Monday, June 4, 2007


Yesterday my roommate went to the market to buy meat and vegetables for dinner, but she forgot to buy cloves of garlic. The food that my roommates make often uses garlic, though not in the same way that I use garlic. Usually they chop it up and put it in some kind of spicy sauce with other vegetables. Sichuan food especially often uses garlic combined with a very, very spicy sauce that burns your tongue and makes you want to cry, but you keep on eating anyway because it's so, so good.

The market next to our apartment is a fairly large, friendly place with numerous local stands. However, I rarely go there because I'll inevitably be charged more than Chinese people. In fact, my roommates usually don't want me to go, for exactly that reason. It's a good arrangement for me -- a valid excuse for getting out of the shopping! When I went to buy the garlic, for example, I bought four cloves for 3 yuan, about 39 cents. "What!" my roommate said when I returned. "That should just cost 2 yuan!" She shook her head and sighed. I knew I wouldn't have to go to the market again for a while.

Though we white folks must often pay the foreigner tax, I've found that once people in the neighborhood get to know you, they usually don't ask for more money. I got a haircut at a local barbershop, and I mentioned I lived in the area; at the end I mistakenly paid 15 yuan, and the barber told me it was just 10. I usually buy beer at a small shop beside my apartment -- recently I paid 25 yuan by accident, but it was just 20. Likewise in another store with bread, and another with DVDs.

The market, though, will never get to know me, since I rarely go there, and even if it did, it seems to be part of market culture to always charge foreigners extra. I probably wouldn't know what to buy anyway. My roommates are all good cooks, and they can choose best. We usually have a few dishes: some boiled vegetables; some meat, perhaps with vegetables and some sauce; sometimes lamb, sometimes beef, sometimes chicken. We usually have soup too, and always, always rice.

If we're feeling a little peckish late at night, there are a couple of excellent night food stands close to our apartment. The best one by far is a barbeque where you can buy, among other things, roasted spicy lamb, roasted chicken, and roasted tofu. The lamb is a classic in Chinese cities. Once I was eating some and my sister, who is a vegetarian, called me on my mobile phone. "What are you doing?" she asked. "Eating lamb on the street." "EWWWWW!! That's so GROSS!!" I guess it sounds kind of disgusting -- lamb on the street -- but it's so, so, so good.

Every now and then I'll make something for dinner too, but I usually end up eating most of it. My curries have proven to be somewhat popular, as have my salads. Pastas have been greeted with a lukewarm reception, and I've generally decided to stop making them, since most of the ingredients are imported and it's a bit expensive. Unfortunately I can't unleash my cookie-baking skills, because we don't have an oven. My pizza, with its simple flour dough, will therefore go untasted, which is a shame, because sometimes I yearn for it in the face of so much healthy homemade fare.

In those cases, I'll sometimes resort to good 'ol Mai Dang Lao. If you don't know what that is, say it out loud and you'll probably be able to figure it out.

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