Thursday, 31 January 2013

Eating in Fogang Part 1


I was employed to carry out an inspection and report on an industrial operation in China, the details of which while interesting have nothing to do with eating - which is the subject of this account.

The first meal in mainland China was a magnificent spread served in a private lounge in a swank spa hotel. A salon privet without any allusions to gambling (unusual in a nation of reportedly inveterate gamblers). Very civilised, a room with a couple of couches and a low table from which one can delicately sip Chinese tea.

The Dining table was circular with a very large Lazy Susan dominating the centre. Our hosts were most attentive and signalled to the perpetually hovering waitron that I should be furnished with an EPNS knife and fork set – a kind gesture that I huffily rejected. Stick to the chop sticks my inner arrogant self declared – which was more than the damned food would do to the blasted implements.

It was a familiar Chinese dining affair with a steady and measured stream of dishes ranging from fish stuff to poultry stuff, baby succulent shrimps, sweet potatoes, and nigh-on inedible spinach. This latter green muck had been heavily steamed but still retained an eerie and ghastly luminescent hue. It’s like eating a vegetable that truly does not want to be eaten and is holding a grudge against anyone foolish enough to attempt to. Needless to say capturing the stuff with chop sticks is a mission in itself. The soup however was delish and divine!

As we slurped away – and you can only slurp out of the cute and entirely un-ergonomic porcelain spoons provided – the faithful George turned to me with a face suffused with pure ecstasy and making expansive lip-smacking noises said something complimentary about the soup. I had to agree that it was jolly nice. “Sharks fin” he extolled, and it was still jolly nice even knowing what it was. And after all as a salve to my green conscience I did not go out and kill the fish, nor did I order it, nor did I know that it had been ordered. At another restaurant in Hong Kong a couple of days later I came across sharks fin soup on the menu at the astonishing price of HK$2,600 for a bowl.

“We drank some perfectly odious locally made 
Cabernet Sauvignon . .” The wealthy Mr. Wu sits on 
Mr. Cs’ right and the studious George is on 
my left. The delectable Belinda is guarding our backs.
We drank some perfectly odious locally made Cabernet Sauvignon – at least that's what it said on the bottle, in English and in Chinese. This stuff tasted like ten year old corked port. Mr.Wu our generous host kept insisting upon a round of kombai (sp?) a drinking tradition that means “bottoms up” to the person to whom the salutation is addressed. I have experienced this tradition before and refused to participate this time on the grounds that no persons’ liver could survive an onslaught of the rotgut on offer. I stuck to beer in fatal combination with the wine.

During our meal we discussed what I would or would not like to eat. The people of Guagdong Province apparently have a reputation unrivalled throughout China for eating anything – and anything means anything; rat, dog, snake, bat, bird, aeroplane. This was a lively conversation and I was relieved that by the end of the evening I felt that at least I knew what I had eaten and was secure and happy in that knowledge (sharks fin soup notwithstanding). I publicly applauded Mr.Wu’s choice of menu with another swig of that appalling wine.
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Lunch the next day was taken at a very busy restaurant in Fogang that had a frantic valet service in the car park. The generous Mr Wu is plainly very well known in this milieu. The foyer has a large display area of live aquatic wildlife. Here you can view your menu in the flesh. Quite whether you identify your chosen escargot with an indelible magic marker as you pass by I don’t know. There was a very large tank of Koi, which are giant goldfish with psychedelic colouring and attitude to match. The type of fish the Japanese seem to venerate and misguided Westerners spend thousands of dollars on purchasing, breeding and “showing”. The Chinese are far less aesthetically bound - they just eat them. Also on view was a particularly luscious looking slab of freshly slaughtered crocodile complete with craggy skin.

We were swept past these temptations into another salon privet; with a similar array of couches, circular table, Lazy Susan (this time electrically powered), and wide flat screen TV showing truly dire soaps with a Cantonese soundtrack and subtitles in Chinese (why?). This room had its own outside squat-pan privy accessed via a windy path through a very pretty formal outside walled garden. 

Mr Wu made a comprehensive and complicated order for the seven of us. Gosh this guy’s got money - but what is on the menu?

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