Lean and Mean
I’m one of those lean-meats kind of people. Pork loins and chicken breasts are high up there on my protein list but in smalltown China, those are a bit tricky to purchase.
In the open air meat market, which is the only place here to go for fresh selections, sellers expect you to eat like the Chinese. In other words, everything goes, from jiggling, blubbery pork fat to every animal innard imaginable. Heads, feet, eyes, guts and skin are goodies left up for grabs to the public.
The Chinese eat it all.
Unfortunately, the foreigner doesn’t, or rather this foreigner doesn’t.
Trying to talk sellers into giving me just the best bits of a huge slab tossed on the butcher’s cutting block has been a challenge.
From day one, it was walking the aisles to find one or two willing enough to help me out. Among the pork sellers, I managed a fairly good rapore which landed me choice loin cuts but I still had to get the whole shebang by buying what the meat was attached to. That left me dealing with back bones and extended rib cages once I got home.
Thank goodness for the dog. She reaps the rewards of my unwanted purchases by getting a small cooked bone every evening before bed. Otherwise, I’m afraid I’d be throwing out a great deal of still tasty, gnawable parts of a good pig.
Chicken Breasts? Another story
Pork loins are one thing but getting chicken breasts, I quickly found, was quite another matter altogether.
No poultry seller was willing to destroy an entire chicken just for the foreigner to have the white meat. It was either buy the entire chicken (freshly plucked, rubbery skinned, with neck, head, feet and all still intact) or buy a half a chicken or buy a fourth of a chicken with the delectable leg and wing awaiting the cooking pot.
Since chicken bones are pretty much out for dogs, and dark meat was not something I cared for, that left me dealing with parts of the bird my pickiness refused to eat.
Throwing out good meat was just too sinful in my mind so I turned to the Chinese.
I tried giving my neighbors and colleagues the chicken parts not my favorites but after awhile, it was a bit embarrassing. My Chinese friends didn’t understand they were doing me a favor by taking from me what was considered to them the most delicious and best part of the bird. They felt overly obligated to return my generosity instead.
Things got a bit messy, relationship-wise, so I just gave up on buying chicken and stuck to pork.
Making an Inroad
Thus it’s been for 7 months now with me passing by the poultry section of the market and heading directly to the pork sellers.
When the swine butchers see me coming, their eyes light up.
“Lai, lai, waiguo pengyou! (Come, come, foreign friend!)” they shout, holding up what they know I’m looking for, hoping that I’ll land at their stall.
They know I’m a great customer. I load up every week or two on quite a lot to freeze at home for my daily use.
Always during these occasions, the poultry sellers look on with envy and frustration: If the foreigner buys all that pork, why won’t she buy chicken as well?
It was just by chance last Sunday that I happened to be in the market around 10:30 a.m., which is not my usual shopping time. What did I see, as I headed to pork stalls, but a nicely cut-out chicken breast waiting for purchase.
A great find! I snatched it up immediately, asking the poultry seller if she had more.
She shook her head.
Could she cut me another one from the whole birds lining her table?
She was very reluctant to do this, frowned and made a rather snotty facial expression that said, “Are you kidding?! Not possible.”
But the next seller over, seeing this was an opportunity, waved me into her cubicle.
“You want this one?” she said, holding onto a hefty chicken and motioning she’d cut me what I wanted.
“I’ll take as many as you can give me,” I replied eagerly.
And that’s how it started: I made an inroad with a poultry seller.
“Come back tomorrow,” she brightened. “How much do you want? One pound? Two pounds?”
“You prepare it, I’ll buy it,” I said.
We set a time of 12:30 the next day. She wanted me to come earlier. That would allow her more time to sell the parts of the bird I didn’t want to other Chinese, shopping before lunch. But I explained I was teaching until noon. That’s the earliest I could get there.
She paused a moment. She seemed a bit skeptical that I’d show up but agreed reluctantly.
If she set aside all this meat and I didn’t come, she’d be left having to sell it to the Chinese who most likely wouldn’t want just the breasts. They’d want an entire chicken. That would mean throwing out what wasn’t sold at the end of the day.
Obviously, a great loss of money to her.
From my end, I wasn’t going to let this prized moment pass by. No matter what, I was going to make it to her stall at 12:30 the next day to show that, yes, the foreigner’s word can be trusted.
Sealing the Deal
The next day was a sizzler, reaching high into the 90s. After a full morning of teaching in a sweltering classroom, I was stinky, tired, and in no mood to go shopping. The last thing I wanted to do was walk into town under that relentless southern Chinese sun to get chicken breasts.
But my seller was waiting. I had made a promise. I was obligated to keep it.
So I sucked it up and off I went, trudging along the dusty, heated Longzhou streets, under the shade of my umbrella, to the outdoor market.
What a big smile awaited me, along with 2 pounds of chicken breasts, after I arrived.
It was quite a noontime show, the foreigner loading up on her chicken breasts. The other poultry sellers were full of regret, having missed out on what they now saw was a great relationship (and money-maker) between one of their own and the foreigner.
The pork sellers, in the meantime, kept glancing my way, now discovering that there was some competition involved here.
Obviously, they’d have to work a bit harder to entice me over next time I was cruising the market aisles.
Same-o, Same-o Dinners Take A Back Burner
After having pork for so long, chicken has been a great change of pace for me.
Now we come to a dilemma: How to please both the poultry and pork sellers so they’ll continue to regard me as their special customer and leave the best selections out for my scrutiny.
Juggling between the two won’t be easy but I’ll figure it out somehow.
Until next entry, here’s wishing you Ping An (peace) for your day.