Hao chi (好吃) is how someone in China is going to affirm, “This is yummy!” It’s pronounced “how chur” and all you have to do is add a “ma?” to the end to make it a sentence.
Chinese food. Either you love it or you hate it, right? And then maybe you love the food, but can’t do spicy? Or eggplant? Or meat?
When we first moved to Inner Mongolia, this was one of the first meals that we had… yeah, that whole pile of dishes. It was a wedding, and if you’ve ever been to a wedding in China you probably learned quickly that the food just keeps coming and coming. Mountains of food is part of hosting: excess = politeness.
That simple equation explains a lot. If you’re ever taken out for a meal by a Chinese friend, the orphanage staff, or someone else who is “hosting” you will probably be fed within an inch of bursting.
And that’s manners.
So, what kinds of foods might you find in Inner Mongolia? And what are the dishes that you should seek out for their deliciousness or authenticity? The first is “焖面” Men mian (pronounced ‘mun mien’) is literally “stewed noodles.” Fresh wheat noodles, dried or fresh green beans, potatoes and beef are cooked quickly in a pot over high heat and then suffocated with the lid of the pot and cooked for a few more minutes. This is a quick meal that Chinese grandmas can make in bulk, or restaurants make for 2-3 people.
Men mian is a nice, simple dish. It’s not too pricy compared to other dishes – less than 20RMB per person should fill you up, and if you like spicy or sour, you can add “la jiao” (spicy pepper sauce” and black vinegar to your hearts content! Men mian is definitely a must-eat if you’re in Inner Mongolia.
Hotpot is pretty famous in Inner Mongolia, or at least that’s what the locals tell me. There are SO many different types of hot pot! Plain or spicy? Half/half? Meat? Fish? Veggie? Lamb? Pork? Thin slivers of meat or huge chunks?
It should go without saying that Inner Mongolia is big on the meat. Back to my first example of Chinese hospitality, if you’re out to eat as someone’s guest in Inner Mongolia, there were probably be a lot of meat on the table. And it’s good meat. But sometimes it’s not the pieces of meat that you would usually chose to buy at the supermarket. Actually, it’s probably not.
During a hot pot meal, you will probably be given a bowl of sesame sauce. I think that it’s basically tahini, but because I’ve never knowingly consumed tahini sauce, I can’t say for sure. That’s the base, you may also have a little line-up of spicy pepper add-ins, fermented tofu, vinegar, soy sauce, and other goodies locals love but foreigners may not.
How do you do hotpot? It’s a group activity, with lots of chopsticks-action and boiling water and hot food. I get kind of nervous when there are a lot of children involved, but it’s perfectly safe if the pot in the middle is Adults Only and the little ones stick to their own bowls of food.
Common add-ins for Hotpot? Fresh greens such as spinach, lots and lots of cabbage, every kind of mushroom, potatoes (sweet and white), tofu (so many different kinds…), winter melon… shrimp.
It’s a delicious treat, and an authentic food adventure.
Who has been to Inner Mongolia? What were your favorite dishes?