No, this isn't the morning-after disaster following a winning football match celebrations; nor someone's thirtieth birthday bender; nor a disgusting family's attempt to eat out in public.
This is an entirely ordinary image of my friends and I having dinner in a Chinese restaurant.
Allow me to explain this cuisine chaos before you fire me from the experience of food.
When you go out for a traditional meal (or as B calls it, "roll-your-sleeves-up Chinese") there are some fundamental do's and don'ts (which I have come to learn):
- You almost always eat out in a group. Most authentic chinese restaurants contain very few 'intimate' low-lighting tables, and usually seat people in larger groups, under flourescent lights, with a lazy susan in the middle. This is because eating is perhaps the most social pastime in Chinese culture, and people often eat out with friends or family rather than meeting for coffee and a cake. There is nothing romantic about this experience.
- You let an expert order. The menus are often pages long with unrecognisable English, and you'll need to sift through eons of unappetizing options like birds nest, shark fin soup and 'thousand year old egg', before finding something that sounds even vaguely familiar. Therefore hopefully you'll have a friend with you who's grown up in Hong Kong or can at least enlighten you to what 'thousand year old egg' even is.
ou eat whatever comes out first. If you order fried rice - fantasizing that you'll pour little bits of your sweet and sour pork over it in a delightful little bowl - you might be disappointed. The rice often comes out last, and the heaviest meat dish sometimes appears first. I've talked about this before in my cooking posts - the waiters will bring out food as soon as it's off the stove. So forget what you've been taught about courses and combinations. The only rule here is 'steaming hot'.
- You don't drink wine, you drink beer. Or water. Or tea. Chinese restaurants never have any decent wine on the menu, as it's not really their thing. And if you do drink beer, make sure its Tsing Tao.
- Do not expect too many smiles from the waiters. Or perhaps any at all. They're not there to be charming; they're there to scribble your order down on a scrap of paper and keep things moving. That is all.
- You do not need to dress up. This is not fine dining. This is a feeding frenzy.
- It took me a long time to accept this: the messier you are at eating, the more polite you are. This is truly a mission to get your head around. If you drop food onto the table, never clean it up. A messy table is a sign of a great meal.
So as you can see by this photo - this last meal was nothing short of sensational. And there is the rice that we were all too full to eat - because it came out last.