Two things Americans and Chinese agree on: We like our food
There aren’t many—if any—franchised restaurants where a lazy Susan delivers a selection of animal organs, ligaments, throat lining, whole baby catfish, large and small intestines and congealed duck blood to your private hot pot.
A divided hot pot and all the items to cook on a lazy Susan.
The cuisine I encountered on my recent trip to second-tier cities in China wasn’t the fare being offered by my local Chinese restaurant back home. Nor do authentic Chinese restaurants conclude a meal with fortune cookies. Apparently, unlike Americans, the Chinese don’t get their daily dose of Confucius’ wisdom via a cookie.
The visit to a hot pot restaurant was eagerly anticipated by the other members of the franchise trade mission (sponsored by Franchise Times, the International Franchise Association and the U.S. Commercial Service).
Here’s how a hot pot works in China: A divided pot of simmering lard and water, one side heavily embellished with chilies and herbs, was placed at each setting. Dangerously, the raised heating unit was hidden under the tablecloth. After the organ meat, vegetable or noodles was cooked in the broth, it was dipped into a cup of sesame oil to which I had added spoonfuls of raw garlic and more peppers. All this for a couple of thinly sliced pieces of beef, a few fungi, a spinach leaf and a tiny meatball of dubious origin. I was not the most adventurous eater at the table.
IFA’s Scott Lehr and Andrew Gately, who led the trade mission, check out the dinner aquariums.
Transferring food from communal dish to private plate was done with the aid of chopsticks. I am a semi-competent chopstick user, however, if I ate with them everyday, I’d weigh 10 pounds less.
If you have the opportunity to invest in China, a manufacturer of lazy Susans may be the place to spend your money. Almost every meal in the four cities we visited included one—some motorized, others free spinning.
A luncheon at a Western hotel included shared dishes as diverse as jellyfish salad, pig elbow and whole fish. A meal is not complete in China without a whole fish, where diners pick out bits of flesh between the bones with their chopsticks. It’s the ultimate double-dipping, since no one bothers to use the serving spoons provided. As the contents of the dishes dwindle, they are removed and replaced on smaller plates. Diners’ plates are also removed several times during the meal and replaced with clean ones.
Missing at every meal was rice, which someone told me is viewed as filler. And with the number of dishes being served, none of us needed rice to ensure we’d had enough to eat.
In Dalian, a city by the ocean that shares a border with North Korea and a heritage with Russia, we went to a seafood restaurant where the food was so fresh much of it was still alive— until it met its maker in the kitchen.
At first glance it appeared to be a pet store for aquatic animal lovers. Big fish tanks lined one wall. Below were tanks filled with all manner of fish and sea creatures—dead and alive.
There isn’t much of an animal the Chinese won’t eat. In a country of 1.3 billion people with a majority just scraping by, it doesn’t make sense to reject organs and other parts of the animal, a government official attending the trade mission lunch in Dalian told me. But they draw the line at eating cats, he said, adding with distaste, that practice is left to their neighbors, the North Koreans.