Singapore Adventure

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Have You Eaten?
by venitha

"Good morning, Deepali. Have you eaten?"

I delivered this with an sly grin, for it was lost on neither of us that this is the standard meaningless Singaporean greeting. But here in Shanghai, I actually meant it: if she and Rohit had not yet eaten, they might accompany me to the 41st floor's revolving restaurant and its international breakfast buffet.

Next to its astonishing ever-changing view, due both to constant rotation and to constant Shanghai construction, the biggest hit of the Jin Jiang Tower's morning meal was the smooth and creamy pineapple yogurt. Unsurprisingly, not one of us was game to try the mysterious vegetable jelly or any of the three frightening flavors of congee (fish, beef, and preserved egg) and their noxious pickled toppings.

"The Chinese will eat anything," our Shanghai friend Virginia told us with a laugh when we stared agog at restaurant menus. While we bravely endured our share of challenge food, much of it at Virginia's urging ("Do you like it, Virginia? Yes, of course!"), our meals out were more notable for what we did not eat than for what we did. One menu's options: spicy soft-shell turtle, assorted dog's paw with wild pepper and pickle radish, dried fried bullfrog with red pepper, Guizhou style pig's tongues in soya sauce, Huajiang style stewed dog meat, fried bull's penis with garlic and medicinal materials, fried chicken's claw with cashew in hot sauce, hot and spicy duck's tongue. We actually did eat the duck's tongue [pictured]; it was hot and spicy (this is good), served cold (this is bad), and had the thick muscle-y texture you would expect of a tongue (this is very bad).

On Saturday's sunny afternoon, Jim and I strolled through the lovely tree-canopied streets of the French Concession. Spying an Indian restaurant, we guiltily jumped at the welcome escape from Chinese food. "Just don't tell Rohit." He'd been asking for roti (Indian) and chicken rice (Singaporean) for days. Little did we know this experience would be impossible to keep to ourselves, for this menu provided the most frightening food of all: durian paratha. Not even in durian-crazy Singapore have I come across such an atrocity; proof, not that I needed it, that the Chinese really will eat anything.

My favorite dish of the trip: "hollow" vegetables in garlic sauce [pictured].

Rohit's favorite: kung pao chicken. No kidding! They actually serve this here, though Virginia had to say it about fifty times ("Really! You must know this; every foreigner knows this dish.") before we understood it as kung pao. Also impossible to recognize when pronounced correctly: Szechuan.

Deepali's favorite: crab-stuffed xiao long bao.

Jim's favorite: hot and spicy duck's tongue. Heh. No, his actual favorite was the spicy pepper mutton [pictured] at an restaurant.

Amol's favorite: Our entire lunch in Suzhou, which centered around shuijiao, slippery Chinese ravioli that are very challenging to eat with chopsticks, and was enhanced greatly by our sitting next to and befriending a table of local expats, who ordered way too much food and passed us one delicious dish of leftovers after another. Should you be lucky enough to dine at Suzhou's famous Yang Yang Dumpling House, I highly recommend this tactic, the crab shuijiao, and wearing something the color of soy sauce.