Photo: Man cooking duck
When you go out for Chinese food in the US (and I’m willing to bet, most of North America) – what is the one thing that you are always guaranteed at the end of the dinner – fortune cookies. It’s a symbol of Chinese cuisine – not to mention the source of a lot of fun. However – to my astonishment I’ve been in China now for 3 weeks and I have not been served one fortune cookie. Not only do restaurants not serve them, but the Chinese people I’ve talked to have no idea what they even are! They look at me as if I have lost my mind…why on earth would anyone put paper in a cookie and bake it? I try to explain to them that I’m not crazy and that in San Francisco they even have a factory in China Town where they manufacture fortune cookies…still a blank stare is all I get. We’ve all been duped, punk’d, cheated, lied to!!!! I can’t believe that Americans have been led to believe that fortune cookies are Chinese food, when no one in China knows what they even are! It would be akin to coming to China and seeing everyone eat with forks and spoons – as if chopsticks never existed. Rest easy…we have not been fed lies about chopsticks – they are alive and well in China – and all over Asia. I’ve even become quite adept at using them too, just the other day I learned how to twist noodles with chopsticks! But there has not been one fortune cookie sighting much to my disappointment.
Instead of fortune cookies we finish our meal and the waiter brings out a plate of watermelon and little tomatoes for dessert. Quite a let down when you were expecting a fortune cookie – however the tomatoes are surprisingly good as dessert! Actually – most of the time there is no dessert. In fact, I haven’t really figured out if Chinese people have any sweet fetishes. They love to use every part of an animal – and I mean EVERY part of the animal – but apparently they don’t like to finish their chicken feet or yak stomach meal with a little after dinner chocolate.
I’ve pretty successfully tried to stay away from the chicken feet and intestines so far during my china travels – but generally I would eat whatever was put in front of me. This meant that I did eat yak…which is just like beef. I also drank yak milk tea – which tasted as if you were drinking melted butter…I’m sure that was low calorie! Mainly though I ate a lot of veggies ad bean curd– which they have in great supply. We mainly ate at local establishments where no English was spoken, but our tour guide did all of the translating for us. The restaurants we went to did not have menus – instead – they had baskets of fresh vegetables, bean curd, and live fish placed on the floor outside their restaurant. You would simply walk over to this live ‘menu’ and look at what they had to offer and point at what you wanted. Five minutes later it a plate would come out of the kitchen with that vegetable on it and some sauce piping hot.
The one thing that you need to become comfortable with in Chinese eating is that everyone simply eats meals family style – around a large table with a little ‘lazy susanne’ in the middle of the table rotating around the food so everyone can easily get to it. This also means that everyone takes their own pair of chopsticks and reaches into the family style plate….leaving hygiene behind – everyone continues to pick out of the plates with their chopsticks. Each family style meal is served with a huge bowl of plain white rice, and a little rice bowl where you put your own serving of rice. You hold the bowl with your hand, reach your chopsticks into the communal dishes in the middle of the table and place it in the bowl with your rice – then you begin to scoop it all in your mouth holding your bowl close a few inches from you mouth. I don’t think they have a translation for ‘no double dipping’ in Mandarin as it wasn’t something that concerned them. This was a bit confusing to me as on the other hand you still saw people walking around outside with surgical masks covering their face hiding from the germs of the outside world.
Overall – the food has been good and what I was expecting – yet two weeks of straight Chinese food can be enough to make me swear it off for a month of so! However – I have concluded that my sister and I should open up a fortune cookie shop in China simply to sell to the tourists. All we have to do is hire some local Chinese people, employ them in the store, put all of the prices and the signs in Chinese and the tourists will happily continue thinking that fortune cookies are a typical Chinese dessert – we can make a fortune!