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Field Notebook
Field Notebook

Eating Chengdu
Fall, 2007
Chengdu, China

A bite of something
A bite of something
There was hardly room to sit in the restaurant among clattering voices and chairs backed up against each other, chopsticks dipping like heron bills into bowls bobbing with food. We moved in like lumberjacks, shouldering through Chinese men in white t-shirts. They regarded us with expressionless suspicion. Look what the Free World dragged in.

The menu was riddled with ancient characters, a language predating English by several thousand years. None of us had any idea what they said. The woman serving could not help us though she smiled and shouted over the din. Nor could we help her, fingers pointing nonsensically at the script.

She returned with another menu, one that had not been opened in some time. A nest of tiny cockroaches the size of sesame seeds had been happily dwelling in the menu's spine until this moment. Some skittered out, disappearing beneath dishes and cups, while others dove into unturned pages. This menu had pictures, yellowed and just about as indecipherable as the text. We pointed, gestured. She smiled, scribbled on a piece of paper, shouted orders over her shoulder. Tony, the big German, got up and waded through tables, returned shortly with empty glasses and a bottle of Coke. He poured. We toasted.

First came pearl-white pork buns, then a mound of fried envelopes containing a porridge of ground-up animal parts. A soup arrived, a big ceramic bowl, cornucopia of unidentifiable items that we plucked with chopsticks, amusing the Chinese men around us while amusing ourselves. It was a bowlful of Gray's Anatomy, selections of Latin-named viscera. Some we could not name as plant or animal, though they all tasted more or less the same in the hot, peppery broth. We scrutinized, chewed, swallowed. Slick, dark coins of mushrooms, bready masses of chicken fat. Was it good? Yes, though not by taste.

(Photo: Kyle GeorgeĀ

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