How China Changed My Relationship with Food

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When I first visited Shanghai in 2016 for 6 weeks, I visited 蔡先生 Cai Xiansheng, a local Shanghainese restaurant chain. Trying their 小笼包 Xiaolong Bao changed my life. There were other places I tried, but honestly I believe Cai Xiansheng’s Xiaolong Bao to be the best in Shanghai. It wasn’t until 2017-2020 that my taste buds changed and I fell in love with Chinese food.

As a child, I was a more picky eater (sans fruits) and didn’t really explore my options with food until I got older. Prior to visiting China, as a teen and beyond, I had been exploring different types of world foods. Doing so helped me become more open-minded. My hometown is a melting pot of cultures. I saw the world at home in the US through different types of food: Bosnian, Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, and Chinese.

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(Check out some of my dishes I made since I’ve been home from China.)

However, living in China and eating delicious Chinese food every single day changed my perception on what food should taste like. Why so?

Well, for the meat-eaters, China prepares their meat differently than that of the US. My Chongqing brother had told me once that butchers in China drain the blood of the animals after slaughter. Apparently draining the blood makes the meat more tender. This I can agree on as I had first hand experience with trying multiple dishes which still make my mouth water!

For the veggies, I remember them mainly fresh, and crisp. I had the best lychees in China and daydream of their taste. It was also there I discovered yellow watermelon, an absolute summertime favorite. But, don’t get me wrong, mangoes still are my #1 fruit. Pair it with coconut milk…that is when I decided this combination is heaven on earth.

The foods I have tried make me want to replicate several different dishes or even attempt to. However, every time I cooked something, I now have the highest expectations for my food to taste well. This isn’t just for my cooking, it is for all types of foods I try. Does my cooking always meet my expectations? Not always. I am though, grateful for my boyfriend who eats whatever I cook. Whether it be my attempt at cooking Vietnamese food and Chinese cuisine. It may not be like the taste I had when I was in China, but it is good enough.

Holly Hollins
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