Thursday, February 26, 2009

Famished at the Feast

Bill Brown ... Xiamen University Copyright 1999-2009
Adapted from "Magic Xiamen--Guide to Xiamen and Fujian"
Also see Strange Creature Cuisin (1880s)

Famished at the Feast. While many foreigners like eating rice with their meat and vegetables, Chinese eating out often don’t want rice at all. They order only what they don’t get at home—like jellyfish and seaworms, pickled piggy toes, and stewed duck webs. These exotic delicacies may well tantalize the taste buds but they don’t stick to the ribs, and you can easily find yourself famished at the end of a 20 course feast unless you can top it off with a plate or two of rice or noodles. And herein lays the problem.

Unless you hound the waitresses, they won’t serve the rice until the very end, and plain, white rice is not the most appealing way to top off a meal (except for our youngest son Matthew, who has been in China since he was six months old and therefore has taken leave of some critical faculties).

You must beg the waiter, “Please bring the rice first!” (Qǐng Bǎ Mǐfàn Xiān Shàng! (请把米饭先上!). They will happily reply, “Hǎole! Hǎole!” (好了,好了! Okay!), but their brains in no way hear what their lips are saying. Chinese don’t order rice and so they cannot believe you would either, so you must hound them for it, and even then you’ll probably still end up getting rice only as your just desserts.

A waitress in Xiàmén’s finest foreign-run hotel (you guess which one) agreed three times to bring the rice and we still did not get it until after we’d paid. Then she had the nerve to suggest a doggy bag for the rice.

We’ve entreated the Xiàmén University restaurant waitresses, several times a week, for years, to bring the rice first. Only in the last few months have they given in. In fact, now they often plop bowls of white rice in front of us even before they take our order—and then we get to stare at white rice until the entrees arrive half an hour later. But cold rice is better than no rice.

Related: Strange Creature Cuisin (1880s)

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