Penne Cole's thoughts on food, travel and more
Stepping off the plane at just past eight in the morning feels like stepping into a sauna. Even at this early hour, it is hot and humid, a warning of what the day has in store. It is just my luck to arrive in Shanghai during the hottest July in 140 years. Temperatures are expected to peak at just shy of 40C today, and it is hot enough to cook a piece of meat on a marble slab placed in the sun in just 10 minutes.
I am in town to see my new nephews (a pair of twin boys – my parents are over the moon!). It is too hot to do anything but move between the air-conditioned comfort of home, hospital, shopping mall, car and restaurant. I am, however, enjoying the various culinary treats of China. One restaurant specialising in Hunan food stood out, not only for its delicious food, but also for its humorous (at times dubiously so) English menu.
Fried ear wax seems to be a speciality, and carnivores seem to be catered for as well.
Various exotic parts of animals are on offer, including the liver from an idyllic goose and apparently happily married lungs.
The menu sometimes doubles as a cookbook, offering advice on how to prepare vegetables (cucumbers must be patted with knives while beans must be gently knifed).
Sometimes the menu tells a story. Once upon a time, a grandmother must have dried her fish while drunk. Or maybe the fish was given alcohol before it was dried. One can never really be sure. Another fish was bad and slipped away from the cook’s grasp but ended up in the cooking pot anyway.
And sometimes, the menu just makes no sense and you can do nothing but laugh.
Eating in China is an adventure, and a funny one at that. China’s cuisine is so much more complex than General Tso’s chicken. In fact, I’ve never seen that dish outside of America. If you’re visiting, don’t be afraid to boldly venture forth and conquer the culinary landscape. Just take the names on the menu with a pinch of salt. It almost always tastes better than it sounds!
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