School Daze: Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone with Food in China

School Daze is a series written by contributor Eileen Salazar, who discusses her 2-week trip to China.  Eileen is a sophomore at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

In America when we hear ‘Chinese food,’ we automatically think of tasty orange chicken, egg rolls, and kung pao. As I embarked on my journey to Beijing, I was expecting the same food but my expectations were about to be blown out of the water.

Traditional Dinners

Our first dinner in Beijing had to be one of the best dinners of the entire trip. It was a traditional Chinese dinner that consisted of white rice, spring rolls, beef and squash, chicken with scramble egg, sweet soup, fish, and potatoes. Every meal is served with jasmine tea and one extremely small cup for soda.

The food was amazing! Surprisingly, most of the dishes tasted like American Chinese food, only ten times better. Everything was seasoned to perfection. The only dish that I didn’t enjoy (everyone on the trip agreed) was the soup. Typically, soup is salty but this soup was served cold and had a really sweet aftertaste.

The next day we had traditional Peaking Duck Dinner, also called Beijing Duck. I was initially a bit hesitant but that soon disappeared when I saw how delicious all the food looked. The proper way to eat the duck is to make the Chinese version of a burrito. You grab a thinly sliced tortilla-like wrap, add the duck, cabbage, and the special sauce. The “burrito” was out of this world. The duck was so tender that it just melted into your mouth.

At night we got on Rickshaws (sort of like a horse and carriage ride but instead of a horse, it’s a bicycle) to ride to a local family’s home in the HuTongs for dinner. The food was typical Chinese cuisine like the food we had the first day.

But the cool part of this dinner was that the chef had previously worked for the former President of China for 10 years. He had only been cooking for two years for the military before he was hired as the President’s chef, which is a very high honor in China.

Street Cuisine

Walking into China’s street food market, The BBQ, I was met with this awful stench of insects being cooked. Yes, I said insects. I know, ew. Here you find the widest range of street cuisine anything from frozen fruit to cooked scorpions.

Prior to this trip I wanted to try a fried cricket but being face to face with the opportunity, I couldn’t fathom the idea of swallowing it. Thinking back on it, it’s ironic how they call it ‘The BBQ’ because there is definitely nothing there that resembles traditional American BBQ.

Chinese Teas

I hate tea. Hate is such a strong word, but I honestly despise tea. So when I saw we were going to a tea house, I wasn’t a bit excited. To my surprise, I loved the teas we got to try. I liked them so much I ended up buying two teas. One was fruit tea which can be drank hot or cold and the other one was shenshen tea, which is supposed to help with energy and skin.

Now that I’ve had authentic Chinese food, I still haven’t been able to eat American Chinese food. No longer does orange chicken and fried rice “hit the spot” like they used to. All in all, the food across the board was absolutely amazing. I strongly recommend any one traveling to China to dive into the food and enjoy!