Last night, we celebrated Moon-Viewing Night by trying out a street hotpot place. It’s a hole-in-the-wall during the day, but at night, they set up flimsy portable tables with propane burners and vats of boiling soup.
So we get a table, and a menu, and I THOUGHT I was ordering a chicken broth. The waiter said something about chicken in the soup and I was all “Yeah, ok, fine,” because he seemed to be repeating “chicken” and “soup pot”.
Then the soup came, and there was a headless, plucked chicken sitting in the pan! Oh, THAT’S what he was saying! Poor Christina was really creeped out by it, and I felt a bit stupid because the waiter had so clearly tried to tell me what was up! If only Chinese had an article, so that I could tell “chicken in your soup” from “a chicken in your soup”. Although I probably wouldn’t understand anyway.
Apparently Beijing hotpot comes with a little dish of seasoning to drop into your broth for flavor. The waiter, who was probably hating his job more and more as the evening went on, said something about cilantro. I knew it from ChinesePod (Thanks, John!), it’s xiangcai in Chinese, but I thought he said xiangcao, which is vanilla, and for a horrible moment I thought I’d ordered a giant bowl of vanilla-headless chicken soup
When he came back with the dish of cilantro and scallions, I caught on. Then I ordered other food for the soup, based on what I saw other people eating. It took forever to come, I’m not sure if the’re always slow or if the waiter was in the kitchen psyching himself up to deal with my bad Chinese. (Just kidding.) (I hope.)
The food was delicious. Hotpot is essentially make-your-own-soup, which means you can put exactly what you want it in. No mystery meat! Only the vegetables you want! And if you don’t order Chicken Carcass Soup, all the meat is boneless, too.