Here we were in Hong Kong slogging day in and day out (actually the nights too) when our clients offered to take us out for lunch. We, who had been surviving on McDonald’s Number 5 for nearly a fortnight happily agreed to the invitation. But I guess none of us were really prepared for what followed.
Well they took us to this grand chinese place, and then they ordered what seemed to us, coming from Southern India, a Chinese Thali. So here we were, a gathering of ten people (four of us from India, the rest being our hosts) seated at a round table, with china-ware neatly arranged all over the table.
A couple of us were trying to figure out “how the heck on earth” do the chinese hold those chopsticks (let alone eat with it!), while the rest were busy chatting with our hosts. That was when one of our hosts offered to pour some tea for me. Being an ardent tea drinker (and a tea-totaler to boot) I gladly accepted the offer.
Well the chinese have this custom of having tea… and I DO mean having tea. It almost looks like all they ever do is have tea… They have different kinds of tea… and it seems like all of them are drunk without milk or sugar. So in most restaurants you will have this pot of steaming hot tea on the table. Then is poured into a small bowl-like cup… And then you drink it!
Now, for a person like me, coming from India and used to having tea with milk, this is a little out of the ordinary. But then like I said, I love tea, and I make it a point to try different kinds of tea. And so I went ahead with trying the tea taking little sips at first and then when my tongue got used to the bitterness, took longer sips.
Guess I should let you picture this… imagine yourself in my position. Your host pours you some tea… and to keep him happy you drink some of it. You may want to belch, groan, or throw up.. but you cannot do that, can you? Well, so you drink some of the tea. Then you actually get used to its ‘delicious’ taste.. (or your taste buds hoist the white flag, whichever happens first) and manage to finish a li’l over half of the cup.
Just when you are feeling happy over your accomplishment, your host smiles.. and pours more tea into your cup! It is then that you realise another tradition of the Chinese — The tea cup should never be empty 😮
The actual lunch begins (that’s when you do not count the tea) as in other parts of the world with some soup. So a huge bowl of soup was brought to our table… You are happy, when the waiter comes over to the table carrying a huge china-ware bowl. Taking advantage of this momentary distraction, you hit off some conversation with the host… anything to keep him from pouring you more tea 😉
Soon the soup was being served to all and sundry. We uncomfortably (and as politely as possible) asked “uhhh, Is this vegetarian?” A couple of them cheerfully nodded their heads, their mouths munching on some chinese delicacy, chopsticks while digging into the starter, which was a combination of chicken, duck, pork, and beef.
It was at this time that our hosts awakened to the fact that some of us might not be as “adventurous” with our food as they… May be the alarmed looks on our faces helped. To save any more embarassment a couple of us said, Oh! We are vegetarians.. but we eat chicken and fish! “What logic is that?” you might ask.
Well, while a couple of us abstained from tasting the soup — we thought we never know what really went into the soup — one of our pals (an Indian Brahmin, and thus a pure vegetarian) was happily slurping away at the soup. And that was when I noticed the waiter mixing the soup… and I saw some meat in the soup! Luckily, my friend does not know this, and what he does not know cannot harm him (Truly, a case of ignorance is bliss)!
One of my friends later on in the day was heard saying, “Man, li’l did we know that to the chinese anything herbivorous is vegetarian”! Cannot really blame him, for though this friend eats chicken and fish, he was too shocked, like most of us, with the kinds of food that came to our table.
Among the host of delicacies that were brought to our table, was chicken and fish too. Oh BTW, even that was surprising enough, as they actually serve the whole chicken! And I really mean whole! The chicken’s head was also served along with the rest of it.
I mean on another day there was this dish (fried) that was made of chicken legs. I do not mean Indian ‘tangdi’ kabab kinds! I mean the legs of the chicken, with its puny fingers/claws and all that!
Well that’s all for today… Need to go and sleep now! Gotta catch a plane to India tomorrow!