How to Order at a Chinese “Farm-to-Table” Restaurant

As the course of nature would have it, the food must grow first before we can order it at a restaurant.

Farm machines.

Snow Pea shoots, a favorite of mine. Great in soup or lightly stir fried!

Airing out.

Once the food has grown and has been collected, it is transported both locally and to the city. In this case, Kunming. (These photos are from my trip to Yunnan, my mom’s neck of the woods).

I'm sure this guy doesn't deliver into the city.

Now, we are ready to order from some of China’s finest. Follow these easy steps and you’ll have yourself a most delicious meal!

1) Swoon at the assortment of veggies, proteins, grains, seafood, etc.

2) Deliberate amongst family members and/or guests (only one or two people usually decide what to eat for everybody. China’s not a democracy, obviously. Notice below that I am excluded from the ordering process).

"Hmm, so much yummy stuff! How to choose?! How to chose?!"

3) Find a seat, chat, open your appetite with some tea, and wait eagerly for your food.

And finally, 4) Voila! The meal is prepared!

Just kidding. It looks more like this:

(I never catch my aunt at her finest...)

and this,

Dried salty fish with really pointy, crunchy noses (mouths?). Not my favorite.

You see! Easy as pie! Cleaning off the plates is even easier! But losing the weight? Not so much.

The Dangerous Side of a Good Meal

Good food is hard to come by these days in China. I don’t mean good as in tasty, because there’s PLENTY of tasty food. I mean good as in good quality, or good for you, or even real. That is the latest concern.

Modernization and quick technological advancement have for sure boosted China’s economy but scientific knowledge and talent is totally being misdirected. All of your fake brand name handbags are made in China right? Fake iphones, fake money, and now fake food.

photo credit: Aziz Hussin

I don’t mean to steal this idea from one of the college application essays I had to edit today, but the student made a most excellent point: why are the Chinese wasting all of this precious talent on producing counterfeit and imitation goods when they could be redirecting their efforts into producing original top quality goods in their own country?  When iphone 5 didn’t come out last week as planned, the thousands (if not more) of already made fake iphone 5’s and the dollars it cost to make them all sorrowfully went down the toilet.  Learn your lesson!

Now back to food. HOW WILL I KNOW WHAT FOOD I EAT IS SAFE? I won’t. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop me from eating out, but I still wonder if I should actually eat the mango that’s bigger than my head or the grapefruit that is the size of a basketball…

How can I be sure this meat and fish that have been drying and marinating in the open air for who-knows-how-long is actually okay to eat?

Even the mushrooms (junzi) in Yunnan, stuff you can’t get anywhere else in the world, is now feared to be chemically induced.

Many hot-pot restaurants in China have been shut down because they were caught reusing repeatedly the same oil/soup base for multiple customers. That means the food you’re about to eat was cooked in someone else’s pot of boiling soup, and the food they ate was cooked in the soup used before them. Now that is just ill practice and a terrible way to run a business!

This photo was taken at "Haidilao," one of the few safe hot-pot restaurants left in Beijing. It's absolutely delicious. I'll take you there when you come visit.

Currently the safest option is to buy your own groceries and cook at home.

My family eating one of the best home-cooked meals I've ever eaten.

*WARNING* Wash and scrub those fruits and vegetables down because the coating of pesticides or whatever it is will kill you, or at least make you sick. My mom used the water she saved from washing vegetables to water our wilting houseplants; the next day, those same plants were bursting with life! That should say something…

Or, just stick to WASHED vegetables. That’s better for me anyway. I need more greens in my diet.

My cousin getting a healthy dosage of soupy greens.