If you subsist entirely on eggs and tomatoes, la mian, baked sweet potatoes and fried rice, you’re fresh off the boat. You find hot pot adventurous and chicken neck scary. You still skim over menus looking for General Tso’s and half expect a fortune cookie at the end of your meals. Your inexperience is often given away by orders such as sweet and sour chicken (tangsuliji), milk bubble tea or just about anything that can be found in shopping malls across America. The occasional tea egg, shouzhua bing for breakfast and roujiamo make you feel like the true local you are far from being.
Everyone loves dumplings but if you drink the so-called soup they are boiled in (read: murky-looking water) you are definitely on your way to being an intermediate China foodie. Once you have reached this level, the concept of red bean anything is almost appealing and you spit bones out on the table, if not with grace then with tact. Tanghulu and maqiu are now perfectly adequate replacements for cake and your orders have evolved into more complex versions of their older selves. Maybe you still can’t eat hot and numbing Sichuan food, but you save face by ordering weila instead of bula. Your MiniStop midnight snacks have also progressed, graduating from western treats and the beginner baozi into mystery meat skewers and shrimp flavoured chips.
At this point, your taste buds have been permanently damaged from all the spice, you are on a first name basis with all your local street food ayis, and your bone spitting skills have become ladylike. You don’t bat an eyelash at sea cucumber and the weirder the jelly texture the better. Pancakes are a fleeting memory and you now drink unsweetened doujiang for breakfast. You’ve tried just about everything and the eyes of the fish did turn out to be the best part after all.
You are basically Chinese. You know where to go and what to order. And when you get there, you eat family style—in any restaurant, Chinese or not. You’ve learned to like moon cakes, to appreciate unusual animal limbs, and no longer feel the need to hurl at the sight of durian or the smell of stinky tofu. From cow tongue to frog legs, no part of the animal anatomy is too scary for you. You’ve eaten it all and washed it down with shots of baijiu. Chinese spices find their way into every meal you cook, even Italian.