Opinion and Editorial

Fortune cookies don't help when you have to pick up the tab

Bikram Vohra
Filed on January 14, 2020 | Last updated on January 14, 2020 at 07.26 pm

For most of us nothing has really changed in the way a Chinese meal unfolds.

In our time a Chinese dinner was simply noodles and rice preceded by sweetcorn chicken soup. There was no Mandarin and Szechwan and Cantonese and nobody ordered eels or said, let's start with shark fin soup.

No, said the guest, I will have bird's nest instead. Really, you would rob a bird off its home. In all these years I have never seen anyone do that.

For most of us nothing has really changed in the way a Chinese meal unfolds. For one you enter this fancy place with a fancy name like Shedong Ho or Ying Yang or something unpronounceable like Chongquing.

There is always a dragon belching fire somewhere on the walls which does great things for your appetite. Why do we assume that all over China there is a diktat that the dragon comes to dinner. Along with a paper kite. Then there is this unwritten rule that the menus have to be the size of tents and could house a family. All the chairs are lacquered and also have baby dragons and a mandatory life-size portrait of a lady in a cheongsam.

The menus are with profound intent as if they were all of them studying for their doctorate which is a lot of crock really because the odds are you are going to order sweet corn and chicken soup anyway. Along with sweet and sour prawns or chicken, over which choice there will be much debate like the five-bench Supreme Court two for, two against, and you have the casting vote so you be captain courageous and order both.

Then there is the great 'chopsticks' debate where three people will strive to be global and upmarket and worldly and upstage the knife and fork by demanding a bowl and then proceed to bore you as they demonstrate their pathetic capabilities with the overgrown toothpicks and one capricious noodle as they proceed to teach the novices in this instant lesson and you want to say, oh please, just stop it; will you. This will be followed by the great 'the best Chinese is in...' debate where utterly pointless discussions will be held on memorable sesame seed prawns you had in some restaurant in Singapore where we are not at so why bother.

This will segue into the third meaningless debate led by the mandatory expert at the table who is an expert on Manchurian cuisine food and you aren't even sure if there is a place called Manchuria, though there is a candidate.

At this point one person per table will have to say, one thing about Chinese, it goes down so fast, an hour later you feel hungry again. I have never been to a Chinese dinner where somebody hasn't said just that. And then everyone marvels over this bit of culinary genius and it's all so paradoxical, because there is always food left over, always and much is made of whether to doggie bag it or not.

Three prawns, some icky looking black bean sauce with two chicken pieces, and cold clammy noodles looking like a swarm of worms, please could you pack them.

The next stellar observation: Chinese tastes so much better next day.

No, it doesn't.

Then it is dessert and you would think all they do in China is eat lychees.

You have visions of 1.6 billion Chinese people knocking back lychees and ice cream failing which they are dispatched to some Gulag for re-indoctrination.

And then, you'll get a fortune cookie and yours will say, you are ze generous one, you will pay the bill. Don't know about the food but that will go down well.for the rest.



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