Exotic Cuisine – Saturday Morning Breakfast

A Note from Phil Manning

Today I persuaded Peter to take me to an eatery that I have never set-foot in on any continent of the world. We choose China for this auspicious occasion. While Peter was keen to assault the taste-buds with Lanzhou Beef-Noodle for breakfast, my culinary palate was searching for something far more exotic…well, in China at least. Breakfast these past few days had been a non-event for me, as I simply could not face the sensory overload of fried fish, chicken, pork, and ‘other’ meats on offer at the hotel…even the expert noodle chef was not enough to tempt me past the vast buffet on offer each morning… once had been enough. No, today I was to sample my first ever KFC- yes, I was no longer to be a Kentucky Fried Virgin.

As you passed through the doors of the said establishment, a bizarre transformation from East to West occurred, complete with tens of square meters of shiny melanin, the sound of familiar music and recognizable food. I was back in the land of square eggs, Styrofoam coffee and very optimistic orange…with a label that should have read, ‘when I grown up I want to meet a real orange’. The familiar taste of e-numbers and preservatives jolted my body into an equally familiar fast-food induced endorphin rush…maybe the beef noodle option would have been a better choice after all…all I could hear in my mind was the gentle scream of Emma Schachner (one of Peter’s PhD students at Penn, whose committee I sit on), given KFC is the exact food she very much disapproves of…its painful when you know they’re right.

Peter and I munched merrily on our reconstituted food, synthetic drinks and commented on how the coffee was surprisingly like ‘coffee’…pondering on where the flavoring had been salvaged? The view from our vacuum formed shiny benches and table was onto one of the main streets passing through Lanzhou. It was akin to watching a travel show on China, in our strangely clean surroundings with incongruently piped music as a backing track to daily life in Lanzhou. Bar Egypt, China is a country where you still feel a visitor from another world, albeit with surprisingly recognizable surroundings. Here it seems East is firmly crashing into West, at an alarming speed. This voracious economy is clearly feeding huge optimism in the whole country that can be felt in all quarters. It was soon time to step through the looking glass and re-join the hustle and bustle of uptown Lanzhou.

As we walked towards the hotel the constant hum of traffic was broken by the indelicate intrusion of a marching band…or so we thought. As we neared our hotel the um-pah-pah of a healthy brass section greeted us on the opposite side of the street to our hotel. Peter and I remarked on how wonderful the sound of live music was…but sadly, we soon realized as the full-brass of the Coldstream Guards kicked in, that the brass instruments held by our marching ‘band’ were as still as a fossil…the would-be musicians did not even have the decency to mime. The oomph had clearly gone from their um-pah-pah.

Peter and I were fortunate to have had this leisurely start to the day, as Hailu was being interviewed as we ‘dined-out’ in style. The process of cross-examining him on his fossil antics would be over by 11am, we would then all shift across town to Daqing’s office…a veritable Aladdin’s cave of lost worlds and forgotten lives. Here we would start the process of picking dirt from bone…otherwise known as preparation, an excruciatingly slow and pedantic process that would test the patience of Methuselah. As to what we were playing with, my apologies again…you will have to wait til the National Geographic series airs…worth the wait I promise.



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