My husband was recently away in China on business and, not being in the mood to do the weekly shop and in scratching at the back of the cupboard, I discovered a pack of carrot-flavoured somen noodles he brought back from his last trip. This was one of many items from a trove of unusual food items he returned with last time.
Spaghetti Bolognese, as boring a staple as it might be, was the point of great excitement for my son and I on a cold winter’s night. For an Asian twist, and to think of our beloved far away, we decided to blend East and West to create Somen Bolognese. The packet contained only Chinese writing, so I had no idea on cooking time. At least the sell-by date was is numerics that I could understand. All good on that front.
I had never had somen before and had to Google them to know what to do. They are fine noodles of Japanese origin served frequently in broths and often in cold dishes. I expected carrot-flavoured somen to be bright orange…not. It just goes to show our pre-programmed notion of food additives and e-gredients. Also, not much carroty flavour at all. Nevertheless, once you mix somen and Bolognese, the Asian touch disappears quite quickly anyway as did the contents of our bowls.
Our little culinary experiment is indeed nothing compared to the interesting and bizarre items that my husband consumed over one week of travel. He was travelling with a colleague, who I should one-day apologise to for my husband’s ‘no European food’ challenge. Well, he did accept the challenge, so….
I am yet to hear all the details of the strange and bizarre dishes consumed, but what I can share is that in one instance the meal, as written on the menu, stated: pork ball sack stir fry. That could have been true or it could have been pig’s ear with bad Chingrish. Either way, they tried that item and it was delicious. So here’s the thing: no matter which weird parts are cooked, the Chinese consistently know how to pack in flavour. And that is something we should all aspire to.
Above is a photo of another strange item: bread coated in black bean paste. You would say that was a mushroom, right? Wrong!
Over the years of his travels to China, my husband has tried many very interesting dishes and I applaud him for his adventurous spirit and willingness to go beyond the boundaries of what he perceives to be ‘normal’. I will never forget the photograph he took in a Chinese restaurant, in the section where you browse the display cases to choose the exact item you wish to eat, including the exact fish or specific duck that you’d like to have on your menu. In the centre of this delicatessen-like room within the restaurant was a giant glass case in which a live alligator lay floating in water, waiting its turn to be chosen for a big feast.
It’s easy to judge what is unfamiliar when you stand on the outside looking in. I am amazed at the diversity of cultures on our planet and the variety of things that we deem to be acceptable and good to eat. I’d rather have some Bolognese then alligator, yet it fascinates me that there are people who think in a different way and that makes me excited to learn more every day.