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Manuel

Fed up with Chinese food restaurants...

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Manuel

I have spent the last three years in China and lived in various places, thus I have been exposed to different cooking styles. Initially I was very excited about the food as it was all new to me, but lately I feel essentially fed up with the food served in most Chinese restaurants.

My girlfriend, Chinese, agrees and feels equally sick of restaurant food. She points out, however, that restaurnat food is very different from Chinese home-made food. So I spent a couple of weeks at her parents last year to find out for myself, and the food was indeed completely different and far better than everything else I had tried in any restaurant.

Bearing that in mind, the purpose of this thread is to find out how everybody else is coping with Chinese food restaurant offerings. This discussion does not include Korean/Indian/Italian/whatever style restaurants in China.

Here is a summary of my impressions:

  1. Food too oily.
  2. Food too salty.
  3. Food not always fresh, occasionally odd-tasting.
  4. Food too refined (no whole grains).
  5. All food tastes too similar: every dish appears to be a different permutation of the same ingredients drenched in cheap oil, salt and MSG.
  6. There is no single dish I particularly crave.
  7. Overall I don't get a sense of "healthy eating".

That would cover most eating-out situations. However, on the rare ocassions when I am starving and I've only got 15 kuai in my wallet. I am forced to explore the lower end of the spectrum, dangerous territory, and find:

  1. All barbequed meats taste the exact same and if I order different meats (e.g. lamb, pork and beef) I hardly ever can tell which is which.
  2. Meat dishes have hardly any meat in them (is it really meat? How fresh is it?).
  3. Beef dishes in this price range often feature fake beef.

Aware that moaning won't get me anywhere, I have armed myself with a range of cooking utensils, most notably a pressure cooker and a non-stick fry pan, and I am doing all my meals now. It's amazing what you can do with local produce alone, and how much tastier and healthier it is. And it's actually a lot cheaper than eating out!

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imron

Several years back over the course of several weekends, I did a cooking course in China. I was amazed at how much sugar (literally handfuls) was used in many common dishes (宫保鸡丁, anything 鱼香, tomato and eggs etc). It certainly made me think twice before ordering certain dishes after that. In some restaurants, you also have the problem of oil quality.

The solution is as you said. Eat out less, cook for yourself more, but if you find yourself in a restaurant go for things without too much oil or sauce e.g. veggie dishes such as 蒜茸西兰花

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kdavid

I've been here seven years, and had chronic diarrhea for about six of those years. Easily enough, it was Chinese food that was the culprit.

Taobao and Western supermarkets which carry lots of imports have been my saving grace. I cook almost everything I eat now; a good mix of Chinese and Western.

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Manuel

:P Whenever I eat out I always order 蒜茸西兰花 !!! I didn't know about the sugar though, so thanks for the heads-up!

Although I am not a vegetarian, I hardly eat any meat in China. Past and recent reports of problems with animal products (milk, eggs, chicken), as well as the issue of fake meat, tell me that it's safest to avoid animal products as much as possible unless you can personally check their are OK (e.g. the farmer lives down the road and is your mate). This way, it's been nearly two years since my last kerbside BBQ, and two months since my last restaurant meal.

I have also moved away from refined foods as this appears to be key to good health. I used to think this would be impossible in China, until I discovered Taobao. I no longer stock any sugar, biscuits or instant noodles. Instead I sweeten my tea with honey, and my morning muesli with raisins. I have completely replaced white rice with brown rice, whole meal rye and wheat. Just switching to whole grains can greatly boost your vitality and well-being, and it turns out they cost about as much as refined grains.

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skylee

How do you eat mueslis when you avoid animal products (like milk)? And honey is an animal product too. Do you buy imported honey only?

I don't sweeten my coffee and tea at all, as there is enough sugar in other foodstuffs.

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anonymoose
How do you eat mueslis when you avoid animal products (like milk)?

I always eat mine with water.

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gato
two months since my last restaurant meal.

It seems that you are still traumatized from the experience. :)

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realmayo

Chinese food, which I'd only had a handful of times before, was one of the real joys of living in China when I first went there almost 15 years ago. When I went back a few years ago though it was disappointing. I don't know if the novelty had worn off, or if standards in the non-expensive restaurants have fallen because prices for the ingredients have gone up. Knowledge about how the disgusting and possibly dangerous ways that animals are raised and vegetables are grown must have introduced a bit of a psychological barrier too. One of the nicest things about China is now one of the most disgusting. Can't hold back progress I guess!

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Manuel

Muesli with water here too, not great but Chinese porridge doesn't use milk either.

Regarding honey, I never actually though of it as an animal product. Most problems with animal products hinge on the way the animals are kept. Bees, however, are free to roam and choose their own food, unlike most animals kept for meat, milk and eggs. With honey my main concern is whether or not it has been fiddled with afterwards by humans e.g. by adding syrups and colours. With lack of standards and regulations in China, the most expensive jar on the shelf is not always the best.

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skylee

Ah thanks. I have never thought of eating muesli with water.

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realmayo

Honey: suggest you google:

china fake honey

Edit: don't worry Skylee, I wasn't addressing you there!

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chuasan

Yea I'm fed up with Chinese restaurants serving too oily foods but yea it depends on what kind of resto you go to. Try chinese dimsum..

About the fake honey, you'll easily differentiate fake with the real honey. after some time in the refrigerator, the fake honey solidifies like sugar while the real honey stays viscous.

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xiaocai
About the fake honey, you'll easily differentiate fake with the real honey. after some time in the refrigerator, the fake honey solidifies like sugar while the real honey stays viscous.

This is not always the case. The main sugars in honey are glucose and fructose. Glucose tends to crystallise at lower temperature but fructose rarely does (This also explains that why corn syrup or inverted syrup doesn't crystallise). You will find that some regular honey like 槐花蜜 is less likely to crystallise than some "premium" ones like 荔枝蜜. And studies have actually demonstrated that our bodies can handle glucose much better than fructose. The honey which crystallises most will probably be 油菜蜜, which may be the cheapest and most abundant type of honey in China, but it doesn't mean it's not good or inferior in quality.

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chuasan

Really? when I mixed both of my honeys of different brands in one jar. The 'real' honey stayed the same while the so called 'fake' just crystallized on top of the real. They wouldn't mix well together.

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xiaocai

I was merely pointing out that honey which crystallises may not be always fake. And in order to generalise your own observations and come to the conclusion in post #13, you will need to do much more research and experiments than mixing two brands of honey you bought.

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chuasan

Well thanks for pointing that out lol now I'd have to do more research before impulsively throwing out 'fake' honey

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xiaocai

If it was that easy to tell fake honey from real ones then it would not have become a big problem.

Maybe 无锡 is a more expensive to live in. In Sichuan, even in Chengdu you can still have a decent medium bowl of noodles or dumplings (well most likely will be vegie filling only though) with a drink for 15 RMB. You can even ask the vendor for less oil and salt if you feel like to. The hygiene standard of this kind restaurants sometimes can be questionable, and it is something hard to avoid in many developing countries (and maybe also some developed countries) and China is no exception. I'm hoping it will improve over time. But as for food price, it will probably never come down, if not going up...

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AucklandLove

I am living with a Chinese family and their food is amazing. I cannot agree with your restaurant experience in Beijing though. Maybe it is only because I haven't been here that long, but love Chinese food in China. Have you ever been to a Chinese restaurant abroad? It is much better in China.

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skylee
Have you ever been to a Chinese restaurant abroad? It is much better in China.

This is perhaps true in a lot of places (like in the Baltic countries, for example), but the quality of food of many Chinese restaurants in Canada and Australia is good (I have been to Chinese restaurants in Australia. I have never been to Canada but that's what people say.)

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