blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A serendipitous supper

May 27th, Friday

I explored the streets south of the Jiefang Lu as far as Qinghefang gujie, the souvenir street, already packed with tourists at 10 in the morning. Too many stalls selling kitsch for my liking; I retreated onto a side street which had art shops, some rubbishy, some not, in a quiet corner of town, with more of those mottled trees. Rediscovering the lake front I succumbed to my craving for caffeine in an empty coffee bar. A flautist was teaching a woman to sing to his accompaniment under one of the canopies. I searched for a shop near the lake selling silk products and found a small one where I bought a red scarf and a fan in a silk case.

Back at the hotel the maid brought me two new flower arrangements. One of them, in a square glass vase lined with leaves and white pebbles, had pink roses entwined with bamboo shoots, a white lily's head at its base: bǎihé means lily. I made a sketch of it, wrote emails in the lounge and sat by the river. The downstream barges turn left out of sight before reaching the bridge. There must be a port down there, almost within walking distance ...

May 28th, Saturday

In the morning I shared my some of my recent discoveries with Chris, showing him Qian Liu's temple, taking him for a boat ride on the lake, etc. Predictably, he liked all of it.

A barge entering the Grand Canal from the Qiantang River
Later in the day, we took a fancy to walking the length of the wall by the river as far as we could, to find out where the barges go when they turn the corner. In fact this is the mouth of the Grand Canal, that reaches all the way to Beijing, some parts of it dating back 25 centuries! We couldn't see round the corner for barricades beyond yet another construction site where the workers, living in their sheds, were hanging their washing in the trees and cooking their suppers.

Talking of suppers, the meal we ate that night was the most magnificent I think I've ever tasted. We came across it quite by chance––feeling hungry I went up the steps of what looked like a riverside restaurant to check it out, Chris hanging back in case I was making an embarrassing mistake. No mistake, though! The place was new; they were eager to receive customers and we ended up having our supper prepared before our eyes on the stainless steel flat top grill, in a dining room all to ourselves, by our own private chef, a girl whose English was excellent and whose manners were impeccable. She wore a very tall chef's hat, a red necktie and a holster round her slim waist holding her utensils. It was like watching theatre. The other staff, hovering in the background, had us under observation as well; we weren't left alone for one moment, our used plates and cutlery constantly whisked away and replaced. After we'd finished our meal the staff even accompanied us in groups to the washrooms, so that we wouldn't go astray. "Is boys ... is girls," one helpfully pointed out. I giggled helplessly inside one of the cubicles.

The supper, slowly consumed:
  • Hot water in a wine glass
  • Juices served at various stages of the meal
  • Amuse-gueules: fried fish skin, pickles, dips, very thinly sliced cucumber
  • A set of three starters: smoked salmon with gratings of white carrot, a roll of something herby, a strip of sweet potato on a lettuce leaf
  • Goose liver and caviar served on a slice of apple with a melon / orange garnish and a soy sauce dip
  • Slice of garlic bread freshly fried
  • Bowls of corn chowder
  • A whole mǎ tóu (horse head) fish (we refused the head so she set it aside for the manager to eat) 
  • Bok choy, steamed under a domed lid and served with a thin slice of bacon finely chopped and fried
  • Tiny beef steaks done to perfection and served with a blob of wine sauce
  • Fried rice with chopped carrots, mushrooms, onions, chopped omelette and many condiments. Chopped greens were added last.
"Wouldn't you like a dessert?"
  • Melon, with orange and mint to garnish, served with a spider's web of yoghurt, caramel and chocolate sauces.
  • Yam (that had been baked for 3 hours), mashed and rolled into freshly made crêpes
  • A little green tea jelly, swimming in a white fruit juice

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