Street food is fine and extremely cheap (it won’t cost more than Y7 or A$1.50 for a really big feed), but it’s difficult to get a balanced diet from it. I’ve slowly been working my way up to cheap restaurant level, which is harder than it sounds because menus are always in mandarin characters and servers rarely speak English. Contrary to what one or two people told me before I came here, the food is similar to what you would find in any Chinese eatery around Sydney. The menu structure is identical with dozens of choices grouped into categories, and yes the options are more diverse (I saw my first dog, donkey and snake dishes on the menu in Qufu), but the food itself is largely the same though perhaps a little hotter chilli-wise.
I’m very slowly learning some key menu symbols, and the with the patient indulgence of servers I’ve had a couple of decent meals so far:
pork cooked in soy sauce – perfectly cooked shredded pork with diced shallots and chilli in a spicy sweet sauce. Amazingly good, but not filling enough so I also had crispy skin tofu. A very large serve that wasn’t dry or tasteless with lots of sliced green capsicum and a few flecks of chilli, also good. Total cost including a longneck of local mid-strength beer: Y22 (A$5)
chicken with green capsicum and chilli – the chicken was overcooked and I spent half the time picking bone fragments out of my teeth, but it was welcome heat on a frigid night (-3 degrees, apparently). It also wasn’t filling enough, so I ordered “Kong-style tofu” which is a specialty of this town. Right choice. Grilled tofu squares that were silky and dense with an enticing smoky character, with bok choy-like greens and a few shreds of chicken, the whole lot floating in flavoursome chicken stock. Chilli dipping sauce on the side that was sweet rather than hot. Beautiful and extra filling, it more than made up for the sub-standard chicken dish. With a longneck of local beer the lot cost Y35 (A$7.80).