Innovation on Earth

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Archive for the tag “Food”

Yummy Japanese Desserts

mochiAfter reading Kerry’s post about sampling global treats at Epcot, my mouth started watering for all the delicious sweets I got to try in Japan. Here are three of my favorites:

1. Mochi ~ These little rice paste balls never really impressed me, until I had them freshly made. Check out the way they pound the mochi into these little balls, stuffed with red bean sweet goodness:

2. Printed Cookies ~ The Japanese don’t mess around when it comes to appearance. Everything is displayed so elegantly.

Printed Cookie

3. Shaved Ice ~ Such a great treat on a hot day. And they make them HUGE! Why don’t they do these more in the United States?

Want to read more to make your stomach growl? I have a post about Japanese fast food, but I’ve also written about sweets in posts from trips to other places. China has lots of strange flavor combos and foods that made me say yuck and yum. I also got to have some pretty special meals in Ukraine and cooking class in Turkey. Hungry yet?

(I Miss) Bizarre Flavor Combos

Ok, I’ll say it.  I really miss Chinese food.

When I first got home almost two weeks ago, I was thrilled to go back to my regular diet.  In China, most of the dishes have lots of oil, and I didn’t have a lot of fresh salads, pasta, or bread. And the big one that’s missing from Chinese food is CHEESE. Except for Pizza Hut or the occasional dish as pictured below, cheese isn’t part of the Chinese diet. It’s a whole country — over a billion people — who don’t eat cheese. I don’t know how I survived the summer.

But time has passed, and I miss the feasts that were every day occurrences there. I miss the way we all shared our food, and got to try lots of different dishes. I miss having to use thin tissues instead of napkins, eat off of tiny saucers instead of actual plates, and remember which chopsticks were for serving and which were for eating.

So good, so gone.

I know there are lots of Chinese restaurants here, but it’s not the same. This is a post to honor the way that food in China puts together flavors that you never expected would go together.  It seems odd, but it usually works.

Pork… Slathered in Berry, Pineapple, Peach Sauce.

A loaf of bread… filled with sweet goodness and ice cream.

Regular Lays chips… with lobster cheese flavor

Pork bun… with soup inside to drink with a straw.

Pumpkin…. coated in steaming hot candy

A popsicle… with peas and red bean flavor

Make-your-own little meat wraps… with tofu wrappers instead of wontons

Pineapple… filled with pineapple sticky rice.

Looking at all these photographs is making me hungry. Are you in the Boston area? Where can I go for really good, at least somewhat authentic, Chinese food? Or do I have to travel back through 12 time zones?

Presentation is everything

Sweet corn fritters with sprinkles

Eating in China is always a big adventure, but my favorite part is the presentation.  Restaurants don’t just bring food to the table. Instead, they take a lot of care in how the food is arranged on the plate.  While they may not put as much emphasis into the sanitation as we do in the U.S., presenting the food to customers is a real art. Below are some of my favorite examples to give you an idea of how thoughtful people can be about the way they display their food.  I’m sure if restaurant owners in other countries follow these tips from China, they’ll make it big!

Tip #1: Always include the head.  Some local Chinese people like to eat the brains of the chicken. For real.

Tip #2: Display food in patterns, paying attention to color.  It looks much cooler if you alternate steamed buns and fried buns, even though they are equally delicious when dipped into sugary sweetened condensed milk.

Tip #3: Add decorations when possible.  As you can see, icing on the plate, flowers, and shaping rice into a pyramid all look much more awesome.

Tip #4: Write notes to your customers.  As long as it’s in English, it’ll look fabulous.

Tip #5: Hire an artist to prepare your plates.  Icing art makes everything taste better.

Note: For the record, the sweet corn fritters were yummy. And the restaurant didn’t place the chicken head like that. I arranged it on the plate that way for the photo, after we had already eaten most of the chicken. Also, we have no idea why it said “I love you” on our plate. But the mashed potatoes with blueberry sauce were interesting, despite being kind of weird.

Going Solo

The students are gone, and that means that I have a little time to explore Beijing on my own.  This is a great thing, as I’ve learned just enough about the geography, transportation, and language of this place to not get totally lost.  For example, I can negotiate the subway on my own and tell when the next train is arriving.

This sign says that there are trains coming in 1 and 6 minutes (and I can watch cartoons while I wait)

Even though I can’t read Chinese characters, I have a basic understanding of pinyin (which is the English way of writing how the characters sound).  So, I successfully found a restaurant today, based on the suggestion of an IACS parent who used to live in Beijing. I got help from 1 map and about 6 people along the way, but eventually was able to find the place and match the characters on the sign with those on my note.

It’s the 2nd suggestion.  Actually, the name of the place turned out to be Xinbaiwan Roasted Duck.

Amazingly, I also managed to order successfully, mostly with pointing. I tried to use some of my new Mandarin vocabulary.  The waitress didn’t understand when I said Bu Rou (no meat) but did get my point with Mi Fan (rice) and a gesture indicating a small bowl. I was pleasantly surprised that my dishes were spectacular (some of the tastiest I’ve eaten here) even though I had a hard time reading the menu.  I was lucky that there were both photographs and English translations next to the Chinese text, but it was still difficult to order. Many dishes that appeared delicious in the photo had translations like “slippery fungus” (maybe mushroom?) or “disguised chicken in the sea” (I have no idea about this one).  And there were other dishes with boring names but strange slimy looking things shown in the pictures. I went with leek dumplings, rice, and a really yummy nutty chicken dish. The waitstaff were very excited by my presence, as there are still many people in Beijing who have never had much, or any, interaction with a foreigner.  When I tried to find someone who spoke English, there was a lot of giggling and running away. On my way out, I noticed that I missed out on my opportunity to try chicken feet or duck head.  Oh well.

Overall, I think I managed to do pretty well on my own.  On top of making it to dinner, I also managed to maneuver the city through a giant rain storm, and I got a Chinese medicine foot massage (for $8) and a haircut (for $6).  Success!

Yuck or Yum?

I’m just beginning to explore the wonders of Chinese food.  I grew up eating it all the time, but before I left for this trip, people kept telling me, “It’s different in China.  What you know is AMERICAN Chinese food and it’s not authentic.”  I am here to report that the Chinese food that I’ve eaten in the United States is somewhat authentic… but there’s so much more.  Imagine if you’d never eaten fruit and someone let you try an apple.  You’d know about one type of fruit, but you’d be missing all the wonders of raspberries, peaches, grapes, and all the other amazing varieties.  I’ve only been here a few days, so I’m just starting to see the array of options in the Chinese diet.  Here are a few of the most delicious and strange ones I’ve encountered:

1. Homemade Noodles and Dumplings: Yum!

2. Large animals in a Pot: Yuck. Ok, I just saw these on a menu and didn’t even try them.  Maybe I’ll work up the courage.

             (Pictured above is chicken head, and below are turtle, pigeon, and duck head dishes.  Click photos to enlarge.)


3. New Kinds of Tofu: Yum.  This one was fried on the outside, and almost gooey like custard on the inside.

4. Corn Ice Cream Pop: Yuck (but I tried it). This is not corn on the cob.  It’s creamy corn-flavored ice cream inside a wafer-like crust.


5. Lots of dishes with Egg: Yum.  I was surprised that it went well with shrimp.

Don’t worry.  This will not be the last food post from China.

Mmmm… Turkish Cuisine

If you’ve never eaten Turkish food, you must try it!  Delicious! Here are two videos I just made to make your mouth water:

And learning to cook Turkish food in the evening class that I took:

p.s. I leave tomorrow morning and start the journey home.  I’m not writing a “goodbye to Turkey” post yet, because I’m not ready now.  There’s still so much that I want to share about my time here.  Expect posts coming up about religion in Turkey, my visit to a private school today, and possibly some other highlights of Istanbul! I’m too tired for final reflections tonight and I still need to pack. I can safely say that while my trip has been fabulous, I am very much looking forward to coming home!

Melodies and Delicacies

Last night’s dinner was really wonderful for a few reasons:

That's salo in the back

1) The food: A lot of commenters have asked about the taste of the food. I wish I could post that.  My favorite taste last night was the cherry varenyky dessert. They are like dumplings filled with cherries — not too sweet, but you can dip them in honey.  Yum!  One of the weirdest things I’ve tried is salo — which is basically lard.  It looks like folded meat or bacon, but it’s a white color.  You can see it in the video above. It’s not actually that bad! It tastes smokey, sort of like bacon.

2) The people: We dined with Lydia and several of her co-workers.  Everyone is really sweet.  One of the most fun things about traditional meals here is the toasts.  People usually do many toasts!  It’s traditional that the first toast is to health, and then the second one is to friendship.  Usually after that, the third one is to women, or love, and then sometimes there are many more.  Last night, there were lots of toasts to our new friendship, and the friendship between the U.S. and Ukraine.

3) The music: We got a surprise treat and were serenaded by a wonderful guitar player, Alex Starykowsky. He makes his own musical instruments and has different ones he created from all over the world.  His music was really spectacular and livened up the evening, as you can see in the video. There was a lot of singing along and merriment.


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