So I’ve been slow to try some of the hole-in-the-wall places in my neighborhood; not because of the ick-factor some of my fellow 老外 have regarding the street kitchens that serve hot meals on dingy tables for under 10 kuai. No, I’ve been slow to try them because reading Chinese is such a chore!
Well, I’m in money saving mode now, and I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten my own weight in scrambled eggs and fried rice over the last few weeks, which is the easiest meal for me to make in my two-burner kitchen. So I dusted off my PDA and hit the streets.
Last night for dinner I was able to read 牛肉炒面 off the menu, so I ordered that. It makes people pretty uneasy when they see me staring at their menu for minutes on end, especially when they see me scribbling on my PDA, so I tend to go for the instant-read items that are around 10 kuai.
So I sat under a blaring tv and watched a dude hand-pull my noodles, drop them in the water, and then dump them in another guy’s wok. There are no pre-made noodles here, folks, it’s all hand-pulled, and kind of spectacular. Anyway, my beef chow mien finally came, and it was good, although light on the beef. I wish I could tell them to hold the msg and sugar; that day is coming.
So today when the cleaning lady showed up I struck out again, and found 耗油牛肉饭。 The guy at the desk made me repeat it three times; I paid him my eight kuai and a few minutes later, I had beef and peppers with oyster sauce over rice. It was good, but too saucy. I have to learn how to say, “don’t sauce up my damn rice, fool.”
So there are a couple things I have to do; I have to find a menu on-line (or take a picture of one) so I can sit down and take the time to learn the rice and noodle dishes. Well, I googled around and found mostly menus for noodle places in the States, which doesn’t help me at all. But then I found Like a Local, a 老外’s guide to the sidewalk kitchens of Shanghai. That blog is going to change my life. Even if I don’t go to the specific restaurants he reviews, he posts menus that I’ll be able to study, as well as translations and descriptions, so I’m not stuck with dictionaritis.
The first place I went to that he recommended was for dinner tonight; it was 淘气烧烤。 I had six skewers at one kuai a piece; two chicken, two beef, one crimini, and one garlic shoots. The guy asked me if I wanted spicy, and I said yes, so he went heavy on the spicy powder. I walked my skewers home in a styrofoam takeout box and ate them with some leftover rice, which I kept in the rice cooker so that the cleaning lady wouldn’t cook another pot (last time, she made it way too wet). Anyway, 淘气烧烤 is open all night, and it’s only three blocks from my apartment, so I imagine they’ll get to know me soon enough. The translation is “Naughty Barbecue.”
There’s a muslim guy on the right on my block, also selling barbecue skewers, but he doesn’t have refrigeration. Now, the 老外 tend to be leery of food that doesn’t have a mailing address, but I think I’ll give the guy a try. The usual 老外 criticism is ‘how do you know it’s not cat meat! or rat meat!” But I just can’t believe that in a country where pork and beef is so plentiful and cheap that they would need to swap it out with a small animal which they’d have to catch, clean, and butcher themselves. It can’t be worth all the trouble.
That reminds me, I need to find a muslim restaurant. There were a couple in Hangzhou that I really liked.