Friday, November 12, 2010

Guangzhou: New Town, New Chocolate

As I sit here in my apartment on the South Campus at Sun Yat-sen University, gobbling up a bowl of arroz rojo y frijoles negros improvised with a wok and a two-burner gas stove, I'm possibly only days away from receiving a visa that makes me an official resident of the city of Guangzhou. The first couple of weeks of eating were incredibly confusing. The supermarket aisles contain more sweet, sticky, crunchy, and other wise junky foods than you'd find at a Walmart in a Midwest potato-chip test market, no canned or frozen vegetables, and not a single variety of tomato sauce other than ketchup. But with the help of Mark Bittman's east-west stir-fries and culturally ambiguous chicken adobo--along with my own ten-minute noodle soup invention (bring some boxed stock to a boil, add a fistful of soba noodles and cook for a few minutes while you slice off the stem part of four or five heads of baby bok choi to separate the leaves, then add the bok choi to the pot, cover and cook for another minute, turn off the heat, add a splash each of soy sauce and sesame oil, pour into a pretty bowl, grab a pair of chopsticks, slurp, and enjoy--my Asian kitchen is becoming a much more familiar place.

The Asian Games, an Olympic-scale event involving athletes from 45 countries and stadiums full of local volunteers (official figures are not so easily googled in China, but one count I saw was 6000, including most of my students) begin tonight just across the Pearl River in Guangzhou's new urban center Zhujiang New Town. As I type this while watching official Chinese news coverage of the G20 summit on TV, I have to say that nothing signals China's actual and metaphorical growth like the transformation of New Town from a flat piece of land to a citadel of highrises. Leading up to the games, new buildings literally sprung up every day, reflecting changing tastes of all kinds here in Asia. While the artisan chocolate industry may have already expanded to capacity in the States, new chocolate shops here can offer genuinely new services and products. The single bon bon I picked up in New Town's new Two Oaks chocolate shop just before closing time one night a couple of weeks ago left me curious to find out who owns this place, where she learned to make candies and pastries, which ingredients she uses, and what she thinks of China's emerging chocolate market.


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