Etiquette

‘’I wouldn’t fancy going to a Chinese restaurant at the moment’ said my friend unthinkingly the other day. And then they realised it was a daft thing to say. Not wishing to be flippant about the Corona outbreak, but I’m with food critic Jay Rayner who has declared that we should show solidarity by supporting our local Chinese eateries.

It is disheartening the way borderline racism shows its head so easily in this country, with Chinatown reported to be deserted of an evening and children being told to avoid schoolmates of a certain ethnicity. What next we ask? A boycott of Worthing Amateur Operatic Society’s production of Turandot?

When the Natural Theatre Company, as a British Council flagship cultural export, was invited to China we were looking forward to some real Chinese food. Instead, it being British Week in that particular city, the manager of our five star hotel was determined to show off what the various restaurants in his establishment had on offer for the event. So every night we dined at his invitation on roast beef with all the trimmings, fish and chips or bangers and mash, followed by Eton mess or spotted Dick.

Not being ones to refuse a free nosh, we went along with it. But we longed to try the Peking ducks that hung drying in the sun from every balcony or the exotic vegetables on offer in the open markets. Big steaming vats of noodles could be seen being prepared in exotic looking establishments lurking in back streets while roadside stalls offered such delicacies as crispy fried grasshopper.

In the end we rebelled and escaped into town and had the most amazing meal which consisted of us pointing at anything and everything on the indecipherable menu until the revolving table ceased to revolve under the weight of our order. We didn’t realise that each item on the list was a complete meal rather than an individual portion! I’m not sure what the Chinese for greedy English pigs is, but I’m sure it was being employed by our fellow diners as they looked on in astonishment.

Even the hotel breakfast had a British theme. Presiding over the dining room was a large bust in the classical style carved out of butter. ‘Who’s that?’ I asked. ’Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of course!’ came the reply. 

The morning buffet offered a choice of dim sum or full English. I chose a bit of both, and finding myself having to share a table with a rather smart Chinese business man, I wondered what the etiquette should be. Knife and fork or chopsticks? He had no such qualms. He’d gone for British. He hovered for a brief moment over his plate which contained two lightly fried eggs and a large dollop of tomato ketchup, and then bent over and simply sucked the lot up, hands free, in one go.

Ever since then I have adopted this technique with fried eggs. Try it. It’s very satisfying.

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