Monday, April 23, 2007

The Art of the Meal

"Chicken Lo Mein no vegetables with Egg Drop Soup please."

That was my (boring) order for lunch a couple of days ago at a Chinese restaurant near my house. And before I had broken my chopsticks, a bowl of piping-hot Egg Drop Soup was sitting directly in front of me. Wonderful. But wait, before I could take a second spoonful, a plate of steaming Chicken Lo Mein was sitting right behind my soup. A little troubling. Now I couldn't believe it, as I was half-way done with the soup, I saw the check (with fortune cookie) on the table just beyond my reach. Efficient yes, but proper?

On the plus side, of course, it reminded me of what eating at a restaurant had been like in China! Believe it or not, this experience was a step up in some ways (they left me alone once everything had arrived; on the other hand the food was far worse). Here's a list of some typical experiences/observations:

1. Sit down at a table and get handed a book-like (20 pages) menu. Hope that there are pictures. Have waiter hover over you while you look through every page and debate different options with your friends or yourself. This may take up to five minutes, but the waiter will NOT move. Order.

2. Whichever dish is ready first will come out first. At one (delicious) Peking Duck restaurant, we ordered something like two ducks, two other meat dishes, three vegetable dishes, and one dessert plate. What do you think came first? But if this happens, just tell them to put the dessert aside and they will leave the plate on the bar behind you so you can keep a close eye on it throughout your meal.

3. When it's time to pay, it's really time to pay. Because when that waiter comes over with the check, he's not going anywhere until it's all paid up. There's no leaving the money and saying "xiexie" on your way out the door. And yes, he will wait for you to discuss exactly how to split the check for as long as it takes. And no, he will not receive a tip.

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