My eternal quest for edible items not secretly infused with some part of a pig or cow hasn't always been very successful this leg of the trip. That's because China is a country of meat.
The meatiness of China is something I find extra troubling given that I have now truly experienced their population issue firsthand. All that talk about China being crowded? Yeah, that's true. In regards to food, my question is this: where do they grow all the animals to feed so many meat-lovers?
I don't eat very much meat back home (I haven't eaten beef since I was 15) primarily because it is unsustainable. I will add here that I'm not a strict vegetarian if the meat is decently sourced. But if I question the conditions of meat production in the US, it's hard for me to imagine the Chinese facilities for cows, pigs, and chickens being any better. In fact, it kinda makes me squeamish given the sanitation issues here. Add that to the sheer quantity of meat needed to feed everyone––even those like me who don't want it––and I can't help but be skeptical. How can they continue to sustain such massive meat production?
Maybe some things are better left for other people to worry about.
So instead I give you a pro tip for the vagabonding traveler: prioritize eating breakfast first thing in the morning, OR always carry emergency snacks with you.
I was reminded of this our first morning in China when we decided to attempt authentic dim sum and failed, miserably.
That particular morning we waited until we were starving before beginning our food quest as we were lured into the beauty of the Man Mo incense temple instead. See, isn't it pretty?
When we finally arrived at dim sum we were beyond famished. Here I should note that people in China really don't speak English (and I don't speak or read Chinese), which means we sometimes find ourselves in awkwardly confusing inexplicable situations. I like to think of these instances as real-time mini mysteries. Sometimes mini mysteries are exciting, but usually not when I'm starving and grumpy.
The dim sum mystery begins with us being seated at a very large round crowded table in a very full restaurant. Everyone at the table is already eating. We are clearly the only foreigners.
Our dishes do not appear clean. No one comes to attend to us for what seems like a very long time. We watch, silently observing as the man next to us begins to wash his dishes with his tea. The angry ladies with carts of dim sum roll across the room. Some things I wonder: will the ladies ever offer us dumplings? Are we supposed to wash our dishes with tea too? Is there anything here that doesn't have meat?
I finally decide to get up and check out the cart myself. Lifting the round tops from all the dumpling containers offers no answer about the contents of the little items inside, nor do the old ladies chattering away in Chinese. Everything seems meaty to me. This was before I came to understand that in China it is not uncommon for meat, particularly pork, to be secretly infused into what would otherwise appear to be a perfectly delicious vegetarian dish.
Indeed, it was with great defeat and desperation for a non-meaty food item that we decided to abort mission dim sum! I'm embarrassed to admit that we walked out, just as starving as when we first arrived.
No matter, I have since had plenty of memorable and tasty food experiences on this trip. My personal favorite, and a true accomplishment in China, was finding real veggie dumplings! They were by far the tastiest bunch of dumplings I've ever had. Such warm, thick, fresh dough.
Then there was the Angry Noodle Man, the Chinese version of Seinfeld's soup nazi. We watched him make the noodles fresh on the spot before sitting outside to enjoy them under an awning in the rain.
I found some amazing street dumplings in Shanghai.
One night outside the cheesy dance clubs of Guangzhou, we found some delicious grilled Muslim-Chinese street food. The flatbread and eggplant were delicious.
In Beijing, we found this guy selling steaming hot sweet potatoes from the back of his bike in the snow.
Then there is the tea. Glorious Chinese tea! We went to two tasting ceremonies, one in Beijing and one in Xi'an.
Perhaps one of the most memorable food excursions was our visit to a seaside restaurant in Fuzhou. Blustery and hazy, we were the only people eating at this drafty open-air restaurant in off-season.
Here the food was so fresh that we got to select our desired live sea morsels directly from their temporary water tanks before eating.