November 13, 2010

Hunting for sustenance and a ride

We stake out the intersection: Alex crosses the street and we watch as other bystanders wave their arms at passing cars.

“Oooh! Green light!” Jenn shouted.

We rush towards the car, “Damnit! They beat us to it.”

A couple has also chosen the intersection for their hunting grounds and they warily eye us as their competition that they must beat.

Catching a cab in Hangzhou is like going on a safari. We’re a pack of wild dogs who spot a lone gazelle and we’re off like hungry, rabid creatures looking for prey.

With cab fares only costing $1 to $3, it’s cheap enough that people rely on taxis to get them from place to place. On busy Saturdays by West Lake, it’s virtually impossible to find a green light signaling an open cab.

After at least 30 minutes of scoping out a number of intersections, we finally spotted a cab and rushed towards it to get back to our apartment. We fetched our prey and comfortably rode back to our apartment.

Fortunately, cabs are much easier to catch after a night out. The bar streets are teeming with green lights waiting to take people back home.

Last night, I practiced my Chinese with our taxi driver as he took us to Angelo’s, an Italian Restaurant. The cabbie and I got along really well and he handed me his business card that proudly showcased his Hyundai. I was flattered.

Angelo (of Angelo’s) is a 30-year old Italian from New York who opened a restaurant in Hangzhou. The restaurant is very hip and looks like it would fit perfectly in any posh neighborhood of any big city in the states.

We ordered glasses of wine and ate bread – real bread, not sweet, spongy egg-y bread like most places have while we waited for our dinner. We dipped the bread in olive oil and vinegar. Olive oil! How I’ve missed you…

(For those of you who don’t know how I eat on a daily basis at home, I use olive oil in everything. I cook eggs in it, add salt and pepper to it for salad dressing, and of course douse my pasta with it before adding the sauce. I Love Olive Oil).

To say I merely “dipped” my bread in it is an astounding understatement, I soaked my bread it in and enjoyed baby sips of my spicy, chocolaty Chianti.

Our food finally arrived, Jenn had cheesy cannelloni, Alex had mushroom risotto with truffle oil and I got penne with pesto (no shocker there).

(Pesto is my most favorite sauce in the entire world. I traveled to the city it was born in, Genoa, by myself just so I could eat pesto where it originated).

My dinner was beautiful. All of our food was beautiful. No, it wasn’t the best pesto I’ve ever had, but the basil was fresh and fragrant, there were whole pine nuts on top as a garnish, the olive oil was bold and the parmigiano provided a salty backdrop.

I couldn’t stop smiling while I was eating. It was by far the slowest meal I’ve eaten in China.

In Italy, the culture encourages slow eating and savoring the simple flavors. In China, eating is a necessary function and it’s best done very quickly. People hunch over their food, slurp up noodles or rice with their chopsticks, chew with their mouth open, and repeat until the plate is empty. Without even realizing it, Alex and I have caught each other inhaling food like the locals. I hope this is one Chinese habit that won’t stick.

Eating is an act of efficiency. In our university cafeteria, hundreds of students file in between 11:30 and 11:45 for lunch and the entire place is empty by 12:10 – which is usually the time Alex and I waddle in.

Inspired by our meal at Angelo’s, I decided that tonight I am going to cook a real dinner. I’ve been having withdrawals from cooking, we get home late and we’re exhausted so we opt for takeout from places down the street. Never mind that we are also too exhausted to seek out groceries (there have been a lot of mornings where a spoonful of peanut butter is all that we can scrounge up).

An hour ago, I ventured out and asked someone where to buy vegetables. They led me to a farmers’ market a couple of blocks away. Navigating the place on my own and trying my best with Chinese numbers, I bargained and bought eggplant, garlic, bok choy, carrots, ginger, and four chicken eggs (I had an argument with the egg man, he didn’t understand I wanted eggs from chickens – not quails or ducks).

The market was a success, all of my transactions were completely in Chinese and now tonight I’ll be able to practice mastering the wok.

Buon appetito!

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