When I think of China, I don’t exactly think “yogurt.” Great Wall + China? Yes. Dairy products + China? No.
How wrong I was!
“I’m gonna feed you something that’ll change your life,” proclaimed Gareth the day Colin and I arrived in Beijing.
Gareth has been a Peace Corps volunteer in China for a year, now, so we figured she might know what she was talking about. We followed her through the hot back streets of Beijing until we reached a dimly lit local store.
“What are those ceramic jugs strewn around the front entrance?” I asked.
“That’s it!” hollered Gareth. “Old Beijing Yogurt!”
“Whoa,” we gulped.
Gareth explained that not only would we drink this yogurt with a straw, but we could either order it at room temperature (otherwise known in Beijing summer as “hot”), or slightly refrigerated (as the Chinese don’t believe in very cold drinks).
I’m not sure which option YOU would pick, but we were rather firm on selecting the refrigerated option.
Gareth used her Mandarin language skills to select and pay for three palm-sized ceramic jugs with ornate blue and white paper covers. She plopped the jugs into our hands along with wrapped straws, then instructed us to stab the paper cover with the straw.
“Get ready for bliss,” Gareth commanded.
We stabbed the paper. We placed the straw between our lips. Then we slurped… slowly, fearfully…
The yogurt was like a thick milkshake, but tangy with the refreshing tartness of the live and active cultures that make yogurt so good for you. Sluuuuurp!
I was soon in a happy-food-item trance, skipping in delight out the door of the store and towards our hostel.
“Wait!” cried out Gareth. “We have to pay extra if we take the ceramic containers, so let’s finish these on the front stoop and leave the pots here.”
“Oh!” we said, stopping short. Our American brains were confused about this non-disposable, non-takeaway container.
That said, it took about ten more seconds before I’d slurped up the rest of my yogurt. Between sips, I shared fun yogurt facts with Gareth and Colin, including: “A recent study showed that one of the best foods for weight control is yogurt, because the cultures in it speed digestion,” and, “It is recommended that travelers eat yogurt regularly to help their tummies deal with foreign foods.”
“Good,” declared Gareth, “more excuses to eat this.”
So now this scrumptious China yogurt experience has me thinking: Which other places on this Earth have shockingly great yogurt? Further, what are other examples of delicious but surprising local foods that tourists never think to look for during world travel? Perhaps squid soup in land-locked Laos? Oh no, wait– that was just how I got food poisoning in 2009. Indeed, there is a fine line between surprisingly delicious and just plain dumb. How happy I am that Old Beijing Yogurt turned out to be in the “delicious” category!