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Four banquets

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I have just returned from a business trip to Changshu, Nanjing and Zhengzhou, where our various hosts treated us to splendid banquets. Sucessions of courses and dishes that would put many a western tasting menu to shame.

Language difficulties meant it was not always clear what we were eating, and I hope some people here can help.

As is customary the host toasts each of the guests individually, for which a full glass of wine or Maotai (sorghum firewater, the good stuff is very old and expensive) must be drained. Guests then toast each other so much is drunk. The table had cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays on it, which is now unusual (or illegal) in the west.

1, Changsu


Cold starter: prawns, melon, chicken wing, yellow vegetable?

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You seem to have been particularly lucky. In the course of my work I have to go to these things at least once a week. I've even managed two on the same day. But I usually make sure to grab something to eat before I go and often afterwards as well.

I decline the Moutai (disgusting stuff), but generally banquets are the worst way to enjoy Chinese food. The prime objects are

a) to get drunk

b) to show off one's largesse (and largeness of wallet)

The food is seldom better than average.

Here is a guide to banqueting which I put together some times ago.


Anyone working in China will be invited to a banquet. There are a few rules to remember if you want to survive the experience.

1. Arrive on time. This will give you the opportunity to sit on a sofa and study the decor while you wait for everyone else. Then, as they arrive, you will have the opportunity to watch the other guests sit around eating sunflower seeds and throwing the shells on the floor as they wait for the host (or top man) to arrive.

2. Wait to be told where to sit at the main table. Get yourself comfortable and wait to be told to move to another seat. Once everyone has finished arguing over the seating plan, prepare to move again when three unexpected guests join the party and everyone has to shuffle up to accommodate them around the table (this is always circular, designed to sit ten to twelve guests but usually manages fifteen).

3. If you are left-handed, make an excuse and go home. No-one in China is left-handed and the condition is considered to be dangerous. It is impossible to eat with chopsticks if you are left handed as you will continually crash into the guy next to you, sending food flying everywhere.

4. Wait till the top man says eat, then eat a little and put your chopsticks down. This is not really the start of the meal, but a test to check that everybody can find a pair of chopsticks and that no-one is left handed.

5. Top man will then propose a toast. If you're lucky he will do this in the form of a speech less than ten minutes long. Take your drink, bang your glass against everybody else's round the table, and say 'Gan Bei'. This means 'empty glass' which is what you will have in your hand by the time it gets to your mouth. Consider yourself lucky. The glass probably contained BaiJiu, a spirit made from rocket fuel flavoured with essence of vomit (see below).

6. Now eat. Do not worry that there are only twenty dishes on the table for a party of fifteen. Your hosts will proceed to drink themselves under the table with endless toasts, leaving all the food for you to enjoy.

7. Interrupt your eating every now and again and wave your glass at a random guest. This is called toasting. If you can make a twenty minute speech in any language at all, then you will be regarded as an all round good guy.

8. When your hosts put the head of the fish and the feet of the chicken into your bowl, SMILE. This is a great honour. At least that's what they tell dumb foreigners.

9. It is a good idea to pause in your eating and offer everyone at the table a cigarette. If they tell you they don't smoke, try to educate them as to the benefits of smoking. (It is no accident that the Chinese for "banquet" and "cigarette ash" only differ in tone!)

10. When some unknown, drunken fool crashes through the door and insists on toasting the entire room, don't worry. This is the restaurant manager.

11. When you have managed to get through all the dishes, do not despair. Another twenty will arrive.

12. If you are drinking beer, do not eat rice simultaneously. The Chinese believe this is extremely dangerous. Rice should only be eaten after beer. Then it should be shovelled into your mouth as if you are expecting all rice to be confiscated in thirty seconds time.

13. When suddenly, for no apparent reason, your rice is confiscated and everyone leaves, this means the meal is over. Go home.

Edited by liuzhou (log)

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Changsu banquet 2. including sharks fin and broccoli soup, pigeon (with plastic glove), "Shrew fish"(? mistranslated?).

Not shown is the usual end of meal noodles, soup snd fruit (tomatos and watermelon)

How did they cook the shiny black corn?

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The corn is usually simply steamed.

Which picture shows the "shrew fish"?

Edited by liuzhou (log)

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The corn is usually simply steamed.

Which picture shows the "shrew fish"?

The corn was shiny black all the way through. Some sort of marinade?

Shrew fish:post-7620-0-46392400-1310801566.jpg

Edited by jackal10 (log)

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On to Nanjing. The cuisine here is more meat based, being further inland.

The first food picture was cold sliced red braised pigs ear - excellent

For me the star was the long braised pork skin with whole garlic (first iron pot)

The eel with pork belly was just boney (second iron pot)

What was the sliced green vegetable on ice?

Two pictures on shows what were told was tortoise (or turtle?)

The steamed sweet buns had been shallow fried on the bottom - delicous

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Edited by jackal10 (log)

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The corn was shiny black all the way through. Some sort of marinade?

I doubt it. It is probably just a cultivar which is naturally black. Corn comes in various colours.

The "shrew fish"" looks like "squirrel fish" without the usual sweet and sour sauce. Squirrel refers to the presentation rather than the actual variety of fish. The flesh is cut before cooking in such a way that in the final product it is said to resemble the fur of a squirrel. (OK. I can't see it either!)

Your third banquet looks more like a traditional banquet than the first two. The 'tasting menu' type of banquet where each diner is served separately is a quite new development in China and still rare outside of Hong Kong influenced hotel restaurants. Family style is the way 99% of banquets are served.

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On to Zengzhou by bullet train.

Like other countries the coastal and port cities are more ... cosmopolitan.

Food not as goood, and interpretation of western cuisine a disaster (tomato and cheese starter, mushroom soup under pastry lid (no truffle))

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Some interesting stuff here, thanks for sharing. The veggies on ice look like sliced okra, were they cooked?

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No the sliced vegtables were raw. I thought they might be okra, but they were not gummy like okra

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Jack: thank you very much for sharing your experience. Very interesting reads and pictures.

RE: The Nanjing meal

Picture #13 and #14 (I think)...

OMG #1: that restaurant seemed to be an upscale one from the use of such ceramic plates and dishes (western style designs, very rare in China maybe until recent years). That you would think... they wouldn't put a clay pot (okay... iron pot) over such a burnt wooden plaque to serve it up!

OMG #2: the next picture... chips on the soup bowl. Five counts!

It just goes to show some of the odd-ball things I have seen in China.

RE: Meal on the bullet train

Q #1: there is a meal car on a bullet train?

Q #2: you had a FOURTEEN course meal on a bullet train???

RE: The vegetable on ice

I would have guessed fresh hot pepper like Anaheim but the seeds seemed too big. I am scratching my head on that one too and would love to hear the answer.

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Ha! The joke was on me! Sorry I didn't read carefully enough. :unsure:

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