Fiery filly opened her eyes and stretched her way upward. After a moment, though, she realized she was in a strange place far, far away from Sunset Meadow. Almost as instantly, Eugene the Monkey appeared.How was your sleep? Well, you must come…they have prepared a meal for you. I hope you will like it…
and before she could say Good Morning, filly was off and following the monkey to breakfast.
I woke up that first morning in China and tried to let it all sink in as I realized that I was really here. And before I could let go of the moment, there was a knock at the door.
Miss Pauline, Miss Pauline.
Breakfast is served. Please to follow me?
I got dressed quickly and met my interpreter, Eugene, who led me to the Dining Room of the hotel for breakfast.
Welcome to Shanghai. You are to have traditional meal.
Oh boy, I thought. Just like jumping full body into an ice cold pool of water…REAL Chinese food.
Now, eggs and toast in China take on a completely new meaning. An egg, in Shanghai, refers to one of these:
These are tea eggs. They are made by boiling the egg in a special mixture of tea and anise seed. At a certain point in the boiling process, you crack the shells to allow the liquid to penetrate the shell. The egg turns brown and the shell gets a pretty design.
At least it is not a hundred year old one…Eugene said. That would really pickle you.
Eugene had quite a sense of humor.
The closest thing to toast is youtiao (pronounced U – T – OW). It looks like this:
It tastes like a sweet bread or elephant ear without the sugar. Sugar is a commodity that is hard to come by, as is butter. As this was a hotel that served foreign guests, there was more access to these items.
Another breakfast item served was the Chinese staple. Rice Congee. The only way to describe Rice Congee is to think of rice- flavored water with funny little bits of something in it. It is made by boiling rice far beyond the ‘fluff’ stage so popular with American rice dishes. The rice literally breaks down until the water is a milky color. To flavor it, fish or prawns are added. Ugh!! Being an oatmeal gal myself, this was the hardest item to adjust to because it was so anti-grain.
Now, since Americans are milk fed, a plastic bottle of milk was provided for ‘my comfort’. I opened it and thought I had received the wrong thing for it was solid. Like maybe it had gone bad…but the texture was also familiar, like sour cream. What I learned was that when the Chinese speak of milk for food, they mean yogurt. They honestly think it is silly to drink milk after early child development (like 5 years old) because it is a baby drink. The milk we did receive at our housing complex at the University was brought in special and was goat’s milk if cow milk wasn’t available. Our cook thought we were nuts!!
Once again, my comfort was considered, so this was all served with a western fork and not traditional chopsticks and Chinese soup spoon. That would last only while in Shanghai. If I didn’t master chopsticks in the first week, I would be losing a lot of weight…Have you ever eaten peas or non-sticky rice with chopsticks…what we take for granted!
And tea. Every meal is accompanied by tea. That would be non-strained green leaf tea. There are some in the countryside that will look at the leaves in the bottom of your cup and insist it is an omen based on how they fall (akin to western fortune-telling). The Chinese are very superstitious!
Hurry, eat filly. There is much in the city we need to do today.
The filly finished her exotic meal with Eugene and they left for errands in the city. Life here was definitely going to be interesting!