I don’t think anybody else can have a pickier eater than my son. I know, a lot of other mothers feel the same way about their own children. Well, traveling to China with picky eaters can be a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable. The food choices in China broadens at an amazing rate both in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but also at unknown smaller cities or towns like Kunming or Dali. Rather than providing a complete restaurant review here, I will simply tell you how my son survived his three weeks in China.
All major hotels in China provide a mix of Chinese and Western dishes. You can easily find bacon and eggs, or corn flakes and yogurt at breakfast buffet table. The situation changes immediately if you head towards any city less known than the provincial capitals. For example, in the panda nature reserve I visited near Xi’an, I was served 4 dishes of cold and spicy salads, a bowl of zhou (very watered down rice porridge), and a couple pieces of steamed bread. In situations like this, my go-to breakfasts for my son was white rice, which is available at every single Chinese restaurant and the cheapest solution as it usually costs less than 4RMB (US$0.5)/bowl.
One thing that frustrates me most at WildChina is that our local guides still insist on serving a HUGE 8-course meals for lunch, regardless of how much we try to change that. Most foreign visitors are alarmed by how big these lunches are. Only on hiking trips, are we able to really change things around and provide only sandwiches and chilled drinks. If you are traveling on your own, go for local noodle soups and dumplings. These are tasty and more than sufficient for lunch. My son would not touch any of the Chinese dishes, despite the fresh green beans, broccolis, and noodle soups. Instead, he opted for McDonald’s Happy Meals. Yes, McDonald’s is practically around every major corner in Beijing and widely available in all provincial capitals. In fact, however, KFC is even more successful than McDonald’s, because most Chinese find KFC to be more similar to Chinese flavors. That being said, KFC has localized many items on their menu. For example, they serve youtiao (fried dough) and zhou (the watered down rice porridge I mentioned above) on their breakfast menu too! My son was happy with McDonalds’ chicken nuggets, but didn’t like any of the toys, since they are local and for the most part, based on Japanese or Korean figures. My daughter on the other hand, LOVED the 10 RMB/piece Hello Kitties.
Dinner in China is a big deal, particularly with guests. All the meals that I went to served on average 20 dishes on the table! I don’t remember any dish being completely finished off. Quite a bit of wastage. In Yunnan, it’s wild mushroom season – enough reason for me to travel there just for the mushrooms. My son didn’t even taste any of that, instead, his grandfather went to fetch him a pizza from Pizza Hut every single day. Yes, Pizza Hut also made successful entries into China. Although the restaurants are all regarded as high-end places that are 50% empty at all times. If you go in there to order a pizza, they ALL tell you that it’s a 17 minutes wait time for the pizza to cook. I bet their management drilled this sentence into every server’s mind. So, my dad would call the Pizza Hut located right next door to the Carrefour Supermarket and then take a 20-minute round trip walk to bring back dinner for his grandson. The 乳酪大汇 (rulao dahui) on a round dish is the same as a regular crusted cheese pizza here. It costs RMB 76 ($11) for a 12 inch pizza.
After all of his grandfather’s efforts, my son came to a conclusion in the end: America is better than China because there is clean air and Youtube. What can I say?