um… no!

(co-written by Anouk)

I have been vegetarian for most of my life. My parents tell a story about me gagging in the meat department of a fancy grocery store when I was just 6 months old. I don’t know if the story is true, but for most of my remembering years, I’ve been a vegetarian.

But being vegetarian in Beijing Is. Not. Easy!

Most foods, especially those that are packed in small bits of deliciously fried or steamed dough (read: dumplings) look rather scrumptious. But even a discerning palate like my mom’s cannot often guarantee that the minced up food inside is meat-free. So I usually have to take a hard pass!

And many “vegetarian friendly” foods in local restaurants have chicken, fish, fish sauce, or mystery ingredients that I can not be sure are vegetarian.

Additionally, I’m what my mom calls, “a lousy vegetarian” because I don’t like tofu and mushrooms–two foods that are in many Chinese dishes that ARE vegetarian.

So what is a lousy vegetarian to do?

Here are my top tips for eating vegetarian food in Beijing:

  1. Eat out with a friend who speaks the language.
  2. Learn how to say, “Is there meat/fish/chicken/pork/beef/lamb/etc.” in this?
  3. Always keep snacks on hand. If you’re going out, be sure to be loaded up with healthy-ish food that IS vegetarian because you never know what you’re gonna get.

    Quick anecdote: During the New Teacher/Family Orientation Weeks there were MANY dinners out. On a number of occasions, my meal consisted of roasted potatoes and/or white rice with a HUGE helping of dessert. There were some beautiful looking vegetable dishes that were laden with chicken or mushrooms. Um… no!

  4.  Check the menu first. With the internet at your fingertips, you can often check the menu before you decide where to go. And with WeChat’s translation services, you can figure out what most food is. (Except for my mom’s cappuccino the other day. WeChat translated it to: Cow Curry Morphine. Which I guess it kind of is– milk. Hot. Caffeine.)


Anyway, here is some fascinating food we’ve found here in China:

by Anouk and blogSignOff

P.S. the carb heavy french fry and fried egg concoction tasted great!

pork, the other white meat

Every country, culture, and religion has rules. Each group has behaviors that they deem wrong or abhorrent. In Arabic, they have a word for it–haram. To do something that is haram is to do something forbidden, offensive or objectionable to Islamic law. In other words, you are participating in an act that is considered “against Allah.” As an American Catholic, there are loads of things that are considered forbidden or taboo in my country, culture, and religion. For example:  I don’t eat dog. I don’t steal or cheat. I recycle. And I try really hard not to speed. You get my drift… don’t you?

In Oman, rules are much the same as I’ve experienced in other countries: Don’t break the law, be respectful, pay your taxes, blah, blah, blah. For us, this translates to simple rules like: don’t run red lights, cover your shoulders and knees, and pay your electricity bill. So honestly, I’m not too bothered.

But last weekend, my personal desires and cultural experiences conflicted with those in my host country. For Rob’s birthday, he had requested a full breakfast with eggs, toast, potatoes, and… yup! You guessed it–bacon! We desired a haram product.

Though the Sultanate of Oman follows Muslim traditions outlined in the Qur’an, this beautiful country is totally open to my different views. Even though Omanis don’t drink beer or eat pork, they’ll allow me to as long as I do it in a respectful and private manner. But how do you buy food respectfully?

Not far from our house (in a small expat bubble) one can find the Al Fair Supermarket which, I have come to find out, is a mecca for all things imported! Between the Aunt Jemima’s syrup, Pillsbury cake batters, and vast array of junky cereal options, I could find many American and British comfort items our family desired… at a (rather astronomical) price! But walking through the doors of Al Fair, it was not the cereal and syrup on my mind. The rumored “Pork Shop” was what I was after.


Hidden away in the back corner of the meat section is the “Pork Shop”. With only a sign on the wall as a guide, this room allows me, a non-Muslim expat, to purchase items that my religion, political affiliations, and culture do not view as wrong.

But what I saw upon entry was not what I had imagined. What I thought would be a small smattering of bacon, sausage, ham, and pork chops was, instead, a room teeming with other stuff.

What shocked me more than the prices (bacon purchase: 220 grams/8 ounces for 2.5 OMR/$6.5/€5.8) were the shelves of this small space. The middle aisle and shelved walls were festooned with products that I have seen on most American supermarket shelves– Jell-O, Heinz beans, Jiffy corn muffins, Hunts soup, Pop-Tarts, Fruit Loops, marshmallows, and similar quick consumables! What the heck were these items doing in the “Pork Shop?”

So I came home and started on a quest for answers. How many products have I purchased without knowing what they were truly made of? I came across this interesting article written by Ifrah Jimale (a Muslim who tries to educate herself about American food products). In her post, Jimale talks about how hard it can be for Muslims to navigate a western grocery store because so many items included pork derivatives (mostly gelatin). Little did this consumer know, but a number of center-of-the-store food companies have begun altering their food recipes to accommodate for global migration trends and dietary needs. Apparently, recipe revision is the reason some Pop-Tarts are found in the junky cereal aisle in Muscat and not in the “Pork Shop.” How thoughtful for companies like Kellogs, Heinz, and Mars to substitute beef gelatins or petroleum for pig products–um, eww!

All that learning behind me… I got my bacon! I came home, cooked a fabulous breakfast followed by another haram item– beer (though I’ll write more about that later!), and had a lovely birthday weekend.

When all was said and done we had nourished our bellies and our brains. Learning a lot about center-of-the-store food was an eye-opener for this mama. But learning how open my host country is to allowing me to consume products they view as haram was a priceless education.


can’t write a poem about hamburgers

We had a rough weekend in the Langlands house. We had to learn some important lessons and now it’s time to move forward. But the end of the year is always stressful and busy. So how do we move on? We get the following email from our son. Here is Xavier’s poem to cheer up your day!
Can’t Write a Poem About Hamburgers
Photo Credit: Pamela Graham via Compfight cc
I look at the hovering sun,
Straight above me.
I see my parents,
As they slowly park,
Coming to retrieve me for lunch.
I peered out the window,
Like a mouse would with a hole.
The lights,
Shining like las Vegas,
So many choices.
Not enough junk food flavour.
Hot as the sun,
Burn’s your skin.
Takes so long I got arthritis!
As many choices as a teenage girl’s wardrobe.
Then, the hot,
Juicy flavoured air catches my attention.
We pull over,
The smell mouth-watering.
I shuffle up,
Thinking that this is to good,
That this must be a dream.
Grease expelling,
Sauce dripping,
Sky scraper high,
Heavenly delicious.
I place my order,
And sit at my table.
The waiter comes,
Holding the burger,
He places it on my plate.
I hold it up,
Sauce dripping onto my hands.
I bite it,
Tasting the sauce,
Tasting the lettuce,
Tasting the tomato,
Tasting the cheese,
Tasting the patty,
Tasting the bun,
Tasting the angles blessing.