As regular readers will know, I’m more than a touch obsessed with eating good quality grub. Hell, it’s half the reason I decided to travel through Asia for six months in the first place.
Yet after four weeks of endlessly impressive and invigorating meals in Japan, a place where even something as unhealthy as tempura can be balanced out with super fresh pickles and steamed veg, we hit China.
In fairness, the first few days, spent partying and pootling around Hong Kong, were punctuated by dim sum to die for at the excellent Maxim’s Palace, as well as delicious and healthy squat and gobble noodles, destroyed in record time in our dash to the races at Happy Valley.
But since then it’s been a grease fest of truly epic proportions. Lunch and dinner everyday in Shanghai and Guilin, our two stops in the Chinese mainland so far, has involved staring down at empty dishes with a shimmering pool of oil looking back up at us. Whether it’s fried rice, greens, pickled cucumbers or ribs, every single dish is ruined by a willingness to kill flavour with fat. Only steamed veggies seem to escape the curse. Endless thirst and culinary disappointment are fast becoming a way of life for us in China.
Just one place so far has managed to rise above the crushing mediocrity. Southern Barbarian, sitting down a small backstreet in Shanghai’s French Concession and recommended by Marta, our Airbnb host, was an oasis of sumptuous fresh mint salads, beef kebabs without an ounce of fat and mashed potatoes with local veg tossed in. This Yunnanese restaurant was made all the better by chirpy staff and a beer list that even allowed me to indulge in a Coopers Green. This was not your typical Chinese oil merchant.
I know I’m not alone in complaining about Chinese cuisine. For a country that is renowned for its vibrant food, it’s been a surprising disappointment. China is incredible, but finding healthy, grease-free food is a task that’s starting to look beyond me.