The other night, after the basketball game, I didn't get back to the hotel until 11:30 and had yet to eat dinner. The hotel restaurant was thankfully closed, or in my desperate hunger I would have eaten there. I wandered down an unchartered street, finally stumbling upon a Sichuan restaurant.
For us in the west, Szechuan means "spicy chinese food from the province of Szechuan"; basically we know it's Chinese, we know it's hot, and we know it's good.
Here in China, it means something else. I think it means, "seriously dude, if you're white you're gonna burn in here. But really, go for it. No, really. All those peppers are exactly what your stomach needs right now, at midnight, right before you go to bed. Really." I swear that's what it said on the door.
I don't know who's idea it was in the early days to put photos of the dishes on the menu, but basically every restaurant here has them. Which is great, because not all menus have english listings. Or if they do, they list it in pinyin (an English transliteration of the Chinese sounds). Which of course means nothing to most of us. So, the pictures are key.
I picked a photo that looked like pork or chicken, with peppers (obviously) and some kind of green, and a bowl of rice.
You know how there are meals that you'll remember forever for their delicate blend of perfection that borders on a religious experience, then there are those you forget the moment you pay the check as being completely unmemorable, then there are those that are so bad you wish you could erase the memory, get your money and time back and start your day over again?
This meal fell into a whole new category. This fell into the fourth column where you don't know what the hell you just ate, and you're actually quite sure you don't want to know.
This wasn't pork. Or chicken. It kinda looked like squid, but it wasn't. It also kinda looked like pig foreskin, or perhaps sheep testicles. Not that I know what either of those look like, but I do have an imagination. A vivid one. I didn't have my camera, which is probably a good thing because if I did, someone here would tell me what I did eat, and I really don't think I want to know. But look, it was good. Really good. The texture was just the slightest bit rubbery (like perfectly cooked squid) but still delicate. There was an outside skin and a big opening and something inside, like a stuffed squid (I'm trying to convince myself but failing miserably). I don't know that I could taste anything beyond the spices, so I can't even report what it tasted like (Chicken! Pork! Shoe leather!). But my tongue burned, my eyes watered, and a very large, very cold beer washed the pain away.
I love Chinese food.