As an English teacher working in China, one has to be broad-minded, open to new experiences and of course, sample interesting local cuisine. So, when one of my Chinese friends invited me out to dinner, I naturally accepted. He took me to a Japanese restaurant situated in Badaguan (the old German part of the city). This was undoubtedly an expensive restaurant.
You see, Chinese culture is all about Face. Whether it’s restaurant dining, entertaining, weddings, clothes buying, mobile phones, cars or anything, it has to be the best and most expensive. You invited me to the Grande last time, I’m taking you to the Ritz this time. You invited me to your daughter’s wedding that cost 300,000, now you’re invited to my daughter’s wedding that cost 400,000. You have the iPhone 5, I bought the new iPhone 5s, etc, etc. The Chinese call it Pan bi, the British idiom is “Keeping-up with the Jones’s”. The only difference is, the Chinese are fiercely competitive about out-doing each other and are extremely proud of it. I’ve seen quite a few fights at restaurants over who is paying the bill!
If you ever visit China and are invited out for dinner, then please do go. The Chinese are very well-mannered and polite. They will open doors for you, find a table for you, eat what you would like to eat and generally be a good host. My friend is no exception. In public, well, that’s another matter entirely. They don’t know how to queue, barge in front of other people and have no manners. Getting on a bus is a fight to the death!
The restaurant’s interior was spectacular, I was very surprised. It had a planked wooden floor, a central area with a pond full of Koi, wooden beams, a raised dais for the seating area and private rooms around the outer perimeter. It was also full of potted plants and small trees.
We sat down and I let my friend order the food. While we waited we drank hot Sake (traditionally, this is a low-alcohol sweet drink that is served hot, it’s actually very nice) and smoked. Yes, this you can still do in China and one of the reasons I enjoy living here. Smokers still have civil liberties and are not persecuted.
Well, the meal, if you could call it that, arrived and we started to eat. I ate the rice, prawns and vegetables (actually, I think it was some type of grass), but the slimy things in shells crawling around the plate I didn’t eat. I let my friend eat those. The Chinese will, in fact, eat anything. If it swims, crawls or flies, they’ll eat it! Then the waitress brought us each a bowl of soup. It was thick, almost like a porridge, with white stringy meat. I tried some. A sweet, meaty taste that I’m ashamed to say, was quite delicious. I asked my friend what it was, but he didn’t know, so he asked the waitress. He told me he didn’t know the English name, but I heard them talking in Chinese and I knew what it was, so I told him. Qingwa tang – Frog soup.
When I knew what it was, I felt sick. I’ve never been so disgusted with myself in all my life. My friend said “Don’t think about it. Just eat it.”, but I couldn’t. I’m usually very careful about which restaurants I go to and what I eat. I was quite angry with my friend, but in fairness to him, he didn’t know. This was a complimentary dish the chef had prepared for us.
Chinese people, for goodness sake, by all means invite me out to dinner, but please, don’t feed me endangered species! Thankfully, the younger people are better educated and more in touch with the environment and eco-system, so frog-eating will eventually become a thing of the past.