In a strange way, this is a follow-up to the last post, in that I have had great experiences in foreign lands while dining, and I have had some odd experiences, not necessarily disasters, but…
First, in five trips to P. R. China, I have had chicken dishes often. Other than in a sandwich at KFC, I have never eaten much ‘chicken’. The title of this article should give you a hint. I might have ten small pieces of chicken on my plate, easily picked up by chopsticks, but then I realize that it isn’t chicken meat, not really. It’s the joint of either the leg or wing. Sometimes, there is only bone and gristle. Occasionally, there is a slight hint of a sliver of meat that they did not pick from the bone before serving, but that was rare.
My question is this: Who gets the meat? Sure, they take a chicken in one hand; they take a cleaver in the other hand, and then chop, chop, chop, with no thought of carving “pieces” of chicken. But if I got the knuckles from about four or five chickens on my plate, who got the rest of the chicken? You know, the edible parts? Did they say in the kitchen, “American at table four. Pick the garbage pieces out of the trash?” I say this unequivocally, on those nights, I lived off the rice and vegetables.
That’s better than the Chinese restaurant in a small city in eastern India. I ate what they called Orange Chicken. It was a delicious orange glaze over fried chicken skins. No meat at all. I should have known better.
And yes, when practiced, I can do chopsticks adequately. My first formal dinner in China was at a fancy restaurant in Shanghai. The customer was paying for our “welcome to China” meal. There was a lot of ceremony, starting with the tea ceremony. I think that I have mentioned that before. I may write about it again and provide a photo of my official tea ceremony tea set. Anyway, I passed the tea ceremony test, but when the meal started, one small course at a time, the drama was building. The celery and lily root dish was delicious, but those rascals are slippery. The first time each of us (two instructors from the US) tried to pick up a piece of either celery or lily root, the conversation stopped. About 15 sets of eyes stared to see if we would make it to our mouth without the morsel flying across the room. I had a bit of a problem grabbing the slippery things, but never missed my mouth. My partner squeezed one too hard and it went flying, but he was better at it overall. Then came the roasted peanuts. All I will say is a lot of laughter ensued, but we both polished off what was left of our entire tiny bowl. And note, the chopsticks were hard wood for a formal dining setting, not bamboo or soft wood for a better grip. Then again, they weren’t made of steel like the chopsticks in South Korea, but the Koreans provided a fork in case you got frustrated. Then again, bulgogi (thinly sliced BBQ beef – Korean style) pizza needs no chopsticks. And if you are wondering, the Chinese put the bowl of rice up to their mouth and use the chopsticks to drag rice into their mouth.
My two favorite Chinese dishes in China was roasted corn and roasted pork. The corn was whole kernel, spiced just right, and roasted or maybe fried in a light oil. They came out big, juicy on the inside, and crunchy on the outside. As for the pork, the waiter delivered a platter of pork fat to our table, a huge round mound of pork fat. He then took out two chopsticks to “cut” the pork fat. I would have never tried the dish if someone who had eaten it before knew the secret. After the waiter left, he explained that the Chinese love the fat, but if you peel the fat away, the pork rump is so tasty that it melts in your mouth. And, sure enough, there was delicious pork roast under the inch-thick layer of fat. And it was so tender, that you only needed chopsticks to cut it. And we didn’t care that the on-lookers from the other tables were shaking their heads in disgust that we were discarding the fat.
My second trip to Thailand, I went to the “Chicken Restaurant.” Maybe it had a real name, but that’s all I was told and everything on the menu related to chicken in one way or the other. This restaurant was in the middle of nowhere between Pattaya and Chon Buri. I was just getting over a case of the Thailand version of Montezuma’s revenge (NO, I did not drink the water, but in the backwoods, you didn’t have to. The customer employees kept handing us dishes and saying, ‘try this!’ You didn’t want to be impolite, but after I got so sick, they stopped offering.). I was thinking, since the customer was making such a big deal out this restaurant, that I could eat something other than soda crackers. I had chicken blood pudding soup, just eating the broth. And then they came out with a delicacy that I was told that I had to try, Beak and Foot Soup. Yes, it was broth and some grass-like vegetables in a bowl, along with chicken beaks and chicken feet. Again, the broth was edible, and I smiled as I shoved the beaks and feet aside.
But as for a good Thai experience, I had Pad Thai at a golf course restaurant where they used a thin layer of fried egg to hold all the noodles, shrimp, and vegetables inside an egg-shaped orb in the middle of the plate. The waiter told me to cut into the artwork with my chopstick. When I did, the integrity of the orb collapsed and the food fell with a splash. It filled the plate, but with no morsel falling from the plate. The chef was well practiced. It was not only tasty, but I was encouraged to play with my food.
If you are wondering about the dish above, it was my experimentation with broccoli and chicken, to be served over freshly steamed rice. It has a much more American flare, and next time, I’ll spice it up more.
I hope you have enjoyed my memories from my Asian dining experiences. I enjoyed most of it and God made sure I survived the rest.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.