“a Gitana (my friend’s name is Gitana) blurb on kung fu and food in china”

Last year, I trained in rural China at a kung fu school for four months. Despite the wonderful training with extremely knowledgeable Shaolin Masters and the attractiveness of simple living, being cooked for is also seemingly attractive… it is not simple and tasty, but the kind of simple that leaves one hungry, loosing weight, and sometimes depressed. So much so that I would often sneak out of school grounds to eat food that was shiny with MSG.

Breakfast:
Meal times were regimented and signaled with the loud shrill of a whistle. Each day started with an hour of tai chi and then breakfast at 7am. EVERY SINGLE breakfast was exactly the same. There were boiled eggs (the saving grace from a protein perspective, yet the “quality” of said egg is debatable), white and pasty steamed buns — a stodgy, difficult to get down item, made palatable by vegemite — highly processed sweet bread, and individually packaged powdered soya milk. These last two items were usually consumed together; both of which I was not interested in. Sanity was maintained by buying bananas and yoghurt. Tea, China’s national drink was nowhere to be seen.

Lunch:
After the morning’s training, the whistle would blow and hungry people would flock to the dining hall like scavengers, usually only to be disappointed. We ate white rice for lunch EVERY SINGLE DAY. There were about five dishes on the table in the centre and knock yourself out, before someone else does. Being a vegetarian (actually pescatarian, but whatevs), my five usually became two. Anyway, the skerricks of “meat” were often not the kind of “meat” you could identify…


The photos show Tim and his face says it all: floating “meat” balls, beans stir-fried with no condiment at all, steamed potatoe with “meat” and, oh yeah, the only spice we encountered, star anise. Another lovely dish we had quite often, roughly chopped cucumber, half the dish is sprinkled with salt, the other half with sugar (not cool), some other veg with “pork”, and boiling water in the teapot. The colourful photo actually looks quite wonderful; it shows a “good” day. The fish mostly remained there; few were game to eat it. It tasted like gritty mackerel, the kind that makes you feel like you accidentally bit open a cod liver capsule and chewed some gravel as well… but the protein was necessary. Add a plate of overcooked sliced zuchhini, turned floppy, in a can of tomatoes, no olive oil, no salt = in what universe is this tasty? Slivers of brightly coloured pinky vegies. I still don’t know what these are, but they were edible and fresh. They are a dirt-tasting cross between a beetroot and a radish without the kick. Does anyone fancy a “meat” stick? Or, what about over stir-fried cauliflower and green capsicum in shitty Chinese oil; another favourite. NEVER be deceived by the pretty colours. On occasion, we were blessed and given some fruit, either banana or watermelon!

Dinner:
There is really not much to report as it was EXACTLY the same as lunch. At 6pm every day, we would press our faces up to the glass and wonder if anything was going to be different. Mostly, we maintained being unimpressed. Except on Thursday night; we would either get noodles floating around in their meat stock, or fried rice (as if we hadn’t had enough rice) and sometimes dumplings. Overall, there were dishes on rotation, but I reckon I had a total of about 15 dishes.

So, if this food sounds like your idea of “how to loose weight quickly” or how to “challenge your mental faculties”, or how to “learn to accept and not control everything”, or simply, “hell at the table every day”, saved only by good company and the odd slice of watermelon, then you’ll understand why one student left this message on the table one day; it means bu hao which is “bad”.

I know right, a little childish and not exactly the smartest way for good tucker to arrive in the future, but hey, a little delinquency never hurt right? Actually, I have friends in the industry, so it’s not the smartest move…

Before my monologue is complete, note that 1) simple food is part of the training, and 2) food in China can be wonderful, as these last photos show (couldn’t get more chilli if one tried; I loved it), no really, it can be salivating and creative. I would recommend the “training kung fu in China” experience to everyone and anyone and I have just returned from another stint, where I can report that the food was much better J