Thursday, October 13, 2005

Chili With Everything

I just don't like foods with chili in them, my throat closes over and I can't breathe - not fun.

The other day I bought some sultanas - wanted to add a little interest to my morning porridge. I thought I might get stuck into a couple before dropping them into the mix. Phew! Chili sultanas - why didn't I think of that? I decided against putting them in the porridge.

Last year in Henan it was much worse. It was almost impossible to find food without chili. And to ask to have something with NO chilis brought stares of disbelief - and this was usually then interpreted as "Not too many chilis please" because they just couldn't resist putting in a few - otherwise nothing would have any taste, would it now?

In autumn there were chaps selling a kind of muesli cake. They would make a huge cake, filling the whole trailer of one of those three-wheeled carts. It was all sorts of nuts and seeds and dried fruits, stuck together with sticky sweet honey or some such, decorated beautifully all over the outside with glace cherries and the like. When you wanted a piece, they would cut off a tiny slice - but it would grow in size once it was further away from the whole cake, and it was easy to forget how deep one of those trailers is in terms of a slice of something you are contemplating eating. So we always ended up with a much bigger piece than we thought, which was always a bit more expensive than we wanted to pay - but, after all, it was big! And, we had to admit, it not only looked very healthy but it was quite delicious - at first. Especially if you don't find the chili bits in the first bite or two ...

Even sweet biscuits - they look harmless enough. And they taste ok, sort of, not as sweet as little biscuits back home - so why does my tongue burn after eating them?

One day some student friends invited us out for "fried chicken" - and it was a long time since we'd had anything like KFC, or decent chicken, especially fried. Eagerly we went along, mouths watering. Well, for a start, what do you call it when you boil a whole chicken in a bowl of water - fried? Hm. There were potatoes in there too. And chilis. Maybe more chilis than chicken in fact. After we struggled with the first few mouthfuls - it was just inedible to us - they suggested maybe some noodles would help? Oh, yes, hungry now we fancied a bowl of bland noodles. Out came the noodles, and into the pot with the chicken. Nooo! Gingerly we pulled out noodles with our chopsticks, but it was too late, they had absorbed the chili already. Our hosts were eating away, chattering happily, apparently thoroughly enjoying the burning hot food. Their lips were red and swollen, all the way from their noses to their chins looked painful and sore. But they simply called for more beer, and chuckled about who was going to eat the head of the chicken ...

Everything, gingerly on the end of my tongue and wait a while first - never just dive in there and eat!

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