Caleb Kostreva is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2016, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A public policy and civic leadership; social science (global studies emphasis) major at Howard Payne University, he is studying abroad in Shanghai this term.
In this week's post, Caleb highlights one of CAPA's My Global Education events, sharing his experience of a traditional hot pot meal in Shanghai, including a few new tastes (goose foot, anyone?) and a noodle dance.
One of the most cultural dishes in China, especially in the southern province of Sichuan, is hot pot. A part of the CAPA program is My Global Education, a calendar of events which is essentially designed to help us experience and understand Chinese history, culture, and cuisine more fully. For one of these events, we were taken to a famous hot pot restaurant here in Shanghai. I have had hot pot in the United States, and it was amazing, but nothing can compare to our meal last night. If you lack an open mind before entering the restaurant, your experience will be limited greatly, but strong-minded (and strong-stomached) individuals will have a tasteful memory that will endure a lifetime.
Photo: HaiLiDao Hot Pot restaurant
When we entered HaiLiDao, we were greeted with snacks to help pass the time (all five minutes of it) until we were seated at a large round table with a hole in its middle. Unlike many upscale Western restaurants, which are commonly characterized by subdued conversations barely reaching beyond each booth, the air was filled with noise from its every corner – sounds of joviality and satisfaction. Upon being seated, we were recommended to a complimentary salad and fruit bar, and were given free beverages. One thing I noticed throughout the entire evening was the amount of services that were absolutely free, with no strings attached, and the amount of care and attentiveness provided with each. At any given moment, there was almost certainly a waiter or waitress discreetly observing our table.
When our waiter started handing us aprons before the meal, I was very confused, but our host explained that hot pot is typically very messy. We were all thankful we donned the aprons, for without them our shirts would have suffered greatly.
However, this experience was of far higher importance (and interest) about the food. If you are not familiar with hot pot, it works like this: the wait staff brings raw meats and vegetables to the table, and you have a few broth/soup options to cook it in – it is very much a family style meal, and reaching across the table is totally acceptable. We had a variety of common foods like mutton, beef, and mushrooms, but we also tasted a plethora of other meats that I never thought I would try. (NOTE: If you have a weak stomach, I might recommend skipping to the next paragraph.) Among these new tastes were cow stomach and throat, duck intestine, and goose foot. Personally, I am a very adventurous eater, so this was not a problem for me. In fact, the cow stomach was surprisingly very good! However, the goose foot was too difficult to eat to be worth it.
At this particular restaurant, everything is about presentation, and the culmination of this was when they brought fresh noodles to us. The waiter approached our table, stretched out the noodle, and then began dancing with it, swirling it around his body like a noodle fire dance!
Photo: Noodle dance!
After the meal, some of the other CAPA students and myself took a walk around the restaurant to take pictures and see what interesting foods other people had ordered. I was dragged into a dance that some of the staff were doing (no, I’m not showing a picture), and I am pretty sure that they are never going to pull another white person into it again because my dancing skills are about as stereotypically white as they come. All in all, this truly was a cultural experience that I will carry with me for years to come, and I would heavily encourage anyone who has a similar opportunity to take it in a heartbeat – it is worth every minute.
Caleb's journey continues every Thursday so stay tuned.