My wife and I love to eat out.
During the early years of our marriage, finding good places to eat became a favorite pastime for us. We would read reviews, ask friends for recommendations, even travel for hours to enjoy a good meal.
When we began planning our move from the New York area to China, we had visions of romantic dinners in family owned noodle shops, where the recipe had been refined over the centuries to something near perfection. We expected a series of food adventures, a process of discovery that was its own reward.
The reality is that food became one of our biggest challenges to feeling comfortable in China.
Early on we realized that finding useful reviews of local Chinese restaurants was nearly impossible.
There was virtually no information online about small shops, and my Chinese coworkers didn't share our excitement about tracking down the best local eateries. Experimenting on our own was hit and miss, and a few cases of food poisoning dampened our initial enthusiasm.
My coworkers invariably brought home cooked food for lunch. It was common for them to bring extra food to share with one another, and soon I became part of this, letting them try my western food, and sampling their home cooked meals.
I quickly realized why they never went out for lunch. The leftovers they brought for lunch every day were simply fantastic, better than any other Chinese food I’d tasted, far superior to anything we'd found in local restaurants.
At last, I had found the time honored, lovingly perfected recipes I had been looking for. Delicious dishes made from carefully selected fresh ingredients simply weren’t available in local restaurants, but these lunches were a revelation, the perfect introduction to real Chinese food. It came to me why I had trouble getting reviews and recommendations... for my friends, eating out was not recreation, it was a last resort.
Since those first few weeks, we've experienced cuisine from nearly every province, and found it to be incredibly varied and interesting. No matter where in China we go, one thing remains constant: the best food is found in people’s homes.
-Chris Zaic, expat in China
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