When I visited China in 2006, it was on a business trip, mostly in the south, to visit the factories that made the products I designed. It was meant to help me better understand the process for future work.
On most days of my trip, the itinerary was a simple one. Breakfast in the fancy hotel’s buffet, which often had a fascinating mix of east and west. “Why, yes, I’d love eggrolls with my omelette.” Then I’d spend the day at a factory, with some simple lunch brought in. “Bao? Wow, that’s awesome! More, please.” The the owners would take me and my coworker out to a fancy restaurant for dinner. Those dinners were the real learning experience on my trip.
Some nights we went out for the traditional and elaborate ten-course meal in a private room, with a large round table sporting a lazy susan in the middle. I had some amazing crab, various noodle dishes, chicken and pork (both with heads still on the plate), Beijing Duck (apparently the same as Peking Duck, since Peking=Beijing), and a broth brewed in a teapot filled with shrimp and veggies. My hosts were impressed with my chopstick usage, then later amused when I brandished them at the modern Japanese steakhouse, only to see everyone else smiling and holding forks.
There was a trip to a classic Japanese sushi restaurant with the low tables. These offered the pit under the table to dangle one’s legs comfortably. I went to a Korean BBQ with the dome-like grill. I even tried my first (and probably my last) Sea Cucumber. Imagine flavorless, gritty jello. When the lady. who acted as our mediator with the companies, looked at me and said, “You eat. It’s good for you,” I replied, “No, it’s good for you,” and handed her my plate.
The final leg of my trip was a little more like a vacation. Thanks to the threat of a typhoon, we left the south a day early and returned to Beijing. There my coworker, Chris Yee, and his then fiance, Kate, took me sightseeing to a popular tourist area of the Great Wall, where I had this amazing chinese breakfast wrap. We visited an old alleyway marketplace nestled between two newer looking buildings (it felt like a Chinese version of Diagon Alley) and had the popular “meat-on-a-stick” for which the symbol for what it’s called is two parallel lines crossing one perpendicular line, looking like two pieces of meat on a stick. The little cafe we had lunch in reminded me of so many mexican dives on the southside of Chicago, except for the language differences. Dinner came from Chris’s favorite eatery close to the hotel. Some of the best traditional chinese I’d had the whole trip. Sadly, that restaurant is no longer there.
Thus ended my trip to China. For weeks afterwards, I was teased by my friends about all my food stories, but that was what stood out to me. My days were eating, standing in factories and more eating. Other than the Beijing visit, which also including my first excercise in haggling, for a silk, kung fu-style jacket I’ve yet to wear anywhere, and a trip to the Forbidden City, where I saw people lining up to get their picture taken dressed up as the emporers of old, it was almost exclusively a culinary experience. One that was so amazing that I can’t wait to go again. Enjoy!