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Dumplings vs Shish Barak - When the Far East meets the Middle East

It's been a little over 4 years since I shut down my company in Amman, sold my Sarsoura (aka Nissan Micra), packed my bags, and booked a one-way ticket to Hangzhou - China, a city I have never been to before in my life. Can't say it was easy. Was the hardest thing I have put myself into. Especially without a job, being the workaholic I am, without any money, without any family, AND most importantly, without knowing how to ride a bicycle. Yes, that was a big deal for me.

But one of the daily and hardest challenges was Food. I am not only a hardcore foodie, but I have also been in F&B industry for so many years now, that Food tasting has become one of my STRONG competitive advantages! So coming to China where the food is way different, eating habits are different, and sometimes I did not know what each dish consisted of.

First, let's talk eating habits:

  • Breakfast, like anywhere in the world, is before work. But that also means around 6-7 am in the morning. They could eat a range of options from Baozi (which I will explain more about), bread sticks with Soy milk, tea-boiled eggs, to pancake salads, to noodles and rice. Yes, they eat noodles in the morning. Unlike Lebanese breakfast, which is usually consisting of a lot of dairy like Labneh, cheeses, Zaatar, with different kinds of vegetables, eggs, and so!

  • Lunch, is between 11:30 am and 1:00 pm. YES. You read it right. 10:00 -10:30 they would start cooking their lunch (when they ever cook at home!) Of course cooking at home is not as convenient, nor cheap, as ordering delivery or eating out! It is more common to eat out than cook at home. But it's not only that, it's also the timing. By 11:30 you walk into any restaurant in Hangzhou, and you would find it PACKED. But if you want to have lunch Lebanese time, at 2:00 pm, sometimes they would be sold out of most items! Despite the difference in timing for lunch, the concept of eating in a group together, sharing food from small dishes just like Lebanes Mezza concept is also something I found really similar between both cultures. The ingredients are WAY different, but the concept of eating together is just the same! Especially when friends invite us for lunch or dinner outside, and they act all Arab with their generosity!

  • Dinner, since breakfast and lunch are super early, is ALSO super early!! Usually starting at 6:00 pm, ending before 7:30 pm! Back in the Middle East, we would go out for dinner after 8 pm! Same as for lunch, eating food as a family or a group is very important. But when going for a proper dinner with friends, family, or even business clients, you will always find beer and Baijiu (Chinese version of Arak) right beside every dish, and you are expected to cheer every bit with everyone, screaming GAMBEI (literally means: bottoms up!)

Of course getting used to all of this has been challenging, but I am getting more and more accustomed, though sometimes I do get hungry before going to bed when I go for dinner with my Chinese awesome friends!

Nonetheless, despite ALL the differences I have mentioned above in eating habits, I still found a lot of similarities between Chinese Food and Middle Eastern Food!

The spices and ways of cooking are different, but look at Chinese dumplings for instance. Same exact concept of Shish Barak! A meat-filled dough that is then cooked with some sauce or stew. Sometimes served half-fried with a sauce, sometimes steamed with nothing on the side, and most times like wantons, cooked and served in broth! Exactly same way and concept of making Shish barak, with a variation of the stuffings and ingredients used.

But other than Shish Barak, have you ever tried Saudi Mantu? The same EXACT Concept of dumplings! Dough filled with meat then steamed and served hot. Was one of my favorite dishes along with Mutabbag when going to Local Saudi restaurants in Jeddah. But when I tried dumplings here, with all its variations, I would always remember those two dishes: Shish Barak and Mantu!

Two different cultures at two different edges of the largest continent, Asia, share the same food concept. Could that be a coincidence?

You can see more about Chinese Food and eating habits in this episode from my TV Show "Walaw Bel Sin"


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