Monday, April 6, 2015

Eat All the Food: Street Markets

    Before I came to China, I was never a picky eater. I had some experience eating what most Westerners would consider weird (snakes and ants, anyone?). So, it was not a hard intention to make that while I studied in China, I would try as many new foods as possible. It is especially easy to make an intention such as this when I am at home with a bowl of cornflakes in front of me.
It was not always smooth sailing. There were a couple of times I was confronted with a food that my brain screamed "don't put that in your mouth!" But then I did. People eat all kinds of things and they survive. Therefore, I can too.

Welcome to
Eat All the Food
Street Market version  

    We visited quite a few street markets in China and Tibet. Some where more touristy than others, but all had much hustling and bustling. The crush of people was overwhelming at first, but then, after a few panicked minutes, I gathered myself and hustled and bustled with the best of them.
   Now, before you think "Ach, another success story. I thought the title of this blog meant that she fails sometimes too!"
    There is at least one fail coming up in this post (and more in later posts).

    First, let's look at the scene: the market.

The entrance to a food market. What curiosities lay behind its gate?

    The first food market we visited was in Beijing. We had been told multiple times to go. A must-see, our guides said. So we did.
    The entrance to the market was heralded by a colorful gate. Once you were inside, the street narrowed. People pressed in on all sides. Tantalizing smells wafted from the stalls, and their vendors shouted offers to passersby. Children pointed to the decadent sweets. Young couples, hand-in-hand, perused the more exotic foods. There were starfish, seahorses, and crickets being fried and salted. We passed a place with scorpions as large as my hand. Bugs were going to be on the menu that day.
    I squinted in the sunlight, overwhelmed by the onslaught to my senses. I was afraid to get lost in the crowd, so I grabbed the sleeve of one of my classmates--I think it was Nathan. I needn't have worried. There wasn't anywhere to get lost.

I would like to note how long it took me to get this photo. The place was actually packed. I got lucky with this shot.

    Aside from the food stalls, there were a myriad of different stores selling bits and bobs, from postcards, to action figures, to prayer beads. You could sip on fresh fruit juice while you shop for a new outfit for your date on Friday.

These guys were beating...some food item. I don't think I ever found out. It was impressive though. 

    Our group split up after a while. It was just too hard to keep everyone together. It wasn't like we could get lost--the market had definite boundaries. One second, you would be surrounded by people, talking and laughing, then you would be ejected into the open space and the (relative) silence of the non-market roads.

We'd already had a long day, so we were content to just sit and watch the other tourists for a while.

This charming girl entertained herself while her mother was shopping for shoes.

    Okay, you get the picture. On to the food!
    Let's start with the tame and somewhat familiar.

    Like fried food!

Deep fried squid balls with ketchup and mayo!

    Or how about some sweets?

A beautiful Ellen showing off what I believe were caramelized crab apples.

A very tasty sponge-cake like dessert from a night market in Xi'an.

    While most markets had food which you would eat while walking, some markets, like the night market in Xi'an, were big enough to have sit-down restaurants. This market happened to be in the Uighur (Muslim) quarter of the city. 


    The place was small, noisy, and beyond awesome. Groups of locals sat together, gruff men smoked in one corner, and chatty teenagers took up several tables behind us. The food we ordered was a type of soup with bread in it. Bread-soup. Let's think about that for a minute. I'm salivating just remembering.

    I believe I mentioned bugs earlier...

Care for some scorpion? How about some squid?

Starfish or seahorse?

    I wanted to be daring, so after we circled the Beijing market for a while, I located a vendor which sold scorpions and centipedes. With the help of Leah, I bought one of each. I felt like Bear Grylls or Andrew Zimmern. I felt invincible. 

    I mean, you can see how excited I was. I had set out to conquer the food world, and I was one bite away from doing that.

    Scorpion, as it turns out, has the texture of red bean paste and the taste of very loamy earth. The tail is nice and crunchy--about the only part I enjoyed of that blasted bug.

I do this for the stories!

    The centipede had better texture, and there was enough salt to cover whatever flavor nature had bestowed upon it.
    Do I regret sticking a bug into my mouth? No, no I do not. Will I do it again?  Probably not scorpion, but I still haven't tried crickets yet...

    I guess the moral of this story, if it has to have one, is that keep an open mind about food (and what other cultures consider as "food") and if it won't kill you, then eat it. At the very least, it will make a good story and an even better picture.

No comments:

Post a Comment