Friday, December 19, 2014

Condiments

We are approaching the sixth anniversary of our move to China.  It some ways it doesn't seem that long, but when I read some of the early entries of this blog, I realize that a lot has happened.  There have been many changes here in this city.  Many places are hardly recognizable.  Ramshackle buildings and open space have been replaced by 20+ story apartment buildings.  Dozens and dozens of them.  More keep going up.  I still have no idea who is going to move into all of them.  There is a new building soon to go up that was advertising apartments for 6700 RMB per square meter.  How much is that in dollars per square foot?  You can do the math, but it's a far cry from the peak price three years ago for places a block away that were scooped up by investors for 10,000 RMB.  I doubt they are feeling like smart shoppers now.  Prices keep going down, and eventually they will reach a price that normal middle class professionals here can afford.
But I digress.  This is supposed to be about condiments.  Six years later, there is little change as to what can be gotten for the homesick expat longing for a decent jar of mustard.  I still have to go to this seedy restaurant supply store to get little jars of French's. I have seen it in some tony new supermarkets, but the price is dear.
I can get little shaker jars of Kraft Parmesan cheese there too.  You can get Heinz ketchup in most supermarkets.  I guess everyone likes that stuff.
At this point it's time to discuss mayonnaise.  This is a major part of European/American cuisine.  The average American family goes through at least a bathtub full a year.  We buy it by the quart, unless we're in Costco, then it's by the gallon.  Chinese like it too.  They really like a fruit salad slathered in the stuff.  Do they have quarts of mayo here?  Mmmmm, nope.  No Hellmann's, no Best Foods, no Kraft.  It comes in a 200g jar, and it's a brand called Kewpie.  220g is by weight, but it looks like it might be close to a cup and a half. We're talking maybe a third of a quart at the most.  That's it.  The biggest you can get, at least in this city.
This is just sad.
A couple of months ago we went to a movie, and and afterward made a grocery stop at the spiffy newish supermarket downstairs. I saw a jar of Hellmann's "cooking mayonnaise".  It was in a really big jar.  Needless to say, I scooped that baby right up, and sent a group text out to all the expats in my phone sharing my discovery with them.  The next day, I made egg salad for sandwiches, with a heavy dose from my fatty treasure trove.  I schlepped it onto the bread, licked my finger, and let out an angry expletive having something to do with unlikely reproductive activities.  It was the Hellmann's version of Miracle Whip, that sickly sweet slime that is only good on baloney and white bread sandwiches from the 1960's!
I'm still angry about it two months later!!
It's not the only time I've been burned by false labeling here.  The local Wal Mart, carries all kinds of packages that contain nothing like the labels proclaim.  They have begun to carry an expanded cheese section, which means that they have a refrigerator section about a foot and a half square that has some small packages the alleged  product.  I bought a 250g package of something called "European Cheddar".  I got it home, cut the opaque outer packaging and discovered that I had paid five bucks for some individual slices of processed Velveeta like crap that left a nasty film in your mouth. 
The only reason I had been going to Wal Mart at all, was their liquor department.  They have a modest selection of foreign liquor at a reasonable price, something that does not exist anywhere else here.  This was an OK arrangement for me.  It's only a ten minute walk from here.  I guess I should say it was OK, until a bottle of vodka that I put in the freezer, froze, which is not what it is supposed to do if the alcohol content is where it should be.  I pretty much don't go to that foul shopping place at all now.
Through the years I have adapted to a more oriental style of eating. China has great condiments, just not stuff that you would slather on a burger.  There are a jillion different chili sauces.  I love that stuff! A lot of them would be great mixed with some sour cream as a chip dip.  Except they don't have sour cream.  Or tortilla chips.  Or coffee that isn't instant Nescafe.  
You can get jam, except it's usually that Kewpie stuff in a little jar. It's good, though, especially the mulberry jam.  That stuff is really good!  
So is coconut jam.  It comes in a can, and has the consistency of honey.  It's awesome with peanut butter, or on French toast.  You need it for French toast because there is no way you are going to get either real maple syrup or Mrs. Butterworth's GMO corn syrup based yummy stuff.
 Yum!
And its quality is assured by the Overlord of Coco!!

However, I have finally found some bread that didn't come from the Wonder Bread school of baking.  There is a bakery chain here that started selling a nice whole wheat bread that comes in small bags that have four THICK slices.  Thick slices is very cool. Americans should take a hint from this.  I'm sure the Chinese do this because they don't know better, but having a peanut butter and coconut jam sammy on two thick slices of whole wheat nutty bread is a nice meal!
Soy sauce gets used a lot in my kitchen.  I like the black vinegar they make for dipping dumplings into.  Oyster dipping sauce is good.   I buy giant chunks of ginger for small change.  On my return trips from the US I bring sizable bags of herbs and spices from the bulk food sections of any good hippie market.  Gotta have chili powder, oregano and basil.  They do not have them here.
Another thing they don't have is central heating.  There is some idiotic rule of thumb that anything built south of the Yangtze River does not get heating.  Nothing is insulated either.  The buildings are concrete and brick.  Once the weather cools, like it has now, the buildings cool along with it.  You can't get them warm, so don't bother trying.  It's in the mid 50's right now, and my office is slightly warmer.  An enterprising contractor could make a small fortune insulating the outside walls and ceilings of these stone caves.  It does not appear that anyone has figured that out yet.
They would save a fortune in air conditioning bills, and they could actually get their homes warm in cold weather.   Their coal fired power plants would be operating at a lower capacity reducing air pollution and carbon emissions.  Free advice, China.  Oh, and you need bigger jars of mayonnaise. 

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