My office is located in a building a stone's throw from the Shenzhen/Sham Chun River, which marks the border between the Hong Kong New Territories and mainland China proper. This is neat in some ways, because Luohu District is the oldest and therefore the most cyberpunk/80s-looking district of Shenzhen, but it's less cool because it appears there are far more Cantonese and Hongkongers here than out-of-province migrants. Without a doubt, the workforce is very diverse, but the people who own the shops are less mixed than out in Nanshan or Bao'an districts. Which means, basically, eating here is like eating in Hong Kong. Eating in Hong Kong sucks.
Why does it suck? I mean, Cantonese food is eaten all over the world and Hong Kong is a renowned foodie destination. A lot of people would say this is the pinnacle of Chinese cuisine. Well, a lot of people are wrong. Cantonese food sucks because spices are not a thing in Guangdong. Guangdong cuisine subscribes to the philosophy that Western chefs call "honest food". That is, barely seasoned. You steam the ingredient and then serve it. The end. Plus, famously, they eat nose to tail. So it's the worst of all worlds - lots of meat, lots of offal and lots of no fucking chili. Add Hong Kong cuisine in there too, which is largely influenced by colonial-era British cuisine (milk tea, eggs on toast, custard buns), and it's basically a vegan nightmare.
But, you know, there are a few things i can get by on. For instance, 河粉 or "hor fun" as it is often called overseas. 肠粉, the ubiquitous rice noodle roll. Singapore noodle, which anyone who has ordered from an American Chinese restaurant will be familiar with. That's about it. All of them require copious amounts of chili to make them taste of anything. The saddest part is that a lot of Cantonese restaurants don't even have chili and vinegar on the table, which is basically China's mustard and ketchup.
So that's what i'm working with. Lunch with the guys at work means being dragged to some overpriced Hong Kong chain restaurant that mostly serves bland, meat-based dishes. Today i didn't even get that far. I went out with my PM, who is a vegetarian. She's Indian and doesn't speak any Chinese at all, so her go-to here is Subway. I can't remember the last time i ate at a Subway. There is one vege option, and it is exceptionally unexciting. Plus it has cheese. All-veg would have been okay with me, but we split a foot-long, and i let her order whatever to avoid being difficult on my first week. Speaking of mustard and ketchup, that's exactly the sauces she got. And Thousand Island dressing. And mayonnaise. It tasted like a Big Mac without the meat.
I should have known better. I've gotten an upset stomach i think four times since coming to China, and three of those times have been when i had typical Western food. Not that it tastes any different here, but i think there might be a psychological aspect where i am so disappointed to be eating food that i didn't even eat when i lived in Europe my stomach just says "fuck you". I mean, pretty much all i ate at work lunches in Berlin was Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and "Asia" (bao) burgers. Oh, and falafel.
Man, i wish someone here did falafel.
The area of Luohu where i am staying does have one conspicuous group of out-of-province migrants, and that is the Uyghurs from Xinjiang and the Hui from the rest of Silk Road China. The common thread here being that they are Muslim.
China has a strange relationship with its Muslim population. The Hui are tolerated as just a funny-hat-wearing minority. The Uyghurs, on the other hand, face heavy oppression thanks to a violent separatist movement that has painted their whole ethnicity as terrorists. Sound familiar? America's War on Terror has only egged China on. Recently a sensationalist news story went around about how 100,000 Uyghurs are currently in prison. That sounds like a lot, but it's under 1% of the population. For perspective: almost 5% of black American men are in prison. Still, compared to the rest of China (~0.1% incarceration), the situation in Xinjiang is undeniably fucked right now. I am not surprised some residents just said the hell with it and moved 2500 miles across the country to cook beef and lamb for Shenzhen office workers.
Because that's what fucking Muslim cuisine is in China. Beef and lamb and more beef. Also bread. Bread that is kind of like a pita bread. With beef in it. Also sometimes nuts and dried fruit because Silk Road. But mostly beef. Today, after the Subway debacle, i thought i would improve my day by getting my favorite "oil splash noodle" from a new restaurant i found down an alley somewhere. Unfortunately i missed that it was a Muslim place, so the "oil splash" turned out to be beef drippings.
Why don't they do falafel? I guess i am just ignorant. I associate Muslim cuisine with what is actually probably just Mediterranean cuisine, because i am a European and all the halal restaurants there are run by guys from Turkey, the Levant and North Africa. In China it's something different, and probably a lot closer to Mongolian cuisine - famous for its big chunks of meat, gruel and animal fat.
Actually, just writing about it is making me queasy. I bought some mini bananas on the way home so i guess that and my one can of beer will have to hold me through till the morning.
Tomorrow i am "moving house" to a hotel up in a different neighborhood. It's not walking distance from work any more, but it's the only hotel under 150 kuai (20€) now that my current hotel is bumping its rates due to Spring Festival. Hopefully up that end of town i will find better food to make up for the commute. It's still Luohu District, though, so who knows?
Oh yeah, work. I'll write more on that over the weekend, perhaps. Short summary is it's the same old same old. Doesn't matter where you are in the world, work is always the same. The good news? They have a fucking espresso machine. And one where you just press a button and it grinds and brews and does everything without you needing to be a pretentious twat about it like at my last couple jobs. Fucking. Yes. Coffee.