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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Here’s another “stuff I can’t eat often in Xinjiang” post. I hate to be cliche, both in a broad sense (because complaining about what’s available is an overused staple of China expat blogs) and in a narrow sense (since I already made such a post), but here goes.

I live in a place that is often linked with the romantic idea of the “Silk Road,” probably way more often than it should be. Just uttering those two words often conjures these awesome, Hollywood quality images of turbaned middlemen leading camels laden with Roman gold, Chinese silk, Indian spices, and what have you across the world’s largest land mass. In addition to these exotic goods, conquest, politics, technology, religion and ideologies traversed this (these) ancient route(s). But it’s so much more complex than that. In fact, I know a few “in-the-know” acquaintances (read: history majors) who dispute the fact that the Silk Road even is a viable concept. Regardless, on hearing the various legends and stories, one would imagine that here in Korla, I could just mosy on out to the nearest “Silk Road” outlet, and take my pick off cheeses, spices, and Papa John’s thin-crust pizzas, straight of platters toted by an unending train of slow-moving camels. Man, that would be awesome.

But the Silk Road cynics win this round. There is no sushi-bar camel platter train. In fact, despite being in the chain that stretches from Chang’An to Roma, there’s a lack of lots of things here. So I complain. I complained in my kettle corn post about the lack of things like pizza.

But, the moral of the story is: where there’s a will, there’s a way. Which is good news, because it means that given enough time, I’ll figure things out and complain a lot less. I failed to mention a few weeks ago that the very next day after I lamented my pizzalessness, Michael and another American teacher at this high school got together, pooled together an unprecedented collection of ingredients and made, what do you know, a pizza. By golly.

Not just any, pizza, mind you. These pizzas, affectionately dubbed “the cheese experiment” by my coworker, were triumphs of experimental cooking. The Uyghurs provided the bread. They make this traditional, delicious bread called “nan” that, oddly enough, is shaped exactly like a pizza crust, a pizza with nothing in it. Never in my personal experience with Uyghurs have I seen them put anything in it, even though they seem made to have something put in them. Well, we didn’t sit around, philosophizing about it. We took action. We stuffed the empty nan with cheese (pepperjack!) and other vegetables and meats. It was a total success. Pizza in the middle of nowhere is possible. Two delectable varities were born: the Marvelous Marvin, my favorite… and something else. I forgot the name.

I was reminded to write this post today because my coworker decided to divulge to me a super duper secret place where forbidden Western delights could be found. Sporting my CIA sunglasses and my trenchcoat, I went to this place and left with some goods I thought couldn’t possibly exist here. Those who know my culinary preferences will understand that the only apt caption for this picture is “EEEEEEE!” Behold:

It’s my seventh week here. My apartment has become my home, I’ve built a daily routine, I’ve developed a good rapport with my students, and, gosh darnit, I’ve found olive oil and balsamic vinegar in Korla. Life is good!

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Did I just eat what I thought I ate?

Here in Western China, the concept of cheese, which I consider to be one of the staples of an average Western culinary lifestyle, is completely alien. I’m told that it smells too bad, which is ironic, because the Chinese have a popular snack called “Chou Doufu” which everyone thinks smells terrible; this is a fact, because the “Chou” means stinky. Anyways, I can’t get a decent pizza out here, but I’ll be damned if I can’t get some FABULOUS KETTLE CORN!

Mm, that wonderful luster of suger and salt! Much to my surprise, this kettle corn is delicious. Back in Los Angeles, I would eagerly anticipate the monthly arrival of the “Kettle Corn People” to the courtyard in front of the library. Here in Xinjiang, I can get it any time I want. I just mozy on over to the local supermarket and there’s that wonderful lady. With her kettle. And her kettle corn.

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