Food for thought

Shandon town, an industrial town in the dessert waste land, caught half way between its evolution into a modern day town and the time warp of ancient Chinese way of life. The streets bustle with small business, street hawkers, donkey drawn carts, the ever present three wheel trucks spewing out black diesel smoke. On every doorstep is a coal burning stove brewing some tea or cooking the day’s fare, all of this to a backdrop of chimney stacks funnelling plumes of grey smoke into the shimmering desert air. People, cars, bicycles, trucks, scooters and lorries hoot and jostled for positions as they wind their way in out and around each other in an eternal stream through the town. It’s rest day and that means a chance to try some local cuisine.

Dragon our support crew leader had scouted the streets for a eatery for the evening meal. We were lead up a street of truck repair shops, oil sodden concrete side paths, old oil drums and engine parts laying all over, the smell of diesel hanging heavy in the air. Locals were welding on the streets repaired engines being revved into life. Between all of this, on a steel girder extended into the street hung a skull and horns of a ram. The entrance to our eatery.

Dirty green oil sodden fly screen hung at the door, we entered into the first room, leading off this were several little rooms, filled with the chatter of the clients eating. A young Chinese guy greeted us, and showed us to a cubical. The paint was pealing off the wall in sheets; it looked as if it was bowing out in disbelief that we were going to stay. Grime crawled up the walls and the flaw was littered with the previous diners waste. But there was something about this place, it had soul.

No menu was available as they specialised in a lamb dish, that’s it. After a bit of bargaining I was given permission to film in the kitchen, with a slight hesitation I got up to see what was happening in the engine room. Should I eat first or have a look (would I be able to eat after my kitchen visit). I walked down a narrow winding passage into this small dark steamy back room, the kitchen. Sparsely equipped with the basics, soot coated walls and really dirty, basically only swept daily.

In the corner hang the carcass of a lamb, the other one was been hacked up by some guy in an overall, and the pieces thrown into a steaming cauldron of stock, and the meat boiled soft. In the other corner feverishly toiling over a giant roll of noodle pastry was the chef/ Madame of the house. Immaculately dressed and with a look of class and confidence that she radiated out of this dark back room, a sense of pride was present. Her hands working in a blur of speed she turned this mound of pastry into the most perfect long strips of noodle. She added them to the rest of the bubbling ingredients in the pot and placed the lid on it. Turning to me she smiled and gestured that I return to my seat as food would be served shortly. The food arrived, carried in personally by the lady of the house, served in a massive enamel dish, the aroma was incredible. We all tucked in; there was instant silence as we were all spellbound by the taste sensation of the dish. The meal still stands out as one of my most memorable so far.

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