Food and drink / Teaching in Wenzhou / Travel: China

Mystery Food

A friend of mine ordered some fresh juice off a tempting full-color menu trapped under the plastic covering of our restaurant table. It arrived as all juice should: tall glass, twirly straw…steaming hot and tasting like dust would if you blended it in water with purple food coloring and set it to simmer.

Ordering food is always an adventure, a guessing game. As much as possible I stick to restaurants with a picture menu. These menus rival any Vogue or Elle, running to nearly fifty oversize pages and so expensively produced in glossy color that often only one is allotted per table. I and others have had to learn how to say “Can we have more menus please?” Even then, we’ve discovered, time and again to our shared nausea and/or disappointment, that what you see is not what you get. That’s how frog meat and I met in my mouth.

The next best option is buffet style places where you can see the dish and actually point to it. Even then, what you see…you get the idea.

Still, there’s this strange tradition that has taken hold alongside our cautious eating. It is the tradition of the “mystery item”. On every grocery shopping trip, the usual suspects are picked and bagged (see Exhibit G). Then at the end we buy a mystery item. It’s usually something which none of us has seen or tasted before and have no idea how to prepare.
Exhibit A: The Pomelo, previously known as orangey-fruit-the-size-of-a-child’s-head. Tastes similar to an orange but mellower, almost creamier. Suspected source of fiber.
Exhibit B: The Dragonfruit. All looks, little taste. Some sweet notes detected but not sure if it was a result of spoilage.
Exhibit C: As-yet-unnamed-brown-tubular-vegetable. Pain in the ass to peel, white and disgustingly slimy inside. The ancient cooking philosophy of “when in doubt, fry it” was applied in this case. Result: spot-hitting-deliciousness. Even better than fried potatoes, if such a thing is possible. Worth every string of slime.
.
Exhibit D: God’s gift to hot-sauce-loving-womankind.
Exhibit E: Opened jar, examined contents, closed jar, never looked back. It lives quietly in a remote corner of the fridge. We maintain a respectful distance.
Exhibit F: No image available. Like an okra but ten times normal size. Premature molding prevented sampling.
Most of the time, of course, I chicken out and go for the familiar.
Exhibit G
That’s an actual lemon, by the way. Somewhat of a rarity and quite expensive, but the real thing.
Favorite part of shopping for food? Getting my gursha tossed in at the end. Not an extra little bit of whatever I’ve just bought, but instead always, always this:

2 thoughts on “Mystery Food

  1. Orangey-fruit-the-size-of-a-child’s-head sounds interesting. Definately wanna try the as-yet-unnamed-brown-tubular-vegetable; hope you can make it for me when I visit 🙂 but maybe you can sautee it instead? Totally indifferent to exhibits D & G. And WTF to exhibit E. Like, really, throw it out!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s