I’m in China.
I’ve been in Shanghai for a little while, but I am currently staying in Changzhou; I will return to Shanghai on Friday night, by train. Then the long haul home on Saturday.
Part of my job includes the odd bit of travel. Last month I was in Turkey for the umpteenth time.
I have eaten in some very expensive restaurants in Istanbul, Egypt, Chittagong, and now China… no, I’m not impressed either. I’m not easily impressed. Whilst colleagues have oooh’d and aaaah’d, I have quietly eaten and watched.
We fly in to the big cities, but more often than not, our destination is an hour, or two, or three, or four, actually it was five once, away from the sprawls of the city. That’s when it gets interesting…
Away from the need to impress and simply down to living, we eat, as our colleagues and associates eat, in staff canteens, with local food. The best dahl I have ever eaten was in Bangladesh., but I also ate sandwiches with fleas on. The worst omelette I’ve ever had was in Egypt.
Yesterday and today, I ate as the workforce would eat and tasted food as it’s meant to be eaten.
I am completely fascinated by the Chinese and their food. I saw crab on the buffet last night, wondering how I would tackle it, I left it, only to see two young girls chomp through the outer shell and manipulate the meat from it whilst in their mouths and spit out what they didn’t want.
Yesterday, trotters went in. Today, at lunch, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of food, which included a whole boiled fish. Again with increasing fascination I saw mouthfuls sucked up from chop sticks, bones spat out, the fins, the tail – whatever wouldn’t be consumed, spat onto empty side plates. As a consequence nothing is wasted.
I’d love to tell you what I ate – if only I knew. It was lovely, I know that much. I admit, I avoided a couple of things I wasn’t too sure about, but I ate very very well.
To their amusement, each day they produce a knife and fork for me. For the most part, I’m not bad with a pair of chop sticks, by British standards of course.
What I do suffer from is the terribly British trait of being self-conscious. I’m too worried about a dribble on my chin, slurping in front of someone, dropping food, spitting out a bone when someone might see.
You know what though? I watch the locals in this off-the-beaten-track part of China with such fascination, and they couldn’t actually give a shit about me, or how I eat, or what I eat, or don’t eat.
I think they’ve got it cracked. Eat well, eat everything. Waste nothing. Enjoy your food and company, with little regard as to how, or what, anyone else might be eating.
We need to be less hung up about the whole thing, but I think we’re a long way off.