Saturday, July 10, 2010

We Think We Just Ate Duck Heads

Most of the time, we write about the amazing specialty foods we stumble upon all across China. But this time I think everyone will be surprised...

Yesterday was our first day in Shanhaiguan, and we spent it at the beach (as you know from Z's cliff jumper post). After a long day of laying in the sand, soaking in the warm sun, and feeling the cool breeze off the ocean, we finally decided to look for some chow. There was one restaurant in particular that caught our attention. It was a two-story building that seemed to have a fancy seafood restaurant downstairs with a more casual outdoor area on the roof.

We were all interested until we got a little bit closer. You see, here in Shanhaiguan, there tend to be groups of Russian and German men on industrial business trips. Although we don't have anything against them, we prefer to stay in the most "Chinese" areas of China as much as possible. So when we saw three or four tables of laowai (foreigners), we were definitely put off. However, we realized that they were only in the fancy part and thought we would be fine on the roof.

So there we were, entering this big restaurant all covered in sand. Daddy requested that we be seated upstairs, at which point we were led by a worker carrying a tub of cups and dishes up a small staircase by the kitchen. We were seated on the roof at a white plastic table, large enough for a party of fifteen, and given a laminated page with a list of dishes.

Now the growing question was whether this was the same restaurant as the one downstairs. The waitresses seemed to be alternating between the two areas and were all wearing the same thing. However, on the roof, the customers were mainly large groups of Chinese men drinking cheap beer and baijiu, while just below there were tables of foreign businessmen being treated to banquets. Upstairs, there was a huge chuanr (grilled skewer) station, with a little kid using a rag to fan the smoke, while underneath those seated at big gold tables were given large and ornate picture menus filled with every possible Shanhaiguan specialty. I am still not sure what was going on!

Things became really interesting, though, when it came time to order. We weren't interested in expensive seafood. We just wanted a few classic dishes. Daddy ordered tuduosi (shredded potatoes), even though it wasn't on the menu, as well as fifteen yangrou chuanr (lamb kebabs). Then he asked if they had any gan guo (a kind of pot that heats your food as you eat it). The waitress suggested an unknown dish, as well as some 28 kuai item that included some kind of a whole animal. (We still cannot always completely understand dish names!) Daddy accepted both suggestions, hoping that we would end up with something we wanted.

Our laid-back spirits were taken off guard when our mysterious "gan guo" dish arrived. We had no clue what it was, and all turned to Daddy to begin the investigation. He poked around with his chopsticks, until Z said he thought it was a duck. "See, there's the head!"

Well, that was unexpected. At first, I was really excited. Recently, I have been enjoying the duck in Beijing and I was ready for more. In China, the heads of animals are usually included in dishes, so this didn't bother me at all. It didn't bother me, that is, until we realized the whole dish was heads!

As it turned out, we ended up with a whole plate of what we think were duck heads, an order of tuduosi (the only item that worked out), two bowls of rice (we only ordered one), a whole shrimp on a skewer (this was the whole animal dish), and zero yangruo chuanr (when we asked about the lamb kebabs, we were informed, in a first, that they had run out). To finish off the night, Daddy had to haggle with the waiter over the price of the meal, when they tried to charge almost one hundred kuai extra.

Is there such a thing as a dull day in China?

~Julie

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