Saturday, February 7, 2009

Shanghai: Day Seven

Lynn had originally planned a day trip to a picturesque outlying village, but given my illness, she decided that we were better off staying close to home and having a mellow day. And so, she dragged me off to dim sum (!) at the incidentally eponymous Lynn, known for its snazzy Shanghainese cuisine and 78 RMB per person ($11 or $12) all-you-can-eat special on the weekends. This was not my ideal breakfast, given my still-roiling gastric sea, but we were meeting her friend (the poet Sawako Nakayasu) and I had to be game. Luckily, the food was light and fresh, and came in small portions, though there was a shocking amount of it (two fried rices, two types of egg rolls, dumplings steamed, fried, and in soup, salty and translucent lettuce root, tofu rolled with shepherd’s purse, leaf-wrapped sticky rice, assorted unidentified vegetables, and other things I can’t remember, all topped off with smooth, cool mango pudding (the cooling dairy affect I had been unknowingly craving for days). This time, I stopped myself at full, and watched the better acclimated polish off the table’s entire offerings.

From there, we went for a walk to another Fulbrighter’s apartment. Aynne had just returned from a long stay in Hai Nan, one of China’s balmy islands, and had brought back a motherlode of tropical fruit for us to taste… as if we hadn’t just spent the past hour eating! Aynne, a fascinating character and a bit of a ham (and a non-Chinese native English speaker with conversational knowledge of four other languages, including Mandarin), played fruit sommelier, describing each item before bringing it out for us to taste. We had starfruit (a yellow, waxy-skinned thing that slices into five-pointed stars and has a firm, juicy, mild-tasting flesh), dragon fruit (an eye-catching grenade-shaped thing in magenta with green spikes, whose equally firm, wet, mild flesh is even more eye-popping: white and dalmatian-dotted with tiny black seeds, which are edible), passion fruit (a dark green, golf ball sized pod packing an olfactory assault, filled with a runny, sour, seed-filled liquid—indecent to see and inelegant to eat, sucking and slurping with a spoon, with an incorrigibly potent flavor), and the most exotic, the mangosteen, which I’d seen street vendors carrying in two baskets balanced across their shoulders by an ample wooden rod (not a good time, I don’t think). This fruit, which looks from the outside like a wasted, plum-colored persimmon, but opens to a cluster of white, fleshy pods, whose taste and texture somewhat resemble lychees, was my definite favorite, though Lynn disliked the look of the wet globules on the dish, which look a bit like cubes of raw beef (if you squint).

We stayed chatting for hours, until everyone (except for me, that is) realized that they were starving (it was, surprisingly, nearly nine o’clock). After quick debate, we decided to eat Uyghur food (mostly because I hadn’t had it yet)—the wheat- and lamb- based diet of the Western Chinese people who live so far west that their flavors (and visages, and outfits, and entire culture) verge on the Middle Eastern. The food was heavy (and our servers appropriately hearty)—I’m not sure that I liked it. We had wheat-based noodles with vegetables in a spicy tomato-based juice (too thin to be properly called sauce), and a dish of diced cucumbers in a similar dressing. There were two lamb dishes, one with bony chunks of meat (from indiscernible body parts) with flat bread absorbing the juices, and another a kind of hollowed flatbread with ground lamb stuffed inside. We also had fried eggplant spears and fried potato medallions (both so tasteless I couldn’t discern which was which). We were the last people in the restaurant and the servers sat around singing native songs while one played guitar while we finished our dinner, so, an interesting dinner if not necessarily a tasty one. By then it was nearly eleven, so we paid ($150 RMB, or just over $20 for four people!), said our goodbyes, and caught cabs home.

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