28 January 2009

Seaside Adventures

Since the morning arrived bright and clear, Turner and I decided to explore part of our beautiful city. It was also the third day of the new year so we knew the tourist sites would be full of families on holiday. Qingdao advertises a 40km-long boardwalk that connects the east and west ends of the city, covering the entire coastline. In reality, about half of this length is walkable. The rest is under construction or non-existent. We chose to explore the area known as Xiao Qingdao (Little Qingdao) and Zhan Qiao Pier.

Along the boardwalk are many small, family-run seafood restaurants with their delicacies out for display on the sidewalk in large plastic bowls with an aerator providing circulation for the "critters." This is not the seafood you would expect as a sushi restaurant or even on display in a supermarket. While you have many options at these restaurants--clams, starfish, rock fish, snails, "sea intestines" (a rough translation), small conch--most of them came from the bay across the street. I know this because people scour the rocky beaches with buckets and ice picks, yanking the critters from rocks and tide pools. You see mama-sans in their kerchiefs with buckets of snails (about 1/2 an inch big) that I just know are heading for the dinner table. I have no idea how you eat a snail so small but I have a feeling the Chinese are very skilled at it.

While we don't live in nearly the dirtiest part of China, I am not confident that the water these sea creatures live in is especially healthy. Qingdao
is known for its hai xian, seafood, but I refuse to try it. When we go out to dinner, our hosts usually offer plenty of seafood, from shrimp gracing the green beans to small mussels, and I have to be adamant about not liking it. Before you assume that I'm just being a Western food snob, I never ate seafood in the United States. Two things bother me about it, one of which may be unfounded. Number one, I hate the texture, and number two, it does not strike me as a very clean food group, least of all the things in these buckets. While I will eat fish, seafood strike me as slimy, large insects or bottom feeders whose most delicious feature is their digestive tract.

Another popular street food on the seaside is squid-on-a-stick. The vendor usually separates the squid so you can buy just the body or the legs, prices vary accordingly, but all for under a dollar. He grills them for a few minutes until they look like rubber-on-a-stick. The Chinese quite enjoy this snack, but I won't go near it except to take a picture. Maybe it's just me, but seafood sitting out all day in the sun doesn't seem appetizing.

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