Chinese bread is weird
One question I am being asked frequently in China is whether I like Chinese food and if I prefer southern or northern cuisine. Yes, I like the food, and generally speaking I prefer dishes from the south. Of course, there are certain dishes that my taste buds do not enjoy, such as “stinky tofu” and chicken heads. But there is one particular dish very common in the north that I just never managed to get used to.
Mantou (Chinese steamed buns), is a cloud-like bread that is a popular staple food in the north. I remember the first time I tried mantou. It was during a visit to Shenyang, the capital and largest city of China’s northeast Liaoning Province. It was at my school’s canteen and I thought it was a simple bread role like we eat in the West.
As a China newbie at the time, I didn’t know how to pick up such a big piece of dough using chopsticks, so I simply pierced right through the mantou with my chopstick. Slightly expecting it to taste like bread, I am sure one could tell the disappointment on my face when I found it was just pure, tasteless dough,
Its not that I find mantou disgusting, it is more like I don’t understand it. While you can add sauce to rice to give it more flavor (and rice is so much handier to eat with chopsticks) I find dipping mantou in sauce very messy, as the soft dough immediately becomes soggy and falls apart.
I understand that there are different sizes and textures of mantou; the smaller, softer and fluffier version is served at nice restaurants, while the “working man’s lunch” is a very large – up to 15 centimeters – firm and dense version of mantou. My first mantou was this kind; I remember chewing on it for a long time.
In fact, both are not really to my liking. Its not only that I think mantou tastes like nothing, but I also cannot appreciate its texture. The cloud-like appearance just confuses me for the same reason I also do not like cotton candy, which looks great but is a very unsatisfying eat.
And due to my general dislike of mantou, I also do not enjoy eating baozi (thick, dumpling-like buns stuffed with filling). Sometimes I feel like I am the only foreigner in China who does not like baozi. Whenever I tell people this they are amazed and ask me how I can even survive in China without gorging on baozi.