(My very first food in my Shanghai trip – I opted for something familiar, rice and chicken with beans and cold salad. It was good but I then realized my mistake – the weather was cold but the food was not warm enough. No wonder others were having the hot bowl of noodles and soup)
One that things that often fascinates me when I travel are the local culture and way of life and one good way to experience this is through the local food. The same goes when friends from overseas come over for a visit to Malaysia (how we love the hot teh-tarik and roti canai banjir by the roadside at 2 in the morning).
Over the years, from initially sticking to more well-known food (read fast food from well-known brands); I have learned that one (sometimes) need to be adventures enough to try the local sampling (beers included) – jellyfish in , oily lumps of mutton, kebabs, locally made plain yoghurt drinks, etc and it is the same thing for this trip.
And being in China, one cannot run away from noodles, soup and non-halal stuff. We can find the same thing in Malaysia but there is some difference in taste, presentation and portion. We got smaller portions in Malaysia.
(The morning breakfast was rather tame and safe – a good spread of more western and oriental tuned food at the hotel breakfast buffet)
On the very first day we arrived, we decided to go for a local dish – a bowl of noodles and as the weather starts to cold down, making it more sense to order a hot bowl of noodle soup. We walked out and a couple of meters of a walk, we stopped by a small shop by the roadside.
The interior was clean and because it was crowded and seeing a foreigner in the crowd, I guess, the shop owner led us towards the kitchen and out to a small backyard where the waiters quickly set up the chairs and tables for us (it was a big group).
I dreaded the “backyard” – we all know how dirty some of the restaurant’s backyards in Malaysia. But surprisingly the backyard was clean and from where I was sitting, I also noticed that the kitchen (where they cooked) was clean as well.
I later realized that by local customs, the restaurant normally does not take orders for drinks first – they take the order for food and only if we need something to drink, we ask for it. It is not like in Malaysia where you will be asked on your drinks first, then only the food.
We asked for something to drink and the waiter served us warm water – a far cry from the usual iced Milo back home. Other than warm water, the usual drink that is more common here is a pot of Chinese tea with small cups to go around. You can also get iced coffee and cappuccinos, etc from the many convenient stores but it is not so common in restaurants.
(A bowl of hot noodle soup is one the best thing on a cold day – the portions were indeed more than usual – so is the price – but overall the taste was manageable)
We pay upfront for the food – my colleagues were kind enough to translate the menu for me but still, it all sounded the same. I opted for an easy one on my first day here – rice and chicken (instead of noodles). On the second day, I braced myself for a hot bowl of noodles and soup.
The portion for noodles was bigger than what I had expected. The soup smelled different but the taste was alright (I did not get that raw taste of monosodium glutamate). The noodles were soft and somehow felt more slippery than the usual noodles I had. Perhaps it is how the noodles were made here.
Perhaps it is just how it is cooked here – damn, I was already missing the noodles back home. But the consoling factor was that this restaurant (and most restaurants) is that they have this small bottle of chillies to be added into the soups and this chilli is really spicy – much better than chillies that we get back at home.
To be continued…