I recently had the opportunity to travel to Beijing, China with USSEC (United States Soybean Export Council). I learned so much which I’d like to share with you.
The food was wonderful! Admittedly, we were probably sheltered from some of the most customary foods. For example, they consider China to be complementary in the meat cuts, meaning that they prefer the parts that we don’t. I saw many pig and chicken feet at markets (although I did not try them).
I did learn to eat with chopsticks on the fly. I’ve always eaten with a fork, but while there – one must learn! I was definitely a slow eater though. At all the restaurants that we ate at had round tables with a lazy Susan in the middle. The dishes were served family style, and everyone served themselves a little bit of each.
My favorite dish was a mandarin fish with sweet and sour, but it wasn’t anything like the sweet and sour I’ve eaten in America. It was delish! The food differences that I noticed were a lot more vegetables, not much grain (honestly we didn’t even eat much rice), and we only had dessert twice. The famous Peking duck dish is just something one has to try while in China. It was very good!
We had the opportunity to visit a large store, Carrefour, and walk through the grocery area. It was fascinating, and struck me to see how much fresh produce there was. I would say the produce area was about five times larger than the local Kroger store that I frequent. The reason for that much bigger produce area is likely because of the mass quantity of people shopping at this store (Beijing is 20 million people) plus they seem to eat more vegetables than we tend to in the U.S.
Secondly, I noticed that a lot of food was in bulk and not packaged. For example, the rice you just grabbed a scoop and bagged however much rice you wanted. The meat was also in bulk and not individually wrapped. I wonder about some food safety issues with having food in bulk that people are helping themselves to, but I suppose if that’s what your grocery was like, you’d get used to it.
Lastly, the staple products were a little different than we have. Similar to how we have a cereal aisle, and they had an aisle for oil. Oil is considered a staple as they cook with it on a daily basis.
When soybeans are crushed, the old is extracted to make vegetable oil and the soymeal that is left is fed to livestock in a feed ration. The Chinese population regularly eat soy in their diets. Although the soy that they eat mostly is grown in China.
Since I was traveling on behalf of U.S. soy, we did order tofu at most meals. We eat edamame regularly in our house, but I am looking forward to learning how to incorporate other forms of soy into our diets as I learn to cook with them.
From our own farm raised soybeans, I have picked green soybeans around Labor Day and steamed them like edamame and have roasted the mature soybeans. I’m looking forward to playing around in my kitchen to learn how to incorporate tofu and tempeh into my cooking.