Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hot Pot, Welcome Dinner from DOT and sight seeing in Chengdu

Yesterday (Saturday) afternoon Loren, John and I went out in search of lunch and thought we would get into KFC. There was a Japanese fast food joint right next to KFC called Tonya - which apparently means "Three Pigs" in Japanese (translation courtesy Kenji). I had Eel rice and Miso soup. The food was pretty good and very cheap. Only 25 RMB. We then came back and after a while all 7 of us (Ravi, Vandana and Hina had still not joined the team) decided to go and walk around Chengdu. Zach and Belinda were our local guides. We started at around 2:30 pm from the hotel and walked around Chunxi Lu and also the main town square. We kept walking and walking and walking. I think we walked till about 6:30 pm. I have not walked so much in a long time. But it was not very tiring because the weather was pleasant, maybe a bit on the colder side.
After all that walking we decided to have Hot Pot for dinner and walked some more to find a restaurant. Zach and Belinda did not have much idea so they asked around to find a place. Finally when we did find a place, we were put in queue at number 13. The waiting area had small tables with cards on them. People who were waiting for their turn to get a seat in the restaurant were all playing cards. Zach told us that the Chinese love to play cards and also quite a few gamble.

The Hot Pot was an experience. It is basically a kadhai- a pot with two chambers. Both the chambers have chicken or vegetable stock in it. The inner chamber has no added spices so is not "hot". The outer and the much larger of the chambers ad dry red chillies and Sichuan peppercorn and other hot spices boiling in it. The pots were put on the table at the center and had a gas oven below it which boiled the contents of the pot. The menu is a pick list of over 400 items and most of them are served raw or semi-cooked. The idea is to take the the items and put them in the pot and let them boil in the spiced up stock. Then you have to take it out and dip it in oil (I think it was sesame oil) and have it. The first effect of the "hot pot" is it makes your mouth, lips and tongue go numb. You have a burning and tingling sensation in the mouth and after a few bites you basically lose the sense of taste. The ingredients we had to put in the hot pot were as varied as potatoes, tomatoes, duck tongues & intestines, stomach lining of a cow, bird eggs, pork ,beef, chicken, pomfret and shrimps. I don't know if I missed anything. One thing I have noticed here is people order a huge amount of food and a lot of it is leftover. I need to check if its a cultural thing here.

An interesting observation here is that sunrise happens about 7:30 am in the morning. I happened to get up around 6 am today and it was dark outside, so I went back to sleep and got back up at around 8:15 am. Today morning the missing trio of Ravi, Vandana and Hina also arrived and joined the team. So, now our team is complete. The breakfast was the usual fare and I had bread toast today. We went to Starbucks after breakfast to get a familiar version of coffee. Today afternoon we went to a nice sit-down Japanese restaurant and I had braised chicken with rice. I could not eat even half the rice that was on the plate.The portion size is pretty big here.

The whole afternoon we spent in meeting the DOT team. Frank and Leslie presented us the overview plan for the next 30 days. The work should be fairly challenging.

Frank gave us our per diems for the entire tour and also explained the basic logistics. After the briefing, frank took us out to dinner. The place was really good and again had a huge amount of food. We had "squirrel fish" which was a fish cooked and carved in the shape of a squirrel. Also on the menu was another very famous dish - the Beijing Duck. Its a duck dish, unlikely the Bombay Duck which is a fish!! There were other dishes of pork, beef, fish, chicken and tofu. I tried to count and I think there were about 14 different main courses on the table!! As usual, probably half of it was left over. I have started managing with chopsticks a bit better than before. Today, in fact, I had my whole dinner with them, even though I had asked for a fork as a backup plan.

Tomorrow, we start around 8:30 am and need to travel for about an hour to meet our first clients.

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