A graduating colleague treated us to dinner at an authentic Chinese restaurant yesterday. I had been to authentic Chinese eating places a couple of times before. But this experience turned out to be one of a kind.
Imagine a capacious and well-decorated dining hall with a splendid display of tanks housing a variety of live fishes and their kin, that too with price tags. Sounds absurd? Not really. It is a means of convincing customers that the restaurant indeed uses fresh catch in its cooking!
The scent of seafood, the characteristic roundtable with a rotating centerpiece, a menu-card that boosts your vocabulary on marine life threefold, kettles of tea and no water—it was what you’d expect a bona fide Chinese eatery to be like. Somehow I decided against being too ambitious in my order and went for an ordinary
First, there was a soup which someone said had monkey-head! I couldn’t help thinking of the Indiana Jones movie in which monkey-brain was shown as an Indian delicacy! However, it was a relief to find out soon that monkey head happened to be a type of edible mushroom.
The centerpiece was soon full of plates heaped with an assortment of molluscs. As the food was circulated, I grabbed as much tofu as I could. There was also some fish I could help myself with. When the
Szechwan chicken came, it was more welcome than ever.
As I was nibbling at some beans, the “brown cucumber” dish arrived that caused quite a stir around the table. A glance at the dish revealed that the brown cucumbers were in fact juicy brown worms each about an inch in length!
Finally some chicken! But my excitement died down to zilch when I found the head of the creature sitting upright on one end of the plate staring me in the eyes.
Even the shrimp that came seemed to ogle at me with huge black eyeballs. Then there was what looked like pork. But, wait. No! It was frog meat. There was squid and sea cucumber and a lot more which I can’t quite recall.
Gruesome? Well, I chose not to think of it that way. And that is why, shocked as I was, I didn’t quite feel like running away from the table. On the contrary, I’d say it was a thrilling and unique experience that gave me a story to share with people. All this said, I wonder what I would have done if one of those creatures on the table would have suddenly started moving!!!