Sunday, January 13, 2008

Fish Dinner, Guangzhou, 1992

"What's the best seafood restaurant in Guangzhou?" I asked the desk clerk at my hotel.

"I don't know the name in English," she replied. "I'll write the name in Chinese. It's very far. You need to take a taxi."

So, paper in hand, I hailed a cab. I showed the driver the sheet of paper and he nodded his head and drove off. It was a long ride. About twenty minutes.

When the driver pulled over, a dwarf in a tuxedo came over to the cab and opened the door for me. I stepped outside. I didn't notice a restaurant. I was confused. I showed the dwarf, who bore a slight resemblance to Herve Villechaize in "Fantasy Island," the piece of paper. "Is this the right place?" I asked.

"Yes. Follow me," he said.

We walked several yards until we came to an archway to a garden. We walked through the garden, past a big fountain, until we came to a large double door attended by a very tall Indian wearing a turban.

Was I dreaming this?

"Welcome," the Indian said and opened the door.

Inside, I was greeted by a stunningly beautiful hostess in a tight, sexy black uniform. She was unusually buxom for a Chinese woman. In fact, all of the hostesses and waitresses were beautiful and buxom. "Do you have a reservation?" the woman asked.

"No," I replied.

"No problem. Please wait here."

The waiting room was very classy and low key. There was none of the chrome, fluorescence and glitz I was used to at the top Cantonese seafood restaurants in New York. This place was done up in wood.

The hostess showed me to a table. The dining room was large and busy. I didn't see another westerner. It seemed that somebody was speaking on a cell phone at every table. Hong Kong businessmen, I assumed.

A waiter brought me a very small cup of extremely strong black tea and a menu. The name of the restaurant, I learned from the menu, was South Sea Fishing Village.

The menu explained the various ways the fish could be prepared, but it did not list any fish or any prices.

A waitress came to my table. "Please follow me," she said.

What the hell. I followed her.

We went out the doors, past the Indian, through the garden and the archway. We were back on the street. What's going on? I wondered.

We walked a few yards and entered an aquarium. I mean an aquarium. There were at least twenty large tanks, each with a different kind of live fish or shellfish. "You choose your fish," the waitress told me.

Aha! So it was a live seafood restaurant, where you choose your own fish and they charge by type and weight. At first I was overwhelmed by the choices, but I quickly realized that if I wanted a whole fish there were very few that were small enough for a single person. I settled on a catfish.

Back to the restaurant, back to my table. The waitress asked me how I'd like my fish prepared. I perused the menu and chose a simple preparation, steamed with soy, ginger, scallion and garlic. I noticed that every table had large, beautiful scallion pancakes, so I ordered one of those. And I ordered a plate of sauteed choi sum. And a beer.

It turned out to be quite a lot of food for one person. It also turned out to be one of the most spectacular Chinese meals I'd ever eaten. The vegetable and the scallion pancake were delicious, and the fish was absolutely perfectly prepared: juicy, bursting with flavor, and given just enough of a seasoning by the light sauce. It was a great culinary triumph of simplicity.

When I got the check I calculated the exchange into U.S. dollars. The whole shebang came out to about $25.

I couldn't have dreamed it, could I?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

racist much?

2:49 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...


3:48 PM  

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