Hunan and Hubei Food

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Chinese people eat constantly. As soon as we are done with breakfast, my father-in-law’s family suggest we have lunch. And after we have lunch, why not have a snack? Then it’s time to go for dinner.

It drives me crazy, because eating with the family is such a complicated affair. We can’t just have simple food, since we are guests they want to treat us to nice restaurants and fancy food. I appreciate it, of course, but I wish we didn’t have to order twenty dishes and that it wouldn’t take two hours for people to eat. Okay, I’d do that once a day, but certainly not at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

And deep down, I’m more into 小吃, street food or eatery staple foods such as steamed buns, tofu dish, spicy noodles, rice and veggies, etc.

“So, did you like the food? Or are you going to run to McDonald’s with Feng?” Feng’s cousin joked the first time we had dinner together.

“I’m French,” I replied. “French don’t run to McDonald’s, they burn them down.”

I’m not sure why Chinese are convinced that Westerners don’t like their food. Well, many don’t I guess. But I love Chinese food in general—the spices, the flavours, the textures. Okay, I usually don’t crave snake or dog meat (a Hunan specialty), nor chicken feet or pig intestine. I’m happy with just, you know, chicken, beef or pork, regular meat cuts. I love tofu and bean curd. I can have steamed buns, dumplings and Chinese-style pancakes anytime. And I’m pleased to report that sweet bread (often with coconut) is delicious. And egg tarts! Thanks Portugal for that one, they are originally from Macau and can be found anywhere on mainland now.

I tasted a lot of foods to please the family. I enjoyed the famous Hunan dish of steamed eggs, like a French flan but savoury. I wasn’t a big fan of Wuhan’s specialty, fried rice between fried eggs—too greasy—but I had 热干面 (literally ‘hot dry noodles”, noodles with a spicy peanut sauce) several times a day, even though it’s technically breakfast food. I loved spicy eggplants, tofu dish, meat with beans, shredded potatoes, fresh fish…

I’m often surprised how cheap the food is. A bowl of noodles and a few steamed breads are about 10 yuan, this is less than $2 (for the French readers who can still remember Wuhan francs, it’s easy: one yuan equals one franc!). Of course, in fancy restaurants, it can be much more expensive but you often pay for the atmosphere and a sense of cleanness. Many middle-class Chinese think street food is dirty, even though it’s made right in front of you—fancy restaurants can have not-so-spotless kitchens!

On our last day in Changsha, Feng and I decided to try stinky tofu, a kind of fermented aged tofu that… well, stinks. And oh boy, it stinks! The smell is unmistakable. I was wondering what it was at first, and I thought it was blood sausage or some strange meat. Once I learned it was tofu, the gross factor disappeared—weird.

Stinky tofu doesn’t stink anymore after it’s fried, and it’s actually not bad at all, although very spicy. Mark wasn’t a fan, though…

Beef Noodles

Beef Noodles

Yes, Dog on the Menu

Yes, Dog on the Menu

油条, Fried Dough (Breakfast Treat)

油条, Fried Dough (Breakfast Treat)

Rice and Egg, Wuhan's Specialty

Rice and Egg, Wuhan’s Specialty

Steamed Buns and Noodles in Hankou

Steamed Buns and Noodles in Hankou

Steamed Buns

Steamed Buns

Meat Skewers

Meat Skewers

Street Food

Street Food

Fried Dough

Fried Dough

Street Food

Street Food

Dumplings

Dumplings

Buns

Buns

Street Food

Street Food

Pig Feet

Pig Feet

Donut Skewers

Donut Skewers

Donut Skewers

Donut Skewers

Cakes

Cakes

Dumplings

Dumplings

Snack Street in Hankou

Snack Street in Hankou

Coconuts

Coconuts

Noodles

Noodles

Egg Tarts

Egg Tarts

Bakery

Bakery

小笼包 (Shanghai-Style Dumplings)

小笼包 (Shanghai-Style Dumplings)

小笼包 (Shanghai-Style Dumplings)

小笼包 (Shanghai-Style Dumplings)

Rice and Veggies

Rice and Veggies

Eating Chili

Eating Chili

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

The Stinky Tofu Experience

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

18 Comments

  1. Maybe too much fried stuff to my taste?
    From the very little I know of it, I’m not a big fan of Chinese food (you know, the common chinese one you can find everywhere, not the regional specialties)!

  2. I’m hungry too, now…except for that stinky tofu, which is not too pretty. I had my first egg tart ever a few weeks ago – they sell them here in town at the Carisse Studio Cafe on Elgin street. Is there anywhere in Ottawa you recommend for authentic Chinese food?

  3. Thanks for sharing your Chinese adventures. I was waiting for a post on food! I wonder how Chinese people can eat all the time and are not fat. I guess little Mark didn’t like the stinky tofu by the look of his face. lol The stinky tofu looks like a grilled fish skin. Are you tired of chinese food already? my husband would complain after a full week at my parent’s house for eating rice every single day.

  4. Well, you sound like my husband. my family wanted to feed him all the times at his first few trips. But now I would tell them that my husband enjoys street foods. I also let him choose the kind of food he wants then I invite my family to go with us. He got used to bun stuff with coconut or other salty fillings and he tried sticky tofu (I didn’t dare).

  5. In france I really feel like eating all the timing. Breakfast, second breakfast with no-child adults, apero time, lunch, digestif, coffee time, goûter + tea time, first apero, second apero, diner, tisane time !

  6. Aaaaand now I’m hungry. I’m pretty sure I could eat dumplings for breakfast, lunch and dinner 😉
    Love the last photo of Mark!!

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