Our international students at Archbishop Williams have started a cultural understanding club this year. In November, they held their first event to discuss the differences between their own culture and the different American cultures they have encountered at Archies. Naturally, most of the conversation centered around food. While I have eaten extremely well thus far, lunch today gave me tremendous insight into one slice of Chinese culture.
We are in the city of Qingdao, which is a port on the East Coast of China, to the south of Beijing. It is well known for its beaches and the quality of its seafood. From 1898 to 1914, Qingdao was under the colonial control of Germany, giving the city an interesting Bavarian influence. As a consequence, among many things, Tsingtao (an alternate spelling of Qingdao) Beer, perhaps the most famous exported beer of China, is brewed here. The combination of seafood, saltwater, and suds has led to a population explosion in Qingdao and the title of one of China’s most “liveable” cities.
But let’s return to seafood. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a seafood eater. In fact, I spent most of my life believing I had a seafood allergy, which was dispelled in some summertime testing at the extreme urging of Nurse Holly. Our hosts led us to a side street of Qingdao to this restaurant.
If you look closely, you’ll notice a scale to the immediate right of the entrance, to weigh the fresh catch of the day that passes through the harbor and into the tanks at the foyer of the restaurant…and I mean tanks:
We were led to a private room upstairs. It is remarkable how many restaurants we’ve encountered have little private rooms with a giant round table for a small group. We gathered around a table with a giant pit in the center. The staff came in and lit a gas fire under the pit and put in some broth and then covered it with a grate to create a flavored steam.
(By the way the goldfish crackers above put Pepperidge Farm to shame.)
Once the steam as in full force, the staff came in with LIVE octopus, mussels, oysters, shrimp, and prawns. They put one “longer-cooking” batch onto the steaming grate, covered it and when it was just about cooked through added the other batch. Check out the videos below:
After these had cooked through, the staff came out with a whole fish which went onto the grate.
Simply put, every creepy and crawly cooked up to a fresh, delightful treat that was simply the best seafood I have every had in my life (admittedly a low bar). There was a depth of a flavor—augmented with the soy sauce that had hot peppers floating in it and the ground ginger. Each bite was surprising and delicious because its freshness made it taste like nothing I’ve ever encountered when it came to seafood.
(In case you’re wondering, no I did not take a big bite out of the head like that. Others did, and the black ink came flowing. But the tentacles were tasty).
After this memorable lunch, we had a successful session meeting prospective students. Then we were treated to one of the most famous dumpling houses in all of Qingdao. There’s some dumpling perfection posted below, elegantly made with 18 folds, but nothing will compare to lunch. And truly, I do not know a place in the United States that serves up seafood quite like that.
Tomorrow is a travel day, heading off to Chengdu, which apparently will bring another set of unique culinary delights.