24 October 2011

A Chinese Feast

I got home from a long day of research one evening just in time for Trisong to get a phone call from his friend. Tam Kho was preparing dinner, and it was nearly time to eat. When Trisong hung up, he said,

"Do you want to have dinner with my friends?"

I said, "Well, yes of course!"

And so Tam Kho turned off the stove and put the lid on what was now to be tomorrow's dinner. We put on our shoes and headed across town to a tiny Chinese restaurant near His Holiness's temple. There were about 30 people there, but we couldn't even eat all the food. Every person but me was Tibetan, and we were all eating Chinese food.

Here's the thing: Panda Express is not what Chinese food tastes like. Nothing was sweet and everything was hot. I got a bit nervous when I noticed that everyone was using chopsticks, but when my bowl of rice came there was a spoon instead, and Tam Kho was kind enough to use a spoon, too.

I tried seven different dishes on top of my rice--all the plates I could reach--and they were quite good! The first I tried was Tam Kho's favorite: chicken fried in chili and spices accompanied by chunks of green bell pepper (which here, apparently, is capsicum). The chicken had huge bones in it, so I had the usual problems eating the meat without choking on bone. At home we usually have a discard plate but there wasn't one here, so I made a little pile of bones on the tablecloth like Tam Kho did.

Then I tried the pork dish, large chunks in a dark sauce cooked with cabbage, but unfortunately my pork was actually a slice of fat. Ah well. Third were small pieces of mutton in a light-colored sauce with thin white noodles. I used to think noodles on rice or bread was strange but now it is normal. That dish was quite good, though somewhat bland.

At some point I snagged a piece of mutton from a different dish before the woman across from me finished it off, and I could tell why it was gone so quickly! It was more tender than mutton usually is and it had just enough spice to be interesting but not overbearing. Next were thin slices of potato interspersed with long red chilies that reminded me of painful moments at Thai restaurants at home. The potatoes were surprisingly hot.

Then I tried another dish with thin slices of mutton and thinner slices of green bell pepper. That one I really liked because the peppers were fresh and the mutton bits were very small. Also, that one didn't have any sauce.

By this time I was almost out of rice but I had one more to try, chicken in a thick brown sauce that might have inspired Panda's sweet and sour chicken (though it was neither sweet nor sour). The sauce was savory and spicy like everything else, and I was pleased to find a few boneless pieces of chicken.

The available beverages were: mountain dew (the most popular), coke, sprite, fanta, pepsi, and bottled water. Turns out that the restaurant owner had set out this feast for his friends because his visa had just been approved so he could go see his wife who is living in Belgium. What a kind, generous man! And he makes great Chinese food. It was interesting, though, to eat Chinese food with a group of Tibetans. They all enjoyed it a lot, so it seems like that the animosity doesn't extend to a culinary boycott. 

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