Before I came to China, I thought I loved Chinese food.
In my mind, dining in China would be a bastion of sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken, udon noodles, and the other various dishes offered in restaurants like Mandarin.
I therefore experienced my first major culture shock when I discovered that (surprise, surprise) Chinese people don't actually eat like that every day. At least not in the North East during the winter in 2008.
My first warning was the fleet of farm trucks that descended upon the city en masse. Trucks overflowing with cabbage and onion could be found on every corner of the city, each surrounded by hoards of elderly waiting to collect bushels of cabbage to bring home.
After a joyful morning of cabbage shopping, Western readers probably assume the veggies were then taken home and stored somewhere, like the pantry or a closet.
What needs to be understood is that people did not buy one or two cabbages; they bought ten or twenty. It was expected that people would buy enough cabbage to last the entire winter. It wasn't always possible to immediately store all the cabbages people bought.
People would lay them out on every available surface, either letting them dry or leaving them until space could be cleared out inside. For weeks, vast bunches of cabbage could be seen on railings, benches, rooftops, ledges, and windowsills across the city.
Shenyang's drab grey. for a few weeks, exploded with leafy green.
In space over the North East, satellites can easily see the Great Wall and cabbages.
As Shenyang has modernized and grown, the cabbage trucks aren't as common as they once were. Corners that once saw whole fleets of trucks, each with eager customers to service, now see one or two at most. That isn't to say the trend has died altogether. Ten years later, there are still die hard cabbage fanatics keeping the North East's love of cabbage alive.
If you ever visit Shenyang in the winter, and want to enjoy the "real" local experience, be sure to order as many cabbage dishes as you can. It will be a meal to remember.