The only remarkable thing on the drive back from Jingdezhen was the huge numbers of lorries transporting parts for wind turbines. A single lorry carried either two blades or a large section of the vertical tower. Annoyingly they were driving three abreast, so the rest of the traffic was severely held up. We stopped the night in Jinan, where we’d rested on the way down to Shanghai, and rather than do much exploring revisited the same two restaurants we’d eaten in before. One of these had introduced me to my new favourite dish – pork boiled cabbage with chilli, which is pretty much as it sounds – fatty pork boiled in a vinegar and soy sauce broth with fried chillies and cabbage. The pork and chillies are really just for flavour, and the whole thing is usually served atop a small burner to keep it bubbling hot, whilst I fumble around with slippery chopsticks.
The most enjoyable difference between the British version of Chinese food and the real thing is the variety and taste of the Chinese vegetables. Whilst I’m not a huge fan of vegetables cooked in the European style (plainly boiled or steamed) and have a love/don’t need relationship with the American style (battered and fried), Chinese veg are generally amazing. The supermarket aisles here are awash with fresh green veg, most of which I’d not seen or considered eating before. Most of them look like weeds, but seemingly any unidentified leaf can be cooked up into a delicious dish, ranging from chrysanthemum stalks to my other new favourite: hot lettuce. The majority of vegetables here are simply stir-fried in a strong stock, with just a little garlic and salt to bring out the natural flavours.
Another enjoyable new taste has been ripe red tomatoes sprinkled with white sugar. A tiny six table restaurant in my apartment complex dishes up a tray of steamed buns, sugared tomatoes, a block of tofu with spring onions and MSG, served with a light broth made simply from herbs and a boiled omelette/poached egg affair. It’s served up in minutes and costs a very reasonable ¥21. There has been a lot of criticism of cheap bun and dumpling places in the press recently after it was discovered that pork had been padded out or in some cases completely replaced by cardboard, but if it tastes this good I’m really not that bothered.