I cannot lie. My favorite part of the day is waking up at 6:00 AM and waiting thirty minutes before getting out of bed and heading over to the cafeteria (ubiquitously referred to as a canteen) for breakfast. The cafeteria is a paradise of buns early in the morning, one that I revel in.
The mornings, you will remember, are a time for martial shouting and choir. I often pass rows of uniformed students, always double-file, as I make my way to the cafeteria. I feel a little guilty, actually, knowing that while they run off to the field to do sprints, stretches, and any other number of grueling activities, I will be stuffing my face with my favorite meals.
To my abject horror, the school provides only a limited selection during the weekend. This travesty left me to scour the city in search of a proper replacement. Unfortunately, those that I have found have been horrid: blocks of meat filling that feel like jello to the teeth, paper-thin wrapping, wildly exotic flavors.
And the price!
For 3 RMB (or thirty cents) I can purchase four of the most expensive buns at the university’s cafeteria, and if the cook is kind or uncaring, one of the paltry buns. On the streets, 3 RMB is enough for but one, at least for a pale-skinned foreigner.
I will not speak of the off-campus heresy any further, however, lest my mouth be tainted with the memory of their taste.
My favorite buns have to be the most common (at least outside of China): the simple meat bun and paste bun. While the paste bun is not as common, its shape is. I had actually stayed clear of the paste buns (they are marked with a circular colored stamp) because I had no doubts that in China that stamp would have been ink.
While sometimes the color of the stamp can appear completely arbitrary, orange stamps can have black-bean paste, at others there does seem to be some correlation. For example, the orange stamped bun I received this morning had a green paste filling. While the taste seemed nigh identical, I cannot be so sure I put the same thing in my body I did yesterday.
In either case, these buns appear to be steamed while the others baked. I can think of no other way they (the meat buns) could retain their white plumpness while the others took on a brownish hue.
Compared to the off-campus buns, these are a tad smaller and with less filling. Personally, I do not mind it. I like my pizza with a thick crust, my sandwich between thick slices of bread, and, of course, my buns hidden away behind thick padding of flour and yeast. With too much filling, it becomes hard to even find a bit of bun to eat with the filling. It defeats the entire purpose of a bun!
Aside from the meat and paste buns, there are baked paste buns, which have a thin and cripsy shell. They are twice the size of their steamed counterparts, but, for whatever reason, come out soggy and repulsive to (my) touch. Not captured above is a… ‘not-chocolate strudel’ bun. When I first saw this bun, with drizzles of chocolate and a teasingly brownish hue, my stomach began to clap a little. “Desert for breakfast,” I thought.
Things were not as they appeared.
I am still not entirely sure what those deceptive lines of black were or what dwelt within this mimic, but I should have known that the Chinese would not have something as decadent as chocolate strudels. Aside from the odd brand of cookie, it has been rather difficult for me to find any sweets here in Huadu.
In time I will learn, but for now I will continue to stuff my face with my favorite big ol’ buns.