Our last meal of the trip, proved to be the best for me. It was not in a fancy restaurant, it did not cost a lot of money, and it was not the best tasting food I have ever had (but it was very good).
It was in an old part of town, rapidly disappearing as entire blocks are destroyed to make way for new high-rise properties, on a pot hole riddled street crowded with dump truck,s cycles, cars, and people going about their day.
It was, what we might call a run down street with broken windows, questionable cleanliness, and a landscape not suitable for a hand-full of gringos from far away lands. Luckily we had our local hosts with us to help us find our way (sort of). They drove us to this little street and then tried to take us to the restaurant, only the one they parked at was not the right one. It was next door. Only that was not the right one either. It was across the street. But that was not quite either. It was back on the other side of the street, but on the other side from where we first tried. Honest to god. Two locals leading a group of 7 tourists back and forth this street with the locals openly staring at us with what I can only assume is the Chinese version of WTF?
Finally our guide points to the place and goes to move the car over. We try the door, it’s locked. The lights are off, no one is home. As we turn to leave, a call pulls up, a woman hops out with her young daughter and makes for the door with a key. Our chef has arrived. The little girl, adorable. She speaks a little English. “Hello, how are you?” She says. This more than most of the locals have said or are able to say to us, I was very impressed. We pile into the restaurant (a generous term) and find a simple place with peeling paint, chipped flooring, and a few tables. I think it’s great.
This is perhaps also a house, I’m not really sure. But this is a place where the locals come to eat. Our hostess quickly pulls together a table and set about making tea and getting us settled. The little girl in enamoured, she’s come out with her camera to take our photos. I remember that I have a little US currency in my bag in the car. I quickly dash out to get some for her. I bring back a dollar bill and some change to give her. At first she says no, but she takes it and looks at. She seems excited. She runs back and returns shortly with a Chinese bill to give me in exchange. I politely say no. One of my co-workers suggest I should have taken it, it will be worth more that the US dollar shortly, which gives us all a good laugh.
We sit in this humble dining room, and talk more that we have in the past 2 days. It’s a very nice meal of yellow river fish made just in the back room. In fact as we were waiting a young man showed up with the live fish in plastic bags and hurried them to the back room to be prepared. Throughout the meal a few locals came in for dinner, or it seems, to smoke a cigarette in the kitchen. The young girl reappeared with a friend, and a super cute puppy. I promptly turned into mush at the site and had the girl come over so I could pet the dog. (Please, no jokes about the puppy’s future as dinner, the jokes have all been made.)
It was nice to enjoy this meal and imagine the locals coming by each night to enjoy the same simple dish in the same surroundings, a too brief glimpse into the way of life in this far away land.