Written by Tori D, High School/Pre-College Student Correspondent for CET Beijing JSA Diplomat Program in Beijing, Summer 2019*
I come from the small island of Oahu, in Hawaii. Exploring Hawaii is an adventure. Exploring Beijing is a dumfounding trek through history and a completely different culture. It is mind blowing to think that I have been here for seven nights. Ever since I have been here, I have wanted to absorb every single drop of everything that I have experienced, tasted, felt, and heard.
The standout for me was the food. I am in love with the Chinese food here. From the tomato-egg soup to the mapo tofu, every taste bud lights up at the touch of the layers of seasoning and heart that go into every bite of food. The first thing that you notice when you embark on your tasting journey is the sound. During the weekend, the dining hall is noticeably quieter (that is, until our pack of students rushed in), but during the weekdays the cafeteria ignites with conversation. In restaurants, you listen to the clatter of pots and pans. After one takes in their surroundings, one may begin a saunter to overwhelming array of dining options. In the morning, favorites include the youtiao (油条) and mantou (馒头). During dinner and lunch, noodles (面条🍜， ex. 牛肉面, or beef noodles) are always a good choice, and I have found a love for mapo tofu. The way the salty, spicy, possibly sweet, viscous mapo sauce that caresses your tongue is unforgettable. The sauce makes its mark, leaving you ravenous for what comes next. The tofu soon presents itself in diced cubes. It is the plain-white, pure inside of the soft tofu that balances your palette from the explosion of flavors that you taste. Together they sing in harmony to create a choir of spice and delight.
On the first night that we arrived, we tried a very good dumpling place. Our Resident Director, Drew, had ordered many dumplings (饺子🥟) and an amazing mushroom dish. It didn’t take me long to realize that these mushrooms were used in many Chinese vegetable dishes. Soon after, I was trying to find these mushrooms everywhere. I learned that the mushrooms were called wood ear mushrooms (木耳). In terms of what this fungus visually looks like, it is the color of midnight-black and its edges are as thin as construction paper but furled like the ruffles of a skirt. Describing the taste is a little strange… Our Assistant Resident Director, Kevin, described them as a sort of “woody” tasting fungus. The best way that I can explain the taste, without making it sound too gross, is to say that it reminds me of green Japanese pickled cucumbers or the seaweed that goes into miso soup.
Roping back around to my first sentence about my hometown, Hawaii, there is a large Asian presence, but the food is just not the same as in Beijing. When my YeYe (grandfather) would visit Hong Kong, my NaiNai (grandmother) would somewhat complain about how he would want to eat yum-cha every day! I could never understand how someone could eat that much Chinese food every day for every single meal –– that is, until I came to Beijing. Being in Beijing, I am immersed in delectable food everywhere I go. The sheer difference in size and agriculture production between just one of China’s cities compared to my small home gave me a newfound appreciation and outlook. In conclusion, submerging myself in Beijing has been amazing and an experience I will never forget –– it hasn’t even been a full week.