Saturday, November 10, 2012

The art of eating (from Russia to China)

When you travel, specially to far away places where you don't speak the language, each  new meal can be a true adventure. On this trip (between Russia and China) we had, for the most of the time, someone advising us what to eat so our chances of getting it wrong was a bit smaller but, nonetheless, we still brought back a few stories to tell.
The experiences I had alone in Japan I will leave to another post, just because... well, it deserves a post of its own! Just wait and see ;)

So here are some of the things we ate/stories we've been through along the TransSiberian trip:

On our first lunch in Russia we had our first "Yes, you're out of your country!" experience. We were told that we should ask for a business menu that was generally less expensive. So, when we could no longer bare our roaring  stomachs we finally chose a restaurant that had one of those menus and went in.
None of the waitresses knew how to speak English and the menus... well the menus were like this:

There was no English menu
After a while (more than 10 minutes, I'm sure) trying to translate the menu using our little guides with a few words of Russian we could understand that there were salads and soups on the menu, but no more than that. As we had to chose one among three options for "Soups", "Entrées" and "Main Dish" and we were three, we asked for one of each. Perfect Solution! Fortunately, the food was great... or maybe we were just very hungry! The point is, we were satisfied at the end! I guess we were lucky :)

We just remembered to take a photo of the food half way through. We were starving!

I was the only one that liked one of the soups, so I ate most of mine and the rest of another one!

On that same day, for dinner, we decided to try a Russian fast food place. How can you tell the franchise was Russian? Because the logo featured a big potato (they eat everything with potatoes). It was basically mashed potatoes with something. It's a good thing that we all like potatoes!

Mashed potatoes and... something else
Russian fast food. Of course, with a potato on the logo!
On the train the menu varied between whatever we could find on the platforms (see Baboushkas post) and the noodles that we had brought we us! It was our first time trying these instant noodles that, apparently are a big thing both in Russia and Australia!
Instant noodles before the hot water
But of everything we ate, nothing tasted better than the home-cooked food at Lake Baikal. Maybe because we were all so fed up with "train food" after 4 days that a plate of soup was just awesome. But then again, after two days, the food was still great, so...
Home cooked food... hummmmmmmm :)

We don't have that many photos of food in Mongolia. For some reason we always forgot to take pictures. It was the only place where the food gave me... well... an urgent need to use the bathroom. One of the main ingredients they use is fat, mutton or beef fat. Big chunks of fat! For those used to light meals, Mongolia can be a true challenge. In here too, we ordered things that we didn't know exactly what they were, and didn't get lucky as often... But we survived, I think... at least until this day :P
Images are better than words so I'll post here the (little) photos we have. They were taken during our stay in the gers so it doesn't get much more traditional than this ;). This was how our dinner for that night was cooked. On top of a dang heated furnace and with an additional heat from hot stones. And it was good... Much better than most of the other dishes we had in Ulaanbaatar.

The preparation of the (huge) bowls of meat being cooked

The grey things are hot stones (heated in the furnace) that are essential to cook the meat just right

Remember the food you eat in one of the numerous Chinese restaurants in your country (at least in Portugal)? The food here is way different, at least in Beijing. Spicier, not that many vegetables, dumplings (that I've never seen in Portugal) and a few other... well, just plain weird things and tastes).
One of the main attractions of Beijing are the "bug streets". Streets where you can find all sorts of insects (among other animals) that have just been stir fried. And of course, I tried one of them (just one, for the experience!). It was a small scorpion and I was actually surprised 'cause it was actually okay! Not the best thing ever... but perfectly edible, after you get over the fact that you are eating a scorpion, of course!

These ones were still alive on the stick. Afterwards they would  be stir fried

And it was one of those that I ate. As you can see it looks like I was being pushed from a cliff or something similar. No, it was just the scorpion...

Large scorpions, starfish, slugs... you just had to choose.

Apart from that it was a big part of the experience in China to try different things. Which were mostly good! And I even got to drink a bubble tea on the first day! After that we couldn't find them again despite our best efforts (we even tried something that looked similar but... it was not... and it was not a great drink either!). And of course, always eating with chopsticks is a challenge, specially to those among us who were not that used to them (I'm not going to say their names :P).

After bargaining for hours we tried this place where everything was written with Chinese characters.  Thank God for the power of images! It was actually good!

On the same dinner Isa ate dumplings. Here she was trying to figure it out how to eat  such big things with chopsticks :P

This actually looks like a few dishes that we can order on a Chinese restaurant. But it was way spicier than anything I ate in those.

Here Nuno looks like a pro with his chopsticks! On the bottom left corner it is possible to see the kettle for the tea. Most meals go with tea!

On the last night I had a kind of a meat skewer. It had a strange taste, not bad, just strange... all I'm gonna say!

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