Culinary Adventures in China

Culinary Adventures in China

Great food in some suspect restaurants; love at first reflexology.

Monday night we were back with Jiulin and we wandered to an area that is quite off the beaten track.  We had been over there before but decided on a different restaurant than the last time.  We opted for meat on a stick.  The waitress was friendly and the place was pretty full so we decided to give it a try.  The restaurant was maybe not as clean as western girls like us would prefer so we were a little sketched out, which was not helped by the fact that Jiulin WOULD NOT let us go to the bathroom alone.  It was located outside, around the corner and about a block down, he said it was not safe.  Eee…  Well, the food was good as it always is and there were no ill effects to report.

...but the next meal was a different story

Tuesday we were once again looking for a place to eat, something not fancy, the cheaper the better.  Well we got that.  And the reason for the price was pretty clear, it was under 100 CNY (under $18) for 5 people, with pops.  I’m just not sure why we agreed to the place but before we had a chance to change our minds Jiulin had them whipping up bowls of noodles, they were actually pretty good.

A glance into the kitchen.

Tuesday evening, some of us crashed pretty early and the rest discovered happiness in a paper cup.  Turns out the key to happiness comes in the form of chocolate sauce and soft serve ice cream smothering fresh deep fried churros.  Debi our nutrition instructor, would be so proud.

Wednesday was rather food uneventful but Friday made up for it.  Jiulin had been out with friends the night before and was super tired so he left us alone (for a nap maybe?)… We had had some luck with hot pots before so decided that we would give one a try.  The sign was in English so we decided it looked promising for having an English menu.  Well they didn’t, and nobody in the place spoke English.  Tammie tried valiantly to order us chicken by saying “bok bok” and we were certain it would work.  But it didn’t it was about the only thing we did not get.   The menu was basically a sheet of paper with Chinese characters on it.  The waitress, seeing our confusion, attempted to help and narrowed down our options.  So we decided to wing it and chose every second item she has suggested.  We were caught in a bit of suspense with what we ordered, but we were proud of ourselves just the same.

Not sure about this hot pot

When the hot pot came, it smelled quite good, but unlike our first experience, that was just a broth, this one had some unknown meat items in it.  It looked like sweet potato, with chunks of beef and maybe tofu.  There was also chunks of fat, bits of stomach and possibly intestinal lining.  A couple of us were brave enough to try the “sweet potato” only to discover that it was not sweet potato.  We weren’t sure what it was, but figured it was some sort of tendinous material.  Basically how we deduced what all was in the pot was relying on our anatomy and cadaver classes…………yum?

The dishes we ordered to go in the hot pot also seemed safer, but also still mysterious, minus the lettuce.  And by this time our imaginations were running wild.  With some difficulty we asked for a copy of the menu so Jiulin could tell us what we ate.  Turns out nothing we had ordered was too shocking, bamboo, meat balls, noddles, no big deal, he was unable to tell us where we things had gone so terribly wrong.  It wasn’t until the next morning when we looked up the definition of the restaurant name that we finally figured out what the “sweet potato” was.  We had had our suspicions and they were confirmed.  Turns out Paddywack means:

Paddywhack (also spelt Paddywack) or Nuchal ligament/Ligamentum nuchae, is a strong elastic ligament or tendon in the midline of the neck of sheep or cattle which relieves the animal of the weight of its head. It is pale yellow in colour.

Well, check that one off the list.

An acrobot doing a back bend

In the evening on Wednesday a friend of Jiulin’s, Julie,  joined us and we went to the Chinese Acrobats.  They are really quite something to see.  It is somewhat similar to a small scale Cirque de Soleil, with people performing amazing feats of strength and flexibility as well as daring acrobatics.  Perhaps the most spectacular was the motorcycle ball.  I think we have all seen this stunt preformed at one time or another if not in person, then on TV.  There is usually 1-2 bikers in the cage ripping around at top speed.  This version found 8 cyclists inside a ball of the same size; and they were still managing to do tricks and move in impressive formation.  There was also a performance of about 10 girls on bicycles riding in various formations, and at one point even, all of them were on just one bicycle riding around the stage. The whole show was quite a sight.

On the way home from the acrobats we wandered to a place called “The Place”.  It is a large western style outdoor and indoor shopping area that is a bit of a stimulus overload. We didn’t get there until 9 o’clock and there were still tonnes of  people milling about, children running around playing and general happy activity.  There are large screens suspended in the air, where apparently you are able to send text messages to be displayed.  Most of them seemed to be love notes or similar.  At regular intervals music will come on and one of the screens will show the music video.  Despite, or perhaps because this was a very busy area, it was quite difficult to find a taxi to get home and by the time we wanted to leave the busses we needed were no longer running.  We wandered around for a while looking for 2 to get us home but to no avail.  Finally, Jiulin cracked and went in search of 2 private “taxis”.  It was a little unnerving climbing into the car of an otherwise random person but it was made slightly better because in one cab we had Jiulin and in the other was Julie so at least there was one native speaker per car.  We made it back to the hotel safely thankfully.

Thursday evening we had happiness for dinner again.  Wait, wait, we also had candied grapes.  Grapes are a fruit; that makes it healthy right? Um, sorry Debi.

Over the past few weeks Jiulin has been speaking to many of his old friends and in the last week or so he had been taken out for many dinners.  On Friday night we were invited to join him and three of his old schoolmates for dinner at the Nanjing Grand Hotel, which is just off Wangfujing street in the heart of the main hotel and shopping area.  It was a really nice restaurant and we had a private room to enjoy our dinner.  We all really enjoyed the opportunity to speak to locals and hear more about Chinese culture and traditions.  They treated us really warmly and were eager to share their food and stories.  The reason the particular hotel was chosen was because all four of them went to school in Nanjing and they wanted to share something from their past they were proud of.  It was an incredible spread of food with dishes special to the region.  Most of the places you go to eat are round tables with a large lazy Susan over here sharing food is a way to be connected and welcome someone.  We got a lesson in proper toasting etiquette as a way to welcome us.  The host will always toast the guests first to welcome them to his table, this is followed by each other guests returning the toast to indicate their pleasure to have been invited and to share in the company of the people at the table. Toasting is also used to show respect to the people you were dining with.  We were encouraged not to toast Jiulin because generally the more you respect someone (your parents and teachers requiring the most respect) the more full your glass should be when you toast “gam pai” (probably spelt wrong. Somewhat translates to “bottoms up;” and then you have to finish your glass).  Also when you toast someone of a higher position than you, the rim of your glass should not be higher than theirs.

Waiting for reflexology in our fancy new outfits.

After dinner our host decided it was too early for the night to end, a couple options were suggested including karaoke or dancing but reflexology for everyone was decided.  Where we were taken was decidedly different than the other reflexology places we had tried out.  This was much better in pretty much every way.  The rooms only had room for 4 people each so the four of us were together in one room, while Jiulin and his friends were in another next door.  They provided a change of clothing for more comfort and tea was served.  The therapists were by far the most skilled out of all that we had seen before, we were pretty much putty in their hands.  Tammie may have fallen just a little bit in love (sorry about your luck Darcy. Although if Holly wins the arm wrestle — no problem!).  When the reflexology was over we thought we were done, but we were wrong.  A new round of therapists came in for shoulder massages.  Karen may have fallen just a little bit in love (sorry about your luck Jimmy).  We were all very sad to see them go, but at that point in the evening it was quite late, and after having had treatments we were just about ready to be tucked into bed.

We are all very grateful to our host, for inviting us,  the other guests, for entertaining us and teaching us some of the customs and to Jiulin for making the evening happen.  It was truly wonderful and an experience that none of us are likely to forget.

Four acupuncture students from MacEwan University are learning and traveling in China this month.