Rarely has one meal made so many people happy.
Last week, our tour guide pointed out a red-lanterned street known as “Ghost Street” and said that it was a famous area for spicy dishes, hot pot, and Sichuan food. We were in a minibus at the time, but my husband and I decided that we’d go back and check it out. At 3:00 the next afternoon, we did.
We were fooled by the menu posted outside one restaurant that had pictures of food labeled in English. It seemed like a good choice so we went in.
The young woman serving us came over with a very detailed order sheet; the kind you typically see in a sushi place. But this one was entirely in Chinese characters. There wasn’t a word of English anywhere on it and we had no idea what to do with it.
She stood at our table as we opened the menu and she handed us the order sheet again. We shrugged (hoping that shrugs are universal) and started pointing at pictures in the menu instead. But this seemed to confuse her more. Another young man joined her as we all flustered our way through the menu. I kept turning pages and pointing to the word “carp.” Carp in chili oil sounded good to me. But it wasn’t making sense to them. Everytime I pointed to the picture and the name of the dish I wanted, they turned to another page of the menu and pointed at it. Then handed me the cryptic Chinese order sheet again.
I shrugged and they finally gave up.
The servers (by now there were three trying to figure out what we wanted) left the table. We received our drinks and then sat back and wondered what we were about to be served. As we pondered that, one of the servers walked by with a big net and a fish flipping and flopping as he headed toward the kitchen. My carp!
It flopped out onto the floor and he scooped it back up as a small crowd of Chinese servers surrounded him. This was quite a commotion. They looked toward our table. We smiled at them. At least the fish would be fresh, even if it had momentarily escaped and hit the floor. That began the spectacle that turned into our dinner experience.
Soon, a HUGE bowl of carp in chili oil was set on our table. I realized then that they were trying to ask me what ingredients to add to our hot pot. Luckily, they figured it out for me. It was delicious, but way too big. Especially considering the other food we’d ordered along with it.
As we ate, every employee of that restaurant came out to ogle us. I’m sure there had been much discussion about what we wanted and maybe what they’d give us. They definitely found us amusing, which was okay with me. It certainly made them happy.
Somehow, we managed to get a takeaway container for the rest of our food. We headed back on the subway, then walked toward our hotel where a homeless woman stopped us for a handout. She pointed at our food and begged for that. We happily gave it to her and she thanked us profusely. So not only did my mystery carp dish make the restaurant staff happy, it also helped the woman who was hungry. And that was double happiness for me.
Have you ever had the unique experience of having the restaurant staff watch you eat?