Hello Uncle Foreigner

food

Jun 25, 2012

Replace your passport: Time for fun

Book shopping is the best

☆ Side Quest: Bookworm and Le Sud

Objective: Have some big city fun (and possibly a pizza) before catching the bus back to Luzhou

Reading and drinking is pretty much the best
By the way, the mint candy soda at the Loft is tops!

We were finished at the consulate by noon, but both Peter and I agreed that it was just too soon to get back on the bus to go back to Luzhou. Also, the silver lining of the passport mess was that we got to revisit a city that we really liked. So we agreed to stay another night, and set about enjoying Chengdu.

First thing: We were in need of lunch and new books, and The Bookworm is only a short walk from the consulate. It was a no brainer.

After lunch, we wandered around the city, soaking up the cosmopolitan atmosphere until our feet started to complain. We retired to the Loft courtyard to enjoy some minty refreshments while we read our new books.

For dinner, we had our sights set on pizza. You may have noticed that people love to argue about things on the internet, especially food. So the search for “Best Pizza in Chengdu” turned up many conflicting results. But French-Mediterranean restaurant Le Sud kept coming up as well-liked, and they had very few detractors.

And, just to put this out in the aether: There seems to be a little confusion online about whether the restaurant is closed, be it for renovations or permanently. But a man answered the phone when I called, and was really excited that we might be coming in for dinner later.

So, the restaurant was empty, but the meal was delicious enough

When we got there, the restaurant was empty. It would remain so for the duration of our dinner. So, for the record, Le Sud is open, and it’s delicious! The pizza had a delicate, thin crust with just the right amount of tomato sauce (that’s an issue with Chinese pizza), and cheese, lovely cheese.

After dinner, we retired back to the Loft for a healing sleep, and then it was back on the bus for us.

The action resumes in back in Luzhou …

Jun 24, 2012

Dinner with the bosses

A Chinese western meal

This is a full table

About once a month, our bosses like to take us out to dinner. We chat about how work is going, how Peter and I are doing in China, if the apartment is falling apart or not. The basics. Their management style is pretty hands-off — there are times that we have gone weeks without talking to them — so it’s nice to reconnect at these dinners.

The past couple of times we’ve gone out, they’ve taken us to some local “Western Restaurants.” We’ve gone to a couple of these on our own, and they each do a varying job on recreating American-ish food. But this last one, called the 3-D Coffee Bar (“Coffee Bar” means “Western Restaurant” in Luzhou), was actually pretty good. The funny thing, though, is that they serve western food, we still ordered Chinese style - meaning we got several entrees to share among the four of us. Which is really more fun. I do want a little bit of everything, thank you.

May 10, 2012

Cold beer

It’s very refreshing

A nice cold beer on a hot day

The temperature is in the 90s already, and it’s soooo humid. And, as the summer tends to do, it’s only going to get hotter. Our head teacher is very concerned that we have never experienced a Luzhou summer before, and she’s looking out for us. In fact, at our request, she found us some teaching work for July and because it’s going to be so hot, she’s making them pay us more. Even though the classrooms will be air conditioned. I am not complaining about either fact.

Tonight, we figured out something that should make the hot, hot heat a little more enjoyable: I figured out how to ask for cold beer! We’ve been getting served room-temperature beer no matter the room temperature since we arrived, and we figured that would continue forever. But, last night at sticks, when we asked for another beer about halfway into our meal (you generally order all the beers you’re going to drink at the start of the meal), our waitress said something like “Ping-ah” to which I said yes. And then she brought us a refrigerated beer!

So tonight at sticks … well, first: Because we’re regulars they just bring us three beers and the vinegar Peter likes without us asking. So tonight, before they brought anything out, I said “Pijiu, bing-ah.” (The word stuck in my head mostly because the second part sounds like “Ahhhh!”) And this resulted in three deliciously cold beers. What a happy ending!

Apr 22, 2012

一点儿

Just a little

On one of the ways we walk to the city center, we pass a vendor selling delicious snacks: Different types of vegetables and meats that are breaded, fried and then coated in spices and tomato sauce. We’ve been enjoying his wares about once a week since the middle of the winter, and as you can see above, I can accomplish this transaction with no words in any language. He speaks a bit of English, however, and I’ve been trying out some of the few Chinese phrases I’ve learned on him.

We visited him yesterday, and as we were wrapping up our transaction he said to me, “Your Chinese is getting better and better.” (Of course, he said it in Chinese first, to which I replied 我不说汉语, so he then said it in English.) It was such a nice compliment!

So, I’m very proud of me! … Although before you gauge how proud you are of me, too, here’s what I said that elicited the compliment: When he pointed at the spice mix, asking if I wanted any, I said, “一点儿,” which means “A little bit.” Hardly a treatise on world peace. But little by little I am able to communicate, and that’s very exciting.

Apr 22, 2012

Pizza party

So delicious

The final result

As I said in my last post, more food ingredients are coming into focus out of all of the visual clutter. I’m also getting much better at writing down characters from Google Translate and at guessing where a given product might be found (unlike with the plunger hunt). And that’s enabled us to recreate all kinds of non-Chinese food; we’ve done Mexican, Brazilian, Indian, Thai, American, Italian and random fusion of all sorts of cuisine.

Pizza in the wok

One thing we do really miss is pizza. They serve something called pizza at the Western Restaurants around town, but we have to be really desperate to go for that. But, over the past few months, cheese has shown up in a couple of the grocery stores. It’s mostly processed singles, but one grocery store has an analog of Laughing Cow cheese that, if we’re being generous (and we are!), has a texture like goat cheese. Tomatoes here are treated like a fruit — meaning ketchup, juice, et al. are on the sweet side — but the international sections of most bigger supermarkets carry recognizably Western tomato sauce. (Of course we could stew our own sauce in the rice cooker; that’s a goal for next time.) And, the last piece of our puzzle, using our translation notebook, we found yeast last weekend at the spice man’s stall at the farmer’s market.

And what does that all spell? PIZZA!

We used our good friend Martha’s recipe for pizza on the grill and just did it on the wok. As you can see above, we piled on the fresh vegetables, which were really good. The cheese behaved just as I had hoped it would, getting slightly crispy on the outside and ooey-gooey in the middle. We added some smokey tofu crumbles to one of the pizzas for a smokey-facon flavor (that was the best one). The crusts came out OK for my first time making them, though I think I’d like a little more practice before serving our homemade pizza to our Chinese friends.

It was pretty much a full day of work (not to mention all the ingredient hunting in the week before), but it was so worth it. Even with the not-perfect crust, the pizzas were delicious! It was also really satisfying to figure out how to make the impossible possible.

Mar 22, 2012

6 months in China!

So let’s eat more sticks

Yesterday marked six months to the day we landed in China! We celebrated, of course, at sticks!

There are two things we’ve learned for sure: China is always loud, and we like our food spicy.

Feb 3, 2012

Dinner at sticks, now with video

It will definitely get loud

Pretend you’re there with us and enjoy:

Dinner at Sticks from Uncle Foreigner on Vimeo.

Jan 24, 2012

Happy New Year: I ate goat and rabbit tonight

Spring Festival with friends

An healthy spread for Chinese New Year
More pictures of our New Year’s celebration!

Our neighbors Xi Xi and Wendy invited us to dinner tonight with their family - during Spring Festival (that’s what they call Chinese New Year), family members take turns hosting parties for their whole clan. Peter has been fighting a cold for the past few weeks, and it has not been responding well to travelling, going out and staying up late, so he’s trying out staying home and resting. But I’m not sick, so I went along.

It was a lot of fun. Wendy’s sister-in-law is also an English teacher, and everyone there spoke at least a little bit of English, so I had someone to talk to all night. Like usual, there were many toasts, and everyone was excited to try out their English on me.

The issue that’s a silly issue for me is that the Chinese eat a lot of meat, and they’re much more OK with whole-animal eating that Americans-in-general and me-specifically are comfortable with. I guess you could describe my diet as “very picky,” and it’s a different kind of thing to negotiate than Peter’s vegetarianism. There are some things that I don’t feel bad about turning down outright; offal, poultry feet (once, someone offered me “duck’s paw”) or anything super cartilage-y, brains … But other than that, I do feel obligated to try everything that’s offered. Which is part of the experience; I’ve had to choke down some meat of a texture I didn’t really enjoy (according to a Christmas-present Sichuan cookbook [thanks Lizzy and Jesse!], the local cuisine is all about textures that are pretty foreign to the American palate), but I’ve also tried some stuff that I really enjoyed. As the heading says, I ate rabbit tonight, and that’s something I’m getting to really like. The goat … it wasn’t baaaaad, but it’s not my favorite.

But, regardless, the night was a lot of fun, and it’s such a great privilege to be invited to a family gathering for such an important holiday.

Jan 20, 2012

Chengdu: Taco Night at The Lazy Pug

With guacamole and cheese

Tacos and Nachos, Oh my!

In our research of Chengdu, a bar called The Lazy Pug kept coming up over and over as a popular hangout for Western ex-pats. That in itself wasn’t super enticing to us; we didn’t move to China to surround ourselves with other Americans. But. Thursday nights are Taco Night!

The bar is run by an American couple, and is pretty authentic in its Western-ness. It was easy to pretend that we were at home in New York while we were there - which isn’t something we want to do often, but every once in a while it’s comforting.

So, much like our visit to Hong Kong, this was a great place to assuage a little homesickness. Unlike our tacos in Hong Kong (which were good enough for being overseas), the Pug’s tacos were excellent. The meat was seasoned well and they understood what vegetarian meant, so both I and Peter were pleased. In fact, on our way out, we told the female half of the ownership couple that these were the most authentic tacos we’d had in this hemisphere. Her response was that she and her husband were taking a month off soon to travel and figure out how to make their own corn tortillas to make the tacos even better!

Jan 10, 2012

New food on sticks

Very similar to the old food on sticks

New sticks
Fish boat

Part of our explore-the-city mission is to find places to eat other than our beloved sticks pavilion. With that in mind, last week we got gussied up and went out.

Our intention was to finally hit up one of those boat restaurants we see along the river. Turns out - and we totally should have expected this — they are fish restaurants. You can even go pick out which fish you want. Unfortunately, we wanted zero fish, so we left. Strike one.

Looking for a rotating restaurant

But, we had heard about this rotating restaurant on the top of the Luzhou Hotel! So we went to search that out. When we found it, it looked like the whole building had been closed for quite a while. Strike two.

Fancy pants chain

Our next thought was to try this street near our house where we had seen several indoor eating establishments that looked cool. We picked one - and it was more food on sticks! It was a little more upscale than our favorite outdoor place - there were wooden benches instead of plastic stools and there was a wider selection of food. We got a bowl that was split in two, one side with super spicy broth and the other with a vegetable stock. It was a nice change of pace to have a similar meal with different flavors.

It was slightly more expensive than our usual place, but we’d definitely go back.