Sunday, March 1, 2009

Chopsticks and Tea Pots- The Food of China by Jason Cohen

Gong Shan market. Photo by LJ Groth

The usually mundane and uninteresting task of eating is very different in China. Every meal is a unique experience unlike anything in the United States. Let it be known that the food in China is completely different than U.S. Chinese food. For the school, the entire process of eating a meal begins the day before. A World Class Kayak Academy student will go with the translator, Zachary, to the restaurant and place the order. Most often, WCKA orders eight dishes (plus rice) for each of two tables.

Whether it be after morning workout, between midday classes or after paddling, WCKA has an immense appetite. Hurriedly moving down the street, the group of conspicuous westerners arrives at the restaurant and packs around the sturdy wooden, round tables. The tantalizing food sits on a glass Lazy Susan in the middle of the table. In the center, spinning, but never changing position lies the giant bowl of pressure-cooked white rice. Surrounding it are the other dishes, which provide a wide spectrum of colors to splash up an otherwise drab restaurant.

The lazy Susan leaves just enough table exposed for a set of chopsticks (sometimes disposable bamboo and other times reusable strong wood), a tiny teacup and a small bowl. All chinaware of course. Greedy hands controlling chopsticks with trained precision dive into the food. It gets stockpiled into people’s bowls so they can wolf it down. Hopefully it will get finished in time to scoop more helpings out.

The favorite dishes disappear rapidly, such as pork ribs in a semi-sweet gravy, strips of pork in broccoli or peas, spicy tofu and the ever-classic steamed dumplings. As dinner goes by and people still try to put an end to their hunger, the less popular but still tasty dishes start to disappear. These include spicy green peppers in oil and vinegar (tiger skins), cold and spicy cucumbers, boiled fresh green leafy stuff, eggplant and tomato with eggs. When all of the food is gone people remain around the table and sop hot tea. The restaurant’s population gets smaller and smaller as people filter out to go get some banana bread dessert at the bakery on the way back to the hotel. Stomachs full and satisfied, the World Class day continues as usual.