Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Food Adventuring in China

On Monday, we visited a speaker factory in a town about 45 minutes to the north of ShenZhen. Before touring the factory, we were taken out for an epic feast. We were whisked into a private banquet room, with a large round table, the requisite lazy-susan waiting to be filled with delicacies. We were seated furthest from the door (the place of honor for guests) and our hostess chose food for the entire party of seven.

Tea was served first, and we watched as our table-mates used the tea to wash out their bowls and then poured out a second glass to drink. The food trickled out slowly at first; pickled onions, some boiled peanuts, some shrimps, (Eric loved them and said they tasted much better than shrimp at home, fresher and a little more interesting with their little heads and eyes staring back at you.) There was sashimi salmon with wasabi.

Then the pace began to quicken. Out came a dish of soup with black chicken (I’m told it’s a special breed, but the skin is blackish purple, it is actually quite beautiful.) There was also a soup made of chicken testicles. Unfortunately, Terry told us what it was before we tried it, which certainly colors one’s opinion. I think from now on, I will stick to a strict policy of don’t ask, don’t tell. I’ll try anything once, but it is a lot easier if I don’t know what organ I am sampling. For the record, they popped like little grapes in my mouth and provoked much joking about sexual prowess. Steve told us later that a lot of food in China is supposed to increase virility. My guess is this is the best way to convince people that it is a good idea to eat boiled turtle shells. They won’t do it under ordinary circumstances, but tell them it will make a difference in the bedroom, and they are gulping it down.

Next was something akin to steamed asparagus with a great deal of garlic (roasted until it melted in your mouth) There was a series of crab rolls that had been dusted in coconut or breadcrumbs and then fried with a little sweet mayonnaise sauce and some sort of battered ribs. There was another dish that had salmon in a ginger garlic glaze which was amazing. There were delicious little clams served over noodles on a half shell and rice served separately from everything in a tiny bowl which you hold near your mouth to shovel rice in.

I for one, am quite relived at how sloppy Chinese table manners are. It makes the whole process a lot less intimidating. We also tried a spicy crayfish, which I stupidly attempted to peel with my fingers while the Chinese put the whole thing (head, eyes, antennas, claws, legs) into their mouths and spit out the spiny parts right onto their plates. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that comfortable, but it is nice to know you have that option. What does crack me up is that after all that, when the toothpicks arrive, you have to cover your mouth with your hand as you pick your teeth! Spitting bones out onto a plate? No problem. But picking your teeth? Ew, cover that mouth! Ah culture shock. It’s a lovely thing.

For dessert there was a lovely pancake/crepe filled with red bean paste (which is about the sweetest thing Chinese eat) dusted with coconut and fried and then the most lovely little green and white buns filled with coconut crème and gently fried so that the whole thing was warm, crisp and gooey. They were about the size of a tennis ball and totally incredible. They are called snow mountain buns and I have a feeling I’m going to have some giant snow mountain buns of my own if I eat as many of these as I would like to. They were exquisite. More on the factory in a later post.

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