house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Chinese Dragon (Hide!)

Day 10 and Islamabad has a few more surprises in store. This one should probably run like one of those old films, black and white little people going about in fast motion:

Friend whisks us to Chinese restaurant ('Best Hidden Secret in Town') for delicious hot pot, i.e. soup with STUFF thrown in. We walk into hilarious chaos:

The restaurant is in fact a private house and guests are ushered into different rooms according to - what? Space availability? Appearance? Sins? The last, possibly, because we get the room with the Chinese Pop Idol.

The Chinese Pop Idol. It blares out all night from a TV perched in prime position. Under the curse of loud Chinese Karaoke, we squirm and our food squirms as well. The four tables in the room are silenced: all clients watch intently, some have turned their chairs to face the TV, soy sauce dripping into their laps. We alone try to chat before trying to turn down the TV before trying to stuff chow mein noodles in our ears before trying to choke on the steamed dumplings and die.

The Hot Pot turns out to be a thin liquid - one half clear, one half rusty-red oil. You know? Heaven and Hell. In this primordial soup float unidentified chopped vegetables that smell of freshly slaughtered pork. The clear liquid has no taste, the red burns. Like I said: Heaven and Hell. The soup simmers on an electric cooker in the centre of our table. There's no getting away now.

And the STUFF arrives. The STUFF that we will throw into the cauldron to make all our gourmet dreams come true. A plate of thinly sliced beef, bright red and smelling of freshly slaughtered pork. They place this in front of the one vegetarian amongst us (Moona) and - instead of Chinese Pop Idol - we watch the colour drain from his face.

We also get: a plate of tofu, deep-frozen (the vegetarian option). It looks like Arctic lichen and smells like freshly slaughtered pork. When thawed in Heaven or Hell, it takes the misleading appearance of an old kitchen sponge and the smell gets stronger still. No one dares to taste it.

And finally: a plate of sea kelp (my order!) - limp translucent ribbons of unearthly matter. It smells of Brighton beach, our friend declares. It smells of freshly slaughtered pork, I reckon. It looks and smells, we conclude, like the skin of a green piglet sacrificed on Brighton beach. We taste. Yes. It tastes like it too, and more.

Because there IS more to it, I'm sure. Who's ever heard of a green piglet: this food, disturbing to see, smell and taste, is magic. And there, in the blare of Chinese Pop Idol, under the golden garlands of the nameless eatery, tossed by waves of nausea and hunger, it strikes me: they are feeding us DRAGON HIDE! The finest skin, best preserved and marinated, harvested in ancient times by the bravest of warriors for the purest of maidens. With great reverence I take another bite and as I swallow I feel scales, spurs, wings, fierce eyes and fire.


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