Sunday, July 27, 2008

For Food Fanatics

And alliteration advocates...

I have eaten many dishes, some fantastic, some scary, some hot, and all delicious.

Some fantastic: You've already seen that glorious clay pot [ed: Glorious clay pot? I must be channeling Lynn Rossetto Casper...], but the hotel's kitchen has produced something else wonderful for me. I've discovered their "traditional club sandwich." It had a fried egg on it, at about the third layer of the second layer, and egg foo young, like a multi-layer St. Paul sandwich! It's a bit of home! Sorry, but no picture.

Some scary: Monday night I ate at the Red Passion (yes, haha, it's actually a very upscale restaurant) with the auditors, and we had one dish called Begger's Chicken. It was whole chicken wrapped in a thick layer of lotus leaves, and then a hard pastry shell, pictured here near the end of the meal. (Yes, those are French fries in the background. I don't know who ordered them, but they were darn good. The ketchup was extra sweet. Also, I didn't take that picture.) The interesting thing about that chicken is that every time I stuck my chopsticks into that mass of food, for the first four takes, I came out w/a surprise!

The first time I ventured in, I didn't know how to approach it, so I just retrieved a piece of lotus leaf and started ruminating. I was informed that that was not for eating. OK! Too late. It was rather fibrous. My second attempt I thought I was getting some shredded meat, but actually it was a mass of dark meaty strings, which I know from previous experience eating similar food is actually like, well, intestines. The third time I went in, I thought I had seized on a nice big lump of dark meat, but as I pulled it back to my plate, I recognized a beak, and vacant eye sockets!! The shock repulsed me from the table, and the baked head fell to my plate.

I gathered myself and tried once again to pull out another piece of meat, but that bird's bony red face was staring at me, so I had to put it back on the platter, and cover it with a napkin. Yes, everyone at the table was having a hearty snicker at my expense.

Some hot: Very hot. Two nights ago I had the very special honor of being the first měiguó rén invited by the A-B IT staff to dine at a particular restaurant that specializes in Szechuan cuisine! Dude, I mean just look at all the peppers on this plate! The dark parts are salty, hot pieces of fish. That picture is from the very beginning of the meal. There were MANY more dishes, and almost every one seemed to be 50% red peppers. I was actually buzzing from all the peppers... and the many bottles of Bud. They also said I am the only American they have seen eat the dan dan noodle. Of course, they did order everything on the most mild setting, but trust me it was hot! They even gave me a Chinese name. That meal was very special for me.

After that meal we all went for foot massages. I've never had a foot massage, and I can be pretty sure I'll never get to have one like that again! For the first phase, they brought in foot baths with tiny African fish in them (don't know the species) that looked like minnows. The fish eat your feet! Serious! I have pictures, but, of course, the stupid laptop won't read them. I'll have to wait to get home to download them using my Linux box. That was pretty fun though. The massage therapists were amazed at how white I am, but of course my friends were too polite to tell me that at the time. I learned later. I had a feeling it was either that or my apparently soft feet which couldn't really handle the full force of the massage.

The next morning (yesterday) Jarod Li took me to Hu Bu Xiang street, which has a whole block of small eateries that specialize in different types of traditional Chinese breakfast food. We had three different types of dumplings (dim sum) that I had never tried before, a sticky rice pancake that is considered local food, and some rice noodles in a very peppery gravy. I've very sorry that I have no pictures of that either, because my computer won't read those from the card for some reason. I even have a picture of two cooks making soup dumplings and one of another cook making a gigantic sticky rice pancake.

I also had the best cup of green tea I've ever had in my life. The IT department was given a large bag of homegrown, home processed, completely organic green tea, and it was amazing! I can at least provide a picture of that. Also that day they introduced me to a fruit I've never had called longan (lóngyǎn), which actually means dragon's eye. You can see why from the picture. You just pierce the hard outside with your fingernail, and it peels easily. They tasted a bit different from grapes, but that is the closest comparison. They were very good!

Yesterday Jarod also took me to a tea market. At a Chinese tea market, you are invited to sit down and sample the various types of tea before buying. The shopkeeper prepares the teas for you, and it is an extensive process that includes warming the cups with hot water, pouring out the first cup, and then finally serving the tea in small Chinese tea cups. You are given many many cups. I finally purchased about 1/8 kilo of the best oolong tea I've ever tasted. It had a slightly sweet aftertaste which was surprising and delicious. There was nothing in it but the brewed liquor from the leaves.

My work is nearly complete here, and it went very well, to my substantial relief. Tomorrow I leave for Shanghai.


Yankee Leviathan said...

Look, next time you go on one of these trips, you need to tell them you need a personal assistant. The food sounds awesome!!

skmckinn said...

Hell YES!!!!! He takes requests! Now this is what I'm talkin' about.
I am soooooo jealous of the tea market (specifically FOR the oolong. By the way--speaking of buzzing, were you buzzing from the tea? I've had a tea sit-down with a Chinese guy before, and I felt sped up after. Like the knee jiggles, and shit), and I'm willing to compete with "Yankee Leviathan" (??Translation: "Carpetbagger Whale") for a position as personal assistant. Though I may lose, because I AM married. ANYway. Martin, READ THIS:
It's by my buddy who lives, now, in Kyoto. But he spent 4 years in China, mostly Xiamen, and this is the funniest thing ever.

Digitizdat said...

That is an absolutely fascinating tale! I am ecstatic to report I cannot relate so much, but have certainly not been w/out my share of morning groans. I want to know what the hell that thing he ate was!

And yes, I was definitely jittery walking out of that tea session! She mixed this one green tea really strong, and just kept refilling my cup again... again...