Last week we were treated to a Christmas Dinner with some of the other teachers from school. I guess that it would probably be more accurate to describe this as a Year End Dinner, rather than a Christmas dinner. It was a very typical Chinese dinner. The restaurant was across the street from the school, so we strolled there and waited for the rest of the teachers to arrive. Of course, we had our own private room, because that’s just how they like to do things over here! When I choose a place to eat, I’m all about atmosphere. Chinese restaurants are, for the most part, completely lacking in that. There is no music, no soft lighting (quite the opposite in fact), and definitely no sweet waitress telling you stories. Eating out in China is a very different experience. It is rather cold and somewhat an experiment. You never really know if you are going to leave dinner absolutely stuffed, or STARVING! That is because one person orders, and everyone else eats what comes to the table. The food is brought out in drips and drabs (another contrast to western dining, where every dish should come out at the same time), and you never really know when they food is all on the table. It just keep coming and coming.
Sammy, one of the administrators, went ahead and ordered for us while we waited for everyone to sit down. If you’ve never been to China then you won’t understand how complicated it is ordering at these places. All the fish, meats, raw vegetables, and other ingredients are out on plates near the entrance. There are big tanks with live fish, and others on ice. All the vegetables are raw, and nothing has any resemblance of what it will eventually look like. I guess you could call it a “Live Menu”. By just looking at these raw (live) ingredients, you are meant to order multiple dishes for the table. Perhaps Chinese people all know the names of dishes and that gives them all the information they need. Again, in the west, just a name of dish is not enough. What kind of pasta? What size? What is in it? We are therefore no good at this dining-style… very basic Chinese combined with an aversion to “surprise” dishes, results in us preferring to have others order for us (or just eating at places where we can actually order what want to eat).
We were pleasantly surprised at how many of the dishes we really liked. In fact, there were a few that we basically demolished. All the dishes are placed in the centre of the table, on a “lazy Susan” (which is obviously not it’s name over here), and the plates rotate around the table. We were seated at an extremely large table which could easily seat 16 people. Below are some of the pictures from our dinner with co-workers.
Above, We’re in Qingdao, a coastal city, so no Chinese meal would be complete without some seafood. This steamer had clamps, shrimp, and various other shellfish. Below, this dish which initially didn’t look that great, turned out to be quite tasty! When we asked, “tofu” was what we were told it was. Since it looked like little squares of lasagne, we thought it might be worth a try. It turns out that it is very much like ravioli (which are a type of dumpling composed of a filling sealed between two layers of thin pasta dough). Since ravioli are typically square, this really did seem like the Chinese version of that Italian dish.
Above, this salad, oh my word, it was incredible! know that it doesn’t look like much… but honestly, it was amazing. It contained basic Chinese lettuce, other greens, some grated carrot, pine nuts, and a delicious vinaigrette dressing. There was something about the combination of pine nuts and the dressing. I have never had a good Chinese salad – they aren’t big on salads over here – but THIS ONE, I need to find out how to make that! Below, Bok Choy, egg and shrimp soup.
Above, Of course, almost anything that is fried in oil is a winner amongst hungry westerners. I can’t even remember what this was, but it was really good, especially with the winning salad that I mentioned above. Below, another deep fried dish that we enjoyed. Strips of pork, covered in batter and fried in oil. They were supposed to be eaten dipped in a sauce and then wrapped in a lettuce leaf. We were so hungry that we all just grabbed pieces of it before it made it around the table in time for Sammy to tell us how to eat it properly. She ordered more and we got it right the second time round…
Above, this wooden tray came to the table with all kinds of root vegetables on it. I like how they are presented, still in their skins and looking fresh, on a wooden tray. I didn’t get a picture of the rest – potatoes, burdock, walnuts, and so on – but it is worth pointing out that last remaining vegetable. Those are called “Taro”, and they are a common vegetable here. I really should show you more of “the norms” around here since we have now been living in China for almost four years – Wow!
Taro is commonly used as a main course as steamed taro with or without sugar, in Chinese cuisine in a variety of styles and steamed, boiled or stir fried as a main dish and as a flavor enhancing ingredient. In Northern China it is often boiled or steamed then peeled and eaten with or without sugar much like a potato. It is commonly braised with pork or beef. It is used in the dim sum cuisine of southern China to make a small plated dish called taro dumpling as well as a pan-fried dish called taro cake. It is also shredded into long strips which are woven together to form a seafood birds nest. Taro cake is a delicacy traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year celebrations. In desserts it is used in tong sui, bubble tea, as a flavoring in ice cream and other desserts in China (e.g., Sweet Taro Pie). McDonald’s sells taro-flavored pies in China.
Above, large fried dumplings. Another winner, of course! Although really large these jiaozi (dumplings) are quite tasty, and hard not to grab the minute they come out. Us foreigners were all eyeing the last couple jiaozi as they circled the table… and then, of course, another huge plate of them came out!! Below, No traditional Chinese meal would be complete without a massive fish, with it’s head still attached, in a soup.
We were all absolutely stuffed after all the wonderful dishes that Sammy ordered. I didn’t even get pictures of all the dishes, but I think I showed our favorite ones. Its was a good meal, and we were thankful for the meal and time – away from school – with colleagues.