I’ve been taking a lot of pictures of food–encountered (and usually consumed) in the school canteen or elsewhere in Foshan–lately and I’d like to share them with you now.
Renae, Michael, and I went to lunch at a new local Cantonese restaurant within walking distance from the school. We were prompted to wash our bowls and utensils in tea again, so this time I took pictures.
The table setting is presented sealed in plastic wrap.
You’re supposed to break the plastic wrap and crumple it into the washing bowl, and then proceed to wash everything in tea.
Here’s what we ordered. The little cakes in the basket are a specialty of Foshan. They’re crispy on the outside because they’ve been fried and gooey on the inside, almost like a custard.
Here’s an example of a typical breakfast at the school: Noodles, bao (the buns, which I believe are made from rice flour), and a light soup that is primarily just broth. If you look carefully, you can see the pieces of sliced pork fat that I separated from the noodles and tucked next to the bao in the bowl on the left. The Cantonese…they love bones and they love fat. The amazing thing is that the abundance of bone doesn’t keep them from satiating their appetites and the abundance of fat seems to keep everyone slim and agile into old age.
Here’s another example of breakfast at school: More bao (a sweet variety in contrast to the savory example above), a different style of noodle–this one fried instead of boiled, and a very bland rice porridge that I have grown surprisingly fond of. Note that I put the noodles in the porridge, which is NOT the Cantonese way I’ve been told. Oh yeah, and green tea, of course.
Here’s a serving bowl of a third variety of breakfast noodles:
Here’s a lunch. The greens are typical. Every lunch and every dinner at the school has a pan of greens just like this or very similar. The greens are cooked moderately so that they retain some of their natural toughness, but they are heavily coated in oil, which I’m still getting used to. The eggs are more colorful in person that this photo reflects. These particular ones are goose eggs? Or duck eggs? I’m not sure. Every time I’ve asked someone in the canteen to clarify, they’ve told me “salt eggs.” Eggs from the salt animal…I’ll figure it out eventually. I’m learning animal and food vocabulary now so it’ll be sooner rather than later! They’re hard-boiled by the way. Sometimes the eggs are pickled rather than boiled. Those are good too.
Slide over to the right about a foot…and here we see the fried chicken wings and crate of kumquats. We don’t get fruit very often (maybe once every week and a half to two weeks), but chicken wings and legs are served frequently.
Here’s a pic of what I see on a typical afternoon in the canteen. There’s always at least one pan of rice, always a giant pot of broth (with leafy vegetables in it on that particular day). The bowl on the right holds a mixture of two or three food preparations…I won’t call them dishes because although they’re made separately and presented on different pans, they all end up in one giant mix in my bowl. I can remember what two of them were. The first was a mix of coagulated pig’s blood, corn, potato, carrot, and cow organ lining (sorry I can’t be more specific–I’d never seen it before then). The blood is the the reddish-brown chunks that you might mistake for beef. The lining is harder to pick out. In person, it looked like this: Imagine an average-size rubber band, snipped into a single rubber strip and lain horizontally with dark gray, feathery threads attached on one edge. Like chimes on a drum set, a luscious set of fake eyelashes, the finishing touch on a decorative pillow, the leather fringe on a cowboy’s jacket. I wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t good. I’m sure all I actually tasted was the sauce that coated it. The most unimpressive part was the texture. I had you imagine a rubber band because I’m sure the chewing experience would be the same, sans the taste of rubber.
The second cluster of ingredients that is mostly visible on the right side of the bowl was chicken (read: chicken-bone) with peppers and bitter melon.
Here are some greens and pig’s blood, just to give you a better look at it.
Fish heads! I gave it an honest try, I did.
Here’s the place where Rachel and her cousin took me to get traditional Cantonese food several weeks ago. Apparently, I completely missed the sign that says “Dessert House” the first time we went. So that’s what it is. Sweet food (mostly soups) that you eat after lunch or dinner. I wouldn’t consider most of the items on the menu dessert, however. It’s most crowded around tea time (around 3 pm Rachel told me), so it was pretty empty by the time we got there.
I got another bowl of black sesame seed soup and an ice cream float! There were red beans at the bottom of the glass and the rest of the drink tasted like starchy sugar water. The ice cream flavor was vanilla with more red beans in it. It was really delicious.
The other pictures I put up of the Dessert House cooks (they’re members, like in a cooperative) were pretty dark and grainy, so I took a new one:
Below is a sweet and bitter pork soup. The pork piece was 5% meat, 60% bone, and 35% fat. I mistook the fat for mushrooms when I was working up an appetite for it. I was very disappointed.
After the Dessert House that night, Rachel, Renae, Michael, and I went to a restaurant down the alley for a proper dinner of fried food. Salted cabbage, crab balls, spicy chicken thighs, and pork and vegetable dumplings. The only downside to dinner #2 was the awful stench of what I identified for the first time as cooking tofu. I don’t know what they were doing to it, but it smelled like putrescent fish. I actually gagged as we were ordering our food.
There are many restaurants serving other Asian cuisines in Guangdong Province, including Japanese. Here’s a bowl of Miso soup, Chinese style.
Last weekend, Renae and I went to a cafe that she recommended because they serve waffles and have swings for seats along the windows. The food wasn’t as satisfying as she had remembered it, but the swings were fun. That’s a giant fake tree you’re looking at.
(Yours truly in a swing-seat)
Later that evening, Renae and I met up with some ex-pat friends of ours for a birthday celebration at a bar called JJs. The bar is open to the street where patrons may enjoy a large variety of fried meats and vegetables from street vendors. The raw foods are on display for you to choose from and place in a basket. When your picks are cooked, the vendors bring them to you at your table. I chose mushrooms, tofu eggplant, and chicken feet–my first taste! Probably my last taste! The skin tasted good, but the rest was all bone and cartilage, of course…it didn’t hit me until I took my first bite that I wasn’t really sure how to eat it. But I did because I’m no wussy.