A Close Shave!
Today, the Globeriders begin arriving in Shanghai. Helge Pedersen, Sterling Noren, James Hay, James Harding, David Stafford and John Shelton depart Vancouver, BC, on Air Canada. Roy Cox and Frederick (Rick) Wetzel depart San Francisco on United Airlines. Ian Wood arrives from Bangkok, David Wilde from Hong Kong, Michael Matthews and Bryan Clague from "parts unknown". I look forward to meeting many of my fellow travelers for the first time. Since most of them won't arrive until later this afternoon, I'll rewind to yesterday....
My fourth day in Shanghai. After three days of feeling like a tourist, on day four, I felt like an expatriate. Ted and I spent the day hitting a shopping mall, shot some pool in an outrageously ornate but smoke-filled "health club, had a fiery dinner at a Shichuan restaurant, a few beers at a karaoke bar, and called it a day. Since the high points of the day were lunch and dinner - let's talk about food!
Those who know me will confirm that I love international cuisine, in copious portions. My wife, Aillene, is an excellent cook, as is my mother. All of my family worked in the "food service" business at one time or another. My brother is a graduate of the CIA (that would be the Culinary Institue of America in Hyde Park, New York). I enjoy cooking myself, and we often entertain at home. When we have time for watching TV, my favorite show is Anthony Bourdain's "A Cook's Tour" on the Food Channel. China is a "foodie" heaven. The Chinese have been traders and merchants since long before Marco Polo's journey, and brought a wealth of spices, cooking techniques and styles back to the Middle Kingdom. On the flight over, the on-board magazine had an article on Chinese cooking - it contained a great quote - "The Chinese eat anything that points its spine to the sky". Good thing that our branch of the vertebrate family learned to walk upright early on!
There are restaurants here that seat thousands of people, with portions of the parking lot reserved for buses filled with eager patrons. Imagine the frenetic chaos that must reign in a kitchen where the most important goal is to get each dish (and there are many) to the table at its peak of freshness and flavor? The menus go on for page after page, and ordering is a long and complicated affair that sounds, to the untrained ear, like the prelude to a fist-fight. The notion of a romantic, hushed dinner here it totally foreign. The dining rooms are huge, brilliantly lit, with tables that seat 16 people, and a continual torrent of noise, laughter and happy conversation. I could fill volumes detailing the fine dining we've enjoyed, but, I find the food halls far more intruiging as the subject for a short photo essay.
Let me note that I've been in all manner of eating establishments in Mexico, Israel, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Korea, Germany, Italy, France, Great Britain, Ireland, and Italy. So far, the only place I've ever suffered the trials of "Montezuma's Revenge" has been in the States - three times, all at fast food restaurants, which explains my aversion to anyplace that asks - "Would you like to super-size that?" I hope my good fortune overseas continues. The "fast food" here is plentiful, cheap (by US standards), and comes in a stomach-boggling variety of smells, colors, textures, and ingredients. You've read enough, below are some few shots from the food hall at the Carrefour's shopping complex in Shanghai. But first a single-shot lesson in dining etiquette:
[I don't know if this custom was picked up from the British, or something that evolved internally; at the table in China, the proper way to place your napkin is oriented like a baseball diamond (as opposed to "square" to your lap), with "home plate" in your lap, and "third base" up on the table held in place with a small plate. Makes a lot of sense really, but, extreme caution should be excercised when picking-up "home plate" to wipe your mouth, else you will score a "home run" of sauce, food, and cooking in your lap!]
And now, the food hall at a shopping mall. These are common in every country I've visited to far in Asia, although in Japan, they tend to take the form of a floor of restaurants, as opposed to an open food circus:
[The meal on the left costs about USD$1.90, the one on the left $2.40. Inexpensive by our standards, but, probably not to the average factory worker here, who earns around $150.00/month]
I saw a crowd around one of the kiosks - the universal sign of a good place to eat. As it turned out, they were watching a master at work shaving noodles into a giant steaming wok. Guess what I had for lunch?
[First, the dough is pulled, folded, and pulled again and again to bring out the gluten and make it nice and elastic.]
[Then, its rolled into a loaf, from which the noodles will be shaved.]
[The action begins. You can see the target in the lower left, a wok the size of a cauldron, where all good noodles go.]
[Even close-up, you can see he's workng so fast, his hands are literally a blur of motion. He's using a knife with a blade the size of a paper-back novel.]
[I finally had to resort to a flash to catch this single airborne noodle flying to its fate. You can barely make it out - that white curl in the lower left. The portions were huge - it took him about 10 seconds to shave enough for one bowl, yet from what I could see, all his digits were intact.]
GLOBERIDERS TOUR DAY NO: 1
TOTAL DRIVEN MILEAGE TO DATE: 0
TOTAL GASOLINE USED TO DATE: 0
TOTAL NO. OF AA BATTERIES USED TO DATE: 8
Posted by Mike Paull at May 08, 2002 05:45 AM GMT