Monday, 4 February 2013

Eating in Fogang Part 2

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.
I am not qualified to pass comment on the edibility of a substantial and clearly upset black skinned yellow banded snake. Mr. C is delighted by this unfolding drama and picks up the bag and says something along the lines of “Here you are Steve, get a photo of that”. The delectable Belinda lets out a shriek and cowers behind me. 

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.
A casserole dish is duly brought to the table. I am seated between Mr Wu and Mr Hau. Mr. Wu is on my right and well positioned to serve me from the clockwise revolving Lazy Susan. He deftly smarts a couple of joints of casseroled snake onto my plate as the serving dish shimmies past. This is it - chopsticks poised in sweaty hands – anchor the one and manipulate the other, grip gently and ease into the food. Yea right! Snake steak is all ribcage. What do you grip? Belinda says “Steve, use your tooth picks to pick it up” which I also try. In the end I fall back on a more familiar tradition and do it the African way – fingers!

“It’s fine. Tastes a bit like a cross between 
chicken and duck” Mr Wu and I replete behind 
an empty casserole of snake
It’s fine and tastes a bit like a cross between chicken and duck. In common with most cooking it all depends on the admixtures, and this sauce was good. Unlike more “conventional” meat dishes the meat to bone ratio is very much lower so you do have to work hard to get your protein. The last dish was a carpet of celery on which rolls of snake skin were decorously placed. The skin I guess had been steamed. I tried – and it was a bit like eating very thin aromatic leather – which to all intents and purposes I suppose it is. Something akin to chewing on delicate ballet slippers rather than well used running shoes.

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 
style beer.
And here's another lingering thought. Back in the salon privet, before the waiters clear the table there is a fan of detritus on the tablecloth, the apex of which declares, like a blue commemorative plaque bolted to the wall of my memory - "Mitchell Sat Here." 

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me of my experiences in China. With no previous use of chopsticks and a determined yet steep learning curve brought about by hunger see my fellow patrons cunningly utilise umbrellas as a means to take cover. I would often spray the room in all directions as I frantically tried to get to grips with chopsticks. You learn to use chopsticks more quickly in China that's for sure.


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