Part one in a series from our contributor Kyle Mullin, exploring how expats cope with the culinary challenges facing them so far away from home. This first part features French expat Kim-Chi Guyon and friends.
For many Beijing expats, homesickness is linked to hunger pains.
At least that's the case for Kim-Chi Guyon, a Parisian who has only resided in China for a few months, but already misses her homeland's pre-eminent pastries. "Whenever I'm feeling homesick, I'll go to the market and buy a croissant," she says. Upon hearing the word, her tablemates sigh wistfully and repeat, in unison: "Ah, croissants!"
Those deux amis are Anais David and Celine Sey, who have accompanied Guyon to O'Steak in Sanlitun for a bite of familiar fare. The trio insists that this restaurant is one of Beijing's few authentic French eateries. Guyon opted for raw steak tartare, while David and Sey ordered more generous 220g medium rare steaks (Sey's coated with blue cheese).
"You can't go wrong with steak at a French restaurant," David says, adding that Francophones "love meat, so steak is always a classic for us. I'll always order some wine with it, because they complement each other so well, and because I prefer drinking to eating, as much as I love food."
With that, David takes a long sip from her glass as her friends laugh. Sey then begins to describe how much of her culture shock in China revolved around bottles of wine: "It is so important in French cuisine. But here in Beijing wine is so overpriced, sometimes triple what you'd pay in Paris. Beaujolais, for instance, is EUR 3-4 back home. But at the markets here you'd have to pay at least EUR 12, or RMB 80. And it's not even real wine! It's so low grade, more for ambience than anything."
Guyon agrees, adding that she and her friends struggle with the high prices of, and restricted access to, many products that they grew up with. They say that even the cheapest types of French cheese, like brie and camembert, are very expensive in Beijing. Guyon says that this is one of the many challenges that she and her friends face when trying ready a home-cooked meal here, saying: "Ovens are really random in China. I'll put something in the little toaster oven I bought, hoping to cook it well. And when I take it out, my God, it'll be super burned on the sides, and not cooked at all in the middle!"
The trio giggles about those quandaries, but Guyon adds that she and Sey may not struggle with it as much, because they are of Asian ancestry and were raised on Far Eastern fare as much as French dishes. Meanwhile, the pricey pilgrimage to Beijing's small number French outlets is always worthwhile for David, who explains: "If I'm depressed or feeling culture shocked, the easiest thing for me is to go to Comptoirs de France and get a baguette. After that, I feel much better."
Visit the original source and full text: the Beijinger Blog