As I mentioned in a previous post about Chinese dining, sometimes it’s nice not to have to make any ordering decisions. In the past, I’ve managed to find a few dishes on the table that I like. Last night was a little different.
We arrived late to dinner with some of Stephen’s associates last night (thanks, Beijing traffic!) so there was already food on the table when we arrived. Directly in front of me were a plate of cucumbers in a soy sauce and a plate of tiny shrimp. In the usual Chinese style, the shrimp still had their shells, heads and tails. Prospects were not looking good. A duck dish arrived and the waitress placed it on the opposite end of the table. One of our dinner companions gave me a heaping helping on my plate, but once I had finished it, I had no way to communicate “I want more!” without interrupting their conversation or standing up and reaching across the table. So I ate the cucumbers. I don’t even like cucumbers. But at the time they were much better than the spicy beef, ambiguous seafood dish or smelly green vegetables. I took a break, hoping for better food to arrive, but knew it was a bad idea. I knew conversation would lull in a minute and everyone would look up and question why I wasn’t eating anything. So I went for the shrimp.
I have yet to master how to eat a shrimp that hasn’t been peeled. Besides my whole not eating food with eyeballs still attached policy, I also stay away from them because I have no idea how to properly consume them. I held the little guy’s bug-eyed head steady with my chopsticks and tried to peel off his tail and shell. It was so tiny that when I removed one leg, half of his body came with it. I struggled with his tail and suddenly his head shot off. I did a quick look around the table and restaurant to see if anyone had noticed the airborne shrimp head. Luckily everyone was too into their conversations and unrecognizable seafood. I had visions of the waitress tripping on my shrimp head as she tried to fill my glass. No more shrimp for me.
Amidst my shrimp struggling I noticed a large group of white tourists walk in. Suddenly I was not the only white person around . I’m assuming they were part of a tour group, as the wait staff immediately brought them pre-determined dishes. I watched from afar as they all ate fried rice with forks. One of the women launched into an uproarious laughing fit as only an overweight white woman can. The entire restaurant turned to look at her. I envied their English conversations, but was glad I was at my small Chinese-speaking table. I may not have the “real” China experience with my five-star hotel and sit-down toilets, but at least I can eat with chopsticks and stomach more than fried rice.
Pass the cucumbers.