By Bread Alone

The Cafeteria

The cafeteria at Qingquan is a school cafeteria.  From there, however, the resemblance to any school cafeteria that anyone who matriculated in the US ends.  The first departure from certified government cheese and other foodstuffs is that everything is fresh.  Everything includes most vegetables known to modern man.

And, (and I didn’t know or, perhaps, acknowledge this), every vegetable known to modern man can be accompanied by bean paste, i.e., tofu.  I didn’t particularly like tofu before eating in the cafeteria here; now I positively hate it.  If Forrest Gump had been filmed in Yantai, he would be a tofu captain.  I also didn’t know how many disguises you could fashion for tofu.  Tofu can be served fried, boiled, broiled, baked, fricasseed, stewed, sauteed, breaded, squared, rounded, noodled, spaghettied, lumped, stuffed, and barbequed.  And I’ve already had all those ways.

The Serving Line

The meals are prepared by student cooks from the Technical School under the supervision of the head chef.  Notwithstanding the rampant use of tofu, they are wholesome and tasty.  My main concern is that everything seems to have been steamed.  By the time you get to the end of the serving line, your tray sloshes.  Even the bread is steamed – so, you get nothing that resembles a crust.

The meals are served from a serving line that usually contains three to four dishes.  These are vegetable oriented with small bits of meat mixed in many of the dishes.  Although sometimes the small bits are beef, mostly it’s pork and chicken.  The meat is usually overcooked to that consistency that consistently gets stuck between your teeth.  Occasionally we are served a small fried fish, either eel (cut into 4″ pieces) or smelt.  I’ve given up trying to eat the fish with chopsticks, and just use my hands.  THAT is usually enough to draw the attention of everyone around me.  At least, they’re fairly good about sneaking looks instead of outright staring at the barbarian.

Typical Trayload

Each meal is also accompanied by steamed bread and rice.  I’m in awe of some of the teachers who accept enough rice at each meal to constipate an elephant.  At the end of the line, we’re offered a bowl of “soup” that I normally decline.  Why?  It’s not really soup.  Oliver Twist wouldn’t ask for a second bowl.  It’s a thin, unsalted watery rice or bean broth that everyone else uses as their meal’s liquid because there isn’t any ice tea or water served.  Sometimes, the “soup” is egg drop, and credibly edible, but still without salt.  No beverages as we would expect.  (In many restaurants, you have to specifically ask for a beverage to accompany the meal – so, we’ll just call it a Chinese cultural difference.)

All serving pieces except the kuàizi (chopsticks) are made of spun metal.  Spoons are also offered at lunch, but not at dinner (I have no idea why and neither do my contacts.)

Bowled Over

There’s no condiments, unless you bring your own, no salt, no pepper, and no napkins anywhere in sight.  Luckily, I carry my Texas Flag bandana and my own salt shaker.

I’ve mentioned that the school is semi-regimented, and nowhere is this more visible than in the run-up (walk-up) to meals.  In the graded school, the students gather in classroom groups and walk to the cafeteria.  The technical school gathers in the school’s plaza and walk to the cafeteria in a double file.  Their cafeteria is located on the second floor of the facility so the two schools don’t mix.  (An aside:  The Tech school students usually wear a

To Eat, To Eat

track suit with a white jacket over blue pants. The regular school has no uniform manner of dressing, but some of the students wear an all-blue track suit by choice. Bob wears what’s clean at the moment)

I still marvel at the speed which a teenager can down food.  I calculate that from the time a student enters the cafeteria that it’s roughly ten minutes before they leave again.  The smaller kids take a little longer, but only because most of them are being monitored by their homeroom teachers.

In addition to the cafeteria as a food point, there is a lightly equipped canteen adjoining the cafeteria.  It’s stocked with all the junk food that any growing teenager would want for the manufacture of pimples, etc.  The woman running the canteen is an affable sort and has helped me on several occasions to select Chinese junk food for my midnight snacking.

Happiness is a warm cheeto.

Prices, by our measure, are cheap and it’s probably possible to put away enough barely edible, reasonably priced, high-calorie, low food value candy, nuts, etc. to last an entire weekend for less than $10.00.  I haven’t tried.  I’m just saying I think it’s possible.

That’s all for now.  I’ll think of more.

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