#1. I peeled a mandarin orange to eat this morning. The pith appeared a lacklustre white and the flesh beneath the membrane a pale orange (and full of seeds!), so I prepared myself for an unpleasant (sour, bland) orange-eating experience. But guess what? It was incredibly sweet. And a little fizzy. Like orange Capri Sun*. And you know how sometimes when you’re eating fruit that’s unusually sweet, you say with giddy delight something like “man, tastes like someone pumped sugar in this”? That’s what went through my mind. And the next thing that went through my mind was that I’m in China, and that that seemingly ridiculous idea could very well be reality. And who gets the last laugh? Not me.
#2. I really should know better than to eat chocolate when I’m sick. I gave in yesterday morning and it made my throat feel like a pool of gluey chewy gooey goo from Dr. Seuss’ Fox in Socks.
#3. Sichuan pepper (花椒). These things are seriously the bane of my existence and my fear of them makes me feel embarrassingly un-Chinese. Somehow I’d managed to be shielded from this little but lethal spice throughout my childhood, when ginger had been my worst enemy**, so I was in for a nasty surprise my first meal out alone in Shanghai back in September. I ordered a seemingly innocuous 麻婆豆腐 (mapo doufu, a spicy tofu dish), but what I got, apparently, was 麻辣豆腐 (mala doufu, mala meaning hot & numbing), because the first bite numbed the hell out of my mouth. The tangy, tingly, and highly uncomfortable feeling was exactly how I imagine mistaking citrus-scented floor cleaner for mouthwash would feel (after spitting it back out). Following up with an entire bowl of white rice did nothing to ease the discomfort—or the feeling of betrayal.
But yeah. Turns out that the Chinese love throwing Sichuan peppercorns into all sorts of dishes, so the kind of experience described above has happened several times since, and most recently last night, when we decided to order in from the Xinjiang place downstairs. One of the dishes we got was 大盘鸡 (dapanji, or “big plate chicken”), which we’d had twice before at different Xinjiang restaurants and thought we liked. Well, turns out that our previous experiences were not-so-authentic, because dapanji, according to a sample of google results, is typically loaded with sichuan peppers, as this one was. So much of dinner (and today’s lunch) was spent picking out these little pods, because the dish is actually more than palatable as long as you don’t bite into one—and don’t mind feeling like you’ve just picked out a schoolyard of dead bugs.
Anyway. The race is on. Who will win Frances’ favour first, sichuan pepper or ginger?
*Capri Sun has a video game out? Huh?
**We’re still not friends.