1. Most people drink milk contrary to common Western belief. OK cheese and butter are definitely hard to find, but yoghurt sales are definitely a growth area. Expect to see plenty of imports from Europe and New Zealand. It seems that many prefer to have foreign milk and are wary of some local suppliers.
2. If coffee is found in hotel rooms it’s instant with premixed dried milk and sugar; normally from that rogue company known for selling formula milk powder for babies to people who can’t afford it and who don’t have a clean water supply!
3. There is a huge variety of green vegs that you’ve never seen before!
4. OK we know that there are many unexpected meat dishes in China but you won’t be served them everyday! Relax! And there’s a ton of really delicious cuts from ‘normal’ sources. Pig’s trotters may sound off-putting but really they’re very delicious, as are crispy chicken feet!
5. Fresh water crayfish are very common but have very tough skins and contain far less meat than shrimp/prawns. But in Changsha they’re cooked with chilli and garlic and are so delicious. And often seafood can be picked out live at your favourite restaurant.
6. I’m still struggling to open sunflower seeds after nearly 3 years of training! I’m sure I expend more energy getting the things out than I get back from the contents! While we’re on the subject of nuts you’ll need to learn to pick up peanuts one at a time with chopsticks (less than one year)!
OK, too much information, I know!
7. Lotus Flower roots are delicious. Tasty and crunchy even when cooked.
8. Spicy lamb kebabs from street vendors are v tasty. Often these street vendors may be Muslim.
9. So far I much prefer the spicy food in Hunan than dishes found in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangdong, and especially love my wife’s freshwater fish done with chilli and ginger.
10. In the shops/markets expect customers to be handling/choosing raw meat with their bare hands.
Image: use your imagination!
OK, I lied. There are more than 10! Another surprise – I love my food!
11. Baozi 包子(steamed white rolls stuffed with meat) Delicious. The price and taste vary from one outlet to another. The length of the queue outside is a good rule of thumb!
12. Chou DoFu 臭豆腐 (stinky tofu). It’s not really stinky at all but comes dripping in a thin spicy sauce. I’m just drooling at the thought (but it’s not everyone’s favourite)! I have a choice outlet near to us but I’ve been told the best in Changsha are just outside the IDMall in the centre of town (incidentally, where the ice skating rink is) but I haven’t had an opportunity to try theirs yet. There’s also the reputedly best hamburger joint/stakehouse there too but it’s very pricey compared to Chinese restaurants. While on the subject of tofu, you’ve NEVER seen so many varieties available under one roof. Back in England you’d be lucky to find a single type at your local deli.
13. Jiaozi 饺子 (Chinese dumplings). You’ll find that there are lots of varieties from meat to mushroom. You need to find your favourite café; they vary quite a bit. One of my favourite places you can get 20 (enough for a full meal) for £1.20. I’m still waiting for a Chinese take away in Glasgow to come up with Haggis dumplings! Yum.
14. The Chinese don’t like sweet things, right? OK, then why are there huge sweet sections in every supermarket in addition to the chocolate shelves by the cash till?
Well… they might not eat deserts at the end of a meal – but occasionally will have slices of water melon. In fact if you eat at someone’s home you’ll more than likely have fruit (and those dreaded nuts already mentioned) BEFORE the meal. But at other secret times they’ll be eating those sweet things – and I can tell you some of them are SOOOO sweet; much more than a westerner might be familiar with!
And they are quite partial to sponge cake! In all shapes and sizes. We have a small local bakery that does some superb ones and one of the people servicing speaks remarkably good English – pretty unusual in Changsha. And for birthdays they’ll come up with a sponge gateaux and cream; loads of cream; death by cream!