Breakfast today was chocolate brownies and fruit. How interesting. Fanny Fan was nowhere to be seen.
We are given no information here. We are just told where to be at a set time. It is always a ridiculous time and always 20 past the hour. We are never told what to expect so we never know how to dress. I mean, last night we are told to meet for dinner. I arrived like the rest of the crew in shorts and a T-Shirt only to find out that dinner is being hosted by the local government. We are informed of the plans for the day just as they are about to happen, and I mean just moments before. We keep being told that “China is open to the world”. I have been told this thousands of times.
After breakfast we are herded into a room with tables set up in a circle. There are plastic flowers in the middle of the tables and pleated draped cloths across the sides. The president of the local food committee arrives and we are given a lecture in Chinese (with interruption so it takes twice as long) by the Head Chef of the Sunshine Hotel and Resort. The whole thing is being filmed and Fanny Fan is sitting to my right interrupting (she suddenly appeared as if by magic). We are told how international this Chef is and he goes on and on abut his skills. But he has never left China or Japan! Surely to be an International Chef he needs experience of the West? Perhaps I should not criticise, but I’m being preached at and as my mother will tell you, if you tell me what to do I will do the opposite. I can be a very stubborn man. They are rabbiting on about some fish that costs £250 per kg that likes dark places. It’s called a Baby Fish. I’m none the wiser. They talk about the Shang, Tang and Hang Dynasties. I did not know Joan Collins was in China.
I’m feeling low today.
The Chinese cannot understand why I don’t have a wife. I keep my private life to myself here as they just don’t understand. It’s best.
Lunch was tough. The Baby Fish was a Giant Salamander. An animal with legs and toes of pre-historic origin that can re-grow limbs. Just like a Gecko. As we were guests of the Government a 70 year old Salamander (1.8m long) was taken from its water, killed and it cried like a baby. Hence the name “Baby Fish”. A chill went through me. Guess what was for lunch. I’ve always been taught to keep to my morals in difficult situations and to not sacrifice myself for the sake of it. Today I could not eat the Salamander. It was too human. How can something that has lived to this age be killed for lunch? I have never eaten anything as old. However at the other extreme I will eat baby animals like veal, suckling pig and young fish. I’m not vegetarian but I do believe highly in sustainability (for example Beefeater Gin is distilled 3 tube stops from my home). I like to eat foods that are local and in season. Hunan Provence has very fresh local foods.
The next course was Shark Fin soup. A highly prized delicacy. I have read enough to know that the shark is caught, the fin removed, the shark placed back into the sea and it bleeds to death. I kept to my beliefs today. I was offered the Muslim food instead. I have attached a pic of the Salamander we had for lunch.
I am not here to criticise a culture that is not my own. I just believe that as a food writer I have a choice in what I wish to eat yet respect the local culture at the same time. I will not photograph or video death on my blog. this is about my journey in food, not a freak show.
We then have a six hour bus journey to Changsha driving through paddy fields of rice. We experience thunder, rain and a very bad smell at the service station. At the next service station the Army drive up (remember we have police driving in front of the bus as we are guests of the Government) and give us all binoculars. There is nothing to look at and our interrupters don’t even know what they are for. Who would ever have thought something odd would happen in Asia?
We then arrive at what we think is the hotel but it is actually a restaurant. We are all in shorts and t-shirts and find we have to have dinner with the officials. I do like to dress for these occasions. We are welcomed into the restaurant by dancing girls in yellow dresses. Then we are treated to dancing boys with t-pots with 2M spouts (I’m not being rude, I’m being factual) and then the receptionists do a dance for us. We are led through the kitchens to see how marvellous it is. The we were brought into a room with a massive video screen where we saw our faces on screen. Dinner is served. Toasts are given. You know the drill, eat, swallow and smile. I counted the different coloured microphones from the different TV and radio stations in the restaurant. I lost count at 25. We all give interviews for each one. Food is stunning. We arrive at our hotel – The Saint Tropez Hotel Changsha – Only in China lol. Its not late, but it’s been the long day that has challenged me. I need sleep.
What tomorrow holds, I will not know until I’m there. Welcome to China. I’m starting to love this place.