So there I sit in a jetlag fug supping Chinese tea and snacking on hardboiled quails eggs and slightly soggy steamed unshelled ground nuts (at least they are familiar) and half watching dreadful Chinese soaps on the telly. There is something dreamlike about being in an entirely foreign country and experiencing new sounds, smells and sights. After a very busy and taxing morning my mind and body are rapidly slowing into a state of alert relaxation. I am aware of a restaurant lackey entering the room. He is carrying a muslin sack and from his crouched gait and bowing stance is clearly here to elicit approval for its contents from the diners.
“ . . . between me and the bloody snake is nothing
but a muslin bag and a digital camera.”
The main item on the menu is confirmed.
Ancient protective instincts over the helpless female rise to the fore, but there is not a lot of room for real heroism because between me and the bloody snake is nothing but a muslin bag and a digital camera.
After this initial commotion the animal is duly approved and removed, decorum is restored and we repair to the table for luncheon. Various dishes arrive and are placed on the perpetually revolving Lazy Susan. I manfully make grabs for the food as it swings past. The capture of food without natural handles or hooks is difficult enough with chopsticks under static conditions. Practice can result in a nonchalant devil may care attitude, belied in my case by the protruding tongue of concentration clenched between the gritted teeth of determination. However when it is a moving target it takes on a whole new life. Just as you have established a tenuous grip the serving bowl is passing the limits of your reach and the decision to drop pending another attempt half a minute later, or a damn-your-eyes-and-go-for-it-and-sod-the-consequences decision has to be made. An embarrassing and all too visible flotsam trail of dropped food and dripped sauces develops between the edge of the revolve and my plate.
The rice wine is liberally dispensed. This stuff is one notch down from surgical alcohol and is capable of stripping the enamel off your teeth and melting you fillings. I reckon that you have to mix it with beer, which I do.
At this point another auxiliary restaurant employee appears bearing two glasses. One is filled with clear liquid which I assume to be more rice wine, and the other is filled with a liquid just like tomato juice – but isn't. I am invited to taste the snakes’ gore. With an excessive display of politeness I decline and am too shaken to see if anyone else does.
“Belinda says ‘Steve, use your tooth picks to
pick it up’ ” Mr. Hau is as dubious about
this piece of advice as I am.
“It’s fine. Tastes a bit like a cross between
chicken and duck” Mr Wu and I replete behind
an empty casserole of snake
So there you have it – my potentially nightmare meal – but of course it wasn't. The company was stimulating and amusing and the food was very good. The fact that I’d seen some of the menu in the flesh (as it were) was so far removed from the eating of it that it was of no account.
Now there’s a thought.
“The company was stimulating and amusing”.
Outrageous behaviour after mixing rice wine with western