“Are you excited to be returning home?” I asked the man sitting next to me on my flight to China. He was a recent college graduate – my age – and we had struck up a friendly conversation during the take off of the plane.
“Very,” he said. “This is the first time in two years I’m going home. I can’t wait for the food. In my hometown, people know how to eat – not like in America. In America, people eat very fast and can barely enjoy it. In China, my father takes a few hours to eat dinner and enjoys every part of the fine Chinese dining.”
“Americans eat just to eat,” I agreed, thinking of all the times I rushed through a meal to get to class, or work, or a movie on time.
“You’ll see. In China, you will eat very well.” He had no idea how correct he would be.
I can safely say that the majority of my time in the Middle Kingdom was spent gorging myself on some delicacy at some banquet my brother’s friends, colleagues or clients were treating us to.
On my second night in Nanjing, an old professor – Mrs. Wang – of my brother from Nanjing University took us all out to a fancy and delicious Cantonese style dinner. In general, Cantonese food tends to be sweet and savory, compared to the saltier styles of cooking in Northern China. Whereas this meal may have lasted an hour or so in America, in China it carried on at its own leisurely pace. In waves all small the dishes were brought replacing ones that had been finished earlier.
Eventually a local Chinese wine was ordered to, to help supplement the tea, and then desert was added to the mix. Interestingly, desert in China does not seem to be served after the rest of the meal is finished – rather, the dishes can be served at whatever time they are ready. So, we continued to gorge on an assortment of fried pumpkin bread rolls, danta (egg custard tarts), as well as finishing up the sweetly roasted pork and the enoki mushrooms and beef.
In all the meal took about two and a half hours to complete. With a mixture of jet lag, wine, and a slight food coma setting in I felt perfectly content. Conversation picked up again, until my brother realized the time and had to end the meal so we could get back to his apartment to help his wife give his son a bath. We said our goodbyes and thanks to Mrs. Wang and headed out.
On the way back to the apartment, after we had parted from Mrs. Wang Laotzu, my brother comically noted how it was Chinese custom to order more food than your guests could possibly eat. Unfortunately, Mrs. Wang severely underestimated how much we could tuck away.
There was nothing left.
Note: I just wanted to mention how cool the enoki mushrooms and beef were cooked. The food was brought out, wrapped in silver foil. It was then placed in a bowl of baijio – Chinese hard alcohol – which was set alight. A waitress then moved the silver foil bundle around, ensuring that the contents inside were cooked thoroughly.