend began asking me other questions. What do you eat? How do you survive?
Fresh fruit and vegetables are readily available. Remember though, I said that standards are different in China. China is heavily polluted and they do not use the same types of things to fertilize crops. Many places fertilizer is feces. Once you recover from giggling at the word feces and then cringing at knowing I’m serious, we will continue. Good…? Ok. Yes. Since they use different fertilizer we know we have to clean our fruits and veggies well before we eat them. We also clean them well before we eat them because of all of the dust that settles on our food. Yummy! Scrub those fruits and veggies folks. Oh, and I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t wash their hands after using the toilet. So germs (I wasn’t a germaphob until I moved to China; still not really, just about a few things). So we either use soap and water to wash our fruits and veggies or we rinse and peel. A friend once told me never eat fruit until it is peeled. This has proved to be good advice.
Meat is also interesting. Meat is not nicely packaged after being checked from the FDA. No, meat is butchered and then hung up at the market. So if you go in the afternoon, your meat could have been hanging there all day. In the sun. With flies buzzing about. Woohoo! So far, I haven’t been sick from meat here (knocking on some serious wood right now). Things are left out in the open, not covered or protected. At least we cook it, so it kills the germs … right? It hasn’t bothered me so far, so I still buy it and cook it and eat it.
Can you drink the water?
Water cannot be had straight from the tap. Yeah … that is poor choices. Water in the US is, for the most part, well preserved. It is cleaned for you. The things that are put in the water are to help the water be drinkable. In China, the things that are put in the water make the water catch on fire (it happened). Water here is heavily polluted. It is so polluted it kills off the wildlife (there were once fresh water dolphins in the Yellow River, they are now extinct). We boil our water. We buy bottled water. We use “water coolers” (you know, those things people stand around at work to gossip …). My roommates and I bought a filtered water cooler so we could have filtered water readily available to us.
No Five Second Rule. Don’t do it. Just don’t do it.
“Oops, I just dropped a little bit of my lunch on the table. FIVE SECOND RULE! NOMS!”
In China, don’t do this, lest you die.
Yes, I used biblical language, because it is that scary. Don’t do it. Just don’t.
Tables are dirty. Hands are dirty. Water is dirty. Wash cloths are dirty. All things used to wash the table that you eat on. As mentioned above, it is very polluted in China. I am very lucky to live in a less polluted city than say Beijing. North West China seems a ways off from being as polluted as other areas of the country. For this, I am very thankful. Even saying that, realize, if you drop your food on the table. Don’t eat it. You will get sick. It will not be pretty. Dust collects everywhere. It is a very dusty place. The dust is full of the pollution. That is on the food that touches the table. Most restaurants do not get a clean wash cloth to clean each table. They use the ones they already had been using. They are just wiping the table off, not fully cleaning it. They are giving it the appearance of cleanness, not the real thing. This is not because they are trying to be tricky or even be lazy. This is how things are done. People living here know not to eat off the table. If you drop food on the table, leave it on the table. It will get wiped off later.
Make good choices, people
I love China. I love living here. I love the food here. I am here for a reason and I am going to relish in that every day that I can. But, living here I know there are just some things that aren’t smart. Like, eating an apple without washing it. Or picking up the food I just dropped on the table or ground and eating it. Even, eating the gummies that are super delicious but make me break out into red bumps. Surviving is easy if you are willing to take note of what you can and can’t have. That is the same in the States. Some people can’t eat glutton or have allergies to peanuts. It is figuring out what your body can handle, and praying through the rest.