Part 1 of my China Food Diary covers the basics of Chinese meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Part 2 touches on drinks, dining etiquette, and fast food.
Welcome to Part 3, in which I tell you about a few standout meals and dishes I had while in China this past summer.
Street food – Chinese savory crepes
There’s a jian bing station just outside my grandparent’s apartment in Huzhou. The lady there has the process down to a science.
She dollops a ladleful of thick batter onto a hot stovetop, except there is no pan, because the stove technically functions as a pan. Using a handle-less knife, she spreads it evenly over the round stove, and the rest she pushes back into the vat of batter, with a soft plop. Then, she cracks an egg onto the crepe and breaks it up with the knife, scrambling it a bit. She scatters chopped preserved radishes, green onions and Chinese parsley over it, waits a few seconds, and starts to scrape it off the surface of the stove. It’s already starting to peel away at this point, so it comes off in one piece.
After folding it over, she slathers it with a rich, dark and sweet-n-salty brown sauce, places a crispy, rectangular piece of fried pastry on top, folds it up, cleaves it in half, bags it and presents me with the world’s greatest, cheapest, fastest, most satisfying breakfast, all for 2.5 yuan, which amounts to less than 50 cents.
Famous Shao Bing – Hangzhou
On Wen San Lu (Wen San Street) right beside the entrance to Hangzhou’s Zhejiang University, a small street food shop sells Pang Zhi Shao Bing, and it’s so good that it’s apparently been featured on TV.
Shao bing is a mix between a flatbread and a pancake, typically stuffed with a savory filling, and flash-baked on the inside walls of a hot open oven that customers are milling around.
Behind the oven, a few people stand around a table, rolling out dough and stuffing it with lightning fast precision, as if they’ve been doing it for years.
These delicious snacks come in various flavors of pork, some salty, some sweet and some mildly spicy. The man operating the oven sticks a piece of flatbread dough on a pair of tongs and sticks it on the inside wall of the unique oven. The dough, directly exposed to red-hot coals, quickly crisps and chars a bit. He peels it off from the inner wall, stuffs it in a brown paper wrapper, and hands it directly to you.
This stand operates throughout the day, so you’ll often catch people grabbing one before they head to work, or before they make their way home for dinner. At about 3-4 yuan each, you can order two and spend just a bit more than one American dollar.
Reader, meet baobing. This Asian shaved ice dessert is typically made to order, and is as refreshing as it is a pleasure to look at. A huge block of frozen, sweetened milk goes into a special machine to be shaved into ice particles. The resulting snow fluff is packed into a bowl to form a base, layered with diced cantaloupe, dragon fruit and watermelon, and topped with a few spoonfuls of sweet red bean. The whole mass is then drizzled with a sweet milk syrup, reminiscent of condensed milk. It’s as common in China as froyo, and tastes sort of like a cross between ice cream and a snow cone.
If you want to read about a particularly beautiful shaved ice dessert, visit my Hong Kong food diary for Mango and Oreo shaved ice, called bingsoo!
Hangzhou hole in the wall
A kitchen and sitting area for ~12 comprised this restaurant, but most, like myself, took their breakfast to go.
I’d always order a couple potsticker/bao zhi, which were the size of regular marshmellows, with a meat and veggie filling, enveloped in a soft, fluffy dough. Each one was pan-seared and steamed, leaving these things freaking HOT. I barely missed the soy sauce that Americans tend to eat alongside them, because there was more than enough flavor in these little nuggets of seared-heaven.