In terms of ‘around the block’ bottom-tier restaurants, there are two options–the street food vendors that most likely make quality food but have incomprehensible menus that look like toddlers tried to tic-tak-toe 50 times over on them OR there are the food joints with picture menus and everyone knows its best to avoid those. Unless you want to have some idea of what you’re ordering.
Or so I thought.
I thought I ordered chicken wings. I got chicken feet.
I thought I ordered a soup with vegetables in broth. I got a rice dish with some sort of shellfish in it. The shellfish was mostly hard pieces that were like eating cartilage and small chicken bones.
I also got dumplings and got dumplings. But that was a lay-up.
Perhaps it was the oddity of my dinner order but I had the attention of the mostly empty and overstaffed restaurant that I tripped into out of the pouring rain.
Dumplings are slippery.
I picked the 3rd of 4 in the box and made it 90% of the way to my mouth, but it slipped out of my chopsticks and fell back hurtling into my soy sauce with meteoric force. The was a horrified gasp, amplified by the dozen on-lookers reacting in unison.
The wait-staff frantically looked through every single drawer, nook and cranny until they found a fork. It was dusty so the owner washed it off and handed it in my direction.
I declined thankfully and mimed practicing using chopsticks.
After the dumplings, the meal went completely downhill. I ate way more chicken feet than I wanted to and made it through most of the crunchy rice dish in fear of being rude.
At one point, the manager got into my business and laughed–either at my attempt to eat rice with chopsticks or at my effort to mangle but not actually eat the chicken feet.
I asked for the bill and got the hell outta dodge.
I wandered around in the pouring rain to find something else to eat and found a fried pork cutlet from a street vendor. It was good, but probably not worth getting drenched.
Walking home defeated, a guy armored up in a poncho stopped on his electric bicycle and signaled to space underneath his tarp. I thought he was offering me a ride, which I was pumped about, but then below his tarp I saw a tub of umbrellas that he was selling to people like me who got caught in the downpour.
I was already soaked through so there was no use in retreating below a shield of plastic. I declined by waving my hand. He got really mad at me and yelled angry Chinese words as he rode off into the fog.
My other adventure of the day was paying rent for the guys I’m house-sitting for. There was a machine–all in Chinese so I started button mashing until the machine told me I was an idiot and let me switch to english–where I had to deposit 12,000 yuan. Thats a lot of money to be responsible for while messing around with a cash-eating machine. An awfully nerve-wracking experience. So was walking around Shanghai with drug-dealer amounts of cash.
I got it all sorted, except the machine wouldn’t accept one of the 100 yuan notes. How could I do this job and come up 11,900/12,000? A nice old Chinese man who was watching this transaction as nervously as I was carrying it out offered up a clean 100 yuan note to complete it.
What a nice guy. Be nice–a gift that carries on!!!
I just wish the guys at that restaurant had been nice and given me fair warning of what I was getting into. A cut-throat signal or a wide-eyed shake of the head would have sufficed.
But by Chinese standards, what I was served at that restaurant wasn’t nearly as weird as it gets here. I purposely avoided the meal of the baby bird, head intact, splayed out on a plate. People line up mouths-foaming around food vendors that emit the most god-awful smells. In some smaller food streets crabs, turtles, and whole fish bob around in their tanks before their scooped out, scorched and slopped on customers’ plates. There’s a video of a group of high society Chinese men sipping monkey brains that I can send to those who privately request it. It’s too awful to post publicly.
The Chinese eat some gross stuff.