Leaving the factory, with the business of the day completed, we headed back into Tianjin. We eat lunch outside the city center in an area they refer to as a suburb but which is indistinguishable from the city in that it is solid buildings many of which are high-rise. The restaurant was Gobuli a famous local chain of fast food establishments known for the steamed dumplings, a Tianjin specialty. The original which is downtown would have been impossible to get into at lunch because of the tourists. Pictures of the menu were posted earlier in “Seen Around Town”. For the four of us four plates of dumplings, a plate of cold roast beef, plates of fresh sliced vegetables, and a bowl of red skinned peanuts in a cold soy based sauce was ordered. The later seemed to accompany all meals and I really had not tasted them before because I did not trust my skill with the sticks to pick them up. By this meal my skills had improved to the point that I could pick up the individual peanuts from the bowl. It is amazing how fast you can learn new things when your ability to eat is at stake. Mr. Zhou and I had beer (Bud light), Alfred being the driver and Miss Du either out of respect for some convention that I did not understand or out of personal preference had Sprite.
The photos show only the first two plates of dumplings as room on the table was limited. Each day we went out for lunch eating was never hurried. There always seemed to be too much food but at the end all the food would be eaten. Once everyone else was full there seemed to be someone who was quite willing to polish off the rest. Alfred unexpectedly given his slight build can pack in the groceries.
On the subject of food I have to say that yes they eat Chinese food in China and that you do not want to eat the food that is not Chinese. All the lunches I eat with my hosts were great but I have to say when it comes to western style food you never know what you might get. At the hotel a large breakfast buffet was available every morning. The hotel, catering to a variety of travelers both western and Chinese, included baked goods, cereals, traditional American breakfast dishes and Chinese breakfast dishes on the buffet. I did not have any appetite at breakfast for steamed vegetables, salad, and dumplings in a beef congee so I opted for the American style choices. The eggs were cooked with an oil that gave them an odd taste, the bacon was baked, looked kind of like bacon but tasted more like ham, and the sausage was beef. One night I had a Caesar salad that was made with romaine lettuce but tasted much like cole slaw. Another night I had a baked lasagna that between the noodles that were as tough as leather and meat that may have been beef or ? the dish was completely inedible. This was at a four star western owned hotel. No telling what you might get if you were to go elsewhere. The best advice is to stick with the Chinese food.
Additionally on the topic of food one must remember that China is a very large and diverse country. Just as in the US what may be common in one area may not be common elsewhere. Nothing I was served was all that exotic. This I am sure is partly because my hosts ordered for me and stayed away from the unusual but it is also because tastes in the North where I was tend to run toward the more conventional at least by Western standards. Rice was never served and wheat based baked goods were common. As a way of illustrating the regional differences Alfred told me that there is a saying that the Cantonese eat everything that lives with only the exception of each other.
A common misconception among Americas is that China is a country with a large and homogenous population. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Even before the recent economic boom which has brought people to the big cities from other areas there has always been a large ethnic population in the Tianjin area. There is maybe one half to one million Moslems in Tianjin and mosques are a fairly common sight. These are descendents of people from the far north and north-east who have been in the area for many hundreds of years. There is also a large ethnic Korean population who came to the area as much as one thousand years ago. Whether in reference to the diversity of the Chinese population or in reference to people around the world it is always best to remember what Confucius said “People are the same everywhere only their habits are different”