Thursday, January 21, 2010


The Villages in the City

In Zhengzhou, there are these things that I have been introduced to as “the villages in the city.” White people call them “the alleys”, but I much prefer to call them the villages in the city, at least until I learn the mandarin word/phrase for it. You know the villages when you see them, because it is kind of like a state fare... jammed into an alley. Nothing but food and merchandise carts as far as you can see. Depending on the village you go to, you can get just about any kind of house hold knick knacks like mops, lunch pales, milk and socks, or you could buy shoes, pirated dvds and oh so much more.

My real reason for going to the villages, aside from the obvious allure of squalor... is the food. I like to walk home from work, worming my way from village to village, and picking up dinner as I go along. I figure all the walking counteracts the fried foods. Granted--- not all of it is fried! some of it is just swimming in oil BWAH HAHHA.

Im only half kidding... oil is the lifeblood of salt of the earth chinese food. Oh and real chinese food is nothing like you get in a restaurant, at least not here in Henan (HUH-nahn). The most common foods I see are this type of.. its kind of like an english muffin meets a biscuit which is given the skillet treatment and then baked in the cavity beneath the huge skillet it is cooked on. These are usually cut open and filled with a mainland chinese equivalent of barbeque pork and green pepper... kind of like a bell pepper but not quite. this is hacked to death by a cleaver and then stuffed in the bread-thing.
it is quite delicious. There are tons of venders with what is essentially a kiln on wheels... and they all bake some variety of sweet potato. I got one today, and it was delicious aswell. There are venders selling raw meat, cooked meat, and crazy meat that you dont really understand like pigs foot...

The more delicious meats however... come on a skewer. There is lamb -- which is usually covered in this delicious spicy rub, there is octopus... which is fun... but not the most delicious, there are chicken wings, tofu and a whole range of other things-on-a-stick.

If you want something sweet, there are plenty of fruits with a sort of carmalized sugar crust on a stick, deep fried banana (which I got today) or you can get straight up sugar cane ~ which im addicted to right now, partially because of the novelty of it.

You can get dumplings, noodles, and various other wonderful things, and MORE!

There is no reason to starve in the city.

The most I have paid for anything was five kwai... and that was those delicious lamb skewers.. and there were like five of them in one of those biscuit-muffin dealies. For those of you who are not aware... the exchange rate is basically 6-1 so 5 kwai is not even one dollar... So I can eat to my hearts content easily on 10 kwai... and pay less than the equivalent of two american/canadian dollars. It is a thing of beauty.

Today I got up the guts to get one of the hot drinks sold in the villages. I wanted to buy from this vendor because he had the coolest cart ever. At first glance, it is a cart like all the others, with containers of various ingredients all over it. However, When you get past all the people, you notice this huge dragon kettle on it! Constructed from copper and brass, the basin being copper and the dragon which mounts the pot and forms the spout being made from brass, this contraption was definitely the seller for me. It was on a rocking type mechanism, so the vender simply had to tip the pot and huge vessel would pour within his control. He then mixed the contents of the kettle with some sort of white liquid... which I assume is starch because the whole drink is viscous, and throws in a variety of ingredients including black sesame seeds, green raisins, maybe lichee, peanuts and whatever else. The top of the plastic cup is then sealed and handed to you with an accommodating straw. well worth the two kwai... Shoot... i’d pay five dollars for that every once in a while... but dont tell my vendor that :D. (picture incoming on the dragon pot.)


The villages are emblematic of life in Zhengzhou I feel. They are dirtier than you would like to imagine, but so full of free enterprise and variety that you are a bit inspired at the same time. Not to mention the flavour and dirt cheapness of it is super attractive.

Almost every vendor has a single lightbulb suspended above them... bare. I dont know if I have seen any sort of lamp shade... ever.... on the street. It is almost like the idea is a ridiculous thought. Then there are the blinking signs along the street advertising a stores wares. Three out of five will be house merchandise, one will be dvd’s one might be clothes and almost all will sell alcohol.

I went walking down the street in a non-alley and there must have been nine alcohol shops within three city blocks... some of them right next to each other. It’s like these are Henan’s equivalent of Starbucks.

When I say dirty though, I mean dirty. Litter is a way of life. Everyone throws everything, everywhere. Squished fruit and trash adorn every corner, and this is Henan -- so the sounds of everyone around you include, yelling vendors, frying foods, the sound of cooking fires flaring up, and the hocking of lugies... by everyone. Everyone spits and hocks really loudly and nastily here. If you had a personal bond with the bottom of your shoes, you would never walk anywhere. *But like I said --- this is a way of life.

You buy your sugarcane for one kwai... or two kwai if it is the huge one. Sugarcane looks an awful lot like bamboo, if you have never had it. However, it is more of a purple colour, until the vendor takes their cleaver, shaving utensil and takes the hard outer layer off and wraps one end in a plastic bag for you. You then walk home gnawing on it and spitting out the woody contents after you have chomped the sugary juice out with your molars. I somewhat wonder if God designed this as a dental tool... because you definitely give your teeth a thorough going over in the process of extracting the goodness... maybe sugar was supposed to be incentive to clean one’s teeth I like that line of thought.
If you are trying to be really polite with the sugar cane like I do, you choose to spit in bushes or in the grates beneath the trees on the sidewalk... the same place dogs do their business...

What more can I say? they are dingy ~ but such a wonderful cultural artifact that I actually feel like North America is deficient for not having something like this. This is open every day... and it is not ruled by health codes, bosses or anything other than the people’s desire to make money and stand out from the crowd so that they can attract more customers.

No comments:

Post a Comment