ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms


Food and Photos22 Mar 2009

Mmmm, fresh homemade bread.

Food and Photos and Travel05 Jul 2008

It’s not exactly a secret that “Chinese food” as often experienced in North America (egg rolls, chicken balls, fried rice, fortune cookies, etc.) is not something a typical Chinese person would be familiar with. Finding out exactly where and how this particular deep-fried cuisine originated would probably make for a fun project, but it isn’t my project today. I’m going to talk about the food I ate while I was in China. Thanks to Shengrong’s cooking and the occasional trip to a more authentic Chinese restaurant (they exist), I didn’t find the food to be totally outlandish, but there were a few strange bumps in the culinary road.

In Beijing, we stayed on the campus of the China University of Geosciences, and ate a few of our meals at one of the University restaurants, “”. One of my favorite things there were battered chicken wings heavily spiced with cumin. Shengrong ordered those on our first day since they’re more like the kind of food I’m used to. That was really the only meal in which I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to manage the food without any trouble, as I was really tired and jetlegged at the time. After that I ate everything happily, and when I got back to Canada I found my own cooking kind of boring for the first few days. Unsurprisingly, I got a lot better at handling chopsticks.

At the entrance of “Local Food” – it was pretty large and usually full of diners.

In a nice room of the restaurant where we ate lunch a few times, overlooking the university quad.

Naturally, we had to try Beijing Duck during our stay in Beijing. We ate it in “Quan ju de”, the most famous Beijing Duck restaurant, just off Tian’anmen Square. The duck is cooked with a crispy outside and then cut into small slices. You mix a few slices with leek, cucumber and a special sauce and roll them in thin pastries, using your chopsticks. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but I really liked the end result.

Some ducks waiting to be Beijing’d.

Shengrong ordering duck.

Other highlights from Beijing included a surprisingly good (and cheap) meal of chicken and black bean procured very late at night from a small student-frequented spot on campus, and dumplings at the great wall.

We had several nice meals in Wuhan, both at restaurants and as cooked by Shengrong’s mom. Shengrong and I cooked a few dishes on our last night there, using some spices we brought from home. I’m not sure how well they went over, but everyone in the family had the good grace to eat them and smile…

The Chinese answer to the question of “what shall we eat?” is often different from ours. For example: when we’d stop for ice cream, Shengrong would select a mung bean flavored popsicle. I wish I’d taken a picture – they were such a delightful shade of green. I tried one and was nonplussed. The American tourists whom Shengrong helped order snacks at the Beijing museum weren’t too keen on the mung bean flavor either. Can’t say I blame them.
Another cultural quirk that I wasn’t really expecting is that nobody in China drinks anything cold. And heaven forbid you should want a cool glass of water… the best you’re likely to do is a cup of hot tea minus the tea. Even the bottled water would be on a shelf and not in a cooler. As someone drinks a lot of water in a typical day, this took some getting used to.

The table at a place where we ate in Wuhan. There are a few differences between the Chinese restaurant experience and the one we have here. For starters, larger restaurants are usually better quality: the concept of a tiny restaurant with a limited menu and delicious food doesn’t really exist there. People tend to dine out in large groups (the bigger the crowd, the more dishes you can order, after all) and often eat in private rooms. Chinese place-settings are different from what a Westerner would expect: one receives chopsticks (naturally), a spoon, a small plate on which to put bones and other things you aren’t going to eat, and a small bowl, in which you put your rice and a few morsels from various dishes.

Three dishes from that meal: soft-shelled turtle, squid, pork.

Brother turtle, up close.

I put some thought into what the strangest thing I ate in China was. High on the list was having oatmeal for breakfast. That, in and of itself, is not unusual, but I’d never eaten oatmeal with chopsticks before, which lent the proceedings a kind of surreal air. I liked breakfast in China generally, and enjoyed the dumplings and the sticky rice with mushrooms and tofu and egg, which is a typical Wuhan breakfast dish.

But no, the strangest thing I ate in China was probably this:

It’s the ovaries of some kind of special frog, stuffed inside a papaya. Apparently considered a delicacy. I’m not sure how the chef who invented that got his inspiration… How was it? Kind of watery and not strongly flavored.

This isn’t really of anything we ate, but I put it in out of interest since it’s broadly food-related:

It’s a little hard to make out because I was far away, but those guys are dynamiting fish in Wuhan’s east lake. I’d never seen that before. The fish were flying out of the water like popcorn.

And lastly, Chinese Dairy Queen. The prices were ridiculously expensive. 26 yuan will get you a frosty, or 26 servings of rice at any other restaurant. Your choice.

Food01 Nov 2007

As I type this, I’m eating the best pizza I’ve yet had in Ottawa, a “Bronson’s Special”, from Bronson Pizza. The guy who took my order described it as “Vegetarian, with pepperoni and bacon.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t really resist ordering a pizza thus described.

Not possessing a menu, I had phoned up looking for “the works” (which, to my mind, is some variation on pepperoni, mushrooms, green pepper, onions, and bacon and-or ground beef), and this was apparently the closest they had. “Vegetarian, with pepperoni and bacon” translates as the aforementioned meats, plus mushrooms, green pepper, onions, tomatoes and green olives. I’m not really accustomed to eating green olives and tomato on a pizza but the end result is tasty, and the pizza is well-constructed, meaning that the sauce has a good taste and the cheese is thick and covers some of the toppings.

So, Bronson Pizza gets a little gold star and, in all likelihood, a repeat customer. There are still lots of other pizza places to audition though… I’m not really used to having such a range of choice. In Fredericton, there was the Brazilian pizza place that folded the first year I was there, the two adequate pizza places that kept me going after that, and the new place that opened just across from my apartment a month before I left.

Food and Musings04 Apr 2007

“It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious”

Alfred North Whitehead, “Science and the Modern World”

Despite my lack of recent blogging, I’m not dead, though I am slightly closer to death than usual on account of a cold that won’t go away (before you accuse me of being a wuss, notice that I did say “slightly”).

Anyhow, enough on my health, let’s talk about my dietary quirks. I don’t like breakfast cereal. I haven’t consumed cereal for breakfast on a regular basis since I lived at home. For me, breakfast is usually orange juice, yogurt, and maybe a banana or a bagel.

In the morning, when my systems are still coming online and I am shaking off that feeling of dying that goes along with waking from sleep (I understand most people drink coffee, but in my case the hyperactive cure is worse than the disease), I am picky about what I eat. The idea of sitting down to a bowl of wheaty blobs slowly turing to paste in a pool of milk made increasingly lumpy by little cereal fragments first thing in the morning is enough to turn my stomach inside out and make me want to crawl back under the covers.

Other people eat cereal, and apparently derive some benefit from the experience. At least, that’s what I was thinking while I detoured down the cereal aisle at the grocery store the other day. By the time I’d reached the end I’d picked up a box of brown sugar frosted mini wheats and resolved to give them a try. Try them I did, that evening before bed. They still dissolved in the milk in that awful way cereal does, but I found, with my body awake and thus my constitution fully up to the task, I didn’t mind as much. I was able to ignore the texture and focus on the taste. I think I might make a habit of eating breakfast in the evening when I am able to enjoy it. I wonder why they market cereal as a breakfast food…

I wonder if, with this blog post about breakfast, I have strayed into that murky realm of blogging about the mundane details of my life that no one cares about. If so, dear reader, I apologize.

Reminds me of one of those New Online Trends(tm) that Ric Romero will be reporting on in a few years: video blogging. I’m not talking about polished efforts like Ze Frank’s, but rather the semi-stream of consciousness 10 minute webcam soliloquy popularized by YouTube. Apparently there is a vibrant community of people on YouTube discussing all sorts of interesting topics by posting monologues to each-other. I say apparently because I’ve never really managed to sit through one, they are far too painful. People speak much more slowly than I can read. If you think reading drivel is bad, try listening to it word… by… word… with… ah… none… of…. the… ah… ums… and… ah’s… removed.

What is interesting about this phenomenon is that people aren’t really talking to each other, they are making short speeches to each other. The format is more like a debate than a conversation. Perhaps, even as YouTube and its ilk bring about the death of the written word, there will be a corresponding resurgence of oratory?

In the mean time, here’s an appropriate episode of the comic called “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal”.

Food and News18 Feb 2007

Shengrong and I celebrated Chinese New Year with the folks from the Overseas Chinese Students’ Association. We made hot pot and dumplings (I say “we” because I was allowed to wrap a few dumplings) and sang Karaoke. Some of the dumplings were really good – Shengrong says they are best when freshly prepared, and they definitely beat the dumplings I’ve had on other occasions.

Karaoke was mostly in Chinese, though some people sang English songs. I did Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House”, which has very few lyrics. I got to play a lot of air guitar, and smashed my pretend instrument at the end.

The highlight of the night for me was the Korean science student trying to do magic tricks for Shengrong, who is possibly the worst audience-member ever.

Magician: “Choose a number on this six-sided die, and seal it in this container, with your chosen number facing up”.

(Shengrong chooses “one” and puts the die in the container).

(Magician gets her two blow on the container, puts it in a larger container, shakes it beside his ear, does all manner of “magical” preparations).

Magician: “Your number was… one!”

Shengrong: “No! You are wrong! That wasn’t my number! Why do you think I chose number one? You clearly can’t do magic!” etc.

Food and Musings08 Feb 2007

I’ve been coming home late a few nights a week due to my TA duties. On those evenings I rarely want to cook. This has lead to my new motto:

In a hurry? Eat some curry!

My friend Gomed put me on to this stuff: India House Kahri. It gets his Delhi stamp of approval. It’s rather tasty and easy to prepare: just heat it and serve over some basmati rice. Also, he related that the approved method of basmati rice preparation is to heat water and rice in a 2:1 ratio, uncovered, until the water is gone. Put a lid on and let stand 10 minutes.

Has the added benefit of making your kitchen smell nice.

Food and News07 Aug 2006

Shengrong came over to teach me how to make spring rolls on Saturday. The results were tasty and I’ve only just ran out. Now I am spring-roll-less and sad. I suppose I can remedy that situation by my own arts, however (such is the joy of learning how to do a new thing).

Our spring roll session began at the “Friendship Store Convenience and Chinese Grocery” where we bought some bean-based noodles and other odds and ends. While in the shop I noticed that the beverage display case beside the one labelled “Pepsi” had the slogan “Crunchy and Refreshing” with a picture of a beaming Chinese fellow on it. I’m fairly sure I’ve not seen those two adjectives together on a drink cooler before…

Anyhow, despite some minor hiccups in the production (Like me accidentally dumping too much oil into the pan in the middle of cooking the spring roll insides – note to self, don’t pour oil left handed…), the spring rolls turned out quite nicely. Prior to Saturday I honestly had no clue how spring rolls were fabricated (“How do they put the tasty bits inside the little tube?”, etc.). I enjoy those little “so *that’s* how they do it!” moments. And, I enjoy spring rolls, so it was a good afternoon all around.

Oh, and I also learned that one of the key factors in spring rolls is to make sure to eat them with sweet chili sauce. This should not be overlooked.

Food and News10 Jun 2006

My new Chinese friend made dinner for me and another friend last night, and oh my, can she cook. She made several dishes, including home-made spring rolls, which were very tasty.

She also presented us with a thousand year egg. If you’ve not seen one of these things: it’s a duck egg that’s black on the outside and green on the inside.

We westerners were quite skeptical of this, though our host shook her head and said “It’s just an egg”.

I tried some, and somewhat anticlimactically, it tasted like, wait for it… an egg.

Also, despite previous threats, she didn’t make me eat with chopsticks. I did give the chopsticks a try, causing a bit of amusement for the others, but in the end I was told “We don’t want to wait all night for you to eat” and handed a fork.

Food and Musings11 May 2006


Natural evolution of human language, or sign of the apocalypse?

Most of the time when you hear something couched in such polarized language, you are facing a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is, of course, that best of logical fallacies: one asserts that it’s either A or B, with no room for A-and-a-half. “You’re either with us or against us”, no middle ground.

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Food and News12 Feb 2006

For Christmas, my dad gave me a pasta machine. He chose this gift after hearing me lament “If it didn’t cost so much I’d eat fresh pasta all the time”. Tonight I finally tried it out. Things looked bad early on as I got the dough mixture horribly wrong. For a while it looked like I wouldn’t be making much besides a large mess (As I type this I’ve discovered yet another enclave of flour clinging to my arm for dear life). I eventually got it sorted, and embarked on the long ritual of cranking dough through the rollers.

My noodles turned out surprisingly well. The taste was a little off (see earlier comments about screwing up the dough mixture) but the fact that the end result was actually recognizable as pasta has me keen to try again.

I ate my first batch in a tasty (and easy) chicken pesto recipe I learned from my fellow research-group student Dave. He was kind enough to have me over for dinner, gaming and cognitive science debates on Friday night.

We played Settlers of Catan, and with my host’s help I acquitted myself rather well, managing to get into a 3-way time for first place a few turns before the end of the game (which a more experienced player managed to clinch).

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