No Tarantulas Here—Chinese Cuisine and Why It’s Amazing

Written by Avia Kraft (University of Texas at Austin) Student Correspondent CET Kunming, Summer 2017

Inevitably, every study abroad student worries about what they’ll be eating in a foreign place. I remember before I departed reading about how students studying abroad in South America accidentally ate a tarantula that they were served, thinking it was some sort of chicken. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous that at the very least I wouldn’t like the local food and would be forced to eat the same one or two dishes every day—and at worst that I would accidentally eat something crazy! Additionally, as someone who doesn’t like eating meat, I was initially concerned that perhaps my food options were limited—but I’ve never been more wrong. One of the coolest parts about living in China that I never expected is how amazing the vegetables and local cuisine can be.

Every day I start by having breakfast in one of two places: the cafeteria, or a cute cafe next to our dorms that sells sweet rice porridge (粥) and sesame rice balls. At this point, I’ve come so often that the owners know my name and often ask about how my language studies are progressing. When I’m too rushed to sit down for breakfast, my favorite thing to order in the cafeteria on rainy mornings is a liquid sesame drink that when served hot is not only filling but also delicious. Sidenote: the sesame dishes here are often both sweet and a little tart—perfect for breakfast. I’m also frequently amazed by the sheer size of pastries in China. In America, where a croissant might be the size of your hand, pastries (馒头) in China are the size of your face, and a single 馒头can easily last you through lunch.

Coming from the southern United States, I was originally under the impression that for vegetables to be good, they needed to be marinated or doused in some sort of sweet sauce. After coming to China I was surprised to find not only an entirely different vocabulary of vegetables, but also a wide variety of ways to cook them. For lunch I often get a combination of rice (米饭) with vegetables (青菜). Who knew that tofu, tomato, egg, and bok choy could combine to create one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had? Sometimes I’ll splurge and get a square of sweet, purple sticky rice. This is rare, if only because I don’t have enough time to entertain the food coma that I would certainly fall into if I were to try everything that looks delicious at once. Instead, I opt for one new thing every day. As a result, after lunch I like to take a short nap before my one-on-one class begins.

After class, I have the rest of the evening to study and review for tomorrow’s lesson. I like to stop at various bubble tea cafes to try their newest flavors. This has led me to some interesting findings such as jelly in milk tea, and shredded mango with sweet cream. Sometimes I’ll go to the locally owned American restaurant “Salvadore’s” for some food that reminds me of home, but usually for dinner I try to explore other local venues. One of the most recently notable of these was some fantastic Korean food that my roommate and I had delivered to our dorm room. Not only was their Bibimbop fantastic, but it also further solidified my belief that even if you don’t want to eat Chinese food, you can always find something delicious nearby. In sum— you can’t go wrong with the food in China.