Food Friday: Misfires

23 Sep

Eating in China is a daily adventure into the unknown. Very few restaurants have any English on their menus, most of which are printed once in large characters on the wall. Some places have individual menus pasted to the wall next to the tables, which is quite nice for the times when my Chinese is just not getting across and I can resort to the time honored “point and smile”. More often than not I rely on the Fates to decide what I’m having for dinner, especially on the rare occasions when I am tired of my standard fare. (Beef noodle soup, I’m sorry baby, I never meant to hurt you…) It’s a good way to change things up and sometimes I add a new favorite to my regular dinner rotation.

Unfortunately, not every dish is a winner. Oh god, no. Sometimes, when doing the spinny hand thing, I end up ordering something truly vile.

This is a bowl of beef flavored tofu nao. Translation: tofu brain. Ugh. I’m a fan of tofu in moderate quantities, but I had been under the impression that I had ordered beef noodles. This is not beef noodles. And to make matters worse, the wait-staff is staring at me in this tiny little shop, because I am apparently a fascinating thing.

Despite the name, there is no brains in this dish, which makes me rather pleased because I am not a zombie, my penchant for post-apocalyptic books aside. Instead, it’s a goddamn delicacy. To quote someone else who knows what the hells she’s talking about, “Dofu Nao, for example, is a dish of fermented bean curd in a rich brown sauce cooked with fine chopped meat, green cucumber and cloud- (or ear-) shaped wild fungus.” Delicious my ass. More like vomit-inducing. I barely made my way through a quarter of it, mushed it up some more to make it look like I had eaten more, and exited with undue haste.

The next dish is a traitor to the curry family. I’m a big fan of curry, especially Japanese-style curry. You know, the Golden whatever brand that comes in a big old brick of spices and turns into a thick, stew-like concoction that goes well with stir-fried meat and potatoes over rice? (Damn, I’m making myself hungry…) This is nothing like that.

Yes, there is chicken and potatoes over rice in a thick, uninspired gravy. But oh man, did they fuck up the execution of the dish. There’s no spice, no kick, nothing. The meat is reprocessed slurry (something I was shocked to find in China) and there are these weird pink squares. I have no idea what they are, but they had the consistency of bad spam. The rice is clearly low-grade. Basically, the whole meal was one big disappointment, as I paid 18 kuai, the purchasing power equivalent of going to a Panera/Chipolte or something. (Uh, I normally pay about 6 – 10 kuai for most of my meals. Those noodle dishes from last week? The most expensive was the Xinjiang noodle dish at 12 kuai and that was because of the grilled meat.) It ranks pretty low mostly because I was looking forward to good curry. I got something that makes school food curry look delicious, and I would know about Chinese cafeteria school food. Actually, Beida’s cafeteria food wasn’t half bad.

The last dish is, well, I have no words.

Seriously, I got nothing. I asked for red fried beef and rice. I got this. I think there was tomato? Yeah. The eagle-eyed amongst you might notice the two eggs on top. The whites were cooked, the yolks not so much. It was kind of put on my table and I stared at it for a while. When I asked the waitress “wtf?”, she nodded and said a bunch of things in very fast sichuanhua. So I ate it.

I was hungry. I was paying money for it. The rice was edible-ish. (Stop judging me.)

The sauce, not so much. It was like someone gelatinized a bunch of tomatoes, added egg whites, made sure it was cooked just enough to make sure no one would get salmonella, and threw over a bunch of rice. Then someone else in the kitchen said, “hang on, I have these eggs already cooked, what the hell, why not”. And then they served it to me. Yeah, I’m not going back there again.

Miscellanea: most things in Chengdu are already spiced. When they go to the trouble of actually labelling something as “peppered”, back away slowly. Seriously. You will thank me for this. I learnt this the hard way with a plate of “Mountain Peppered Fried Rice”. It was okay, but I was not expecting what appeared to be an entire garden’s worth of shredded green peppers invading my tastebuds and conquering all they encountered. It was not pleasant. You’ve been warned.

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One Response to “Food Friday: Misfires”

  1. Karen Luksich September 24, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    Well, it sounds like this week was a big disappointment in the food department. Is there a Chinese equivalent to Yelp? Probably not. How about asking some of the locals for the good places? Any leads on noodle making classes?

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