The other day, my sister posted a picture of her breakfast on Facebook. It wasn’t anything too spectacular: some scrambled eggs with spinach, a bowl of sugar-swirled cream-o-wheat, and half of a grapefruit; but, she being a good photographer and all, it looked pretty darn delicious and I commented as much. Anyway, it got me thinking, if she felt it was worth showing off her standard American morning meal to all her American friends, I should like to show you all what a typical breakfast looks like for me; and maybe lunch and dinner too (there isn’t much variation between them anyway).
The school we live and teach at is a boarding school, so there is a cafeteria open for all three meals of the day and as foreign teachers we can eat there for free as often as we want. Because I am a frugal penny-pincher, I have a hard time resisting free food so I eat at the cafeteria a lot. I basically always eat lunch there, usually breakfast (unless I don’t want to wake up before eight to walk down there), and dinner on occasion depending on if I have the time to prepare dinner at home what sort of ingredients I have on hand at the moment. The food is pretty good most of the time so I actually like eating there but it does get pretty repetitive and its pretty oily so that’s why I try to cook my own dinner as much as I can.
To start my meal, I grab a clean metal tray, a little metal bowl, and a pair of chopsticks. Then I start down the line.
The “line”. I guess it’s a buffet, but to me that makes it sound kind of fancy and there is no fancy here. I love how they have pictures of food on the wall (look in the background above) with tea, what looks like a piece of cheesecake, and there is even a picture of a cheeseburger on one wall; but don’t be fooled, they don’t serve anything like that.
Standard breakfast fare: I honestly can’t tell you exactly what everything is but I will try my best. Served nearly every morning are hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, and sauteed cabbage. Then depending on the morning there will be some other vegetable/tofu options like celery and boiled peanuts or some sort of egg drop soup like I have in my bowl above. There is always an assortment of mantou, or steamed bread, as well. My favorite are the buns filled with red bean paste (top right of my tray) but most of my teammates avoid everything “red bean”, which the Chinese have found ways to include in nearly everything including ice cream .
It’s breakfast time!
A standard lunch tray. If you think it looks like I got a a lot food you should see the Chinese people’s trays; their trays look like miniature food mountains. Here I have egg and tomato (one of my favorite Chinese dishes) in the bowl, some rice, and some, um…, potatoes and…um…I really just don’t know what all I fill my stomach with each day but this is about what is looks like.
On special days (a.k.a. a random Saturday night) we get special surprise dishes like this one here: a giant bowl of fish heads. These aren’t little fish heads either, but rather fist-sized heads filled with the good stuff that helps your brain (so my Chinese friend informed me). I was a little shocked and quickly moved down the line, but then found I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try cafeteria fish head so I plopped one on my tray.
See the fish head up there? It was actually quite scrumptious but I was kind of picky with what I ate of it. My Chinese friend eating with me ate nearly every bit of her fish head including the eyes and spit out only what she couldn’t chew. Here, I also have eggplant on the left, another one of my favorite Chinese dishes, a squash porridge in the bowl and a mess of other vegetables.
Oh the choices…I don’t eat pork so that actually limits my options considerably, but there is usually an egg option and sometimes chicken legs or whole fish. There is always steamed rice or steamed bread to go with.
The “noodle bar”, available every day for lunch. The noodles are in the water in the left bowl, then you have the option of egg and tomato sauce or brown sauce (again, sorry, I don’t know what it is). That’s chives and parsley in the middle bowl.
Assorted “toppings” like raw garlic cloves, pickled vegetables, spicy chili oil, and vinegar.
Time to find a seat! Hope your group has no more than four.
At the end of every meal the Chinese finish with a bowl of soup found in this pot on the floor. It is actually just hot water with some sort of boiled grain in it so its pretty flavorless. I don’t usually partake unless I am thirsty.
So that’s our cafeteria and the food I eat every day of every week! If you come to visit you can try it for free too (a foreign face is like a free meal pass)!