Warning: Portions of the following posting may make your mouth water….
Since our China trip centered on agriculture it makes sense to reflect on what it took to feed our delegation during our trip as well as what it’s going to take to feed future generations of Chinese people.
Each day started with breakfast at our hotel – served buffet style. Since travelers from around the globe were dining in these same hotels, the buffets truly were international. From American to Mediterranean to Asian offerings, one could enjoy bacon, eggs and ham, grilled vegetables, cheeses and yogurts, as well as sushi, poached fish, dim sum and miso soup, all before 8:00 a.m. Fresh fruits and juices – watermelon and carrot were my two favorites – were available as were a variety of pastries and breads. Tea, of course, was served, brewed in pots with strainers, not in bags. Coffee was offered - although the java was not nearly as strong as in the U.S.; for that option one only needed to cross the street to find one of China’s numerous Starbucks.
We were welcomed at numerous meals – both at lunch and dinner – by officials and trip sponsors. These “banquets” were delectable affairs, allowing the Chinese to showcase their wide-ranging cuisine and attention to detail. Seated at round tables fitted with a large lazy-susan centerpiece and holding as many as 20 people, members of our delegation and our hosts enjoyed course after course of traditional dishes, typically self-served “home style” from the lazy-susan. A typical banquet featured 10-12 such courses and ran the gamut from cold appetizer plates to cups of soups to platters of entrees and vegetables. I tried everything offered, including duck tongue – it’s tough and tastes like duck! Each meal included dishes featuring fish, pork, poultry and beef. Although rice dishes typically were served at each banquet they did not dominate the menu. Dessert courses consisted mainly of small¸ sweet cakes and large platters of fresh fruit. A papaya hollowed out and filled with a glutinous filling was a pretty unusual dessert. Using chopsticks aided portion control, but I never left a banquet table hungry. In spite of the number of courses, the banquets were finished in under two hours.
Our schedule kept us from venturing too far into the streets of Hangzhou and Beijing to experience food sold by street vendors, although we did happen upon a block of stands on a side street next to our hotel in Hangzhou. These vendors offered typical street items – beef, pork and chicken on skewers – but the most interesting choices in the stalls featured tanks filled with live fish, seafood, eels and scorpions. We passed.
In between meals our days were filled with meetings having to do with getting Indiana products to China or how to partner Indiana companies and universities with research institutions to help China grow more of its own food to help feed its 1.3 billion people. We visited dairy and pork farms on the outskirts of Beijing and learned about the production obstacles their workers face, some of it centered around needing better equipment and better food supply for pork, beef and poultry products. At several of these meetings we proudly were offered fruits and vegetables and dairy products including yogurt and ice cream.
It seems as though Indiana and regions of China are poised to partner to bring quality products to a country that will see the population of its rural communities moving to urban areas in mind-boggling numbers, leaving small farmers without markets for their crops and challenging the infrastructure and basic daily needs of the new urbanites who must be absorbed by cities already bursting at their seams.
Our farewell dinner in Beijing featured a trip to a restaurant known for serving one of China’s delicacies, Peking Duck. We were accompanied there by a young Hoosier, who is studying to be a chef in Beijing, having arrived not long ago with little command of the language and a giant desire to make it in the kitchens of China’s third largest city. He arranged for us to visit the roasting room, where the ducks are carefully prepared, and then took us to the kitchens to watch the legions of cooks who turned out delicious fare for our delegation – braised pork, marinated beef, kung pao chicken and whole fish. The crowning entrée – a succulent duck presented with all the “fixins" - reminded us how flat our world really is: Indiana is the largest producer of ducks sold to China!
So, if reading this column (most of it, anyway!) made you hungry, thank yours truly.
If you’re not hungry because you’ve just finished yet another meal made from food that is affordable, nutritious, safe and delicious, thank a Hoosier farmer.