Friday, July 1, 2011

2011 Gluten Free China Flashback

I spent the entire month of May in China.  It was my 5th time visiting the Middle Kingdom, and most certainly will not be my last.  Since returning home my life has been super busy.  I just handed in my first complete draft of my dissertation, have spent countless hours working my business HELPING HANDS BOOKS, am gearing up for my orientation for my new position as a Social Work Professor at West Chester University, and have made sure to enjoy the weather by rafting, biking, skateboarding and hiking:) 

I miss China. Not only because of the amazing people and things I get to see, but because of the food.  Now you might think that being forced to eat gluten free would be a barrier to enjoying one's stay in China, but if you're well prepared, it's not a problem at all.  I always bring numerous copies of my Chinese Gluten Free Statement with me.  You can download it for free from SCRIBD.  I also bring a couple bottles of Gluten-Zyme, just in case there's a chance at accidental gluten exposure.  Every time I went out to eat, I simply handed the wait-staff a GF statement, pointed to dishes on their menu and asked "hao, bu hao" = good, no good?  With that simple exchange I was able to eat safely, and amazingly well throughout my time in China.

I collected quite a number of food pics during my journeys, and I'd like to share them with you:)
First I'll start off with a few pics of coffee drinks.  One of my favorite places to kick back, study, or socialize was the International Coffee House located at the top of CTBU's campus.  The prices were reasonable, the service was exceptional, and the coffee was top-grade.  The coffee shop also had an amazing view of the city of Chongqing.  I spent many hours there loving life.  The baristas were also amazing artists as demonstrated by these pics... 

The first place we stayed at was called the Bamboo Garden Hotel, and was located in Beijing.  They had an amazing breakfast buffet (catering to us foreigners) every morning, from which I could order fresh omelets or scrambled eggs.  After showing my GF statement to the waitresses, I was shown what was safe and not safe to eat.  It was nice starting everyday with an anxiety-free full belly:)

The following are some of my favorite staple meals I enjoy when in China.  This first one is called "ma po dou fu" which basically means spicy chili tofu with a bean-based sauce, topped with minced meat.  This can be easily made gluten free (i.e., no soy sauce, no wheat/rye/barley), so show them your GF statement when you order this!

These next two dishes are among my favorites!  The first is simply thin slices of pork or beef, with chopped chili peppers and bok choy.  I always order a bowl of rice with this dish and leave completely satisfied.  The second is sizzling beef with peppers and onions.  It comes out on a cast-iron hot plate steaming and spitting oil all over the place... and it's soooo goood! 

Here's a picture of some local moonshine I tried out.  From what I was told, foreigners never ask to try this local delicacy, so when I asked that they fill up a bottle for me, they were equally shocked as they were impressed.  The jugs were filled with an extremely potent form of aged rice liquor. Each jug had a different amalgamation of herbs, berries, and other fruits that gave the liquor it's unique taste, and from what I was told, medicinal qualities.  The only medicinal effect I experienced however, was that it put me to sleep!  Boy was it strong! and tasty:)

And finally, I want to talk about large group meals, of which there was many during my month-long stay in China.  As is tradition in China, when a quest comes to visit, especially a guest from far away, large formal meals are always planned as a way of showing hospitality, strengthening friendships (and political alignments), and showing off one's local culinary delicacies.  These meals were always a little uncomfortable for me, not because of the people, but because I hated having to ask for special treatment due to my gluten intolerance.  However, wherever I went, they were always more than accommodating.  They would always point out what dishes were naturally gluten free, but would also make special dishes just for me.  I would, of course, put my gluten free dish on the round robin and let everyone else share it with me.  Such meals ultimately ended after round after round of toasts of beer (which I couldn't drink) and Bai Jio (Chinese rice liquor).   I love the communal meals that are very much a part of everyday life in China.  And I miss sharing food the way that the Chinese do, after I return home to the land of individual plates:)  But as I said earlier, I'll be back! And when I do, I'll enjoy every single bite as I eat my way across China.