Gallery: Snapshots from China: The Best Things I Ate in Northern China

Qingdao Breakfast
Qingdao Breakfast

We woke up bright and early in Qingdao to head to a few stands in the neighborhood selling yellow grain porridge, fried dough sticks, sesame balls stuffed with red bean, quail eggs, sticky rice and more. Toting everything in plastic bags (even the porridge!), we brought the feast back to the apartment.

A Fresh, Homemade Feast in Laoshan
A Fresh, Homemade Feast in Laoshan

We headed to Laoshan, a coastal town in eastern Qingdao. Right by the beach, we got fresh fish, crawfish and live squid to bring to our hosts’ weekend home and she cooked up this feast. This type of crawfish is unique to Asia and we definitely had our fill. The squid is cooked in its own ink and some freshly harvested chives from the garden.

Mixed Laoshan Tofu
Mixed Laoshan Tofu

It’s said that the tofu in Laoshan tastes different because of the water it’s made with. I loved the salty tanginess to this tofu, which is mixed with raw greens and a little bit of salt in this totally raw dish.

Mixed Soybeans and Boiled Peanuts and Celery
Mixed Soybeans and Boiled Peanuts and Celery

In the family village in Yantai, we ate a variety of dishes at every meal. With plenty of peanuts, celery, green vegetables, and chives, here are just two common dishes to supplement a meal. Soybeans mixed with crunchy sautéed green vegetables, and celery boiled to a perfect crispness, mixed with peanuts boiled with some salt.

Baozi & Mantou
Baozi & Mantou

Homemade steamed breads. The baozi (the ones with the braided pattern down the middle) are stuffed with pork and greens and were nicely savory, comforting and juicy. Made with cornmeal, these were steamed on corn husks.

Steamed Vegetarian Dumplings
Steamed Vegetarian Dumplings

Some leftover vegetarian dumplings are steamed in a large stove and set on the windowsill as other dishes are prepared.

Traditional Soup Noodles, Northern Style
Traditional Soup Noodles, Northern Style

These are the soup noodles I grew up eating on birthdays. My grandma used to make them exactly like this, with handmade noodles, eggs, beans, pork and wood ear. Here it is prepared in the village at home in Yantai. Usually served on special occasions, we had these noodles at least three times on our visit, made by different people each time. This was one of the best.

Breakfast on the Kang
Breakfast on the Kang

The first meal of the day is a big one. The small table is placed on the kang, where we slept, socialized, and ate. It actually makes for a very clean space. Here are some of the dishes in previous slides, along with salty duck eggs, spicy pork with bitter melon, tomatoes sautéed with eggs, and more.

Jua Bing at the Market
Jua Bing at the Market

The weekend flea market has all sorts of stands – selling baked goods, raw meats, plants by the root, reptile medicine, and the like. We opt for some jua bing, which translates to "grab pancake" since you tear pieces off when you eat it. Slightly greasy, but soft and chewy, this thin layered pancake had chives in it to add flavor.

Muping Dinner: Home-Cooked Goodness
Muping Dinner: Home-Cooked Goodness

This is our meal at my great aunt’s house after a five-hour bus ride. Exactly reminiscent of my grandma’s meals, which she used to make in Seattle, they involve fresh-caught fish, fresh pan-roasted peanuts, tofu, shaved radishes, green onions in soy sauce, and fresh raw garlic, which is traditionally eaten with the soup noodles. This bowl of soup noodles also tied for the best bowl I had on this trip—an ultimate taste of home.

Xiāngchūn: Native Tree Vegetable
Xiāngchūn: Native Tree Vegetable

These trees are everywhere in the village in Yantai and the greens are widely used in dishes, and cooked in a variety of ways. From salting and preserving to sautéing with eggs, xiāngchūn used in many forms; it's salty and pungent in a refreshing way. The leaves come from the toona sinensis tree.