Posted by: sharemore1 | November 16, 2011

Wild Boar’s Stomach and other Culinary Challenges

Welcome Dinner

My husband Moshe and I had just arrived on the train from Shanghai with a healthy appetite.  Our host, Professor Zhu at Zhejaing Normal University in Jinhua, whisked us straight to dinner in an elegant restaurant, where we were joined by several other faculty members, all men.

The meal began with a welcome toast.  We raised our glasses of rice wine and clinked round the table.  As I took my first sip, I noticed the other guests downed the whole glass at once.  And got a refill.  We continued to sip slowly.

Dressed in black with a gold vest, the waitress brought the first course, soup in a small tureen.   I lifted the lid and tasted a spoonful of the clear broth.  It was excellent.  I then ate a delicious wild mushroom.   Next was a mystery ingredient.  Maybe a vegetable?  I gave it a try.  It was too chewy to be a vegetable, but it had absorbed the good flavors in the broth.

“This soup is delicious,” I told our host.  “What kind is it?”

“It’s made from wild boar’s stomach,” he replied.

I finished chewing the morsel I had just popped in my mouth and swallowed.  Okay, at least it was from a wild boar, which didn’t violate my avoidance of factory-farmed meat.  And it was really good.  So I ate it all.

Fortunately the remaining dishes were served buffet style on a large turntable, so I could be selective.  There was tofu, served with green vegetables and a sauce, whole steamed fish, beans with red and green chilies, bok choy, mushrooms, fruit in a hollowed out melon–I had much to chose from.

Seated next to me was Stephen, a mathematician from Nova Scotia.  Picking up a piece of roast duck with his chopsticks, he put it on his plate.  “What’s this?” he asked, puzzled.  I looked closely.  “It seems to be half a duck’s head,” I replied, secretly relieved he had found it first.  Unlike Father William in the Lewis Carroll verse, I had no desire to “finish the goose by the bones and the beak.”  Stephen pushed it to one side.  The waitress, noticing his distress, quietly removed the plate and brought him a new one.

Bottoms Up

Meanwhile the conversation on the other side of the table grew lively and loud.  Even without understanding Chinese, we knew they were having a chugging contest, emptying their glasses and refilling them again and again from green ceramic carafes. Miraculously, they could still stand at the end of the evening. Fortunately, China has strict drunk driving laws and they all took taxis home.

The secret to inexpensive and excellent Chinese cuisine, we discovered, was eating with the students.  In the university cafeteria there were several stations.  We picked the stirfry line, loading up one plate with vegetables and another with meat or tofu.  The plates were weighed and handed to a chef behind the counter, who quickly stirred our selections in a wok with flames licking up the sides.  We each got a made-to-order lunch with a bowl of rice.

Hot Pot

Next time we tried a hot pot.  After we chose our ingredients, the waitress carried a flaming pot of broth to the table where we cooked for ourselves.  Eating in the cafeteria wasn’t like this when I was in school.

In Shanghai we dined on the street.  Bordering the campus of East China Normal University, we found a row of student eateries.   Rectangular charcoal grills lined both sides of the busy, narrow street.  Each stall had a different specialty– meat, fish, shellfish, vegetables and even bananas–usually on long wood skewers.  It was easy to select what we liked and avoid food we didn’t, like sea urchin eggs and small roast ducks, beaks included.

Ready to Grill

Sea Urchin Eggs

Ducks on a Stick

Unlike in Hanoi [see Sidewalk Café in Hanoi, 10/11/11], the plastic stools were high enough for long Western legs, so Moshe was happy.  And I had a bottle of cold beer I could sip at my own pace.  We must have seemed a curious couple, with our pale faces and grey hair, far from the tourist spots.  But we fancied we fit right in with the students enjoying barbecue on a warm November evening.

Sitting Comfortably

Sipping Beer


Responses

  1. How wonderful! Wonder where your journeys will take me next? Thank you, Elizabeth

  2. Just great, it’s 7AM and now all I can think about is eating dinner. Sadly, there is no good chinese near my work,…well maybe PF Changs but that does not really count. Let’s be sure to have a beer and dim sum upon your return.

  3. Sounds so much like Russia! Once again, you are proving that you were born to be a food writer.

  4. Love hearing your stories Sharon. Boar’s stomach? Hummmm, I guess we are limited in this country with the meat selections. Am curious was it more like beef, chicken, pig or venison? Not that I’m ready to try it, I just want to get a feel for the taste. Let me know if you try monkey.


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