Capstone 2016, Day 6: A Parent's Perspective on Food in China

Not Lost in Translation

No supper. That was my vow last night. Like so many parents, I had gorged on much more food than normal since arriving in China. But who besides our doctors could blame us? 

This isn't the bland fare of 82nd Street back home. One simply can't say no to the nonstop courses of exotically spiced meals that TIS had arranged. And how can we not search out in small groups culinary wonders awaiting at hole-in-the-wall joints that Zagat would never find?

Even an impromptu trip some of us made to a Suzhou mall for a food court lunch left me feeling as if Anthony Bourdain must have been sitting nearby, grinning. He would tell us, I rationalized, that gluttony is a just reward for our years of tuition checks and carpool treks.

At 8 p.m. my stomach growled. But I wasn't hungry for food alone. I wanted The Authentic Encounter, a repeat of dinners like those with Linda and Conor, Meredith, and Atticus. The places with a smattering of tables, no English, and sometimes no napkins. 

On consecutive nights in Shanghai and Suzhou we had heaping bowls of noodles complemented with rich broths and other ingredients. At one tiny place we watched the noodles being made from scratch and then deposited in a sidewalk cauldron of broth. (Atticus translated the restaurant name as Blue Water Kneading Dough.)

Alone last night in Suzhou outside another tiny place, I squinted through the window at pictures of food on the walls, hoping to find a new memorable meal. An Asian woman gestured me inside.

Turned out that she too was a tourist, from Singapore, and spoke English. She recommended a luscious Chinese beef stew seasoned heavily with five-spice powder. The server, a young woman whose toddler sat nearby slurping noodles, offered me beer. How could I refuse a Tsingtao? It's among the few Chinese words I know and only one I pronounce with confidence.

As I paid the bill of 40 yuan, about $6, an old woman emerged from a tiny kitchen, beamed at me, and spoke rapidly in Mandarin. No translation needed. 

- By Michael Bales, TIS Parent