Guest Post by: Katie Chua, a Foster Junior studying Marketing. She is a Foster School Undergraduate who participated on Foster Exchange at Peking University in Beijing, China.
By far the thing I miss the most about studying abroad at Peking is the abundance of delicious and affordable food. The university is well-known for its food. With over seven or eight different canteens you can visit, it seems like there are endless choices for food. Honestly, there were probably some canteens I didn’t even know existed, but that’s exactly what made exploring campus all the more fun.
Using WeChat through your phone, you can load money onto your student card. Once you’ve enabled that…the possibilities are endless. Each canteen has several windows with different dishes. Speaking limited Chinese, I usually just walked up to a particularly busy line (because if there’s a line, it has to be good, right?) and when I arrived, I would just point at something that looked good and say in Chinese, this or that. Usually this method worked, except for the few times they would scoop up the dish I didn’t point to.
I’ll be the first to admit that this method requires a lot of trust and an open mind as you might end up with something you really despise and probably with something you’ve never even had before. But what are you doing in China if you don’t have an open mind?
Eventually, I found certain dishes that I liked which were only ever served at specific canteens and at different times of the day. One of my favorite canteens would open up a service after 6:30p where they lay out a bunch of fresh ingredients like vegetables, meats, fish, tofu and you place however much you want of each in your basket. They weight the ingredients and then boil them all for you in a delicious broth and you can top it off with different peppers, hot sauces, or sesame sauce. Usually, this cost about $1.20 or so for each bowl.
At lunch, you can get about a dozen dumplings for $0.50, and there was always fresh fruit cut right in front of you. One canteen offered a giant slice of cantaloupe or honeydew on a stick and there was always sweet potatoes, yams, or even corn on the cob steamed to a chewy perfection available. From pastries and steamed buns to fish, noodles, and seaweed salad, I never got bored with the canteens.
The halal canteen had these amazing pancake-roti type dish filled with ground meat and chives. Another canteen had whole steamed fish and hand-pulled noodles. Different canteens featured specialties from different provinces of China such as Sichuanese or Canton-style. I looked forward to every meal I got to eat and other students around me generally did too.
After every meal, I liked to buy just a quick bottle of yogurt. These are about 6 fl oz with Beijing-style yogurt, drank with a straw. I’m salivating just writing about all of the many different dishes I got to enjoy while studying abroad at Beijing. Chinese food is incredibly diverse and flavorful and I am grateful I got to experience that right at the university.
One class I took during my time abroad was an English class that focused on European authors writing about their experiences with China. One quote stuck with me that I will never forget. “The Chinese are the best eaters in the world.” I think I have to agree with that statement.