So a group of about 10 of us decided to get together on Friday for a nice little dinner. Our residential food expert FM has been talking nonstop about a 烤羊腿 (literally roast lamb leg) place he knows (and already took a group of IUP people to) so we decided on that and headed on out on our food adventure. Being the silly 老外 (colloquial for foreigners) that we all are, we decided to meet up at the subway station at 5:30pm but ended up leaving at 6:00pm anyway – just in time for the rush hour to start. So now, I’ve been trapped in rush hour train rides in many countries from Bangkok to Luxembourg to Paris, but NOTHING beats Beijing rush hour (but then again, I’ve never been there for the Japanese rush hour where people are literally hired to shove passengers into the train cars like sardines). We weaved, pushed, and were carried by bodies through train rides and transfer stations as streams upon streams of Beijingers rushed to get home. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that there were an insufferable amount of people packed within the trains, it’s just that there were SO MANY PEOPLE IN TOTAL that were simultaneously trying to get from one point to another that it became quite overwhelming to say the least. At one point CL even pointed out that it might have been faster to only make one transfer and walk the six blocks to get to the restaurant instead of trying to make it through the incredulous fray of the second transfer only to have our walk shortened by four blocks. Our tactic became one that had us forming an amorphous blob with interlinking bodies in order to gain enough momentum to push ourselves into the train.
After about an hour we finally reached our station and set off on foot to a nice little hole-in-the-wall a few blocks away. Although the alleyway was teeming with grime and the little room next to the tables was a sorry excuse for a “kitchen”, the food looked delicious. It was obvious that this meal was not only going to be scrumptious, but also a battle as all the big-bellied men who have finished their meals and were downing the last of their beer all had their shirts off and had sweat pouring down their rotund bellies. We were provided with personal long knives and long forks so that we could individually cut chunks of meat we desired. This was an obvious photo-opportunity that was not wasted. As we waited for our lamb legs to go through its preliminary cooking stage in the “kitchen”, the group ordered up some cold vegetable dishes of cucumber, cabbage, mushrooms, tofu, and peanuts, and loudly munched away over loud conversation. The moment finally came when a hot coal stove was brought out from the “kitchen” and placed into an opening in the middle of the table. Note: I’m glad I followed MF out of the alleyway to a store to get some water while we waited for table since the intense heat of the stove and the extra spices I added to the meat had me sweating buckets.A snapshot of the charcoal grill and the lamb leg! Nom nom nom!
Our eager selves almost couldn’t contain ourselves as the skewered legs of lamb, nicely roasted to perfection, floated out from the kitchen and onto our personal stoves. Well, maybe also because we had to wait for almost an hour before we could get a table at the restaurant, but then again maybe it was just because of the lamb. Well anyway, needless to say, we all instantly dug into the succulent meat with our long knives and forks and happily ate away. Honestly I was never much of a lamb fan until I came to Beijing and was introduced to the local foods like 羊肉串 (lamb skewer) and now 烤羊腿 (roasted lamb leg). But now, I almost couldn’t get enough of the soft meat and crispy outer layer of the leg as my knife and fork went back again and again to the meat hanging in front of my face. After multiple toasts to random things from good food to world peace, intense struggles of foraging for leftover pieces of meat on the skewered legs, and countless dangerous grease fires, we all survived in one sweatily filled piece.
After dinner, I got to experience my first bout of Chinese non-privacy in a public bathroom. I really wasn’t prepared for the situation when I walked into the public bathroom near the restaurant. Digression: I don’t think I’ve said this yet but the Chinese government has done such a great job at installing public bathrooms EVERYWHERE. I don’t have facts to support this, but I’m pretty sure that it was basically because the whole world had its eyes on Beijing for the 2008 Olympics and the government didn’t want people to be watching locals peeing in public in front of the cameras. Digression number two: so obviously as a girl there are two ways to squat and pee: we can either face towards the water hole or away from it. Personally speaking I’d rather face towards the water hole and basically take aim at it because it comes to (much) less splashing than when facing away from the water hole and peeing into the ceramic toilets. I don’t know if anyone really is reading this blog, but if you are reading this and have an opinion about it let me know! I’ve always wanted to hear others’ take on this subject.
Well anyway, I walked into the bathroom to find four squat toilets partitioned off from each other by a wall that goes up to about my hip. Yup, there it is. SV and I took our separate spots at opposite ends of the bathroom and went about our business. Right as a put down my pants in that first makeshift stall by the doorway, an older Chinese woman comes in, looks down at my bum for just a little bit too long, and continues on to the next stall. Yup, there it is again. Ok, so that wasn’t too bad of an experience at all actually – I’m just ranting about it now because I just wasn’t mentally prepared for it at all. But hey, I’ll totally be ready for it next time!
The food fest continued as we reached our residential area as there is a place nearby that boasts delicious Taiwanese shaved ice desserts. Since I am not much of a sweet/dessert fan, I sat this one out and just ordered one sorry excuse for 珍珠奶茶 (bubble tea). I understand that we got there really late and was their last order actually putting our orders in after their “last call” time, but come on at least make me some milk tea that I can gulp down! Although everyone else enjoyed their shaved ice with grass jelly, red beans, mochi, and bubbles, I had to pour out my “milk tea” and settle for just munching on bubbles throughout dessert. Note: since we were the last order, they basically did not really give a damn about us and gave us crappy shaved ice, too little food, and all this in paper to-go bowls. Don’t worry, the place definitely redeemed itself the next day when we hit up the place again long before closing time.
After such a successful food outing, we’re all eagerly looking forward to next Friday and the awesome food that is to come!