Food, glorious food

Some food porn…
It’s my last night in Shenzhen; I fly home tomorrow. It’s been a very busy week, with meetings running late into the evening, and so meals have been snatched where and when the opportunity arose. (Pizza Hut, for example.) But tonight I decided to treat myself.
Last time I was here, I usually ate at one of a number of restaurants in a small planned community a couple of blocks south-east of here. It’s a strange area – a bit like an Italian hilltop village via Disneyworld, complete with Campanile – but the restaurants are clearly used to a diverse clientele. Most have English language menus, or at least good photos of the various dishes. But tonight, I decided on a different approach. I walked north-east, and found myself negotiating a sea of vegetable stalls and outdoor restaurants, with cheap pink plastic chairs and low tables. It was packed. I crossed the street (a six-lane highway) and found a more upmarket restaurant. The front wall was covered in fish tanks; I had learned that clean tanks are a good sign. So I went in.
No English menus. A few postage-stamp-sized pictures of dishes. No English speaking staff. No foreigners among the diners. The perfect set-up. I decided to order three dishes at random, reasoning that if everything went wrong I could head up the street to Pizza Hut. So I pointed at three dishes, added “mi fan” (rice) and “pi jiu” (beer). Signed, “big beer”? Yes, big beer.
Tea, beer, and a plate of hot peanuts arrived. I amused myself by trying to manipulate the oily peanuts with my plastic chopsticks. (Note: everybody in China seems to use plastic chopsticks. Wooden chopsticks are an ecological disaster, and should be banned everywhere.) I read my Kindle.
The first dish arrived. Chitterlings, in hot oil with garlic and more peanuts. When did I last try those? They were actually quite tasty, though as they cooled they quickly became chewy. Not too bad, though.
Next, a plate full of tiny (1 cm.) shrimp, with scallions, chopped peppers, and more peanuts. The crispy shrimp actually worked OK with the scallions. Still, not one of my favourites.
As I was crunching shrimp and chewing chitterlings, the third dish arrived: a hemispherical black stone dish, obviously very hot, with something bubbling fiercely under the lid. It turned out to be a seething soup of soft tofu with finely-chopped vegetables and seafood stirred into it. And it was glorious – one of the finest combinations of flavours and textures I can remember. Wonderfully balanced. I filled my soup bowl, waited for it to cool, and ate it slowly. Then I reloaded my bowl, drank some “pi jiu”, crunched a few shrimp, and repeated. Somewhere along the way some rice appeared; it was dry and not very good, so I mostly ignored it.
I finished the whole stone bowl. My waitress was amazed, and delighted. And the total bill was 93 RMB, which is $13.61 US.
And now it’s time to pack, an exercise which I will lubricate with my last can of pineapple beer. (Yes, really.)