The other night, Baofeng took me to Wangfujing (王府井), to gawk at and try the odd food items they have in the multiple vendors along the street. I didn’t end up trying anything too out of ordinary, just some fried dough and lamb kidneys. The spice from the sizzling kidneys and the ridiculous sauna weather drove us indoors before long. On the way out, we got to talking about street food and foreign diets.
I suppose it doesn’t surprise me too much, this lack of understanding of Western food. If I didn’t know better, I would probably think of Chinese food as General Gao’s Chicken and Kun Pow Beef. The equivalent is true here. People here comment a lot about my height, dismissing it as a product of growing up eating hamburgers. When I ask people what they think Americans eat, they answer: pizza, burgers, fries, and sandwiches. Yes, these are iconically American, in the same way that General Gao’s Chicken is iconically Chinese, or pasta is iconically Italian. It is true, we eat a lot of junk in the States, and lots of people have no idea what cooking is, but modern American food is so much more than a slew of cosmopolitan carbon copies.
Honestly, healthy eating is not defined by the food itself, but by the quality of ingredients, the full constituency, and the care taken in its creation. There is plenty of junk food eaten here: cookies, cakes, pastries, packaged and unpackaged, loaded fancifully with sugar instead of corn syrup, chips, greasy street snacks, deep fried anything and everythings. In fact, everything about my household’s eating habits goes against my personal beliefs about food. They get takeout a lot, and eat out a lot, and have lots of junky snacks throughout the day between consistent meal times. Just because the food is Chinese in nature does not make it any fresher, any more direct from the ground, or any more healthy.
I am slowly introducing them to aspects of my food philosophy: starting from as scratch as possible, as fresh as possible, and developing native flavors intensely and slowly. I cooked for them yesterday, starting with the simple things: fresh griddle cakes in the morning with honey and jam, mini meat patties, beef turnovers, tomato salad, and spaghetti at night with fresh tomato basil garlic sauce and a lightly dressed salad. Everything was eaten, everything was approved.
Location: Beijing, China