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A Wild Lunch in Hunan


liuzhou
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Way back in the 1990’s, I was living in west Hunan, a truly beautiful part of China. One day, some colleagues suggested we all go for lunch the next day, a Saturday. Seemed reasonable to me. I like a bit of lunch.

 

“OK. We’ll pick you up at 7 am.”

 

“Excuse me? 7 am for lunch?

 

“Yes. We have to go by car.”

 

Well, of course, they finally picked me up at 8.30, drove in circles for an hour trying to find the guy who knew the way, then headed off into the wilds of Hunan. We drove for hours, but the scenery was beautiful, and the thousand foot drops at the side of the crash barrier free road as we headed up the mountains certainly kept me awake.

 

After an eternity of bad driving along hair-raising roads which had this old atheist praying, we stopped at a run down shack in the middle of nowhere. I assumed that this was a temporary stop because the driver needed to cop a urination or something, but no. This was our lunch venue.

 

We shuffled into one of the two rooms the shack consisted of and I distinctly remember that one of my hosts took charge of the lunch ordering process.

 

“We want lunch for eight.” There was no menu.

 

The waitress, who was also the cook, scuttled away to the other room of the shack which was apparently a kitchen.

 

We sat there for a while discussing the shocking rise in bean sprout prices and other matters of national importance, then the first dish turned up. A pile of steaming hot meat surrounded by steaming hot chillies. It was delicious.

 

“What is this meat?” I asked.

 

About half of the party spoke some English, but my Chinese was even worse than it is now, so communications weren’t all they could be. There was a brief (by Chinese standards) meeting and they announced:

 

“It’s wild animal.”

 

Over the next hour or so, several other dishes arrived. They were all piles of steaming hot meat surrounded by steaming hot chillies, but the sauces and vegetable accompaniments varied. And all were very, very good indeed.

 

“What’s this one?” I ventured.

 

“A different wild animal.”

 

“And this?”

 

“Another wild animal.”

 

“And this?”

 

“A wild animal which is not the wild animal in the other dishes”

 

I wandered off to the kitchen, as you can do in rural Chinese restaurants, and inspected the contents of their larder, fridge, etc. No clues.

 

I returned to the table with a bit of an idea.

 

“Please write down the Chinese names of all these animals we have eaten. I will look in my dictionary when I get home.”

 

They looked at each other, consulted, argued and finally announced:

 

“Sorry! We don’t know in Chinese either. “

 

Whether that was true or just a way to get out of telling me what I had eaten, I’ll never know. I certainly wouldn’t be able to find the restaurant again.

 

This all took place way back in the days before digital cameras, so I have no illustrations from that particular meal. But I’m guessing one of the dishes was bamboo rat.

 

No pandas or tigers were injured in the making of this post

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Wow! Many thanks to whoever has taken over David Ross's responsibility for maintaining the eG Twitter feed. I was very surprised to see this pop up a moment ago, especially as it has no images.

Edited by liuzhou
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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26 minutes ago, Duvel said:

And I was surprised eGullet has a Twitter feed … thanks for pointing that out 👍

 

I'm pretty sure some of your posts have been highlighted there.

There is also a Facebook page. Perhaps more.

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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