Monday, August 29, 2011

Epic Trip: And now for something completely different

Upon crossing the border from China into Kazakhstan, the food immediately changes. Food vendors on station platforms are now selling smoked salmon instead of instant noodles. Potato dumplings instead of fruit. Blinis instead of more instant noodles. And while the food in China was excellent, I was happy for a change. In the first ten hours or so that our train was in Kazakhstan, I had blinis and pierogi and borsht and beer and it was all wonderful.

It's a good thing, however, that we were only in Kazakhstan for a few days, because with this change in diet comes an immediate change in phenotype. The people are gigantic, both horizontally and vertically, and if I'd stayed much longer I would've fit in a bit too well.

A few of the delicacies we tried:

This was listed on the menu as "round biscuit with egg and cheese." What it actually was? A 10-kilo butter bomb. But fabulous.

Potatoes and wild mushrooms cooked in butter, served with pickled cabbage:

Various salads with herbs - primarily dill and coriander -

Oh, and mayonnaise. Lots and lots of mayonnaise.

The photo above is smoked horse meat salad. One of the best things I ate there.

Beer and cream horn. Traditional Kazakh breakfast -

Raw horse steaks and veggies -

Which we grilled on a hot stone at our table -

A perfect potato -

This guy had a stand selling various types of pickles at the green market. I tried every one -

In fact, here is my bag of pickles with the rest of my breakfast - a meat pastry and tea brewed with milk instead of water -

Various pickled veggies at the market. I found that if you stare long enough they give you samples -

Snacks... If you're like my mom and you buy bags of croutons to snack on, you'll love these. Taste just like croutons without the stigma of snacking on a salad accessory -

Mushroom and sour cream potato chips -

Caviar potato chips -

Cookies sold in bulk -

And after telling a guy I wanted a kilo of biscuits, I now know how much a kilo is. It's a hell of a lot. We ate biscuits for days.

Kelly and I ordered the same beer, but mine was served as it should be to a lady - in a curvy glass with a straw -

Bonus pic! The snack you get on China Southern Airlines from Almaty to Urumqi? A cucumber wrapped in plastic.

Epic Trip: Our food in China

A few days ago we got back from our epic 5,000-plus mile trip from Hong Kong to Kazakhstan and back. We spent a month taking trains, buses, taxis, planes, small three-wheeled contraptions, and camels, and returned to Hong Kong exhausted and filthy and a bit stunned. But what a trip - watching the sun rise over the Gobi Desert... climbing mountains to watch the early morning mist swirl around snow-covered peaks... being briefly placed under house arrest... it was magical.

But let me start with what everyone wants to see - the food.

Traveling through China, we feasted daily on all of our favorite Sichuan dishes.

Potatoes, either fried with chilies -

Or "sour and spicy" -

Dry-fried green beans -

Various types of noodles -

Tofu -

And other delicacies, like bread brushed with mutton fat and spices and then grilled at the night market -

The bread came with the skewers of mutton that I ordered. I ordered "two." Which is apparently two servings - not two skewers. But no problem - I ate all twenty of them -

A gigantic plate of chicken with chilies -

Stir-fried green onions with strips of tofu -

"Three thread salad" -

Lotus root with chili, three-thread salad, cucumbers -

Um... steamed lettuce. With chili and peanuts. Not so great, really.

Very spicy chilies with black bean sauce -

Eggplant and green beans -

Skewers of eggplant and garlic -

And the meal we had at our hotel's Mongolian restaurant while under house arrest in Hejing. Spicy jellyfish salad (Little-known fact: Mongols were traditionally jellyfish herders. Seahorses were domesticated for this purpose.) -

Egg and chive dumplings -

Flatbread with mutton and fried egg -

And beansprouts -

In fact, while in China we only ate meat two or three times. Not out of deference to Kelly's vegetarianism (because when have I ever deferred to that?) but because the veggies are just so damn good.

The street food was fabulous, as always. This is an area where Hong Kong is almost completely deficient, so I tried everything I could.

Quail eggs cooked in cast iron -

A cart where you pick what you want...

And they'll deep fry it (fried lettuce is surprisingly tasty) -

A thin pancake filled with egg, radish, carrot, green onions, lettuce, and chili sauce -

And because we were on the train so much, we had a chance to try all sorts of snacks. They were universally good.

Spicy lotus root -

Um... pear breast -

And pickled tofu and soybeans -

Up next - the food in Kazakhstan. Spoiler alert: it's very, very different.