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Qingzhen cai! (清真菜)

As promised! Qingzhen cai = Halaal food.

Some interesting character compound decomposition:
清 qing – clear, pure, just and honest
真 zhen – real, true, genuine
So the literal translation is just something like clean, and pure, though it also means Islamic (or Muslim, but you don’t say this of a person), and halaal (of food).
Amazing, right?

University Muslim Canteen

Many classmates have commented that the food here is possibly the best on campus, and it is indeed popular with more than just the Muslims. The reason for this is largely that a lot of people (i.e. the Chinese) see 清真 food as being ‘cleaner’. This is not just the case at university, this notion seems quite widespread, and they are right. The standards of cleanliness are better in general than in a lot of the similar level Chinese places.

There are two sections to the canteen; one side is more like a restaurant, you order and pay at the counter (by cash or student card), and then get given a numbered holder for your table, so the food can be brought to you. This is the side I’ve usually eaten at, because I have not yet put any money on my card…for various reasons, none of which being pure laziness. The other side is actually a canteen, with various dishes along the serving counter, metal tray/plates that you put your food onto, and the card swipe machine, where you have to swipe your student card to pay. You can not pay by cash. You also cannot successfully swipe your card if it is not registered as Muslim… I discovered this once when going to eat with friends, some of whom decided they would go and get food from the canteen side (they DID have money on their card). They came back without any food, and said that the servers behind the counter had refused to serve them when they tried to swipe their cards. SHOCK. I was appalled, thinking how excluding people on religious grounds was terrible and giving such a bad message. After talking to various other people, I’ve had to rethink my initial reaction and concede that, okay, fair enough, anyone can eat at the restaurant side, and the canteen side (which is actually cheaper!) is just left exclusively for Muslims… Actually, I still don’t like this. Opinions on this arrangement?

Anyway, back to food, a couple of dishes from my university canteen.

老干妈牛肉炒饭

老干妈牛肉炒饭

The first one is 老干妈牛肉炒饭 Laoganma niurou chaofan, Laoganma beef fried rice. So, the laoganma part actually would translate to something like…old, dry mother. But (I hope) it doesn’t have any bearing on the actual dish… In all seriousness, I think it’s the name of a company, or it’s just come to be a well-known name for a certain flavour. I think it’s tasty, with the little black beans that are so good. This is the dish I’ve eaten the most times when I’ve been in this canteen (hence the lack of pictures of other foods from here).

This next one is 大盘鸡 da pan ji – chicken “platter”, which is just chicken and potatoes served on some wide noodles, in a really quite spicy sauce, with lots of red chillies.

大盘鸡

大盘鸡

This is 回锅牛肉 huiguo niurou – “twice cooked” beef. Eat with a 1元 bowl of rice. Again with the yummy black beans, and the right amount of spice for the onion, pepper, beef combination.

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Qingzhen Cai (المطعم الإسلامي)

The المطعم الإسلامي (lit. Islamic Restaurant) are a chain of sorts of halaal Chinese restaurants. Although I know of a couple of these places in Beijing, I came across them a great deal more on my trip to Shanghai. As I mentioned in a previous post, I think it’s more to do with the fact that we went around the city a lot more on our short visit to Shanghai, and not necessarily because there were more of them there than in Beijing.

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The soup you can see on the side of this picture is just great. It’s really just some kind of (meat flavoured) stock, but they put herbs in it and it tastes different every time. It comes with your dish and it’s just so nice to start your meal with on a cold Winter day. Free refills!! 😀

The next picture is my favourite dish at my local 清真restaurant: 土豆牛肉盖面 tudou niurou gaimian – potato and beef noodles.

My favourite dish at my local 清真 : tudou niurou gaimian

My favourite! And of course you can get the yummy soup with it.

I thought I had gathered more pictures, but evidently not. Never mind, you’ll have to let your imagination do the work. Or come visit.

Breakfast

My only Chinese breakfast experience has been at the hotel we were staying in in Shanghai. Going for the only thing that seemed to be suitable for vegetarians, I had 包子baozi – steamed stuffed bun (vegetable stuffing). Boiled eggs are also popular: shell the egg and eat it plain.

Baozi with pickled vegetable...pickle, a boiled egg and a glass of warm milk

Baozi with pickled vegetable…pickle, a boiled egg and a glass of warm milk

Cooking

I did go through a phase of making typical Chinese dishes, mainly stir-fried rice and noodles, and also a dish called 西红柿炒鸡蛋 xihong shi chao jidan or 番茄炒鸡蛋 fanqie chao jidan – scrambled eggs with tomatoes. The Chinese love it, you can find it on the menu almost everywhere. Seeing as I love eggs, and like tomatoes, I thought a combination of the two would necessarily have to be good, so on recommendation from a Chinese friend, I tried the tomato and egg soup once.

Tomato and egg soup

Tomato and egg soup

I found it to be quite bland (Indian genes, what can I say?) but thought it had potential and could do with some spicing up. So I experimented myself…

Scrambled eggs and tomato, with spiced vegetables (pak choi)

Scrambled eggs and tomato, with spiced pak choi

And as expected, the combination of two good foods turned out alright, though admittedly, the picture doesn’t look anywhere near as appealing as the restaurants soup.

Stir-fried rice is, again, quite bland in my opinion, but still tasty and supposedly really easy to make. Not surprising, considering this is China, and stir-fried rice dishes, as opposed to tuna sandwiches, are the norm…

Stir-fried noodles

Stir-fried noodles

Missing home food!

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About Ibtehaal

I graduated with a degree in Chinese and Economics, which involved spending a year studying Chinese in Beijing. This turned out to be the hardest but most rewarding thing I think I have ever done. I've now returned to China for another year, to study in Shanghai and figure out my next steps.

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