Saturday, September 1, 2012

Lunch - You Get What You Pay For

I'm told I am lucky, I get choices for lunch. Not "the same old slop." Three choices actually: A, B and C:

  • Option A is called the rice option. It consists of 4-5 small platters and a bowl of rice. The platters contain different meats and vegetables, which varies each day.
  • Option B is the noodle choice, and comes with a bowl of noodles and 1-2 small plates. Usually the platters are from the A option. Sometimes instead of noodles, they serve dumplings which is always a safe choice.
  • Option C is the western/vegetarian choice. It's western because it comes with a Chinese version of western food - usually bread based. I had a corn sandwich recently, drizzled in syrup. Once it was purple cake wrapped in bread.
In general the food isn't very good, even by the standards of my Chinese coworkers. A former expat once said "The only good thing is it's free." Free food at work is an expectation in the Chinese culture; I think we get what we pay for. This picture below shows a fairly typical A choice, I eat stuff like this every day. I'll break it down so you can have a glimpse into my daily life.

In the top left corner is a plate containing tofu and some kind of fibrous vegetable like celery but round and hollow. Some of the veggies resemble weeds, this is one like that. It was served in a spicy sauce - too spicy for my western tongue. They used to serve 5 plates, but lately they've been combining two into one. That annoys me greatly.

Bottom left is a beef dish they serve often, sometimes with potatoes. It's quite delicious but some days the meat is bony. The sauce tastes a like barbeque but is runny and does a great job sprucing up the white rice.

Middle top is some kind of cucumber/zucchini/egg plant/squash...I'm not sure which. It was cooked down to a mush and served in a sweet sauce.  One bite was enough, food texture is important to me and this felt like it had been digested twice but the taste wasn't terrible.

Middle bottom was a new one - his was the first time I tried this dish. There was some debate among coworks about it being pork or chicken. I think it was processed chicken, molded onto a left-over drumstick bone and puffed up with air. It was heavily spiced and felt like a boiled sponge. Barf.

The bowl on the bottom right contains rice and desert. The rice is always welcome because it fills the space all the other food would if I ate it. I like to pour some sauce on the rice, but not too much because, if it is slick, chopsticks won't pick it up. The desert is a dough ball stuffed with a dark goo and rolled in sesame seeds...not sweet like candy or cake, but sweet. Sometimes they serve flat bread or a bun instead of this dough ball.

In the top right is a peach juice box and green (unripened) orange. They always offer a juice, soda or yoghurt but the white boxes are the best. The fruit selection varies by the day and generally people won't eat it without washing or peeling it first. On this day everyone was amazed I'd never eaten a green orange. "Don't they have that in the states?"

And I do it all with chopsticks. They'll offer a fork but laugh about it when I accept. I came to China with a basic chopstick skill set. I've since gotten pretty good....for an American. It is still impossible for me to eat as fast as my coworkers, but they're polite and wait for me to finish stop eating.


  1. If it makes you feel any better, the canteen here in SIP is no better. I could use your pictures as you really have no idea what it is. However, I have the option of using my allotment to go to Subway or other local shops. Downside is the amount is only enough for about 1/4 of a subway 6" sandwich. In short, you are right. You get what you pay for!

    1. Some days I'd take 1.5 inches of sandwich.

    2. I don't see why Jill can't bring you lunch everyday!