In China, do they go to Chinese Restaurants? Or just Restaurants?
Thursday, May 6, 2010
"Eat anything with four legs except tables and eat anything that flies except airplanes"
-Ancient Confucian saying, circa 2009 A.D
Shanghai is not an easy place to be a foodie. If you eat meat, you have the problem of excess and choices to the heavens. If you are a veggie-foodie, things start getting a little dicey. But you can still manage if you plan your meals very very well, and much in advance and after a lot of research. Oh.. you should also deliberately dull your sense of smell, sight, taste, touch and hearing to just eat in a Shanghainese restaurant
Lunching and dining with Chinese colleagues from work was always a challenge, since everyone preferred local food and were great, great meat eaters. For me, I always came away hungrier than I started off. While the rest of the table would gorge on a huge pot of soup, with a whole fish head, or sumptuously snack on the tender bits of a bovine udder, I would be forced to make do with vegetables boiled in salt water and heaven knows what oil.
Chinese dinner tables are round and huge and are made to seat everyone around with a turntable in the middle so that it is easy to pass the dishes around. The Chinese, like us Indians, are huge fans of sharing dishes, unlike in the West where each one gets their own dish ( Joey doesn't share food!!). The turn table would spin round and round passing the dishes and at best, I might be able to grab a couple of grains of rice and a sprig of asparagus to nibble on while I patiently wait for my celery and coriander salad. Somehow, the most exotic sounding dish (Braised duck stewed in Sauteed Oyster and Sichuan peppers) always took a lot less time to arrive at the table than the simplest (Fried Potatoes)
My colleagues were really understanding and tried their best to help the wait-staff understand the concept of vegetarianism
Them :"He is vegetarian - bring chicken"
Me : "I don't eat chicken"
Them: "Oh sorry ! Bring fish then"
Me: "Sorry... no fish either"
Them: "Ok Ok bring the sea cucumbers and clam. He'll love them"
Things noticeably improved over time, the waiter would remove the offending piece of meat from the dish before serving it to me or, simply pick the vegetables around the dish.
But not all was bad, I also used to frequent a restaurant which served dumplings and ONLY dumplings. I picked up enough Mandarin to order "zhege- meiyou rou" (This one without meat)
Being the only Indian, to visit that restaurant, the staff knew me well enough what I wanted everytime I went!
My experience in many restaurants is that they are not flexible with changing the dishes. If you want to swap spaghetti for penne, you have a tough task ahead. The staff find it very very hard to do anything outside what is standard operating procedure. Waiters in China do not receive tips. Its just not done. If you ever go there, don't tip the wait staff... you'll end up spoiling it for the locals.
Street food is really really special in China. There are many, many varieties of food and I did try quite a few. It was only the lack of language skills that prevented me from having more. I learned enough to ask whether something had meat or if it was sweet or salty. But usually, the vendor wouldn't understand me because he was too dazed by a brown guy speaking in an atrocious accent and was about to break out into a soulful rendition of "Awala goo". The Chinese version of the khau-galli is not too different from India - rows and rows of shops selling food to scores of customers. The atmosphere was the same, the crowds were the same, the confusion identical. But what was different was this :
center of a trade row between US and China. For those who are interested in details and such, a ton of chicken feet goes for US$ 500 - 750 depending on quality and processing involved.
Another favorite in the office were these small round Ferrero-Rocher type things that at first looked really yummy and chocolatey. But upon closer inspection, you can make out the scales, legs and whiskers of fried cicadas and beetles. I believe that the assorted pack with the peppered praying mantis is a particular favourite of many.
The hot pot is something to relish and gives a fondue like atmosphere and is a great option to catch up with friends, dip food into a pot of boiling water, vegetables and spices. Each person gets their own pot, heated by a wax flame till boiling. Once it starts boiling, you dip the various ingredients - rice sticks, tofu, mushrooms, leeks, cabbage, zucchini, basically anything and everything. Once the bits have become soft, you dip them in various sauces, eat and enjoy.
Trampled byY Trip at Thursday, May 06, 2010