Monday, August 13, 2007
Cheap eats in Hangzhou
If you are exploring West Lake in Hangzhou there are a vast number of restaurants serving many different cuisines when you get hungry. Compared to Australian restaurants their prices are quite cheap. But with meals starting at around thirty yuan, for Asia they are expensive. I can afford to eat in one of these places occasionally without busting my budget. However as a long-term traveller I need to eat at usual Asian prices on a regular basis to stay within my limits. As you might imagine the further you get from the lake the cheaper the prices get. Only a few blocks away you will find noodle and rice places where you can get a meal from five yuan up. I'm staying two or three kilometres from the lake on a local university campus. There are a few buildings around that house students. Not sure who is in what. I'm in a building for foreign students. There are several Africans doing PhDs. I've also met an Italian and a Pakistani. Not sure about the others. At the end of the building is a restaurant. Prices are reasonable and the food is not too bad, usually. Sometimes it is a little oily for my taste and usually too salty. Or is it MSG? It sure beats the main student canteen where they cook food in bulk and its dished out from a tray. Actually, that is a very common way of buying a meal in southeast Asia, certainly in cheaper restaurants. It is so common that even the food technologists from Mahasarakham University accept it. They say they know the dangers but ignore them. I always tried to avoid such food as much as possible. In Thailand I liked phad Thai because they had to cook it on the spot. The restaurant at the end of my home here is often crowded, usually with Chinese. Not sure where they come from. Perhaps some of the other nearby buildings house Chinese post-grad students. Also people must come from off campus. Occasionally I see families. At the prices you can order up big and the bill is small. My meals there, comprising of say three dishes, usually add up to between six and fourteen yuan around one or two Australian dollars. Dishes are usually a single item. You mix and match to make a meal. Because of the foreign students they have a menu with an English translation, another reason I eat there. You get a dish called 'fried green vegetable'. And that's what you get. No extras. 'Fried rice with egg' has rice, egg and just enough bits of shallot to give it some colour but not flavour. 'Three vegetable dish' is three of whatever they have in the kitchen and 'vegetable' includes mushroom. Last Friday night, it was really busy. I was lucky to find a table. Among other things I ordered chicken in lemon sauce. The chicken is cut into small pieces and dipped in batter. When I bit into mine, it was hot on the outside and cold on the inside. Not cool. Cold. What do I do? Well, I could get past the first problem. 'Ching wen!' At least I can remember how to call the waitress. In the Mandarin course I am doing there is a unit on restaurants including how to say the food is cold but I could not remember it. And I still haven't learned the word for chicken. The waitress came over with her usual smiling face. There were four young people at the table next to mine. I turned to them and said, 'Please, does anyone speak a little English?' A young woman answered. I was saved. She was able to translate for me and the offending dish was taken away. It took longer for them to return with it than it had for them to serve it the first time. I thought perhaps they were really making sure it was cooked through this time but it was still only luke warm. I didn't bother to say anymore. It's too difficult. And I didn't suffer any ill effects.