The Chinese hamburger

The other day I suddenly felt like eating roujiamo (肉夹馍). A roujiamo is like a sandwich and it is originally from Shaanxi province (Xi’an is the capital of Shaanxi province). The bread is round and flat and the filling is a type of meat that resembles pulled pork. According to Wikipedia, roujiamo is the oldest sandwich in the world as it was already eaten during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC).

Yummy! Picture from 心食谱.

That day was Saturday and on the way to C.’s grandma’s house we passed by a small restaurant which advertised roujiamo in big letters. I went inside to buy two while C. waited in the car.

Inside the restaurant, the cooks and waiters were having lunch (it was a bit late). One of them, the oldest one (the rest were barely in their 20s) looked at me and grinned from ear to ear, but didn’t move or ask what I wanted. He was probably thinking: “A foreigner, no way I can understand her”. A younger guy who looks like the cashier comes closer. “I want two roujiamo, take away”, I said. The oldest one laughed: “You can speak Chinese! The other day a group of foreigners came here to eat and we couldn’t understand them”.

While my sandwiches are prepared, the waiters interrogate me. “Where are you from? How long have you been in China? Do you live around here? How do you say roujiamo in Spanish?”. “There is no roujiamo in Spain”, I told them. “Maybe it can be called Chinese hamburger or something”. Hanging from the wall there is a poster with a cartoonish man eating a huge roujiamo. Under the cartoon it is written in English: Chinese Hamburger.

When I told the waiters I had been in China for 10 years, the oldest one asked: “Then, did you come when you were a child?”. I have a lot of white hairs but Chinese people often assume I am a student. It’s kind of flattering, although I know the truth is they just cannot tell how old foreigners are. I have that same problem anyway, I can never tell how old people are.

The roujiamo from that restaurant was quite good, the bread was warm and crunchy. I’ll have to go back!