China is an extraordinary culinary experience. By “extraordinary” I mean freakin’ weird, sometimes horrifying, and occasionally delicious.
We arrived in Kunshan one week ago and were left to fend for ourselves in terms of food. This is my first experience coming to China without a Chinese friend to get me drunk on baijiu and order for me at some banquet dinner celebrating who knows what. If you find yourself in that particular situation, you’re living a fine life, my friend!
Our first stop on the chi shenme express was the convenience store around the corner from our stinky hotel. I have no idea what the name of this store is because I am always too distracted by the really angry store owner mother screaming at her three kids for climbing on crates of Chinese sausages while they yell in some pitch that doesn’t even exist in the Western Hemisphere. Anyway, let’s take a look at what delicacies are available here:
Past the Snacks into the Kitchen
If you are lucky enough to score a job teaching at Kang Chiao in Kunshan, you will have access to a funky little den underneath the Motel Hotel in the Rainbow apartment complex. I also do not know the name of this place, but that doesn’t matter. Just walk to the back of the aforementioned convenience store, and you’ll find the Chinese version of the Narnia wardrobe. It’s next the shrink wrapped chicken’s feet. Step through the magic wardrobe, and bask in the glory of the underground cafeteria! Make haste towards the booth with the pictures of dumplings and say “ju ruo jiao zi” three times. No matter what the lady in the booth says back to you, just keep repeating those magic words. Find a table and wait.
My husband is new to China and has been working hard to learn Chinese. On our second trip to the Narnia cafeteria, we wanted to get some noodles which you’d think would be an easy task. All the menus at each booth are in Chinese and do not feature pictures. We hesitated for a moment which alerted all the vendors to the fact that we were going to struggle with this process. My husband decided to take swift action. Here is the English transcription of what went down:
Noodle Booth Lady: Dear god. Foreigners that can’t read Chinese.
Husband: Noodle pork! Noodle pork! Noodle pork!
Noodle Booth Lady: (averts eyes) I don’t understand him.
Husband: NOODLE PORK!
Noodle Booth Man: Here is some rice.
Vegetable Booth Man: He wants noodles, you idiot!
Me: Are these Beijing noodles?
Noodles Booth Man: Those are noodles.
Noodle Booth Lady: (snickers)
Husband: Noodle pork?
Me: Beijing noodles are good.
Noodle Booth Lady: It has tomatoes!
The end result: We got a big bowl of something that was like spaghetti.