In the backblocks of Beijing, up a filthy lane heaped high with refuse and rubble (the best places always are) is one of thousands of restaurants which feed the hordes. We stumbled into one, late in the evening, that advertised an English menu. The owners were true to their word but they could not read it themselves or understand spoken English. But we could not otherwise fault their advertising.
So the meal was one of those more mild adventures you have in China, picking your dishes based on a “best guess” approach and taking your cue from what others are eating. While placing our order we noticed an unusual collection of jars in the back of the restaurant. Taking a quick look at the golden liquid contents it seemed there was a collection of seaweed and vaguely familiar animal shapes in there. But it was hard to identify anything with any assurance.
However, having shown an interest in the contents I was quickly offered a small ceramic dish, with some of the contents of one of the jars ladled into it. Encouraged to drink it I did so (key to maximising sense of adventure in China: never refuse a drink or meal, and NEVER ask what it is) and promptly had the back of my throat seared off. It needed a second dishful to calm the throat down!
And it turned out the coiled shape in the botom of the jar from which I drank was an eel.
So the pickled eel story was born. Its immediate sequel was a sensation that impressed itself on me at o’dark o’clock the next morning (about 3am) – the back of my head felt like it had been shot off.
I love China.
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