It all seemed so simple. Take a leisurely 5 minute stroll from our hotel (via a bar for a quick beer) and find a half decent restaurant for dinner. We’d had amazing food every night on our China vacation so what could possibly go wrong? Hmmm. In our defence, we were shattered from travelling to Guilin and we’d had a pre-dinner beer as it was so hot and humid. So, we got lured into a swanky looking restaurant with the promise of delicious spicy hot pots.
WE MISSED THE BIGGEST CLUE ABOUT SPICY HOT POTS
The staff looked astonished when we walked in. We’d gotten so used to being stared at during our time in China we totally missed this. We also failed to notice that we were the only Westerners in the restaurant. But, we’d just arrived from Xi’an where we’d strolled around the awesome Muslim market in the evenings, and we’d barely seen other Westerners there, so we thought nothing of it. As Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman ‘Big Mistake. Huge.’
Like lambs to the slaughter we obediently followed the waiter to a table right at the back of the restaurant. Stupidly we didn’t pay much attention to what the other diners were eating. Or where we were seated. Right opposite the serving hatch for the kitchen. More about that in a minute…
What we did notice was that the table had a big circular hole in it!
It soon became obvious that no one in the restaurant had even a basic grasp of English (in fairness, we don’t speak Mandarin either). With a lot of sign language we managed to order a couple of beers, then we settled down to browse the menu. Which was, of course, in Chinese. Without any of the helpful pictures we’d become used to. Which was a drag.
Our smiling waitress appeared and we still had no clue what to order, so she summoned the Maitre D. Somehow we got through the process of ordering, although we’d really no idea what our meal was going to look like. Or taste like.
SALAD BAR TIME
The waitress re-appeared and showed us to a ‘salad/sauces bar’, signalling to us that we should make a selection. So we picked out a few mystery sauces and dips and returned to our table. Thankfully our beers had arrived. It was the high point of the whole experience. Because our meal arrived soon after….
It looked good. The large 2 sectioned (steaming hot) bowl was gently lowered into the big hole in the table. The the other items were brought out. A huge amount of pink mystery meat and a platter of slightly pinker mystery meat with a lot of fat in it. Yum. Plus raw noodles and what looked like raw bamboo shoots. Surely not? I know we could lose a few pounds but neither of us is panda sized. How rude.
Then we noticed the kitchen staff hanging out of the serving hatch gawking at us. Aha – now we knew why we were sitting at THAT table!
WE WERE THE ENTERTAINMENT FOR THE EVENING!!
One kind waitress took pity on us and came to our aid. With more sign language she suggested that the raw noodles needed to be cooked in one of the hot broths. Hot being the operative word, as she dumped the noodles into the bubbling chilli broth. The meat and bamboo shoots also had to be cooked in the broth bowls but we took charge of them and they went in the magic mushroom broth instead. It must have been magic mushrooms as we were crying with laughter by this stage. Especially when we saw what the meat looked like when it had been cooked (shrivelled foreskins). How appetising…
Suffice to say we didn’t eat much, but what we did eat was so ferociously hot we felt like our heads would explode. Beer helped, but not much. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many chillies in one dish in my life and I’m reasonably keen not to repeat the experience.
Still laughing, we paid the bill (almost the most expensive meal of our entire holiday) and headed back to the bar for medicinal gin. Which was much better than dinner.
Have you got a food horror story from your travels? Make us laugh and share it in the comments below.
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