Dan has encountered many strange and unfamiliar foods since coming to Hohhot. Besides Northern Chinese and Mongolian cuisines, there are all sorts of random produce items and snack foods that cross our path.
Here we have a trio of fruits and vegetables that we wish were easier to get back home. The first is fóshǒuguā or “buddha’s hand melon”, a.k.a. chayote. Very nice when sautéed with carrots. The second is a radish the size of a canteloupe, which when cut into matchsticks is also good with carrot. The third is rambutan, a Southeast Asian fruit with a thick, leathery purple skin and white meat in segments about the size of a garlic clove. It's most likely imported, and not the cheapest or freshest fruit around here, but it's common in stores.
Next we have a small sampling of the many varieties of ice cream bars available.
The first one is labelled in English as “brick of milk ice” and in Chinese as “milk brick snow cake”. It tasted like very very cheap vanilla ice cream, and was gummy to the point of being chewy. The second one is Dan’s current favorite, an oatmeal flavor. Much better than the purple taro flavor (not shown). The last one is made with mung beans. The photo speaks for itself. Note that this was not the only bean-flavored ice cream available.
One of our go-to snacks is potato chips. You can get them here but, unfortunately, Lay's have attempted to adapt their flavors to Chinese tastes:
If you can’t read the fine print, that’s “Cool & Refreshing Cucumber Flavor” on the left, and “Classic Great Taste Mexican Tomato Chicken Flavor” on the right. We tried these and a few other exotic potato chip flavors, but eventually gave up and have been sticking with “American Classic Plain” (like regular potato chips but with more MSG). Oddly enough, Chinese customers seem to share our opinion, judging by how the plain flavor always sells out first.
Last but not least, we have dàyaójiābīn, a mildly sweet carbonated soda made locally in Hohhot. The flavor of dàyaó is similar to old-fashioned bubble-gum, the dry, hard pink kind that took a lot of jaw strength to get through the first few minutes of chewing. If you look closely, you can see that they re-use old beer bottles and just slap their own label on them (the bottles still have beer brand names like “tsingtao” and “snow deer” embossed in the glass).
One time we were having lunch in a restaurant and we overheard a customer from out of town trying to order a soft drink. He had never heard of dàyaó and it took awhile for the staff to explain. We felt smugly local, and Dan got a kick out of someone else being more confused than him for once.