This is what a typical meal in China usually looks like. A bunch of plates of food are brought to the table, usually not all at once, but slowly as the meal goes on. Everyone just helps themselves with their chopsticks from the main dishes in the center. Most often, the Chinese people just go directly from the serving dish to their mouth, bypassing the plate that is in front of them altogether. Most of us Americans aren't as used to this and pile everything on our plates and then eat it from there. Often times, you're quite sure exactly what is in the plate until you taste it. Although certain items appeared in quite a few meals, so we were able to figure those ones out right away. But at each meal we seemed to have at least one or two new things that we had never tried before.
Most of the time the food was fairly "normal" stuff, just maybe prepared a little differently than we were used to. For example, pretty much every meal had rice, some green vegetables, and some chicken and/or pork. We would have duck a fair amount of the time as well. Sometimes it would be something a little more bizarre, like the turtle, or sauteed eel, and even a few things that I wasn't quite sure what it was even after tasting it.
Breakfast is probably the most different of the meals here. It's kind of like every other meal - lots of rice, vegetables, and meat. They do have eggs, although a lot of times it's either hard boiled (and soaked in soy sauce) or this whipped, egg stuff that is about the consistency of jello. Although our hotel does have a fried egg station that is very popular with the Americans every morning! They don't really have any other traditional American breakfast foods in China. They also don't really drink coffee here - they usually drink tea. So the hotel and the school prepared for our arrival by buying some coffee, but they have to ration it out so that it lasts the whole trip. I don't drink coffee anyway, or really even enjoy breakfast foods that much, so it hasn't been a huge deal for me, but for most people, this is one of the hardest things to get used to as far as Chinese food is concerned.
But most of the food actually tastes pretty good. It's definitely different than what we would normally eat in America, but almost none of what we've eaten has been "bad." Sometimes the temperature, or the consistency, or the seasonings are a little strange, or at least not very similar to anything we have eaten before - and that can make it difficult to get the "courage" to pick it up with your chopsticks and taste it. But when you do, it's usually a pleasant enough experience that you will decide to finish the rest of it that is on your plate. Sometimes you might even reach for a second helping of it. Or sometimes you might decide that it's not for you, and you won't finish it - but honestly, that is the exception.
I guess I've always been a little more "adventurous" with my food than some people, but I've really enjoyed the excitement of trying all of these new things. There are some other adventurous teachers on the trip too who have fully embraced all of the Chinese cuisine. And even the people who are much less adventurous at home with their meals, have usually at least sampled as much of the new food as possible - sometimes coming away from it by saying that they really enjoyed it.
And for those of us who really can't do the Chinese food very well (*cough, Chris, *cough) they've also been trying to Americanize our food as much as possible. They even served fried chicken legs the other day. And they were pretty good.
So I'm in China for another 3 days, and I have very few Chinese meals left. One of those meals is going to be a big, closing banquet, and should have lots of good, "exciting" food! I'm looking forward to it! I'm sure it will be really good, like most of what was at the opening banquet. Or maybe it will be much stranger than that, who knows. All I can do is just eat it!
As weird as this might sound, I'm actually going to miss the food here when I come back home. But the first thing that I'm gonna do when I get back to the Detroit airport is eat at the National Coney Island there, and the first meal that I have when I get back to Charlotte is going to be Mexican. Mmm mmm, can't wait! Ha ha.