Shops line up along the streets of the busy, Asian town which happens to be the largest Chinatown (out of China of course). The smell of food pulled us in many directions, and so did the people that greeted us on the street. They handed us that brochure as an invitation to come to their restaurant to enjoy one of the dishes shown in the pictures. They looked delicious.
When it came to picking out the restaurant, we were clueless. And just like any other person who maybe has gotten lost in another country (well, because Chinatown in SF is basically a piece of China territory) we chose what it looked like the most authentic, "hole-in-the wall" place. Seeking the delicious Chinese food had us eager to try every dish we could get our hands on. Once we were greeted by the busy host, we were taken through a set of colorful halls, rooms and perhaps what it seemed to me, to another dimension. From the outside, there was NO WAY to guess how big this restaurant was. So much for looking for a hole in the wall spot, we completely misjudged the structure.
Ordering what we wanted versus what we actually did was a little chaotic. On the paper menu that we were given, there were no pictures and I'm ashamed to say that we desperately needed those pictures. We even called a couple of waiters to help us with the menu but due to the language barrier we were unable to understand each other. Apparently the host and waiters who spoke English were busy and up in the front part of the restaurant and we were in the back, tucked away in a dining hall. I looked to my boyfriend, him being a fan of Chinese food, to see if he could help me out?
As a good ol' North Carolinian who loves his BBQ, he had no idea.
Some of the names on the menu had English descriptions but we ended up eating something completely different than what we initially pictured. We thought "pan fried noodles" and "stir-fry noodles" were the same. They are not. The food was so good, it was mix of crunchy and fried noodles with sauce. But I can't describe exactly what it was, honestly it wouldn't have mattered. You know, from what I could tell the dish was out of this world.
Because this place was out of this world..
We started off on this trek to come across a different scene, to discover a different place. We were here wanting to try a different kind of Chinese cuisine (which probably wasn't much different at all from back home) and perhaps wanting to look for insignificant things to amuse us, but what we were given instead was so much, much more.
What we came to have was an amazing, authentic experience.
The fact that I was in search of a souvenir and when I saw it's sticker saying Made in China, I didn't disagree or disliked it, I bought it in China! (close enough). The whole process of getting there and guessing what we thought was one dish and it turning out to be something completely different and still enjoyed it. The fact that we didn't know the language, how it was all unfamiliar, it reminded us that we don't know anything about ANYTHING. And knowing that we were strangers ourselves in a different world and appreciated it wholly, gave us a sense of adventure.
This serves us as a reminder that you needn't go far to expose yourself to new experiences, even if it is just to try a new cuisine. Though we had this awesome opportunity to visit "The" Chinatown, in San Francisco, I'll still look forward to walking through the streets of Huangyao or Shanghai, in China, try some local food and maybe gain another unexpected, exquisite experience.