OK, the thing about China… and there are a lot of things about China because I’m fairly certain that I’ve started a number of posts in the same way… is the food.
Me, despite my notorious in some circles weak stomache, I’ll eat anything. There’s just so much else in life to be scared of, like clowns, that I just don’t have the motivation to be nervous about anything within the same neighborhood as edible. Which is why I always look at Fear Factor with a smirk. FEAR really? Just for eating worms?
But I digress.
Besides the obvious weirdness of food over here (which, I offend even myself by saying. The food’s not weird, it’s just not McFood like westerners are used to).
But I digress again.
The thing about the food in China is how you eat it. First of all, consider your available resources: no less than half a dozen small plates and bowls (all pristine white), a set of chopsticks, and your hands. There are no forks, obviously, which isn’t really a problem as I’m pretty adept with the sticks… but there are no knives, either, which means that the only way you’re going to rend that large beef rib into manageable chunks is by sticking the whole thing in your mouth (via chopsticks), and biting off a chunk. This doesn’t sound terribly difficult when referring to a hunk of meat, but this same rule applies to everything. Everything.
This, basically, is the key to eating Chinese food in China: throw everything into your mouth, and then let your tongue and teeth sort it out.
Somehow, though it’s apparently rude to use your bare hands to eat with, it’s cool if you chomp down on an entire chicken and then spend the next 15 minutes spitting bones onto one of your pristine white plates (better make sure it’s the right pristine white plate, of course).
This suits me fine except that there are apparently unseen rules for eating the same thing depending on where you are. The whole shrimp we had at lunch were apparently “peel ‘n eat”, even though it required using your hands. The whole shrimp at dinner, however, were decidedly different. Those, you put head first into your mouth, biting said head off in one quick chomp and then spitting it out so as to turn it around and nibble at what would be the lower cortex. Then, systematically bite down on the shelled body (legs and all), and move it around in your mouth until you’ve seperated enough meat from the shell that you can now start spitting exoskeleton all over the table. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
I couldn’t figure out the subtleties in this case, and am still at a loss as to why these weren’t also peel ‘n eat, but some mysteries are best left unsolved.
Also, I totally ate chicken feet today, to the great respect and admiration of my hosts. For those you who have yet to experience it, here’s a tip: bite the toes off cleanly. Let your teeth and tongue sort the rest out.