So you flew eight thousand miles to finally meet that special Chinese lady you met online who has captured your heart! You haven’t been to China before, and while you’re nervous about the trip, you’re also feeling pretty confident that your visit will be an enjoyable one. What do you have to worry about when you have your Chinese girlfriend to show you around?
Alas, after a few days of spending time together, you realize she was already expecting you to marry her soon; and she realizes that you’re not on the same page as her and you still want the both of you to get to know each other better before making any long-term commitments. Because she’s under pressure to find a man to marry soon, she feels she should get started on her new search right away and leaves you to fend for yourself. How on earth are you going to survive the next couple of weeks?
Sure, you’ve eaten out with her a few times, but you let her do all the ordering. If you were in one of the bigger cities, you would be surrounded by familiar western restaurants and expat bars/hangouts. Unfortunately, you’re not. So if you find yourself in a situation wherein you’re completely clueless about how to order food when eating in the local Chinese restaurants and there’s not another laowai in sight or no local who speaks enough English to help you out, here’s how you can survive eating in China when you haven’t got a clue.
Check out what others are eating. Being a foreigner in a place that is obviously not a big foreign tourist and/or expat spot, the locals will be staring at you a lot. When you enter a restaurant, take advantage of your instant celebrity status. Smile at the people who are looking and whispering to each other while, at the same time, checking out the food they have on the table. When the waitress comes to take your order, just point at some of the dishes that look good to you. Of course, this would only work if you’re not on a tight budget.
Fried rice will get you through. If you bother looking at a Chinese restaurant menu, you may come across the familiar words “chao fan.” Certainly, you’ve had this before back in your home country whenever you ordered Chinese takeout! Even if you can’t find it on the menu, most Chinese restaurants serve this, so you can still order it.
Now, if the waitress starts asking you stuff in Chinese or, maybe/hopefully, broken English, she’s probably asking what kind of chao fan you want. Yes, chao fan comes in different varieties in China. Oh well, go crazy, try to mime where the options are on the menu, and then choose one at random!
Go crazy on the Chinese Noodles. In the west we focus on chow mein, which is probably another Chinese food that you’ve already tried in the Chinese restaurants back home. But in China there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of noodle dishes. Find restaurants where the menu has pictures on it, and you’ll be able to spot the Chinese noodles easily and these are always a safe bet, especially the ones that are cooked in a broth or soup as there is little oil in them.
If you are on a budget, you can go to any local supermarket and find a wide variety of instant Chinese noodles to choose from. Again, you will most likely have to choose based only on the picture printed on the packaging, unless the label is also in Chinglish. You can buy plenty of ramen noodles to last you for the rest of your stay, they’re very cheap, and you’ll need to do is add hot (potable) water (which your hotel/accommodations should be able to provide for you).
Put your intestinal fortitude to the test with street food. If you don’t have an overly sensitive stomach, you can enjoy more food choices on the streets. On the plus side, you’ll be able to actually see what they’re cooking and, therefore, get a better sense of what you want to try based on how delectable or weird the food choices look. On the negative side, it may look okay but still taste bad, especially if you really can’t tell what it is.
Since you’ve already read this, you may as well make contingency plans in case your first meeting with your Chinese love does not go well. Make arrangements with another foreigner who may live in the area or in another town/city nearby where you easily travel to. Learn some more Chinese, particularly phrases that would be useful should you find yourself suddenly alone. Learn as much as you can about the town you’re visiting.
Also, since you’ve lost the Chinese woman you thought might be the one, get back up on that horse by logging into your Chinese dating site and seeking some other Chinese ladies who might be interested in meeting and spending some time with you. You’re in China, after all, so don’t waste the trip. It’s not too late to find and meet your real China love, and get some help from her with your dining choices.
Discover tons of great information about living in China, Chinese dating and relationships, and Chinese women on the blogs, magazine and forum of ChinaLoveMatch.net (the home of trusted Chinese dating), where international men and Chinese women share their life experiences and bare their souls to give you the real goods on love, cross-cultural relationships, and all things Chinese.