Food… The make or break of a very long trip. What you see here is a series of fish dishes, one in rice and another is pepper and tomatoes. The food of China is unlike anything I have ever encountered before; from providence to providence the food changes and no two dishes are exactly the same. The food is diverse in color, nature, and content and each dish comes with a different smell or taste that when I smell something similar in America, I remember my days in China. But I would by lying if I said it was easy, or that I enjoyed it to completion; I would be lying if I said I woke up savoring the smell of the steamed buns and dishes as much as my roommate did; I would be lying if I said that the food was the best I ever had, because in all honestly it wasn’t and I did not like many of the dishes I forced myself to eat. Being a Muslim can be hard when selecting a plate because I am only able to eat meat and chicken that is Halal. Thus when I was in China, I was limited to fish for my source of meat and in fact there was an abundance of such dishes that I did not take advantage of. Chinese dishes often come stuffed with pork, meat, and chicken, so I found myself running to McDonalds at every opportunity I got. I will not disrespect Chinese culture and say the food tasted bad, because this is not true. I will only criticize myself for being a poorly experienced American traveler who could not let go of my usual plate and tastes and expand beyond the realm of the typical dishes from home. With my lack of willingness to enjoy new foods, I found myself snacking on M&Ms and frosted flakes from the local grocery store rather than delving into the infinite amount of famous dishes that were being devoured by my peers. Some days I was so bothered by the food that I wished to go home; as someone who loves chicken it was so hard to fathom that there was not a nearby halal restaurant to pick up a chicken shawarma sandwich. As I sit and type this post I cannot help but wish I could go back and try more foods; there were so many dishes and foods I did not taste or try because I was being ignorant and small minded. There were a select few dishes that came to be my obsession- the eggs and tomatoes dish among the best- but for the most part I found myself being a typical American at every chance I got. Being a restricted and picky eater makes days long and hard because food is truly a part of our satisfaction and happiness. I felt that dinnertime was at times annoying and there were days where I was really frustrated with the meals we were eating. Don’t get the wrong idea- I was in no way starving and I definitely had enough to make me full, but what I did that I really regret and that my professor encouraged us not to do was I took the global franchise way out- I delved into a tuna sub at subway and a fish sandwich at McDonalds because I could not come to get outside of my comfort zone for a large portion of my trip. Finally, in my last week, it hit me I was not fully experiencing my trip. I was having the time of my life with the greatest group possible, however I was missing out on a key component to culture- the food. In the last few days I vowed to not step foot in McDonalds. I vowed to listen to my professor and only eat Chinese cuisine. I promised myself and told myself that my duty was to immerse in this culture and until I gave up the curly fries and fish sandwich, I would not really be in China. In my last days I tried all sorts of soups, fish, and more and by the time I went home I was that much more happier to have been blessed enough to spend a month in China.
For more information on the GCC China program, visit the CGIS website.