August 16, 2008

Soup for Me!

Of course when I finished shopping, it was time for lunch. And even if it hadn't been, it would have been. I was determined to eat real Chinese food while I was out in the real Chinese world.

After I left the Pearl market I walked down an alley to see what was around. I found two different Starbucks-like coffee houses filled with tourists. Not what I wanted. Then I saw the Quan Xing Ju Restaurant. It was on a main street alongside an alley. It looked kind of sketchy from the outside (and I'll admit, that was part of its appeal), but it did say it had English menus and there were real Chinese people inside.

I walked in through the strips of plastic that are used in countries that have flies and bugs but where it's too hot to have a door, I guess. I've seen it before, like the butcher shop in Sardinia. They were nice and let me sit at a table right near the air conditioner. After a few minutes, I moved a little farther away because it was freezing. Hard to imagine too much of a good thing, but there you go.

They gave me a menu and it had about three pages, two for food and one with drinks. I decided to have the hot and sour soup with dumplings. It was 15 yuan (a little over $2) and it was a lunch-sized bowl of soup. The waitress came over, I pointed to the picture, we were all set.
I discovered later on, when a Chinese couple sat next to me, that the real menu is about six pages long. There were lots of pictures on their menu that were not on my menu. My menu wasn't Westernized, by any means, but it sure didn't have the breadth of the other menu. I guess, like most Chinese restaurants I like to go to, these things were "not for you" as the waitresses always say.

And if I may digress .... this happened to me when I was in San Mateo with my girlfriend Ursula Liu. We went to a Shanghainese restaurant there with her father and his girlfriend, and Randi did all the ordering in Chinese. She would argue back and forth with the waiter and I discovered from Ursula that they were talking about what kind of food the White girl would eat ... Several dishes they ordered were "not for you." And they were right. Not for me at all.

Anyway, the hot and sour soup with dumplings apparently was for me and it was delicious. The soup had chili oil, leaving a bit of a sheen that the flash on the camera seems to have captured. It was broth with seaweed and what I thought were seeds -- maybe squash seeds. But no, upon closer inspection the seeds had teeny little eyes. They were teeny little shrimp, folded in half when they cooked to come out the size of a watermelon seed. Teeny shrimp, heads, legs and all. They weren't half bad actually. But the concept was a bit odd. I ate all of them, except for the few I tried to save for a photo. It didn't come out very well but the shrimp and the soup are on the flickr site.

I asked for some napkins about halfway through. There weren't any on the table, and I worried that napkins weren't available. But then I saw a guy come in off the street with his shirt pulled up to expose his belly. He walked in, grabbed a cup, poured himself some tea and then walked over to get a napkin to wipe his mouth. So then I asked.

When I was done the waitress made the world-wide pantomime for the check, I paid my 19 yuan (I had a water, too) and I left satisfied. It was such a treat.

I decided to take a taxi back to the MPC. It took a little less time, but nobody stepped on my toes. Taxis are pretty inexpensive, and the ride cost $7.

It was a pretty good day.

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