All words and phrases associated to the verb 'to eat' were what I learnt first in Chinese.
Eating is an important part of the culture, and 'nǐ chī le ma?' (or have you eaten?) is often used as a sort of greeting.
First of all I'm proud to say that I have eaten out pretty much everyday since I have got here - not many places where I have been able to say that. The sheer amount and variety of restaurants is truly astounding. I could have easily gone to a different restaurant for every meal and still not tried all the places in my local area. We only just discovered two days ago that there is a large hot pot restaurant right next to our apartment building- score!
Many foods I was already familiar with, or had had something vaguely similar, but there are many vegetables that I have never seen in my life, and some cooking methods that are totally nouvelle...
One of the first things that caught my attention were the brown eggs. Eggs are boiled in a sort of spicy stew, so as to make them a dark brown colour all the way through- and they have an almost cinnamon-ey flavour to them.
This little dessert looks deceptively like ice-cream, but is in fact rock-hard balls of i-don't-know-what. After some research we discovered they are 'tongyuan' - a rice-dough-ball that is meant to be boiled and eaten in hot water. Who knew?
Walking around supermarkets is a proper expedition - oreos are very popular, but come in an unimaginable variety of colours and flavours:
The firm line that is drawn between savoury and sweet in the west is not prevalent here
Where Tesco used to tempt me with chocolate and sweets at the check-out in England, here it lays out a proud display of chicken feet, vacuum-packed and ready to snack on.
I was happy to find some sushi, but again, very different to what I have had before. There is a lovely takeaway that makes the sushi up fresh for you right before your eyes! Having been to a sushi-making class, I know it is difficult to get it exactly right, but these guys are very good.
When ordering food, you can order just a certain dish or a set meal, that comes with a meat dish, egg, vegetables, soup and rice all in separate little bowls - so conveniently balanced.
Best thing about Xiamen? The fresh seafood! So fresh you can point to a fish swimming in a tank and have it steamed and served in no time!
One restaurant served personal mini hot-pots for your to cook your own. I was not aware that I was supposed to cook the lettuce as well, and my Chinese colleagues were not aware it could be eaten raw- so it was an education for both of us.
I liked the noodle soup restaurant where I can choose all sorts of seafood to be thrown in, and I can choose a spicy or clear soup. Mmmm!
Street food is spectacularly colourful too -
We do come across western food now and then, and we make the most of it, although it is usually very expensive. Had the most delightful greek food in a little restaurant in Hongwen:
My brother-in-law gave me one piece of advice as I was leaving to come to China: never refuse any food- just try everything. Unfortunately I have not found the bravery inside me to do that yet, but I'm sure it is there somewhere. So I have not tried chicken feet, frog, snake soup, pig intestines or pig trotter yet. It is quite logical not to waste those parts of the animal, but my conditioned mind is not able to see them as food quite yet.