After returning to China after 6 months overseas, the first thing on my bucket list is to eat every single type of food I couldn’t find replacements for in Perth.
To be honest, life in China is so easy, especially in terms of food. For example – not exaggerating – if you are willing like to try new things, you can have different, unique combinations of food and drink for at least a year.
The first morning back at home, I woke up naturally at 7.30 am (which hardly happens in my life in Perth). This is because the time-honoured breakfast store provides only limited huoshao that I had been longing to eat for so long. Huoshao is a traditional type of flat pie that is baked in a spherical oven, heated by coal. The taste of juicy and fresh meat inside of the crispy on the outside and stretchy on the inside ‘pastry’ is finally not imaginary, but indeed on the tip of my tongue. To balance the grease from the meat, we usually eat with a piece of garlic and a bowl of savoury bean curd (we call it ‘Dou Fu Nao’). Millet porridge is also a must for me because it warms up the stomach, is naturally sweet and has a smooth taste. Personally, I think one of the big differences between Chinese and Western cuisine is that Chinese folks really prefer freshly-cooked and warm food. We also love a meal with any type of soup, partially because we believe this is contributing factor to positive gastrointestinal health.
After breakfast, I already have a plan for lunch. To get to my destination, I tried the bike sharing smart network called Ofo; super popular, and which went viral in most Chinese cities last year. It is simply an app or embedded program on Wechat (our social networking and messaging app) with which you can rent a bike temporarily, charging you by time. The price is unbelievably cheap, like 20 cents per hour! Even though it was a bit freezing when cycling in winter, this bike system is really convenient because they are almost everywhere.
Many people think Chinese food is very much about deep-frying- but that is not true. Trust me, we have all different methods of delivering amazing food without deep-frying anything! For example, my hometown has long coast line so local residents enjoy seafood quite frequently. The ‘secret’ tip to the best seafood is to eat it fresh – instead of buying frozen fish, prawns, crabs or other types of seafood from the supermarket, we get up early in the morning and get the most alive seafood from a specialised market. In my hometown, where we can conveniently obtain fresh seafood, the most popular cooking method is just to steam the seafood to lock in the freshness and sweetness.
For lunch, I had a feast of seafood with my family- a huge, flat steam pan with around 15 types of seafood inside it (including different types of crabs, clams, scallops, oysters, mussels, sea urchin and edible starfish). It’s a perfect size to share with family and friends and, as mentioned above, steamed seafood taste fresh, sweet and tender. You don’t really need extra dipping sauce (but they do provide many types for us) because the seafood is so juicy itself. Beneath the steam pan is a pot into which you can put fish, chicken soup or seafood congee, to be heated simultaneously with the seafood.
Only one day of eating made me feel that I was back at the place I had lived for years and years. In China, there is commonly agreed saying: food comes first. Whenever I feel nostalgic in Perth for the food that I have craved for so long, this sentence keeps looping in my mind. I enjoy trying out various cuisine from all over the world but I guess, sometimes, food carries the love and memories of your family and hometown. That emotional attachment is what makes me believe that the food from home is special and warm.