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Memories of China

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by Jessica Wong, CBCNews.ca

Reading the ongoing coverage of the latest tainted food scandal out of China — horrifyingly it's contaminated baby formula and milk products once again — brings up a flurry of mixed feelings for me.

I immediately worry about my relatives who live in the southern part of the country, including two cousins with toddlers. I also feel embarrassed whenever these stories come to light over here in North America (despite the fact that we're often struggling with our own food scandals).

One of my favourite food-related stories is from my visit to China a few years ago. I remember stopping in a famed Shanghai market area and marveling over a long, snaking queue of locals and tourists waiting to buy freshly made pork dumplings (xiaolongbao).

A small crew was busy grinding pork, mixing up small mountains of a simple filling, expertly forming the dumplings, steaming dozens in batches, serving and then selling the piping hot portions (16 tiny morsels for about $1!) — all behind a long stretch of glass so passersby could watch in anticipation of their take-away. I inhaled a double batch drizzled with some black vinegar and ended up ruining my dinner, but it was worth it.

However, that was one of the rare times on my trip that I was adventurous enough to eat from "the street" without some kind of review or tour guide to direct me. While it was sometimes the offerings that turned me off (I, too, passed by the insects-on-a-stick my colleague Andree turned down), I was also coloured by the country's reputation of food scandals.

After all, another of my China memories was a story that dominated the news during my visit: the discovery of faked salted duck eggs. People had tampered with and sold shipments of regular chicken eggs doctored to appear to be the more expensive and more time consuming to produce salted duck eggs.

One of the amazing things I noticed during my trip was an incredible sense of personal drive and initiative in nearly every person I encountered. In a country where many have only themselves to rely on, the people simply do not give up — whether they are begging for change, selling clothes in a shop or balancing work and school so as to get a better job and support one's family.

Unfortunately, as we're seeing again and again, this sense of enterprise also extends to nefarious individuals out to profit at any cost and without a care for anyone else.

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From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.

About the writers

Amber Hildebrandt Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.

Andrea Chiu Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.

Tara Kimura Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.

Andree Lau Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).

Jessica Wong Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.

Kevin Yarr Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.

Elizabeth Bridge Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.

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