Thursday, May 10, 2007
When in Beijing, Do as the (Rich) Beijingers Do
I just came back from a fancy dinner with some wealthy Chinese. We went to a seafood restaurant called Ni Shi Hai Xian or Ni Shi Seafood.
It's a giant complex with five floors. And when you arrive by car, either a uniformed man or woman immediately open your door and invite you into a large white marbled lobby with recessed ceilings of gold leaf.
The another army of people immediately ask you if you have a reservation and check their list on a clipboard. If you want to wait for your dining companions, you can have a seat in oversized leather chairs and sip on some tea.
Or you can wander around to the back of the room where there's an array of dishes you can choose from. And the samples aren't plastic food like Japanese restaurants -- they're the real thing. There's several bowls of shark's fin soup to choose from, depending on the quality, sea cucumber, grilled fish, and a number of vegetables wrapped in cellophane.
And there are also lots of tanks filled with fish, lobster, prawns and clams. I also saw some crabs and one with its claws tied back and its shell half ripped off. Its legs were still moving to show it was really fresh.
We were ushered upstairs to the second floor where there were only a few tables occupied.
Our host looked like he'd already had a few drinks. He was having maotai, (rice wine with 40 per cent alcohol) from a wine glass. Thank goodness I was given a small glass, but one sip was already nasty.
The food was prepared Shandong style -- salted fish, jellyfish with minced cabbage, corn bread, short ribs, a clear broth with clams and tofu, stirfried bok choy, and steamed buns with a kind of diced broad bean and pork. We also did a very Shandong thing -- eat cloves of young garlic dipped in a dark soybean sauce that cut the spiciness of the garlic.
The seafood was absolutely delicious -- but the delicate flavour was immediately killed when my gracious hosts insisted I ganbei (drink maotai) with them. This happened many times throughout the meal. And by the end of it I still hadn't finished my drink and they insisted I had to empty my glass.
And did I mention two of the men were smoking like chimneys through the whole meal?
That's how the rich Chinese live... day in and day out.