1. Yunnan Hotpot: I usually try to avoid making generalizations about nations of over a billion people, but I’ll say this anyway: people in China love hotpot. In the north they have hearty, meaty Mongolian hotpot (which I haven’t tried yet), and everywhere else they have the ubiquitous Chongqing-style melt-your-taste buds-off spicy hotpot. Groups of friends or relatives or businessmen all over the country love to spend a cold winter night huddled around a pot of boiling broth, dipping things and smoking and chatting late into the night. You can easily drop hundreds and hundreds of kuai on a meal at a posh, luxurious hotpot chain like Hai Di Lao. When I went to Beijing during the national holiday two weeks ago, I learned that they even eat hotpot in Yunnan, the tropical paradise in southwest China home to over twenty-five ethnic groups. The Yunnan restaurant was an oasis hidden away inside a traditional Beijing hutong. It was bright and airy, filled with flowers and embroidery and real parrots perched on massive indoor trees. The hotpot itself was similarly refreshing, with an emphasis on mushrooms and seafood. My favorite was the thinly sliced grouper fish, pink and raw and delicate on the plate, that stiffened and whitened instantly upon contact with the boiling broth. As always happens to me when eating hotpot, I didn’t realize quite how much I had eaten until suddenly the fish was gone, the broth was low, and I was stuffed so full I could barely move.


2. Corn juice: Hidden among the dozens of flashy, brightly-lit, Mandopop-blaring milk tea shops scattered around the Xinjiekou metro station is a tiny little place called “Vitamin C Corn Juice.” Nobody is ever in line. Half the time, there isn’t even anybody behind the counter. But on the first cool, crisp autumn day in Nanjing, I decided to give it a try. As it turns out, corn juice is exactly what it sounds like: they put corn and hot water in a blender (no sugar added!), strain out the corn skins, and hand it over in a plastic-sealed cup. It was unexpectedly delicious and filling, like sweet corn-on-the-cob in liquid form.

3. Yòuzi  (柚子): These exist in the United States, but I have no idea how to pronounce them. Is it pomelo? Or is it pomelo? In any case, yòuzi (as it will henceforth be known) is probably my favorite fruit ever. I tried it for the first time in 2011 when I was studying abroad in Hangzhou, and I was thrilled when October came around this year and I started to see massive yellow piles of them in grocery stores, on the backs of trucks, and in every roadside fruit stall. Yòuzi are like grapefruit, but better. They’re less sour, more refreshing, and dry enough to eat with your hands. There is nothing more satisfying then peeling away the hard outer membrane from a segment of yòuzi and exposing the perfect, glistening, jewel-like flesh inside.


4. Homemade beans: Sometimes I try to cook. Usually my meals are limited to boiled vegetables, stir-fried vegetables, pasta with tomato sauce, and classy things like omelets (yeah, I splurged on cheese). Last week I was really craving Mexican food, so I decided to step it up a notch and cook black beans. After soaking them overnight, I began to suspect that Chinese black beans were not quite the same as those from the Americas. Swollen with water, these beans were huge—more like kidney beans—and underneath their black skins, the inside was a pale green. I decided to ignore this and cook them anyway. I boiled them for about four hours on the stove with some salt, chili peppers and cumin, while my roommate looked on in vague disgust and bafflement. Finally they were soft enough to eat. They weren’t bad, per se…just…odd. Smothered in cheese and mixed with rice and tomatoes, they were actually quite tasty. Throughout this process, however my roommate continued to look confused. She couldn’t understand why I would add salt and hot peppers to beans. Weren’t beans supposed to be sweet? I corroborated this with a few other Chinese friends, and they all agreed: black beans should be made with sugar, not salt. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. Red beans in China are always sweet, and green pea porridge or soup is sweet as well. Apparently black beans are no exception. My Chinese friends must have felt just as horrified by my salty beans as I felt during college, when I saw a Chinese teacher in the dining hall one morning eating her oatmeal with milk and spinach. Hey, different strokes…

5. Málà Xiāngguō (麻辣香锅): As many of you know, I am a huge fan of anything málà (numbing and spicy). I even named this blog Malatang, after the cheap, spicy, do-it-yourself soup found in hole-in-the-wall restaurants across China. Recently, I discovered something even better than malatang: málà xiāngguō, literally “málà fragrant pot.” Basically, this is malatang without the soup. You still pick all your own ingredients—my favorites are potato slices, golden needle mushrooms, and broccoli—but instead of cooking it in spicy broth, they stir fry it in a big bowl with chili oil, hot and numbing peppers, peanuts, garlic, and cilantro, and you eat it with rice on the side. Delicious!


6. Rose Milk: This isn’t even remotely Chinese, but it is so delicious that I have to share. Every Sunday evening for the past few weeks, I’ve been attending a cultural exchange club in a cozy upstairs café called Qian Duoduo, named for the owner. My usual decaffeinated go-to was hot chocolate, but last week I decided to try the rose milk instead, which turned out to be hot milk whisked with sweet, fragrant rose-syrup and served in a gigantic ceramic mug. It was the perfect thing to sip on one of Duoduo’s blanket-draped couches, surrounded by plants and bookshelves and discussing cultural stereotypes with a group of friends from China, America, England, and Israel.

7. Buddhist Temple Cuisine: One of the central tenets in Buddhism is the concept of the Middle Way. As the story goes, the first Buddha Shakyamuni was born into a life of wealth and luxury and indulgence. Seeing that such a life was detrimental to the search for spiritual truth, he tried to live as an ascetic instead, starving himself and isolating himself from society. But he quickly realized that this method was equally useless. How can anyone concentrate on mindfulness and truth when their stomach is grumbling and their head is swimming from dehydration? And so, Shakyamuni decided upon the Middle Way: eat enough to satisfy your body’s needs, but not so much that you are distracted from the spiritual path. When I visited a temple in Shijiazhuang as part of the World Animal Day celebration on October 4th, I experienced the Middle Way diet firsthand. We spent a full day at the temple, listening to speeches and eating lunch and dinner with some of the monks. The food was vegan, light, and very plain: mántóu, steamed vegetables, cold mushroom dishes, and a little tofu for protein. Could I survive on temple food alone? Of course. But would I start to miss scrambled eggs and bubble tea and chocolate cake within 48 hours? Absolutely. I think perhaps I’m doomed to live again.