Science - February 3, 2005

Food / Fishy Fish

In the last of our series on international students and food, our reporter tracked down some Chinese students at the Saturday market.

Environmental sciences master student Ying Xu and her boyfriend point at the fish. They have time for discussions on food anyways, standing in the long line at the fish stall at the Saturday market in Wageningen. At the counter the choice is easily made: white herring – panharing in Dutch. Ying: ‘Last year we tried it as well. It tasted ok, and it’s the cheapest.’

Talking about cultural differences, the taste of fish might not be one of the first items that comes to mind. But it took Ying quite a while to learn to appreciate the taste of Dutch fish. ‘It just tastes so... fishy. In China we eat lots of freshwater fish and seafood, and their taste is not so pronounced. Here, most fish is sea fish – I need to put lots of other ingredients to disguise the fish taste and smell.’ So she makes Hong Shao Yu. ‘First I fry the fish, then I add soy sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper. And some Chinese seasonings – I brought a box full of them from China, as I cannot find them here.’

‘My Dutch friends often like the Chinese dishes I prepare for them. They’re different from the Chinese food people know here. In Dutch Chinese restaurants, I always get this thick peanut sauce with my food. We don’t have that. And most foods are fresh, not like the many deep-fried spring roll like dishes. I have tried some Dutch food and I like it, especially the potatoes together with vegetables. I have cooked sour cabbage (zuurkool) and hodgepodge (hutspot) for my Chinese friends. Right now I live in the Bornsesteeg, where I have my own kitchen. But I would like to move to a mixed, shared corridor. By sharing the kitchen I hope to learn more about Dutch and other cultures.’

What will Ying miss most when she returns to China? At the top of the list is likely to be cheese. Ying: ‘I ate so much of it last year! I also took some to China. My grandparents don’t like the taste, but my parents know cheese from the topping on pizzas. Most of my friends loved it.’ / TS

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