American Foods I Consume in China I Wouldn’t Normally Otherwise
For the first couple weeks, I was really good about adventurously eating all kinds of Chinese food, and at every meal. We explored our neighborhood, trying out restaurants to identify places that would (or wouldn’t in some cases) quickly become our go-to places. We were also eating out for nearly every meal, as we slowly acquired household items necessary for cooking anything beyond throwing some yogurt and granola together.
But an expat can only eat so much Chinese food. Thankfully, Chongqing—and our neighborhood in particular—is not lacking in International and American options. And so Nick and I have also been checking out some of the familiar logos that have been so conveniently exported from the States to our neighborhood in Shapingba. We’ve also been scouring the “International” sections of every grocery store we come across, grabbing treats like Petit Ecolier and various jams and preserves to satiate our International palettes.
Before we arrived, Nick had explained to me that one of his favorite treats when he lived in China a few years ago was Oreos, and that we would likely develop surprising preferences and habits living abroad as we make do with available comforts. As we considered the relative merits of our personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut, Nick remarked, “If I had a blog, I would write about the American things I eat here that I don’t eat in the US.” As it happens, I do have a blog, so here is that post:
Oreos. Since Nick inspired this post, we’ll begin with his expat favorite. Don’t get me wrong, I like Oreos fine. We kept a jar of them in my house at all times when I was growing up, but they had fallen off my radar since I left the home for college. On our first trip to Carrefour, Nick grabbed a bag of the dependable chocolate cookies while I looked on in awe, contemplating the strange flavors supplementing the traditional white filling (lime, really?!). I prefer to eat my Oreos in two steps: twisting apart the layers and licking the creamy inside before chomping down on the crisp, chocolate wafer. I also like my Oreos dipped in skim milk, but I forgo that preference knowing the lack of acceptable milk options here. Even so, the first time I tried Oreos here I was a little put off: I twisted to reach the creamy filling, only to find that it wasn’t so much creamy as it was gritty. I have since found the Chinese to be weird about putting granulated sugar in things and letting it be granulated; I’ve had it in baozi (bready dumplings) and on cold noodles (why noodles for lunch would need sugar is beyond me). However, I’ve since come to terms with the difference in texture, and now happily eat my Oreos straight up.
Dairy Queen Blizzards. Oreos also feature prominently in this next consumable, as well. On the rare occasion I found myself at a Dairy Queen (hot summer drive in Salisbury, pit stop on the way to Long Lake), Blizzards were the classic soft-serve treat of choice, but I haven’t spent much time in the rural New England lately, and when I did, I would likely go for homemade hard ice cream instead. But here in Chongqing, we have a Dairy Queen conveniently located literally across the street, so it’s become a very pleasant evening treat on our nights out as we come home in the 90-degree. Nick and I have gotten into the habit of sharing a medium Oreo Blizzard, which is apparently guaranteed to be served to you upside down here (is that a thing in the States?). We have also made the very reasonable rule that we won’t have Dairy Queen two nights in a row.
Bill Gates lol.
Pizza Hut. Again, I certainly ate Pizza Hut at times in my youth: we occasionally went for Pizza Hut while visiting my grandparents when they wanted to appease my brother’s picky tastes, and when we were very little we went to Pizza Hut religiously for weeks on end to collect The Land Before Time hand puppets that also doubled as bathtub toys. Since those days, my pizza tastes have evolved to prefer more artisanal preparations, such as grilled pizza at Cambridge 1, or any version of coal- or wood-fired pizza in New York (Arturo’s, Moon Pie). Thusly, it had been a very long time since I last tasted greasy, deep-dish cheesy mess that is Pizza Hut pan pizza. But any expat quickly begins to crave melted cheese, so it wasn’t long before we found our way to the nearby post. It turns out to be a very popular joint, often with a 20-30 minute wait. We’ve dined there twice so far, and both times I felt as though the Chinese folks around me were watching us with great satisfaction, thinking: “This is so authentic! The foreigners are eating their food here, too!”
We’ve learned that pizzas are generally prepared ahead of time (this is true at other pizza restaurants as well). This fact became apparent on our second visit, when we were informed that they were sold out of all large pizzas (I wondered to myself, how does one run out of something made of dough, a malleable substance?). This also means you have to order off the prescribed menu combinations unless you want to get involved in an extended deliberation with your waitress. And the toppings are special in their own right. They put pineapple on everything here, and there are some really strange fruit (banana on pizza!) or seafood combinations (salmon, squid, octopus, and a special horseradish sauce!) that just shouldn’t be on pizza. How about a steak pizza? Weird. Our theory is that these toppings belie a certain vagueness in the Chinese understanding of what pizza is: a flat thing to pile combinations of stuff on (an altogether too liberal definition, in my opinion). And it doesn’t end at toppings: in addition to cheese stuffed-crust pizza, they also stuff crust with mini sausages here. I’d much prefer to stick with the savory + cheesy conception of pizza. Thankfully, they are pretty accommodating at our local Pizza Hut, so we’ve managed to procure our favorite pepperoni, green pepper and onion combination that makes us happy. [But don’t get me started on the rest of the menu. Some highlights include Chicken à la King, and Teriyaki Octopus and Quail Egg. “Pizza and more,” indeed.]
Sausage-stuffed crust? No thanks.
McDonald’s, in general. I’m going to be honest, every once in a while I can be found indulging in a Happy Meal when I’m out on a shopping trip or at Bolt Bus rest stop. It’s a nostalgia-inducing taste I enjoy revisiting, and the Happy Meal portions are just enough to satisfy a craving without the lingering sense of guilt or queasiness after. To my embarrassment, I’m finding here in China the plentiful McDonald’s establishments (there are at least three outposts in our neighborhood) are an increasingly attractive lunch option, insofar as what they have resembles a sandwich, and is a familiar comfort flavor. When lunch rolls around, sometimes I’m just not in the mood for noodles or dumplings, and my preferences for local dishes are slow in developing. And so, I’ve given in once or twice to the lure of the good ol’ American fast-food hamburger. Nick seems to think that the beef is leaner and therefore better here, so that makes me feel a little better about it.
Happily giving in to the Golden Arches.
Lays Potato Chips. These are no ordinary Lays potato chips. Here, they are packaged in tubes à la Pringles (they have Pringles, too). Crunchy Lays and an ice-cold local beer make for a pleasant weekend afternoon snack on a hot day in Chongqing. The exotic feature here: weird flavors like Cooling Cucumber and Little Tomato that are actually quite tasty.
Starbucks Frappachinos. In general I try to stay away from Starbucks, but while we were waiting for our broadband to get hooked up, Starbucks proved a convenient and reliable spot to get connected. They have a surprisingly limited menu (no iced tea aside from the half and half lemonade version!?) so I’ve had one or two Mocha Frappachinos out of necessity. Decent, but I think I’d rather just have a real milkshake…
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