We decided to wander around Qingdao to find a good place to have dinner. Ok, that’s not exactly true. I remember saying something about finding a German place for dinner, because I remember thinking that a town that was a German concession and holds a huge brewery, there would be lots of German restaurants. Or at least a few. Or, um, one.
After a pedestrian tour of Qingdao (get it? that was funny) we wound up at a hotel restaurant, the kind with no menus, where you walk up to the saran-wrapped buffet and pick which dishes you want cooked for you.
Fresca and I walked around the buffet, accompanied by no less than seven waiters and waitresses, to point out what we wanted to eat, at which point the staff would tell us we can’t have it.
“Listen! They’re saying Bu fan bian de!” I tell Fresca. She gives me the look that means Chinese culture, while fascinating, is not more important than food and sleep. (Did I mention that I just got a book on China since Mao, and I spent most of the ride to Qingdao waking her up to read interesting parts?)
Bu fan bian de is a Chinese phrase that means “not suitable” or “not a good idea”. Basically, I asked for a dish that consisted of pancakes and halved cherry tomatoes and then I was told I couldn’t have it.
“I must tell you, this dish contains tomatoes so it might not be suitable for you,” said one of the waiters.
“Tomato good,” I tell him, because my comprehension has far outstripped my speech.
We also pick a plate of thin-sliced salmon and cucumbers. This time, the staff tells us firmly that this is not sushi. Fresca asks me if maybe they think we think we’re in Japan. I ask her if maybe the unintelligable words are the Chinese for bagel and dilled cream cheese.
Fresca orders an orchid salad, and when our food arrives, we’re suprised to learn that tonight, the part of orchids will be played by spicy peanuts.
I also order beer, but am told that Yantai beer is not suitable. When in Qingdao, drink Tsingtao, I suppose. We try to get tea, and the waiters ask Fresca what kind. Without a list of options or any idea how our food will taste, Fresca defers to the waitress. The waitress, stunned by the responsibility of choosing for tea for the foreigners, consults the other four waiters watching us. We picked ou the words “chrysanthemum” and “10 kwai” and say ok.
When our food arrives, the salmon adventure turns out to be Chinese lox with a lemon-wasabi dipping sauce. The entire staff watches us eat, including men in aprons from the kitchen, and all the other patrons. The food is awesome, and I am pleased to hear kuan xi (chopsticks) and hen hao (very good) from our audience.