This week I got out there and tried some street food- that’s right, with a food safety record like China’s I still thought it was good and well to risk 3 days on the loo for a lighthearted paragraph or two… After a bag of warm-up crisps, we packed up a bag of just-in-case Imodium and hit food street.
Many of you may have heard of the Beijing food street, with all kinds of Chinese ‘delicacies’ available- in actual fact it appears to be exaggerated for the tourists, but impressive nonetheless. Changchun food street, by contrast is best summed up thus: imagine expecting the Eiffel Tower and actually getting Blackpool Tower. Nevertheless, we had a spare afternoon and a bunch of food to keep us entertained, so we set off.
I’d like to think that I’m fairly open to new food experiences, but there were some interesting combinations which were a little bit gut-wrenching. I hope the pictures do it some justice… There certainly were some fine ideas which need to be introduced into the western world in earnest, as the title suggests.
We started off with something that was really quite unexceptional in China: street barbecue, more precisely barbecued beef. As abundant as budding writers in Starbucks, street barbecue in China blends a delightful mix of taste, value for money and a Russian roulette-type risk element at toilet time.
For 5 RMB, this provided an excellent and fairly secure start to the afternoon for the stomach, as well as a handy walking stick, as the one that came with the kebab was about the size of a tree trunk.
With confidence high, we set off to a few more of the stalls along road, each of which are constantly busy during all hours of the day. In fact, they still remain busy during the winter, although they have to put up a protective plastic sheet to save them from cold.
The next stop was a gelatin spicy soup (I’m not making it up), which looked a little like this:
I’m told that this gelatin can be mixed with all manner of things- chili, strawberry, peanut sauce and I imagine carrot and coriander if that’s your bag. It’s surprising, then, that something so versatile can be so ruddy awful. It was a bit like eating jelly made by people with no sense of texture- the soup was reasonable but between the group of us we couldn’t finish a fairly modest bowl, so it gives an idea as to what popular opinion was.
So, we have seen the good and the bad- now to the downright ridiculous. I’ve seen some crazy things since being in China, but few as unashamedly mental as this menu, from the accurately named Crazy Fries (yes, they are the sauces available):
Depressingly, they were out of the ‘yogurt fruits mayonnaise’ which was a huge shame, and put a damper on the whole afternoon, as that is clearly something every sane person would HAVE to try.
Some of the more questionable items were the BBQ-ed squid, which on paper was absolutely fine, but the smells of food street managed to turn the stomach- considering the open sewers etc so much that it managed to be pretty unappealing! Also on the list were pigs trotters, duck’s head, an octopus something (particularly nasty) and some tomato sauce-drenched pasta-like cylinders, which resembled a tomatoey Chinese answer to mac and cheese.
The highlight of all things unpleasant, just to top things off, was a local favourite in summer, also popular in most parts of China- stinky tofu. For those wondering if I’m showing unfavourable bias, the literal translation is stinky, and it is so-called because of its impressive range- it’s possible to get a whiff from at least 100m away, only exacerbated by a stiff spring breeze. That said it was pretty decent, despite the fact that, on the face of it, it is as obviously non-aesthetically pleasing as a made-up badger who has run out of deodorant and dental floss.
Haute cuisine is not something that is particularly associated with street food, nor the hors d’oeuvres that greeted us around the corner, which were perhaps even the piece de la resistance of our outing. The huitres brought a gourmet element to proceedings and provided a welcome change to the other filling platters. I’d like to say more, but the only ingredient seemed to be a shellful of je ne sais quoi, so let’s look at the garlicky pictures instead.
Francophilia left well behind us, we galloped into the realms of fusion cuisine, and the Chinese have got it bang on. They have clearly decided that Denmark’s and Japan’s kitchens haven’t been merged anything like enough, and are willing to do something about it, gaining my undying respect in the process. It’s bacon, and sushi. Bacon. Sushi. Bacon- delicious. Sushi- inspired. Delicious inspiration. It needs some tweaking- I’m fairly sure that it was cooked in a microwave, and they served it hotter than a pool of lava with a fever, but essentially they have nailed it. You can also see how much it blew my mind…
I’m off with the parents next week, so you won’t be hearing too much for a week or so, but have a great week everyone, and plug Bacon Sushi to everyone you know. It’s the future. Really.