Life in China 2017: A Picture a Day, May 17 – When you see a package of “Almonds” sliced like this in China, they usually aren’t really almonds! They are usually apricot kernels or seeds. The confusion goes way back historically. They look and smell alike, and both are called 杏仁 “xingren.” There are two types of apricot kernels: sweet, which are fine to eat, and bitter, which can be dangerous because they contain Amygdalin (vitamin B17), which can break down into cyanide! I’m honestly not sure which kind are usually sold here, hopefully sweet, but the package does warn that you shouldn’t eat too many and that they aren’t safe for children or pregnant women, so…. Maybe they are the bitter ones? The package also says to rinse them before eating (but I never knew that until now!). The bitter ones are considered a TCM remedy for cancer and dry coughs. They do have an amaretto smell and taste good, or I wouldn’t bother with them! We usually just sprinkle a few in our yogurt or chia pudding, the Chinese put them in soup. The only estimate I’ve seen of how many you can eat, said that about 50 kernels would be a lethal dose for adults, 10 for children. I’m surely no doctor, just writing what I have read that seems to be in agreement from multiple places! www.myownchinesebrocade.com
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, December 16 – I’m always surprised at the huge amount of frozen pizza available when I’m back in the USA! I’m curious if pizza is so popular in other “Western” countries? Anyhow, this picture shows the frozen pizza selection at our bigger supermarket in the next town; I think our smaller supermarket only has 2 kinds. And I can guarantee that outside of the cities, you would never find frozen pizza in China! The “Special Barbeque Pork “sounds pretty good (even though it also has peas and corn on it!), but what do you think of “tropical fruit,” “Durian,” and “Blueberry” pizza?
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 21 – The delicatessens in Chinese supermarkets are similar in idea, but very different in the kind of food you can buy in an American deli! They have whole roasted chickens (with the heads and feet of course!) and ducks and maybe even a goose, pigeons, or other birds. There is also a variety of chicken pieces, usually cooked in a few ways: spicy, something yellow that I’m guessing is curry or saffron?, and … there is breaded/fried chicken! There is no such thing as lunch meat or cold cuts. But, there are fresh rice noodles of all sizes, and you can get a bowl fixed right there. There is no salad bar either, but a “bar” of spicy food dishes, I’m not sure what it is actually called! There is also a big tofu section, a sushi section, and roasted peanuts! Of course they vary, and the bigger the supermarket, the more they have, these pictures are from the same supermarket where we get the Beggar’s Chicken (July 21st post) and Dim Sum. www.myownchinesebrocade.com
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, August 6 – I just realized when I needed to name my picture that I wrote about “dates” yesterday as a food, and today I’m going to write about “dates” again! (I really didn’t plan this ahead!) Can you read the dates on the packages in the picture? I took these all today August 6, 2016. I remember when I first went to a supermarket in China, after looking at the first couple of food packages, I wondered why the items were expired, then after a few more, I decided that they must be packing dates on packages NOT expiration dates like we were used to in the USA! The dates are also written differently than we were used to: year, month, date. I still mix this up! Who knows how many times I’ve written my birth date wrong! Friends from other countries, what does the rest of the world do with dates ??? Packing vs expiration, and how to write a date?
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 9 – Today, while shopping, I noticed this bin with a lot of people around it, of course I had to see what it was, and was surprised to see crayfish! LOTS of crayfish! We watched for a few minutes as the people dug through them. Most put plastic bags over their hands to choose which they wanted, and seemed to be turning them over and looking at their undersides before either placing them in their bags or throwing them back. I’m not sure what they were looking for, does anyone else know? Leah said they were calling them “xiaolongxia” or “little lobsters.” I thought they looked like the crayfish I used to catch as a kid, but, I sure don’t remember ever eating them! (Although I do remember roasting some over a fire once while all five of us kids were camping with my dad… while mom stayed home!) Other names in the USA are crawfish, crawdad, mudbugs and yabbies. I did some research and found that in the second half of June there is an annual crayfish festival in a city called Xuyi, in Jiangsu province, which is well known for its crayfish farms, so I guess this is the time of year to feast on the little lobsters! Hmmm, maybe we should try some!
Chinese honey has gotten a lot of bad publicity, so I’m pretty careful where I buy my honey from. Larger supermarkets usually have an area where you can choose from numerous types of honey from larger jars. Options at this supermarket were: Chinese Date, Loquat, Acacia, Medlar, Wild Chrysanthemum, Wild Osmanthus, Mountain Coptis and Lemon. There are a few more kinds in the smaller bottles and you can also buy different kinds of bee pollen. Honey has long been a part of traditional Chinese medicine and the different varieties are used for different medical benefits. For example, loquat honey is supposed to be good for the throat, so it is recommended specifically for speakers, singers and smokers. Honey in Chinese is “fengmi” and a bee is a “mifeng” ….and after seven years, I still get them confused!
Another fun sign at the supermarket, hanging over the frozen food section.... my personal interpreter (my daughter Leah :-) says that the Chinese characters say "Sliced Fish".
The durian, called “King of the Fruits” in southeast Asia, is a very “unique” fruit! It is large, like the jackfruit I wrote about on April 16, but, it has spikes, and most notably…it has a very distinct, strong smell, which most people consider BAD! So bad, that in many places it is banned from public transportation and hotels (the sign in the picture was posted in a Singapore metro station)! Personally, I think the taste is kind of good, … if you can get past the smell, and sometimes it leaves a weird after taste. I learned the hard way that when you buy it, you need to eat it right away….. otherwise your refrigerator or house will smell for days! Because of the large size, supermarkets will often open one and sell it packaged in smaller amounts. Inside of the segments, it has a very creamy texture, with large seeds, which are supposed to be edible if cooked, although I haven’t tried that. You can find all kinds of durian flavored foods here, that can be a whole separate post someday! It is native to southeast Asia, and there are nine edible species. Here’s a fun video of some people tasting durian for the first time :-) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=og5e6wLIU18
Crowds in China….Today is International Labor Day in China as well as the majority of the world (other than the USA and Canada). The smartest thing to do on holidays in China, especially when you live in a tourist area, is stay home! We decided to be stupid, oh, no, I mean adventurous:-) today and went shopping. What is usually a 2-2 1/2 hour trip took 5 ½ hours! It took 2 hours just to get to the store! I told Jim and Leah that I’m sure there were more people in the store than the number of people that live in our little hometown of Walnut Cove, NC! We met a foreign man at the bus stop near our home, but didn’t see another foreigner the whole time! Around here, I think that quite a few of the people out on a day like this have rarely, if ever, seen a foreigner. Staring is not considered rude in China, and people DO stare! We have a joke that we must look like a family of three headed green monsters by the stares we get! Tomorrow everyone has a day off for the holiday, I think we’ll stay home!
It’s surprising at times how one thing leads to another! The other day, a friend shared a picture of her plant, called a Voodoo Lily. I had never heard of it, so looked it up online, only to discover that the tuber, or corm, of the plant is what they make konjac or konnyaku from. I’ve been thinking of writing about this, so here it is! This has been an important food in Japan for over 100 years! Konnyaku noodles are being sold in the USA as “Miracle Noodles” because they are supposed to help with weight loss. We have purchased these here in the Japanese brand supermarket, Aeon. It is also used as a vegan gelatin substitute. In China, you mainly see this food as little snack cups that, to a western person, look like gelatin cups. However, konjac is very different, because it doesn’t “melt” like gelatin when eaten, it MUST be chewed. The packages have warnings that when these snacks are eaten by young children or the elderly, they should be watched closely: They are often sold in bite size plastic cups, so they can cause a choking hazard. This doesn’t seem to be much of a problem to children who aren’t familiar with western style gelatin cups, but, for children who are used to the Western style ones, and then eat these, expecting them to melt in their mouths, they can be dangerous. I think these are sold in the USA as well as China. So, todays post contains a warning to help spread the word that people need to be sure their children know to chew these Asian fruit jelly cups well!
The skill of using chopsticks is definitely necessary when living in China! In big cities, western restaurants, and many Chinese restaurants, will or are able to provide you with a fork, but if you are outside of a big city, you may have no choice but to use Kuaizi 筷子 or chopsticks. In the supermarket, you have an abundant selection of chopsticks made from all kinds of materials (bamboo, wood, metal, plastic, etc) but, you may only have one or two fork options (if you’re lucky!). You can see in the picture that there are even “training” chopsticks for small children :-) You can also buy travel chopsticks that break down into two pieces and you screw them together to use. Many Chinese fast food or take out restaurants will provide you with disposable wooden chopsticks joined together at the end. I recently learned that you don’t just pull them apart, you are supposed to snap the end piece off first and it becomes your chopstick rest! However, I tried this once and it wouldn’t work? Has anyone else done this? The most important etiquette to remember while using chopsticks in China is to never place them upright in your bowl as this looks like incense sticks burning for the deceased! If there isn’t a chopsticks rest, you should lay your chopsticks across your bowl or plate. You also don’t play with them or point them at anyone.
A fairly common site in China as you are out and about is to see staff “pep talks,” either inside of a business or outside in front of the business. These seem to last quite a long time from the ones I’ve seen, but, I’ve never actually seen one from beginning to end because I’ve moved on. The employees line up in nice neat rows, and I assume it’s their manager speaking at the front. At times, I’ve seen them saying things in unison and even dancing! This group was in a supermarket where we were shopping today.
Life in China: A Picture A Day, April 7, 2016 - I apologize to my vegetarian friends who may not like this picture, but, it is part of life in China! This is how I buy chicken at my supermarket. There are usually a few pre-packaged pieces, but nowhere near the variety of if you just buy it unpackaged. For whole chickens, they always come with the head and feet (unless you are in an area with a supermarket that caters to expats :-)) For a city raised girl, I’ve come a long way! When we first moved to China, I wouldn’t buy a chicken unless the head and feet got cut off, now I just throw the whole chicken in the pot! (But I still don’t eat the feet!) I’ll see how people handle this picture and then I’ll decide whether to post buying meat at the wet market, or others pictures I’ve hesitated posting!
I have a whole assortment of “tea” that I enjoy in China! “Old” ginger tea is considered not just a drink, but a Traditional Chinese Medicine Remedy. “Old,” or mature, ginger, with the light brown skin, is the type you probably see most often in stores. Young ginger is much lighter colored on the outside and doesn’t need peeled. Ginger is recommended for nourishing the blood, improving circulation, improving digestion, reducing nausea (including motion sickness), reducing inflammation, and as a pain reliever.
You can make your own tea at home or, in China (and probably Asian stores elsewhere), buy packets ready mixed with other beneficial ingredients. In the packets, it is generally mixed with black tea and dark brown sugar. The box on the bottom of the picture also has Luohanguo (see Jan 9 pic of day).
Ginger, red dates and brown sugar tea is sold especially for women to drink during their monthly cycle and post partum. The ginger helps with cramping, and the ginger and red dates are both good for blood circulation, and red dates are high in calcium and iron. Goji berries are also often mixed in.
Old ginger increases body temperature, so is especially good if you are cold (winter, poor circulation, etc). Young ginger decreases body temperature, so is good when you are hot (summer, fevers, etc).
Those with high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, or in menopause, are advised to reduce or avoid use of ginger. It is a blood thinner so doesn’t mix with certain medications. It’s probably best to read up on precautions before using more than a few slices a day!
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, March 21 – I saw this product in our local supermarket a couple of weeks ago and it caught my eye. Our store doesn’t sell many imported or western items, so it was unusual. I guess the American flag was probably what caught my eye…with little sausages instead of stars on the flag! And the fact that it was made by a Chinese company. Well, I just finally got around to looking it up and it turns out that Shuanghui, the largest meat producer in China, purchased Smithfield Foods of Virginia in Sept 2013. Supposedly, they import US pork into China, not China to US. And it was thought-provoking that with all the concern about food safety in China, Smithfield had to stop using the controversial additive Ractopamine (banned in 160 countries, but NOT the USA), in order to be able to ship meat to China! Guess food safety concerns go both ways! So, this past week, although I haven’t seen this Shuanghui Virginia style sausage at the store again, I did see numerous Smithfield products for sale. All very interesting…at least to me! My facts here are from various online sources which I consider credible.
The bigger supermarket I go to about once a week in the town next to us is a part of a chain from Taiwan called RT Mart, or Da Run Fa 大潤發. Leah was with me today, so I asked her to help me get a member card. I thought the list of “Free Services” would be interesting to share. It is fairly typical for a large Chinese supermarket. I’ll explain the items that my American friends may not understand J
2. Free Shopping Shuttle Buses – Buses have routes stopping at the local residential areas, unfortunately, the buses don’t come to where we are now.
3. A large amount of people come by bus, scooter, bicycle or walking, so they may have other items from shopping. Large supermarkets seem to always offer free lockers and you usually have to store your things in them (I assume partially to reduce the chance of shoplifting). Unless you are a foreigner, then I guess because of the communication issue, they usually let you go!
4. Periodic DM is a text message.
6. Free Leasing of shopping basket, shopping bag, umbrella and raincoat. – Leah saw at our local Spar store that you can pay 20rmb deposit to lease an umbrella for 3 days, so I’m sure the offer here is similar. If you need a plastic bag in a supermarket in China, you must buy it.
7. Free straw, scoop and toilet paper – straw and spoon (scoop) for foods you will drink and eat right away. Free toilet paper (most public restrooms in China do not supply this, but stores often do).
9. Free packing for bowels??? (this is bowls/dishes) and bottled wine, most likely representative of breakable items.
10. Free paging (if you lose someone in the store), money change (getting change if you need it) and gift wrapping.
Not a bad list of free services!
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 13 - Saturday Night at the supermarket…. A giant live Kinder egg, pandas having hot pot, furniture polish without the spray cap (we had to go to customer service and have them get it and put it on?), and chocolate covered taro candy …. there’s ALWAYS something new to find when grocery shopping in China!