Newbie

If you subsist entirely on eggs and tomatoes, la mian, baked sweet potatoes and fried rice, you’re fresh off the boat. You find hot pot adventurous and chicken neck scary. You still skim over menus looking for General Tso’s and half expect a fortune cookie at the end of your meals. Your inexperience is often given away by orders such as sweet and sour chicken (tangsuliji), milk bubble tea or just about anything that can be found in shopping malls across America. The occasional tea egg, shouzhua bing for breakfast and roujiamo make you feel like the true local you are far from being.

Intermediate

Everyone loves dumplings  but if you drink the so-called  soup they are boiled in (read:  murky-looking water) you are  definitely on your way to being  an intermediate China foodie.  Once you have reached this  level, the concept of red bean  anything is almost appealing  and you spit bones out on the  table, if not with grace then  with tact. Tanghulu and maqiu  are now perfectly adequate  replacements for cake and your  orders have evolved into more  complex versions of their older  selves.  Maybe you still can’t eat hot  and numbing Sichuan food, but  you save face by ordering weila  instead of bula.  Your MiniStop midnight  snacks have also progressed,  graduating from western treats  and the beginner baozi into  mystery meat skewers and  shrimp flavoured chips.

 

 

Foodie

At this point, your taste buds have been permanently damaged from all the spice, you are on a first name basis with all your local street food ayis, and your bone spitting skills have become ladylike. You don’t bat an eyelash at sea cucumber and the weirder the jelly texture the better. Pancakes are a fleeting memory and you now drink unsweetened doujiang for breakfast. You’ve tried just about everything and the eyes of the fish did turn out to be the best part after all.

Lifer

You are basically Chinese. You know where to go and what to order. And when you get there, you eat family style—in any restaurant, Chinese or not. You’ve learned to like moon cakes, to appreciate unusual animal limbs, and no longer feel the need to hurl at the sight of durian or the smell of stinky tofu. From cow tongue to frog legs, no part of the animal anatomy is too scary for you. You’ve eaten it all and washed it down with shots of baijiu. Chinese spices find their way into every meal you cook, even Italian.