If I were somehow forced into picking the cuisine of a single country to consume for the rest of my life, China would be my first choice, hands down. Nevertheless, I long ago began to have intense cravings for a multitude of foods from other parts of the world (think egg & cheese, hoagies, lamb & rice, gyros, souvlaki, raisin bran, whole wheat bread). Sadly, even though I am in arguably the most cosmopolitan city on the mainland, my pitiable student budget severely limits my options, as most non-Chinese food establishments are geared at expats/the more well-to-do Chinese. Also, and maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough, but I suspect that something like Dominican food is close to non-existent here.
So Sean and I have begun to scout out satisfactory replacements for all those foods we missed from our previous life. Yesterday proved to be a fruitful day for our quest.
We followed a recommendation from his (American) coworker and hit up a little stall by my University’s back gate for some “Chinese sandwiches”. I could muster only a hesitant optimism on our walk there, but as soon as I saw the spit, with its alternating layers of fat and meat, my skepticism began to melt away. We ordered 2 “sandwiches” at 6rmb each. The girl proceeded to gather a bunch of meat pieces from the bottom of the spit (minus 1 point for having meat pre-sliced), throw some lettuce on top, sprinkle some orange and green powders, and roll it all up in a flat pastry dotted with scallions and sesame seeds (sorta like a thin 葱油饼). Slipped them into plastic baggies so we wouldn’t have to get our fingers greasy.
It was delicious. The meat was salty and succulent (most of my friends know that I hold the “meat” in lamb gyros/lamb & rice very close to my overworked heart, but this stuff actually looked like meat!), the greens refreshing, and whatever that seasoning was–chili powder?–tickled just the right taste buds. The pastry was warm, slightly oily, and chewy or crispy depending on where I bit. We decided that this would be our substitute for the gyro while we were in China.
As this was a literal hole-in-the-wall with no seating area, we strolled down the street as we ate, but as soon as we reached the end of the block we turned shamelessly around for seconds–in our defense, they were little. The girl was amused. “Hao chi ma?” “Hen hao chi.” Hoping to hit a second bird with the same stone, I suggested that she should start selling rice boxes with this meat, but she said there wasn’t enough space to make rice. (Not true: a rice cooker takes up no space at all.)
The sign on the sidewalk called it Turkish roast meat. Chinese, Turkish–whatever, as long as it’s good, cheap, and not slated to be bulldozed like the rest of Shanghai, I’m happy to have satisfied my heavily-seasoned-roast-meat-wrapped-in-flatbread craving. Throw in the 30-minute round-trip walk and the lack of white sauce, and this might become one of the healthiest changes I’ll have made in quite a while.
Now if I could only convince them to make the portions about 3x bigger…