Food in Shanghai Part 2

July 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm (Uncategorized)

While in Shanghai we ate at a lot of restaurants which could be termed as trendy, located in the many malls located around the city. These were restaurants that obviously catered to a young, affluent, and often foreign crowd. They often featured menus billed as “Asian fusion” or “Western”, with elaborate dessert sections. Next to each menu item there is a picture of the dish and some kind of English translation (of varying degrees of accuracy).

I expected that these restaurants would have staffs with a high English language ability, considering this is Shanghai. Interestingly enough, I found this to be an assumption that was often proved false; this made ordering food a particular problem when we were not with Zuo Laoshi, especially since one person in our group could not eat glutton. We quickly discovered that speaking Chinese does not mean that you are equipped to order food in a Chinese restaurant. This is definitely one of the more difficult language skills I’ve encountered thus far in my travels. The waiter during our first dinner without Zuo Laoshi must have thought we did a decent job though, because she asked Eugenia to translate and order for a group of a Germans who had come into the restaurant and whose Chinese was not so great (or their English for that matter).

A recurring theme in almost every restaurant we visited in Shanghai and Taiyuan were missing food items. At least one dish we attempt to order, sometimes more than one, will not actually be available, despite the fact that it is on the menu. Zuo Laoshi, who grew up in Shanghai, was as puzzled as we. She asked her mother, whose response is that the government is being harsher with food regulations and thus menu items that are not safe are disappearing. Is this true? I’ve no idea. Does it make me feel safer? Sure.

Since I’ve come to China I have developed an obsession with the most random thing: mangos. I have never been a mango person (or a fruit person for that matter) but something changed this month. The very first breakfast at our bakery I randomly decided to order a mango smoothie. This was the beginning of my newfound love. Later, we ordered a mango shaved ice dessert at one of the restaurants we ate at. Let me say, I was initially skeptical about this dessert. But that first bite was delicious, and it only got better. It was a mountain of shaved ice, at the very center of which are red beans. Poured over and around the ice are fresh mangos and a lot of mango sauce. From there started a trend in which I consume as many mango related products as possible. I am completely flabbergasted, I have never been a mango person before. I also discovered I like caramel frappuchinos from Starbucks while in Shanghai. I randomly ordered one, and it turned out to be delicious.

While at Starbucks we had an interesting incident. Abby ordered a tea drink of some sort. When she opened up the top she discovered the tea bag had burst, leaving a layer of leaves covering the top of the drink. She tried to explain this to the man who had given her the drink, but he could not understand. His manager overheard, and quickly came over, grabbed the tea from him and told Abby she would fix it. She snapped at him in Chinese, “That was simple English, you should have understood it.” I always marvel how in so many places the staff switch back and forth in English seemingly effortlessly. English speaking abilities are obviously a requirement in certain businesses. It seemed strange at first that Starbucks would have such a policy, but then it made sense. Starbucks would probably have a higher percentage of foreign guests than other coffee shops, since it is familiar in the western world (or America at least) and many of these guests probably do not speak Chinese.

In other news, I am actually back from China. I got back to the U.S. on July 3. Things were very hectic and busy most of the time, which contributed to my lack of blog posts over the last month. The experience as a whole was very interesting though, so I will definitely continue to blog about it.

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