Lunch in the countryside of China. Not something I'll forget anytime soon. After wondering if they had defibrillators installed on the Great Wall of China, our local guide escorted us to a random shack in the country for a casual lunch.
I have to mention that autumn had just started to hit China the week I was there. At first, it was startling- because I stupidly think autumn is a franchise of New England, and that they own a monopoly on leaves turning, and pumpkins and such. Not so, ignorant travelers! You CAN see pumpkins and eat kung pao. (My husband and I continually joked about this after first arriving- "Look! The sun shines the same in China! Look! Ikea looks the same in China!" You get the idea).
Our friend had never been to this strip of countryside restaurants before, but as our van careened down the dirt road, folks would start frantically waving at us- hoping to entice us to stop at their rustic place for a bit of grub.
The place we stopped had two people waving instead of one, so we decided to reward their extra effort by giving Mr. Lee a much needed rest from his job of chauffering/murdering us.
The walls were cinderblock. The floor was dirt in some places, crusty linoleum in others. We were taken to a small back room, and seated at a large round table. Truthfully, we all looked a little nervous. Our friend, and Mr. Lee started to converse with the waitress, and local beers and room-temperature bottled Cokes were quickly served.
Then the dishes started to arrive. First, there was chicken soup. Literally, soup with a chicken in it. Lucky for me, I was seated right next to our local friend. My husband was on my other side, and he frantically grabbed his beer and quietly muttered that he would be passing on the first course.
I couldn't. First, I didn't want to offend my friend. He was eagerly looking for my reaction, and the amount of kindness and generosity he had shown us that day was seriously remarkable. I didn't want to disappoint my new friend, or Mr. Lee (we still had a long drive home). Second, when am I going to get this chance again? To eat such a meal in such a setting? So I grinned, tried not to look at the floating chicken head in my bowl (with one eye and a bit of brain floating around) and took a bite.
Spicy. Savory. Seriously Delicious. The group eyed me with apprehension, and Matt whispered quietly, "Holy shit. You're like my own Andrew Zimmerman."
After that, the game was on. I ate from an entire fish (caught that day from a nearby lake), pumpkin, an unidentifiable filled dumpling, bok choy and a myriad of other dishes that boggled my mind. I drank my coke from a bottle and prayed I wouldn't have to discover the bathroom facilities. (This place had no running water, and yes, my husband took pictures of their restroom. I will NOT be posting these). My friend was pleased that I was so enthusiastic, and kept placing bits and morsels on my plate for me to taste.
Then, my new friend from China said something to the waitress, and she nodded her head. My friend then escorted me to their kitchen, where I could see them cook. It was a small room, probably no bigger than 8 feet by 8 feet. There was one small window. No sink. A piece of wood propped up on bricks in the center of the room that served as their prepping station and dirty dish repository. An old woman held the biggest chef's knife I have ever seen (more akin to a cleaver, really) and smiled a toothless grin before she went back to work hacking a chicken.
It was definitely a meal I will remember, and an experience I will treasure. Chicken head soup- who knew?