drunken shrimp

Great Food, Good Company, and Strong Alcohol

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In Northern China, it is customary to drink baijiu – extremely hard Chinese alcohol made from rice – as a sign of respect during banquets and other official functions. Unlike hard liquor in the West, though, this is not taken in shot form. Instead, you fill small glasses up which you then chug, after selecting a drinking buddy, screaming “gan bei!” – meaning, empty glass. To show you didn’t pussy foot around, you then hold the glass upside down showing that it is truly empty.

If it looks like gasoline, and tastes like gasoline, it’s probably baijiu.
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Apparently in traditional settings, it is not uncommon for all guests at a banquet to have two glasses of baijiu at the start; you know, to really kick things off. After this, the rest of the night is spent eating from dozens of small dishes brought out while simultaneously toasting – and being toasted – by everyone else at the function. Whoever said Asians can’t drink has never met someone from Northern China.

drunken shrimp
Even the shrimp were drunk

Unfortunately – or maybe luckily – I did not attend any baijiu enhanced meals while I was in China, mostly we stuck to wine. I did, however, manage to partake in some delicacies. The most interesting of which was by far the “drunken shrimp” pictured above. The shrimp, like most Chinese banqueters, are placed alive into a pot full of baijiu and spices where they are left to sit and become progressively drunker. Once they cease struggling, you eat them alive. They taste like a sort of sweetly spicy alcoholic shrimp cocktail – delicious!

What I particularly enjoyed about Chinese dining was both the variety, as well as the order. The meal began with a schmorgesborg of various dishes and entrees – some sweet, some spicy, some alive and soaked in alcohol. Variety is the spice of life, after all. This sort of eating could be best compared to tapas.

drunken shrimp
A very drunken shrimp

After everyone is good and full from the appetizers – as well as nicely drunk – a main course is brought out. In my experiences, this is usually some sort of noodley soup, that goes down easily enough after having gorged yourself already during the past hour and a half. Of course, you make room – both out of politness and due to how amazingly tasty everything is anyway.

Personally, I love this style of eating – even though I am aware it is only reserved for special occassions. As a friend of my brother’s in China said: “Western dining can be so tiring with just one dish. At first you may think you love it, but after eating a whole plateful you’re not too sure anymore. With Chinese dining, you eat something, you don’t like it, you can move on.”

I like this mentality. After all, with enough great food, good company, and strong alcohol, how could you not have a great night?

5 thoughts on “Great Food, Good Company, and Strong Alcohol”

  1. I don’t know how they can drink so much of that baijiu stuff. Sounds awful.

    But did you name any of the drunken shrimp after Pinchy before you ate them?

    1. I guess after the first cup you can’t taste it anymore? Did you ever have any when I brought some back?

      And nah, I didn’t name any Pinchy. I think I would have become too emotionally attached and then had to nurse them back to health. And believe me, nursing a shrimp through a hangover sucks…

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