I wasn’t a big fan of Chinese food before we moved to China. I didn’t hate it, but “I feel like eating Chinese food” or “let’s order Chinese takeout” is probably something I’ve never said. So, I knew when we got here that the food situation might be a little dicey. Especially, dining out, as it would potentially involve a host of natural barriers. At this point we have dined out at several places. There was the Thai place (good), pizza (good), the Mexican place (a little off), the dumpling place (great), the hot pot restaurant (think a Chinese version of The Melting Pot/fondue place, which was very good, although I did pop two raw shrimp balls into my mouth before a horrified waitress saved me), and many more.
But our first outing was probably the most memorable. After being out all day long shopping for school and for supplies for the new apartment, we did not want to go home and make dinner. We also didn’t want to get into the habit of eating pizza, so we chose a restaurant at the mall that looked like it might have decent food, The Topred Peacock.
First of all, just go home. When you have been out all day, you are tired, and, most importantly, the kids are tired? Just. Go. Home. Pick up something, have it delivered, scrounge and eat a small snack, whatever.
We shoved into a half circle booth and fumbled our way through the encyclopedic menu. Eating out in a country where you have no grasp of the language is a lot like being a toddler. There’s a lot of guessing and pointing. I guess that looks like chicken, and I would like two please. Another thing about restaurants here in Beijing is that the food arrives in a random order. Main course is ready five minutes after ordering? Here you go. Appetizer is done after dessert? Order up. In this case, it really didn’t matter. Virtually everything we ordered was on the spectrum of finger food. Some of it was really good, like some very tender spicy chicken and beef ribs. Other items were dry and hard, as if they were all bone.
Toward the end of the meal, my wife was reaching across the table, rifling through a bowl of chicken with her chopsticks. As she separated the pieces, and they tumbled and resettled in the bowl, one piece in particular caught my eye. It wasn’t a leg. Or a wing. Could it have been a misshapen thigh? No. Then, it dawned on me…oh, I know what that is. Because of the angle of the bowl, and my place at the table, I was the only one with a good view of the piece.
A quick note about our situation. I have three stepdaughters – ages 14, 10, 4 – and, at the time of the dinner, we were still very early on in developing our working relationship. I had spent the most time with the two youngest, and was mostly ignored or openly disdained by the 14-year-old. I don’t blame her a bit, it’s just the way things were. I mention this because I know they still didn’t know or understand the level of my demented sense of humor.
As I saw what was before me, I smiled and asked my wife to hold on for a minute, because I had something she needed to see. I took a chopstick and perched the suspect piece of chicken on the tip, raising it for the group to see. It was a head. A complete, full-on chicken head. It was both beautiful, and, to my tame, domestic sensibilities, horrifying. I’d like to tell you that I didn’t proceed to animate the chicken head, moving it’s lower jaw up and down, adding commentary as a dead chicken, but, alas, I am a moron, and did just that.
It definitely lightened things up at the table, and was, I believe, an important milestone in the “how crazy is this guy” journey that the kids have been on.