China Observations – iMiss (food!)

Have I done a couple blogs about ‘imiss’??? ah yea. there is it. I talk more about the “missing stuff from home” than I write about it, apparently. Most of the stuff iMiss is food. Weird food. I remember trying to find GREEN (anything green) during the typhoon. It didn’t exist. I traveled 8 hours south just to get limpy spinach. My colon was happy.


Anyway- My aunt has the same problem…. Trying to find western food in China. Like Burgers.

The International students at the school have complained about the food in the cafeteria since day one. They were told the menu would be “western” and it’s not. The Chef (to give him some credit) has to serve three meals a day to the 1,000 Chinese kids at the big school — as well as our 70 students (30 of which are NOT Chinese). I’m certain that the needs and complaints of our 30 ranked very low on his list of problems to solve.



This semester, however, we have made some headway: the Chef is turning over his kitchen to us (along with two assistants) on Saturday afternoons so we can make Saturday lunches! He has also agreed to order whatever food we will need (provided someone else pays for it). Success!



Jim and Will (our Science teacher – who also loves to cook) designed our first menu: hamburgers with cheese, tomatoes, onion, buns, and homemade coleslaw (cabbage and carrots), and potatoes. The Chef was able to purchase an enormous side of beef for us at a terrific price. Western food … finally.



Jim and I arrived at the school early, just in case I needed to make an emergency run to the grocery store. There on the cutting board was a twenty pound slab of beef. Next to it were seven huge cabbages, potatoes, and three vegetables that were shaped like carrots (but were bright green), but no actual carrots.



We discovered that the green carrot things are actually called asparagus lettuce. It neither resembles asparagus nor lettuce – and remains a mystery. They must have been mistranslated. We peeled one and chopped it up. It had absolutely zero flavor. Nothing. I think Will added it to the Southern fried potato dish so that we didn’t insult anyone by not using it …somewhere. The absence of actual carrots remained the only glitch. Everything was going swimmingly.



We put our burger patties into seven stainless steel trays and wheeled the cart into the room where everything would be cooked. However, as we passed through the two double doors, what we saw stopped us cold in our tracks. There, before us, were six enormous woks ranging in size from 2 ½ to 4 feet in diameter. There wasn’t a griddle in the room. There wasn’t even a lone frying pan. We had 55 burgers to fry. 55 burgers of the leanest beef – these burgers were a glorious solid mahogany in color. No fat, no grease. No grease? They’d stick to the sides of the wok. The oil added to the wok would simply pool at the bottom.



Everything in me wanted to run in the opposite direction … and so I did. I am ashamed to admit it, but I left the physics of the problem to the scientist and mathematician in the room.



I cut buns in half, laid out the plates, chopsticks, and napkins. I removed packaging from the individually sliced cheese. I laid out condiments and carried coleslaw to the dining hall as starving students arrived. I told them that their deportment over the next hour would dictate whether this experience would ever happen again. It had taken five of us three hours to prepare their meal. They were to leave the room cleaner than when they found it and that NO ONE would be entitled to second helpings until everyone (including the two teachers dealing with the wok nightmare) had also eaten.



They agreed. And they did leave it clean. And they asked for seconds. However, no one asked if they could help clean up. And everyone forgot to say thank you. (Teenagers.)



Looking back, maybe we should have invited them into the kitchen and conducted a physics class on how to fry lean hamburgers in a wok. Maybe, then, it would have been a lunch they would never have forgotten.

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