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animals, entrees, holidays, out and about, restaurants, Shanghai, Thanksgiving

Generous George and the Eight Chinchilla Souls

11.22.09 | 3 Comments

Most holidays that last longer than a day require some sort of fasting or deprivation. Passover: no leavened bread. Lent: Give something up. Ramadan: Fast all day. Off the top of my head, I can think of two exceptions: Hanukkah, in its eight latke-filled days and nights, and Thanksgiving.

At the moment you may be double-checking your calendar to make sure that Thanksgiving hasn’t launched some Daylight Saving Time surprise attack on us.

But I’m pretty sure that anyone who cooks or has cooked a full Thanksgiving meal would argue that Thanksgiving actually lasts far longer than a day. Thanksgiving is actually a week-long festival of brainstorming, planning, listing, mapping, shopping, prepping, freezing, cooking, and cleaning.

Here in Huzhou, Thanksgiving day falls on Saturday the 28th, since the Chinese don’t appreciate the Pilgrims’ harrowing Mayflower journey, so that means that the holiday itself officially started yesterday, the 21st. The First Day of Thanksgiving is celebrated by a pilgrimage to Shanghai to worship at the altar of the god of Imported Foods. It’s a simple yet holy ritual in which one seeks out City Shop Mecca and makes monetary offering in exchange for imported canned pumpkin, dried cranberries, maple syrup, and bourbon.

This Hajj can be a solo meditation and spiritual cleansing, or it can be a buddy Hajj. I was lucky enough that Thanksgiving Crusade 2009 was of the buddy kind. And he takes the Thanksgiving Crusade seriously.

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Very seriously.

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Because the first day of the Thanksgiving holiday should not be wasted, George and I journeyed to Shanghai on Friday, to allow time to accomplish non-Thanksgiving itinerary items. First on the list: George’s tailor. He’s had some custom-made suits and needed the shoulder pads readjusted, since apparently he didn’t want to look like he was stuck in the eighties, which he is old enough to remember, unlike some of us.

He also decided that I should have an early Christmas present, since his time in Huzhou is very temporary and he’ll be spending a few months at his factory on the Siberian border by Christmas and then on to who knows where. So he had me measured up for a tailor-made jacket, which will look like this when it’s done.

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(Sounds decadent, which it sort of is, but actually it’s far less expensive than many of the coats I’ve seen for retail. And obviously George is very generous. )

But fashion can sustain me only so long. It was two o’clock and there had been NO LUNCH. George, keenly aware that the Blood Sugar Bitch was moving in, hustled us to restaurant for a dimsum lunch.

Though George has far more self-control than I do (in that he has more than a modicum), he encourages me to order everything I could want and then some, so our meals together are never good models of moderation.

Honey pork came first.

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It was gone in about sixty seconds. George was as hungry as I was.

Then came the stack of steamers.

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George likes these shrimp buns

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So he ordered three steamers full and kept two for himself.

Some Xiumai with orange caviar.

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We also got barbecue pork buns and fried eggroll type things, along with these red-bean filled pumpkin chewies.

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Short ribs.

z_ds short ribs

And, in an ordering mistake that was oh-so-right, short rib rice pot.

z_ds rice pot

George, with his aforementioned self-discipline and restraint, has not eaten rice in years. But he broke that fast when this one came. The crunchy rice on the bottom was the best part.

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After lunch we did some clothes shopping. George is also a clotheshorse. He definitely likes clothes shopping more than I do, though if I could ever found anything that fit, I might like it a bit more.

The evening passed in a camera-less blur of more shopping, satisfying my burger craving, massages, and my friend’s 80’s themed birthday party. George appreciated the music more than I did as, like I said, he’s old enough to remember the eighties. (Subtle dig at George’s age.)

The next morning, we first returned to the tailor’s to pick up George’s suits. But the clothes market’s doors were blockaded by street food stalls. And George needed breakfast.

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He decided on the 手抓饼 or shou zhua bing, which roughly translates to handheld bread. Usually the shou zhua bing consists of a fried egg and bacon atop a panfried, oily piece of dough.

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George, in his self-restraint, also has a few quirky eating habits, one of them being that he does. Not. Eat. Egg yolks.

And so he told the shou zhua bing cook that he only wanted egg whites. The cook didn’t quite seem to grasp this. So George showed him how.

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I was reminded of the scene in Sabrina in which Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn), learns to crack an egg with one hand.

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Pretty much everyone stopped to watch him separate eggs.

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George is always somewhat of a spectacle because his face looks Chinese (his parents are Taiwanese), but the way he looks (clothes and the muscles) betray that he is a foreigner. Many times, he will speak to people in Chinese, and they will say with a bit of shock, “You speak such good Chinese!” Because George likes to mess with people, he replies, “Of course I do, I’m Chinese.”

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And then people cry, “Wa!?” which is the common Chinese exclamation of surprise. “But you don’t look Chinese. Where are you from?” He gives them a different answer all the time.

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Shou zhua bing in hand, George went to fetch his suits, but when we arrived, we were informed the suits were not yet ready. Since the place is a bit out of the way, we decided to hang around and wait for them to be finished. So we went clothes shopping.

George likes clothes but he really likes fur, and the market was full of fur stands. After much debate and haggling, George bought himself a rabbit vest and a chinchilla hat, and decided that I should have some fur too. I walked out with about eight chinchillas’ worth of fur around my neck. (Again, sounds decadent, since the place is wholesale, it’s fairly affordable. And if you’re a member of PETA, sorry. We’ll talk about my fur stance some other time.) [And let me also clarify that this is not some sort of Sugar Daddy relationship, though those who know me know such clarification shouldn't be necessary.]

Once we got the suits, we ran a few more errands before we ended up in the Gubei district on Hongmei lu at a restaurant called Shiraz, a Persian restaurant George had been wanting to try.

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Once again, we were famished, but this time George helped me in ordering far too much. We waited on the luxurious couch/bench/table for our food. Notice his rabbit vest. Handy for his upcoming stint in Siberia.

z_shiraz george ponder

First a large platter of hummus, fried eggplant dip, and yogurt.

z_shiraz large plate2 corrected

I required extra yogurt.

z_shiraz yogurt

And fabulous soft bread.

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And then magnificently spiced chicken, which was so tender it could hardly stay on the bone.

z_shiraz chicken1

And fish.

z_shiraz fish

And then food coma.

z_shiraz george digests2

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But we couldn’t relax too long: it was Thanksgiving Hajj time and George needed to get back to Huzhou that evening. We did a little walking before catching a cab.

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And there I am with chinchilla souls around my neck.

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My conscience gets kind of distracted by the softness. The soooooooooooooooftness, I tell you.

We then hit up Carrefour and City shop for the necessary Thanksgiving implements. This year I’m hosting 15 guests for Thanksgiving and I am determined not to poison them. I’ll be cooking all week long and posting (hopefully) frequently this coming week about the trials and travails of cooking Thanksgiving dinner with one electric burner and an 8×13” toaster oven in China.

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