Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Week 8

A confession. I should not have boasted of an “I’ll-eat-anything” approach to international cuisine. I cannot stomach hardened ox blood, anything that is still alive when I put it in my mouth, or the packaged pig’s ear and thirty other unidentifiable meat products in the corner market. The stir-fried ear in Shanghai wasn’t bad, but I something about slimy red vacuum-sealed pieces of animal that I just can’t handle.

Last week, as Craig and I sat down for dinner at Bo Hua (Graham was away—he had been kidnapped by a local surgeon to attend a conference in Changchun, but that’s another story), we saw the typical plates—dumplings, stir-fried leeks and eggs, and a typical spiced-chili dish. (Just in case you are still worried about Graham—I promise, he’s okay, but when he jumped in the doctor’s black Audi, we expected him to return later that day, not later that weekend.) The first two were delicious, and we shoved our chopsticks on the third plate and began to chow down. The dish was heaping, filled with julienned strips of something tough and rubbery. It was impossible to chew; I realized that I simply took each bite, moved it around my mouth for a few seconds, and then forced it down. Craig speculated that it was some kind of mushroom, and I thought maybe a weird version of hardened tofu. But the flavor was good—you can’t go wrong with oil and chilis here in Jilin—and having just returned from a long walk, we easily downed the whole serving.

When we brought the dishes to the kitchen, we asked the chef what we had just eaten. “Mo gu? Dou fu?” (“Mushroom? Tofu?”) Neither of us could understand his explanation, and it was not until he began pointing to his arms that we realized that we had just inhaled an entire plate of cow’s tendon.

I admit—cow’s tendon is definitely not the most bizarre food in China. And obviously, we had survived the texture and enjoyed the taste. But usually, when I eat something abnormal, I feel that I have full control of the situation. I prepare myself mentally and physically and take a bite or two, just to add it to my “Yeah, I’ve eaten that” list. But something about knowing that my belly was full of tendon was disturbing. Moreover, Craig and I had been completely oblivious. We hadn’t even been able to determine whether what we were eating was an animal, vegetable, or a fungus.

In light of the zillions of delicious meals I have enjoyed, it seems unfair to dedicate an entire post to a bad experience. If I had to choose between life with Chinese food and life with American food, Chinese food would win hands down. I’m loving the fact that I’m served three delicious meals each day, and I think that I’m going to have a much more difficult time adjusting back to my kitchen than I did to the “cafeteria food” at Bo Hua Hospital. I have become accustomed to rice with every meal, and I had no clue that there are so many ways to cook eggplant, cucumber, and celery. Even the pea and red bean popsicles have grown on me—and some nights they even beat out my typical peach and date frozen concoction.