Tuesday, 22 December 2009

China eating/travel diary part two. Chinglish.

Sometimes in China the bizarre translations get too much and you collapse into a fit of snorting clammed up laughter. Then you make stupid jokes about it for the next 3 days with your travel companion.

So it was with the 'Tuckahoe pie' Was it smut? Or our dirty minds corrupting an innocent Chinglish mistake? Who's to say? Sadly the 'Tuckahoe' didn't really live up to its controversial name, and was just a rubbish synthetic-y sweet. That innuendo did, however, provide enough mirth to see us through an all night train journey that probably could've seemed a whole lot worse otherwise.

Chinese train journeys, if you ever end up on the hard seats, are pretty much Gehenna on wheels, rammed full of people, saliva and smoke everywhere, and probably no sleep and maybe a few screaming babies on top of that if you're lucky. Obviously everyone needs to get somewhere, and there are lot of people in China, and probably not many trains, we shouldn't complain. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Literally.

Incidentally, we were headed to Taiyuan, one of China's heavy industry cities, and one of the most polluted built up areas in the world. There wasn't much of a brightside to our journey.

A lot of people who've been traveling round China are heard to grumble on return 'but the food was actually rubbish, much better at my local takeaway'. Now that's definitely not true, but we can easily see how you could get bogged down eating nasty, greasy sweet'n'sour pork or fried rice for every meal. We ate that stuff a lot too, mainly because all the menus are in Chinese characters outside very touristy areas. Luckily in Taiyuan we had a local friend. Either that or praps Taiyuan is the fine dining capital of the middle country, who knows?

Whatever the reason, both meal's eaten in Taiyuan were amazing. Basically everything you'd want Chinese food to be. Deep fried potatoes & been sprouts, charred charcoaled up aubergines and seriously awesome fresh noodles. Apparently Marco Polo stole the concept of noodles all the way home to Italy and called it tagliatelle.

The second meal in Taiyuan was at a place that specialises in dumplings and that was even better - there were some fried up tempura style mushrooms with chilli dipping sauce, (like Marco Polo, apparently the Japs stole this one), also chili and chicken spicy (very) soup and about 3 different types of dumpling including amazing egg and spring onion ones. Without a doubt the two best meals of the trip so far. Good eating!

Our reconnaissance mission then ended up in Xi'an, one of China's ancient capitals. Everything there has more of an Arab slant than the rest of China; this is 'cause ages ago lots of Arabs used to trade here, they fooled around with some local girls, got them pregnant and hundreds of years later their descendants now get called the Hui people.

Most cool of all to a western food starved stomach is the fact that they make Chinese hamburgers in Xi'an. For about 30p you get a awesomely unctuous scraping of chicken, leaves and chilli sauce in a bun. So good! Sadly, no one tried to explain to me how China invented the burger too..

Apart from all this I'm not sure what I've learnt about Chinese food so far, that they like a hamburger as much as anyone else? That people have been stealing their culinary inventions left, right and centre for centuries?

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More importantly than all this hot air though, Liu Xiaobo, a prominent Chinese human right's activist was jailed for 11 years yesterday. He was found guilty of subversion, a pretty vaguely defined notion, that basically let's the Communist Party of China imprison who they like. Mainly anyone who criticises them a bit too loudly.

Liu Xiaobo is most widely known for founding the Charter 08 campaign, a manifesto signed by 300 leading Chinese bods to demand political reform and democratisation in China.

I've got no idea if these things help at all, but it's worth a try, so click here for an online petition to free Liu Xiaobo.

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