China, pt. 4: Good food, bad food, spicy food, dog food

In Nanchang, southern-style food is the most popular, meaning spicy and salty foods made with lots of chili oil and lajiao (spicy peppers). I cannot emphasize enough that nearly everything is made with oil. Fried foods are in no short supply, and even fresh veggies come swimming in oil.

Prepare to have your butt melted off.

 

Street food is cheap, fast, and tasty. And all fried.

 

Spicy chicken wrap, as made by the woman in the photo above.

 

One popular snack is latiao (spicy strips) which are just made of gluten that's been soaked in chili oil and spiced with MSG and other spices. Chinese 5-spice is obviously a common mixture of flavors in the region, which consists of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, and peppercorn (although in the south I found more types that had ginger standing in for cloves or cumin instead of fennel). Latiao is incredibly cheap, unhealthy, and tasty. Sometimes I would eat an entire bag in one sitting and then wake up hours later with nary a drop of water left in my whole body, begging for the end (and also for more latiao).

 

 

 

 

The thing I ate most often was probably rubao (pork steamed buns) which are fluffy steamed buns with a pork meatball inside. There's plenty of other types of baozi, like spinach, potato, or shredded pork, but my breakfast of choice was definitely the pork meatball bun.

 

 

 

Ma la tang

Another really popular dish is ma la tang (numbing spicy soup) which is loaded up with spices that literally numb your mouth. It sort of feels like a million tiny bubbles are erupting all over your mouth while you're eating it, but for western tastes a mild version will suffice and should be enough to clear your sinuses. And you pay by weight of the ingredients you add to your bowl!

 

 

 

Finally we have the hotpot, for which there are innumerable restaurants. Hot pots can have various types of meat, lajiao, different spices, bell peppers, onions, and other veggies boiled down in a broth. Super tasty.

The rumors about people eating dog in China are, surprisingly to us, true. To be fair, there's not really a valid argument for why we should be able to eat cow and horse and pig, but not dog or cat. Nevertheless, the experience of going with my foreign friends to a restaurant with pictures of dogs on the outside and the words "DOG MEAT" written in big Chinese character was... upsetting.
 

Dog meat hotpot.

 

We sat around a table together and tried to order just one bowl for the whole group. The woman taking our order tried to convince us it wasn't enough food, but we were there only to try it and not to make a meal of it. Making my best attempt at keeping my prejudices at bay, I took a piece of dog leg onto my plate and bit nervously at it.

Puppy leg. Hungry?

 
The smell is overwhelmingly pungent, even partially masked by the smell of ginger and lajiao, not pleasant. If you can imagine the taste of venison, which sort of tastes like the forest (in English we would use they word "gamey"), dog tastes like the street. After one bite, I couldn't stomach any more. I imagined how small the dog must have been to have such small leg bones (oh yeah-- meat in China is served chopped up and on the bone; there isn't really a boneless option) and became too sad to eat. It's weird how much emotional stock we put into dogs while completely disregarding the pigs and chickens and cows that we rely on for meat in the USA. I chose not to think about it any more.

The most horrifying food experience I had in China happened just a couple days before I left for good. I was out of credit for the school cafeteria and went down to the market street to get something quick and easy. I was drawn to a large freezer where I normally bought noodles and chocolate bars, and found lots of bags of frozen veggies and dumplings.

"Dumplings sound excellent!" I thought, as something furry caught my eye. One of the several dogs that hung out in the neighborhood had been missing for a couple of days, and it slowly dawned on me that this furry thing in the freezer was attached to something. On closer inspection, it was a bloody dog leg, which was attached to a rump covered by a plastic bag. My stomach turned as I realized an entire dog was in the freezer, hidden by bags of frozen dumplings.

Hey wait, what's that?

 

NOOOOOOO FIDO! 

Oh, HELL naw. I needed out of that country like... four months ago. Closing the freezer door, I returned home without food and without an appetite. Someone else would have to eat the dog.

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