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Eating Western Food in China


liuzhou
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I quickly learned in China to avoid “Western food” restaurants. Just as Chinese food in the west bears little resemblance to the real thing, those restaurants offering western food here fall well short. I am not saying there are zero good places, but the very few there are tend to be in Shanghai and very expensive.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it is worth repeating. Most “western” restaurants are managed by people who have never really eaten western food. They employ chefs who have never really cooked or eaten “western food”. They may have seen pictures of “western food”; that’s all. Or they just copy the menus from other Chinese “western food” places.

Liuzhou Jia Yong Trading Company was started in the 1990s by a Mr Tan who took advantage of favourable tax allowances for disabled people starting businesses. This scheme was introduced under pressure from then Chinese leader Deng Xiao Ping’s eldest son who was himself disabled after falling, jumping or being pushed from a window during the cultural revolution. He has since worked to improve conditions for the disabled in China.

 

Helped by the tax advantage in the early years, Jia Yong expanded to become the biggest grocery chain in the area. They also undertake charitable work among the disabled. Several years ago Mr Tan sold his chain of supermarkets and convenience stores to Lianhua, China’s largest retailer. He made millions and semi-retired. However, he has kept a keen interest in catering and opened a number of restaurants in the city including a chain of KFC look-alikes. A number of his restaurants are ‘foreign food themed’. Why? Oh why? He knows nothing about foreign food.

 

The worst of his forays into western food is a restaurant on the 3rd floor of the large Bubugao Plaza shopping mall. In the advanced depths of his delusion, he has persuaded himself that he has not only an Italian restaurant but that he is an Italian Expert. There is nothing, zero, zilch, niente Italian about the place. This is NOT an Italian restaurant by any stretch of the imagination.

 

LoveIK.jpg

 

Any real “Italian Expert” would probably know that Boston, Hawaii, Texas, Mexico and New Orleans (the supposed origin of the pizzas they list on their menu), are somewhere far to the west of Italy; or the east if you go the other way. He would also know that the signature dish, the “Thin crust pizza in Naples” as his Mis-Translate software renders for him is not in any way related or even on nodding terms with anything Neapolitan.

 

Neapolitan pizza is strictly defined (and legally protected). This shit comes nowhere even close. It is an approximation of  an OK pepperoni and olive excuse for a pizza. Neapolitan pizza does not contain cheap, nasty, mechanically retrieved meat sausage or bottled, dyed olives. In fact, it doesn’t contain sausage or olives of any kind. But it does contain tomato and buffalo mozzarella (Their sad excuse for a pizza doesn’t contain the latter. And shows little evidence of the former.)

 

But something concerns me even more.

 

So we begin. My visit. Apart from one almost happy experience, it was much worse than I even anticipated. I rolled up at 17:39 trying to be ahead of the 6 pm rush. Good thinking. The place was almost deserted. I found a seat and a young waitress handed me a menu then told me my name. Seems she knew me from somewhere. Then she left me alone to peruse the selection on offer – bliss. I was expecting the usual Chinese waitress intimidation.

 

The menu begins with set meals then jumps to drinks then desserts then hops towards pizzas, noodles and rice dishes. Finally it ends up with a sparse four mains (sadly listed under the idiotic American term, “entrees”.)

 

Ten minutes later, I place my order. I have decided to go for the “Naples Pizza” just because it is the one they trumpet. I also choose the “Fresh Porcini Rice”, basically because I don’t believe it. Then I throw in a salmon salad. I also ask for a glass of wine from their extensive list of three, none of which are Italian. All of which are crap. Seven minutes later my glass of red wine turns up – ice cold! ¥18 

 

Italian experts who don’t know to serve red wine at room temperature? Still it does have the advantage that you can’t taste it.

 

First food to arrive is the salmon salad. Here it is pictured on the menu.

 

 2.jpg

 

Apologies for picture quality. I was using my primitive cell phone to take pictures of bad pictures!

 

Here is what turned up:

 

1.jpg

 

Yes. Some lunatic has decided to improve the salad by drowning it in Kewpie Thousand Island Dressing. I hate Thousand Island Dressing! Bizarrely, it also comes with a bowl of soy sauce and wasabi. They are just chucking everything Japanese at it. Except anything remotely Italian. I push it to the side and ignore it. ¥23.

 

Next, at 18:07, my pizza turns up. It looks fine, but, as I’ve said, nothing like anything recognised as a Naples pizza. As I’ve also said, it could be a reasonable, if dull, pepperoni and black olive pizza. It ain’t dull. The first bite has me gagging and downing the glass of water they kindly provided me with when I sat down. This thing is so oversalted! I am very salt tolerant, but I feel like I’ve just exceeded the recommended annual dosage in one small slice of pizza. It is inedible! Utterly disgusting. ¥33

 

Probably I should have stuck with the “Larry Italian Pizza” which features both “blacl (sic) pepper beef short ribs” and that Italian favourite, ”kungpao chicken”. As eaten by every Italian on a daily basis! What drugs are these people on? And who the hell is Larry? Their drug dealer?

 

Just as I fall into despair, the dish I have least confidence in turns up. My “Fresh Porcini Rice”. To my astonishment this looks nothing like its depiction on the website or leaflets. It actually looks like a  reasonable Italian risotto. I take a tentative forkful and it’s delicious. Perfectly cooked and flavoured with those porcini. I’m happy at last.

 

But it’s a bubble about to burst. As I tuck in, I begin to find foreign objects lurking within. Large pieces of raw, cheap, fatty bacon. This is not mentioned on the menu. Lucky I’m not a vegetarian. I wade through the rice digging out the intruders, then settle back to the rice and mushrooms. I still don’t know if the porcini were fresh or dried – I suspect the latter, but they were fine. However, they could have been washed a bit better. As I reach the bottom of the dish it gets grainier and grainer until I feel I’m eating sand.

 

I can’t say I was disappointed. I got more or less what I expected. Bad, non-Italian food. It wasn’t the worst meal I’ve had in Liuzhou, but it ran a close second. My friendly waitress, whom I still cannot place doesn't even glance at the uneaten food as I ask to pay. Situation normal. Not her concern.

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Posted (edited)

The same place nearly caused a diplomatic incident

 

One of their promotional leaflets trumpets the joy of “Week cheddar cheese soup”. Another Computer Mis-Translate disaster. The word ‘week’ gets thrown into the ‘translation’ as it is the literal meaning of the first of the two characters used to phonetically approximate “cheddar” (周打 - zhōu dá).

 

cheddar-soup.jpg

 

But this is not the major offence. The Chinese name is somewhat different. Wars have been fought over less than this – Hundred Year Wars.

 

According to the Chinese the soup is 法国周打芝士汤, which translates as ‘French cheddar cheese soup’.

 

French cheddar cheese? France might be the only country in the world which doesn’t make cheddar cheese. I can hear Napoleon and De Gaulle turning in their respective graves. The good people of Cheddar probably ain’t too happy either.
 

Can’t they see the irony in claiming to be Italian experts then attempting to sell French cheese which actually originated in England? There is nothing Italian about it! Idiozia!
 

This is just ignorance. As I’ve asked before, what makes people open restaurants ‘specialising’ in food they know nothing about? It can’t be about making money. Few do. One pizza place in that mall didn’t even survive the first month.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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I'm surprised you ordered the salmon salad since there was c*rn even in the photo on the menu!  I don't abhor c*rn as you do, but on a salad like that is just gross.

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I went to a "Italian" restaurant once in one of the larger hotel chains in Shenzhen (I think it was an InterContinental). We had negotiations there and decided to take the lunch buffet, much to the delight of our Chinese negotiation partners who went beserk on the offerings.

 

It wasn't all bad - what I vividly remember was the overcooked pasta & 10.000 sauces bar (that was very popular), where actually some of the sauces were ok (basic tomato sauce for example), yet most suffered from a heavy hand of sugar and almost all had an incredible amount of black pepper added. They had a minestrone, that was very decent and also some grilled meats, that - while not specifically Italian - could stem from a Western buffet, too. Plenty of cold boiled seafood (like in any Chinese buffet restauran), but with balsamic vinegar and olive oil as the dipping sauce options. And a table with plastic cheeses. And - as probably the only restaurant in my time in China - they served drinks (including wine) cold without any prior request.  

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6 minutes ago, pastrygirl said:

People who think there's no such thing as bad pizza haven't been to Asia 🙃

Not that there isn't plenty of bad pizza all across America, but I'm surmising that the bad pizza in Asia is more.... creative.

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I suppose the reason “Chinese food” and “Chinese restaurants” caught on over here in North America Is that despite its very narrow relationship to the real thing it was prepared by people from China. They were obviously limited by the availability of ingredients. Nevertheless they built thriving businesses and a whole new culture of Chinese American/Canadian food.  

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1 minute ago, KennethT said:

Was Motorino in Hong Kong while you were there?


Yeap. Two locations: Wan Chai and Central. I was going „usually“ to the latter (at ~20€+ per pie not that often, though …).

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6 minutes ago, KennethT said:

And in one of your threads, Saigon evidently!

 

Yes. The last really good pizza I ate was in Vietnam just opposite the iconic Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception. The pizza was sublime.

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My most annoying pizza experience in China was in, of course, Pizza Hut. In a moment of folly, I went one day and decided to order what they described on their glossy menu as a lunch special. A half size pizza for one. I think it was a 'pizza supreme' or some such meaningless marketing nonsense.

After 20 minutes the waiter came back and said that they were out of said half sized pizzas, but they had the regular size!

 

I (foolishly) said "Well, if you have the makings for a large one, you must have the makings for a smaller one!"

He blushed, mumbled, twitched and confessed.

"We don't make any pizzas here. They are all assembled in Guangzhou (500 km / 310 miles away*) then frozen. We just heat them up."

 

They also serve their red wine at near frozen temperatures. Perhaps they could stick that in the microwave  too.

*I have added the geographical information. I don't think he knew where he was.

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My boss and I spent a month in Cebu, Philippines. I had no card and no expense acct so I was at his mercy for most dining.

He refused to eat local food except for once, roast pork, grilled marlin ribs and lumpia were highlights.

He did insist we eat Mexican food at the mall attached to our hotel.  It turned out to be Filipino versions of Tex-Mex

I'll never forget his fajitas. They got the look right. Nice sizzle platter with beef, onions an green peppers. A side plate of "cheddar cheese", sour cream, canned guacamole, flour tortillas and beans and rice. 

All topped off with copious amounts really sweet, brown gravy.  

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That's the thing about opposum inerds, they's just as tasty the next day.

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Right next to my home is an allegedly* five-star hotel which features a "western restaurant" among its many food offerings.

 

They do a number of overpriced steaks - none very well. Other dishes include a fish curry over which they melt that gloop known as American cheese (Kraft slice parodies) which is utterly revolting. The cheese is not mentioned on the menu.

Steaks are served with fries. Sometimes. Not necessarily at the same time. In fact, rarely at the same time.

 

We got a regular supply (or did pre-pandemic) of western business people roll into the city for no discernable reason and they would stay in this hotel, never venture out, eat every night in that restaurant and complain about China. They had never been in China even when they were here. They lived in a ridiculous bubble of denial, too scared of the unknown to venture out.

 

*The hotel is state owned. Every Chinese leader has stayed there except Mao. The hotel star rankings are controlled by the state. Wonder how it has five stars?

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18 hours ago, liuzhou said:

I quickly learned in China to avoid “Western food” restaurants. Just as Chinese food in the west bears little resemblance to the real thing, those restaurants offering western food here fall well short. I am not saying there are zero good places, but the very few there are tend to be in Shanghai and very expensive.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it is worth repeating. Most “western” restaurants are managed by people who have never really eaten western food. They employ chefs who have never really cooked or eaten “western food”. They may have seen pictures of “western food”; that’s all. Or they just copy the menus from other Chinese “western food” places.

Liuzhou Jia Yong Trading Company was started in the 1990s by a Mr Tan who took advantage of favourable tax allowances for disabled people starting businesses. This scheme was introduced under pressure from then Chinese leader Deng Xiao Ping’s eldest son who was himself disabled after falling, jumping or being pushed from a window during the cultural revolution. He has since worked to improve conditions for the disabled in China.

 

Helped by the tax advantage in the early years, Jia Yong expanded to become the biggest grocery chain in the area. They also undertake charitable work among the disabled. Several years ago Mr Tan sold his chain of supermarkets and convenience stores to Lianhua, China’s largest retailer. He made millions and semi-retired. However, he has kept a keen interest in catering and opened a number of restaurants in the city including a chain of KFC look-alikes. A number of his restaurants are ‘foreign food themed’. Why? Oh why? He knows nothing about foreign food.

 

The worst of his forays into western food is a restaurant on the 3rd floor of the large Bubugao Plaza shopping mall. In the advanced depths of his delusion, he has persuaded himself that he has not only an Italian restaurant but that he is an Italian Expert. There is nothing, zero, zilch, niente Italian about the place. This is NOT an Italian restaurant by any stretch of the imagination.

 

LoveIK.jpg

 

Any real “Italian Expert” would probably know that Boston, Hawaii, Texas, Mexico and New Orleans (the supposed origin of the pizzas they list on their menu), are somewhere far to the west of Italy; or the east if you go the other way. He would also know that the signature dish, the “Thin crust pizza in Naples” as his Mis-Translate software renders for him is not in any way related or even on nodding terms with anything Neapolitan.

 

Neapolitan pizza is strictly defined (and legally protected). This shit comes nowhere even close. It is an approximation of  an OK pepperoni and olive excuse for a pizza. Neapolitan pizza does not contain cheap, nasty, mechanically retrieved meat sausage or bottled, dyed olives. In fact, it doesn’t contain sausage or olives of any kind. But it does contain tomato and buffalo mozzarella (Their sad excuse for a pizza doesn’t contain the latter. And shows little evidence of the former.)

But something concerns me even more.

 

So we begin. My visit. Apart from one almost happy experience, it was much worse than I even anticipated. I rolled up at 17:39 trying to be ahead of the 6 pm rush. Good thinking. The place was almost deserted. I found a seat and a young waitress handed me a menu then told me my name. Seems she knew me from somewhere. Then she left me alone to peruse the selection on offer – bliss. I was expecting the usual Chinese waitress intimidation.

 

The menu begins with set meals then jumps to drinks then deserts then hops towards pizzas, noodles and rice dishes. Finally it ends up with a sparse four mains (sadly listed under the idiotic American term, “entrees”.)

 

Ten minutes later, I place my order. I have decided to go for the “Naples Pizza” just because it is the one they trumpet. I also choose the “Fresh Porcini Rice”, basically because I don’t believe it. Then I throw in a salmon salad. I also ask for a glass of wine from their extensive list of three, none of which are Italian. All of which are crap. Seven minutes later my glass of red wine turns up – ice cold! ¥18 

 

Italian experts who don’t know to serve red wine at room temperature? Still it does have the advantage that you can’t taste it.

 

First food to arrive is the salmon salad. Here it is pictured on the menu.

 

 2.jpg

 

Apologies for picture quality. I was using my primitive cell phone to take pictures of bad pictures!

 

Here is what turned up:

 

1.jpg

 

Yes. Some lunatic has decided to improve the salad by drowning it in Kewpie Thousand Island Dressing. I hate Thousand Island Dressing! Bizarrely, it also comes with a bowl of soy sauce and wasabi. They are just chucking everything Japanese at it. Except anything remotely Italian. I push it to the side and ignore it. ¥23.

 

Next, at 18:07, my pizza turns up. It looks fine, but, as I’ve said, nothing like anything recognised as a Naples pizza. As I’ve also said, it could be a reasonable, if dull, pepperoni and black olive pizza. It ain’t dull. The first bite has me gagging and downing the glass of water they kindly provided me with when I sat down. This thing is so oversalted! I am very salt tolerant, but I feel like I’ve just exceeded the recommended annual dosage in one small slice of pizza. It is inedible! Utterly disgusting. ¥33

 

Probably I should have stuck with the “Larry Italian Pizza” which features both “blacl (sic) pepper beef short ribs” and that Italian favourite, ”kungpao chicken”. As eaten by every Italian on a daily basis! What drugs are these people on? And who the hell is Larry? Their drug dealer?

 

Just as I fall into despair, the dish I have least confidence in turns up. My “Fresh Porcini Rice”. To my astonishment this looks nothing like its depiction on the website or leaflets. It actually looks like a  reasonable Italian risotto. I take a tentative forkful and it’s delicious. Perfectly cooked and flavoured with those porcini. I’m happy at last.

 

But it’s a bubble about to burst. As I tuck in, I begin to find foreign objects lurking within. Large pieces of raw, cheap, fatty bacon. This is not mentioned on the menu. Lucky I’m not a vegetarian. I wade through the rice digging out the intruders, then settle back to the rice and mushrooms. I still don’t know if the porcini were fresh or dried – I suspect the latter, but they were fine. However, they could have been washed a bit better. As I reach the bottom of the dish it gets grainier and grainer until I feel I’m eating sand.

 

I can’t say I was disappointed. I got more or less what I expected. Bad, non-Italian food. It wasn’t the worst meal I’ve had in Liuzhou, but it ran a close second. My friendly waitress, whom I still cannot place doesn't even glance at the uneaten food as I ask to pay. Situation normal. Not her concern.

 

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this thread.  Gave me a few laughs.

 

I had the same thought as @KennethTregarding the corn on the salad.  I've said it once or twice but I'll say it again.  EVERY time I see or think about corn I think of @liuzhou.  As I was planting 200 seeds of sweet corn in the garden I thought to myself "Boy, would he hate this".

 

As an aside, the jazz band (???) pictured outside the restaurant invokes more of a cajun food type place for me......

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Posted (edited)
On 6/21/2022 at 10:32 PM, Duvel said:

I went to a "Italian" restaurant once in one of the larger hotel chains in Shenzhen (I think it was an InterContinental). We had negotiations there and decided to take the lunch buffet, much to the delight of our Chinese negotiation partners who went beserk on the offerings.

 

It wasn't all bad - what I vividly remember was the overcooked pasta & 10.000 sauces bar (that was very popular), where actually some of the sauces were ok (basic tomato sauce for example), yet most suffered from a heavy hand of sugar and almost all had an incredible amount of black pepper added. They had a minestrone, that was very decent and also some grilled meats, that - while not specifically Italian - could stem from a Western buffet, too. Plenty of cold boiled seafood (like in any Chinese buffet restauran), but with balsamic vinegar and olive oil as the dipping sauce options. And a table with plastic cheeses. And - as probably the only restaurant in my time in China - they served drinks (including wine) cold without any prior request.  

 

Well, as you know, Western people add tons of black pepper to everything. We have black pepper sauce on our cornflakes! Everyone in China knows that!

They have gotten much better at serving cold drinks (sadly including the red wine!), although you do still sometimes have to specify that's what you want. I've trained them well!

冰的 (bīng de), meaning iced is the magic word.
 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Posted (edited)
On 6/22/2022 at 6:17 AM, Shelby said:

As an aside, the jazz band (???) pictured outside the restaurant invokes more of a cajun food type place for me......

 

Yes. I've never worked out what that's about.

 

They do have a thing about saxophones here, though. Santa Claus is regularly shown playing one and they actually think Kenny G is a musician!

 

One of my first batch of students in China came with a couple of her friends to see me - bearing peanuts to munch on during the visit. She ate most of them herself and I renamed her Peanut, to everyone's delight. She is still called Peanut 25 years later and proudly uses the name on Chinese social media. Lovely lady.

She did shock me during that visit. One of them asked me what my hobbies were and I turned the question back to them. Peanut said "I love sex!".

I spat out my mouthful of beer. This very demure,virginal Chinese girl said that? That contradicted everything I'd been told about young Chinese women.

Turned out she had accidentally mispronounced "sax". Yeah! Being a Kenny G fan was her only sin!

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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11 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

 

Yes. I've never worked out what that's about.

 

They do have a thing about saxaphones here, though. Santa Clause is regularly shown playing one and they actually think Kenny G is a musician!

 

One of my first batch of students in China came, with a couple of her friends, to see me - bearing peanuts to munch on during the visit. She ate most of them herself and I renamed her Peanut, to everyone's delight. She is still called Peanut 25 years later and proudly uses the name on Chinese social media. Lovely lady.

She did shock me during that visit. One of them asked me what my hobbies were and I turned the question back to them. Peanut said "I love sex!".

I spat out my mouthful of beer. This very demure,virginal Chinese girl said that? That contradicted everything I'd been told about young Chinese women.

Turned out she had accidentally mispronounced "sax". Yeah! Being a Kenny G fan was her only sin!

That is hilarious!!!!!  Ronnie is still laughing.

 

Sigh.  Kenny G.  That's sad lol.

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When I first moved to China (1996), virtually no western food was available. Butter, olive oil, sardines, anchovies, bread, onions, pasta, capers, coffee and certainly, cheese were all distant dreams.

But slowly it changed. I remember the first time I found olive oil. The first time I took a selfie (or is that shelfie, now) was of me holding a bottle of EVOO I had found! I sent the pic to my family in celebration! I'm still not the selfie type, though. Now EVOO is in every supermarket. As is pasta.

 

We found one shop in town which carried random imports. Butter, liver pâté, anchovies etc. We called it the butter shop. And one day, we even found a bakery making really good French bread.

 

Today, there is very little I can't get. China adopted on-line shopping very early on. In fact, China's equivalent of Black Friday is a bigger earner by far! And while most of the food is, naturally, Chinese there are also a lot of sellers of imported goods.

 

Still can't get haggis, though!

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On 6/21/2022 at 4:08 PM, liuzhou said:

We got a regular supply (or did pre-pandemic) of western business people roll into the city for no discernable reason and they would stay in this hotel, never venture out, eat every night in that restaurant and complain about China. They had never been in China even when they were here. They lived in a ridiculous bubble of denial, too scared of the unknown to venture out.

 

 

I had a cousin like that.  When, in her 70s, she finally married the sugar daddy she'd dreamed of he took her all over the world.  At her insistence they stayed only in "American" hotels.   She complained to my mom that French bread had too many crumbs to eat neatly.  My mother was too shocked to even speak.  To be fair, she was just as bad about American food - always wanted ALL proteins (even fish) WELL DONE.  

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