I passed by a friendly woman whose family I buy fruit from and stopped for a minute to chat. She was standing in front of a cooler she had dragged out from her store a little down a side street and she was selling cold watermelon cut up into containers ready to eat.
“I’m gonna get some other things and I’ll be back for some watermelon,” I told her. I then went down the street and picked up a loaf of bread. Earlier I was in the mood for french toast but didn’t have any.
I went back to the woman and I held up my bags and said “done!” The bag was quite thin and she could clearly see the loaf I had inside.
“Do you like bread?” she asked.
I stifled a little laugh, I mean, who asks that question? But I said yes, chatted for a moment about the summer holiday, bought two containers of watermelon and headed home.
The funny thing is that while no one would ever ask that question in America, in China it’s legit. It’s because bread, as in a loaf of bread, is a relatively new concept in China. I mean it’s sold everywhere now, available in pretty much every supermarket and most the bakeries, but it’s still very much seen as a western thing.
It wouldn’t be shocking to come across someone who hasn’t eaten bread. In fact, I wonder if the fruit lady ever tried a slice.
While a staple of the American diet, where every meal can be enhanced with some bread, it’s not traditional or common in China. I mean, there are bread-like things: steamed buns, round naan bread, circular english muffin style bread filled with meat. But they don’t call any of that “bread.” In Chinese it’s called “bing” which just means something round. Slices of bread, rolls, buns for sandwiches, just isn’t common outside more hip and trendy places.
In fact even the loaves of bread are miniature. A loaf might have 6 or so slices, because it is seen as a snack instead of an ingredient. I’ve often seen students bring a “loaf” into class, bought at the school store, and just pull out slices to eat. No butter, not jelly, no nothing. To get a full sized American loaf you’d need to buy 3-4 of the loaves here.
And because it is seen more like a snack, the bread tends to be sweeter than what westerners are used to. Some can be overpoweringly sweet, but most are sweet like wonder bread. Just really processed sweet. You can get “whole grain” bread as well, but I have a feeling it has just as much added sugar as the white stuff.
People in China don’t have toast and eggs for breakfast (unless they are going to a western restaurant), students don’t bring sandwiches to school (they prefer hot, cooked lunches) and dinner never includes a basket of rolls.
So asking someone if they like bread is a total normal question because it’s not a given. It’s like if someone in America asked you if you liked sushi. Nowadays Sushi is available basically everywhere but exotic enough that some people have never tried it or don’t like it.
So yeah, I like bread. I’ve cut down on it a lot since I’ve moved here, but I do still like it very much. Now excuse me while I go make some french toast.