The principal of our elementary school, her husband and son invited us to go out to eat and try some different kinds of 凉皮 (liángpí). This is a kind of noodle, she explained, very popular in the 西北 (Xīběi) Province. We had tried liangpi in the past, but my wife was the only one who had seriously liked it. Last night, that all changed.
When we walked in, you could see down the hall and all the bustling. At first, I just stood there and took in the scene. Quite a number of people were checking out dinner options and ordering dishes. Of course the workers were trying to get every customer to buy what they were making or in charge of. Though we had been here a week already, this was our first time out for a meal. The bar has been set high for visiting other restaurants.
We walked in past a few areas before arriving to a mound of spice, assuming that’s what this is. I had never seen this kind of ingredient stacked so high in my life! I kind of gawked at it all the while being tempted to dab my finger in the pile and taste it. I dared not with so many eyes watching me. But my boss’ third-grade son was right there so it could’ve been possible as long as I had blamed him or let him try first. Is anyone else following my logic here? 😉
We turned around and went back to the door to start our ordering. I couldn’t help but smile when landing my eyes on one of my few weaknesses: meatsticks (肉串儿). It was here that I knew that the restaurant was a couple steps up from the rest since they were placed under glass, put on wooden sticks and the portions were bigger. We’ve been used to smaller portions on metal skewers laid out for the world to touch.
We moved along to some of the seafood options. I’m not the most fond of octopus, and seeing them on skewers almost made me gag. It’s probably because I connected it to the time I mistook fried squid for fried pork and learned to sometimes be more aware of what I’m going to eat. None of us ordered any of these.
Oyster and shrimp made their appearances.
Liangpi can come with various add-ons, but the noodles can also be made differently. The yellow noodles are made with flour. The white noodles are made with rice.
The last part we got to see before ordering was how they make a certain kind of noodles called “Cat Ears.” It’s not because they’re made from cat but because of the shape. Yes, that disclaimer was necessary.
After eating a little over half of what we ordered, we finished the night full of conversation. On the way out, over ten restaurant workers reminded us, “谢光临，请慢走” (literally translated: “Thank you for lighting up our place, please walk slowly.” Chinese common courtesy has its way of making you feel warm and want to laugh at the same time. Knowing the language though does indeed let you in on the important aspects within a culture.