Once you have spent some time in China, you come to realize that there is no such thing as just “Chinese food”. That term only applies when you are outside of the country and usually for those who have not experienced the wide array of food choices in China. When in China, you refer to the eight major cuisines (八大菜系). They are named based on the province where it is most prominent in, such as Shandong (Lu), Sichuan (Chuan) and Guangdong (Yue) cuisines. However, today we are going to talk about the food that rises above the eight major cuisines: hotpot! It is the food that embraces all cultures and differences. It also happens to be a great way to conclude this semester’s campus advisor program.
On 22nd June, the Campus Advisors organized an AA-style hotpot with international students. The Haidilao Restaurant was chosen for its impeccable customer service (more on that later) and wide range of food selections. A total of 14 CAs and international students gathered at the nearest Haidilao branch in Shanghefang. As usual, the line waiting outside was long, but our CAs had the foresight to call a few days before for reservation. Haidilao is famous for its service even before you enter the restaurant: you get free flow of snacks, fruits and drinks, not to mention free manicure while waiting.
Once you settle down, ladies will receive a hairband to tie your hair when eating, and everyone receives a plastic pouch for the phone so you can still use it without worrying about oily fingers. Ordering food is done on an iPad and the images on the digital menu makes it easy for internationals to order too.
Besides the regular must-haves for hotpot, like meatballs and sliced beef, we also stepped outside of our comfort zone and ordered duck tongue, intestines and shrimp paste. Even for some of the CAs they have never tried these before.
Another Haidilao speciality is the traditional Szechuan opera face-changer performance, and the laomian performance. The former is a heritage in Szechuan opera, where performers have layers of silk painted masks on their faces, and they could change it so fast that even cameras could not capture it. They could change “face” with the turn of their heads or the sweep of a hand. Laomian performance is where the performer start with a small stretch of dough and through different fancy moves elongate it until it becomes two or four strands of noodle. He then directly puts them into your hotpot.
Eating at Haidilao isn’t just about the food. Across the two tables, CAs gladly shared their knowledge of the food and culture with the international students, who also exchanged their experiences on eating in China. For instance, there is the North-South regional difference when it comes to hotpot, even down to the sauces that you use.
It was a fantastic evening and a great way to conclude the semester. For international students, some will be moving on to their second year but some will be graduating. Some of the CAs will either be graduating or going on an exchange program next semester. This was in a way the final gathering for everyone before the semester ends. It is always hard to say goodbye but we know that everyone is moving on with their life and can only hope for the best.